11.3 Respecting the Rights of All

The goal with workplace diversity is that all members can work cohesively together..With the knowledge of legislation that has been passed, respecting the rights of all in the workplace is a common approach to organizations. However, within the workplace, there is an adjustment or a caveat that acts as a check-and-balance on the side of the organization, referred to as reasonable accommodation.Reasonable accommodation means that the employer must make a wholesome attempt to allow for differences amongst the workforce[16]. Another way it can be viewed is making accommodations in the workforce based on proven need or acceptable measures (i.e. a form, in some instances). The United Nations in their Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities describes reasonable accommodation as:

“[N]ecessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”[17]

There are some areas where accommodation and reasonable accommodation can be found and used within an organizational setting. Some challenges within the workplace can be remedied by reasonable accommodation and the legislation passed.

People with Disabilities

Within Canada, the meeting of needs for persons with a disability is noted in section 17 of the Canadian Human Rights’ Act, and asks that needs for a disability go through an approval process.  Once the process is approved, the request to accommodate the disability is put into action[17]. This follows the reasonable accommodation standard, if the request, based on the Canadian Human Rights’ Act is deemed to be approved, it will be approved. For example, if there is a building on a premises that has no wheelchair accessibility, someone could send in a request to the Canadian Human Rights’ Commission, and then, if the commission agrees that the building must accommodate wheelchair access, the building must comply under the legislation.

This can get tricky if it is a request that is considered insufficient or unapproved by the Canadian Human Rights’ Commission. This presents a challenging contrast, as the person with the disability needs a particular service.  If the law judges it unnecessary, which a contrarian or devil’s advocate would say, then the Canadian Human Rights’ Act of respecting all is unconstitutional.

Regardless of the legislation attached, most instances (such as the wheelchair access example) are acceptable requests to the Canadian Human Rights’ Commission, and fall under the action of reasonable accommodation. The role organizational leaders should take, when approached about a disability concern, or notice a premises’ violation, is to refer to a their legal team, or code of ethics.  They can also recommend this process to a higher level in the organization for action. Leaders must ensure that all disabilities are accommodated, and issues pertaining to disabilities resolved.  Therefore, concise and consistent steps must be taken to ensure success.

People with Diverse Religious Practices

In this modern and global workforce, leaders and managers meet different religions and beliefs within an organization. This relates to the holidays an organization, state, or society observe. Within Canada, most institutions, follow the public holidays outlined by the federal government. The Government of Canada has outlined 10 public holidays,  They are[18]:

  • New Year’s Day – January 1st
  • Good Friday – Friday, mid to late April
  • Victoria Day – Monday, late May
  • Canada Day – July 1st
  • Civic Holiday – Monday, early August
  • Labour Day – Monday, early September
  • Thanksgiving Day – Monday, mid-October
  • Remembrance Day – November 11th
  • Christmas Day – December 25th
  • Boxing Day – December 26th

This list outlines the general holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday, but what about other days of observance such as Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr for the Muslim faith; Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah for people of Jewish faith; or Kawanzaa for members of the African Diaspora. Easter Monday is an observed holiday in Canada, but only in a few provinces and territories, and what about holidays and traditions practiced by the indigenous peoples of Canada? Leaders actions in exercising reasonable accommodation are paramount.  Although their positions in an organization may not change the laws regarding holidays for time off, they can be instrumental in acknowledging and accepting adjustments to the rules. Allowing organizational amendments for different traditions can be done by allowing a couple hours away from work to worship, extend dress and uniform requirements, provide prayer and meditation rooms, and be accommodating to dietary issues[19]. These actions provide leaders with the ability to effectively manage diversity and accommodate all different faiths within an organization.

People with a Different Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

Within organizations in Canada, there is an anti-discrimination measure, as noted in the aforementioned Human Rights’ Act that prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Inside the workplace, the same rules apply, especially when discussing wages in the workplace. Section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights’ Act states that, “It is discriminatory practice for an employer to establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female employees employed in the same establishment who are performing work of equal value”[20]. Although it does not explicitly mention race in this section, the implication is that regardless of race, male or female, both are to be paid the same.

In the modern landscape, people have many different genders that don’t align with their sexual orientation. Although not explicitly stated, gender protection falls under the general purpose of the act.

How do do leaders manage all of this? It is important for them to really know their organizational members, and be reasonable with requests. If someone would like to be called a different name, or alternate name, in substitution of her or his given name, that can be seen as reasonable. However, some instances may not be seen this way, and a civil discussion and consensus must be reached. There are many goals within an organization that need to be achieved by all members, and it is best to resolve any conflicts based on race, sex, and gender efficiently and effectively for both parties to return to a cohesive unit. If issues cannot be resolved, consulting the code of ethics and the Canadian Human Rights’ Commission may be necessary to mediate the issue.


With all of these practices in place, there are still stories of discrimination in the workplace. Disability discrimination, race discrimination, sexual discrimination, and gender discrimination are still encountered, even in this modern era.  Organizations can experience such issues.  In the 21st century, discrimination has been lowered, compared to recent decades, but how can leaders  effectively prepare themselves to be proactive in eliminating discrimination? These are some steps to help notice and proactively remedy discrimination in the workplace:

  1. Know the signs – Be proactive in knowing the signs of discrimination in the workplace.  Even if they may seem harmless, intervene and take appropriate action.
  2. Consult the organization’s code of ethics – Refer to the code of ethics for an organization, and understand how a discriminatory act hurts the individual and the mission, vision and values set out for that organization.
  3. Engage in civil discourse – If different parties are involved, engage them to discuss the issue, and mediate the circumstances in a calm and civil manner.
  4. Use expert power (but only when needed) – Within a civil discourse, it is better to use active listening over anything else, but do intervene when a situation calls for the use of expertise to guide a conclusion.
  5. Consult a human rights’ commission – Either municipal, province/state, or federal, if a situation needs to be delegated to a human rights’ commission, do not avoid it: take action. Ideally, it is better to avoid getting to this point, but if it is necessary, it can protect leaders and the organization in the long run.
  6. Always follow up on issues of discrimination – Even after the event has passed, and in some cases, tempers cooled, it is always best to have a follow-up on the situation to ensure measures that were implemented are working, and members are pleased with the results. If they are still not pleased, it may be necessary to consult again and engage in more discourse. By actively following up on issues, this shows members, on both sides of the discussion, that you care about the issue, and want to effectively manage an agreeable conclusion.


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Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations Copyright © by Clayton Smith; Carson Babich; and Mark Lubrick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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