Fact Sheet #19a) Policy and Human Rights Lens

Level 3

Element: Alignment of Policies and Process

Outcome 19: Organization ensures that its internal policies and practices reflect human rights principles when applicable.

Indicator 19a): Internal policies take into account human rights when applicable.

Possible Measures and Data Sources:

  • Human rights criteria developed to review policies and/or practices. 
  • Policies and processes in place for awards and recognition in human rights.
  • Anti-discrimination and EE clause in collective agreements and/or employment contracts.

Indicator Description

Workplace policies are created to offer guidance and structure within an organization. Their effect, however, is not always obvious when they are originally drafted. At this stage of the Human Rights Maturity Model (the Model) journey, an organization makes a point of reviewing its policies, such as human resources policies and policies for dealing with clients/stakeholders, to take human rights into consideration.

At Level 2, the organization has put in place specific anti-discrimination and employment equity (EE) policies. At Level 3, the organization broadens its review of all of its policies, standards and practices with a human rights “lens”. It makes reference to any human rights and EE elements (such as legislation or internal initiatives), when required. The idea is that any policies that could be potentially discriminatory should be adapted to be more inclusive.

For example, electronic mobile devices are given to employees to help facilitate contact and increase productivity. A policy on mobile phone use may require that the user respond within a certain timeframe. This could impact a person who practices a religion in which one day per week is devoted to the observance of their beliefs. Another example would be to require all employees to use a certain type of software when scanning documents for archiving; however, not all software allows a document to be optically recognized, making the documents incompatible with screen-reading software that would allow people with visual impairments to have access.

Suggested Approach

A “human rights lens” is a way of looking at the potential impact on human rights of all of an organization’s policies, standards, and practices, whether written or unwritten. Making a human rights lens part of the organization’s way of doing business can begin with a tool which gathers together a series of questions or criteria to keep in mind when determining whether or not a policy or practice could potentially have an adverse impact on individuals, or groups of individuals. A tool that helps the organization focus on the direct and indirect impact that practices in the workplace have on human rights can reinforce the human rights lens approach as a way of doing business. Here are some things to consider:

  • Understand your legal obligations: Make sure that those involved in the development of the tool have a clear understanding of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), Employment Equity Act ((EEA) and the implications of the Meiorin and Grismer cases (as they apply to bona fide occupational requirements and bona fide justifications). [1] There may also be other industry standards associated with accessibility. The Canada Labour Code makes reference to accessibility in Part II. There may also be certain standards in the industry that must be followed (for example, the Common Look and Feel of the Government of Canada). 
  • Create a series of questions or criteria that will become your human rights lens: Make sure that the tool covers the policy review in a way that is both specific and comprehensive. The questions or criteria should focus on the intent behind a policy, or the purpose which led to a practice over time, as well as its potential and actual outcomes in the workplace. It’s important to include questions or structures in the tool for considering those affected beyond your employees. Clients, partners, members of the public, and different communities have unique needs that may need to be acknowledged when assessing the overall effect of a practice.
  • Explain how the human rights lens tool is to be used: Be clear upfront on what this tool is about. A simple list of instructions for the use of the tool will clear up any potential misunderstandings.
  • Consult broadly: As broad consultation was a part of creating tools for policy review, consider expanding the approach to include those in relevant sectors who have experience in assessing the human rights impact of practices in the industry in a broad-based way. Each industry has different requirements that may affect how a policy is applied. There may be different health, safety, security and accessibility issues that need consideration. Choosing appropriate contributors to consultation can provide insight on which questions to ask when assessing the overall impact of policies and practices.
  • Create a list of terms to be understood by everyone involved: Some common terms to be familiar with should be: accommodation request, bona fide justification, bona fide occupational requirement, designated group member, discrimination, duty to accommodate, employment equity, harassment, human rights, prohibited grounds of discrimination and undue hardship.

Promising Practices

  • Sharing human rights lens: A number of large organizations have started sharing their lenses on their websites. Doing this will help other organizations learn and progress. It may also contribute to an overall positive public opinion of a given organization.
  • Implementing policies and processes for awards and recognition in human rights: An organization highlighted its human rights accomplishments by introducing criteria to acknowledge and/or reward individuals, teams or working units who have made a particular contribution towards a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
  • Implementing employment equity and diversity awards: One large, public-sector employer started an annual national awards program to recognize individuals who make exemplary effort and achieve exemplary progress related to their action plan, as it relates to employment equity and diversity. The goal is to focus on best practices and celebrate successes in this area. It was recently expanded to recognize and celebrate achievements of individuals and teams who, through their ongoing diligence and commitment, are helping the employer to become representative and inclusive.

Useful Tools and Links

An Integrated Approach to Gender-based Analysis - Status of Women Canada

A Place for All: A Guide to an Inclusive Workplace - Canadian Human Rights Commission

Bona Fide Occupational Requirements and Bona Fide Justifications under the Canadian Human Rights Act - The Implications of Meiorin and Grismer - Canadian Human Rights Commission

Diversity and Inclusion, Framework and Implementation Plan - City of Edmonton

Departmental Action Plan on Gender-based Analysis - Status of Women Canada

Equity Lens - Diversity Management and Community Engagement, Strategic and Corporate Policy/Healthy City Office, City Manager’s Office, City of Toronto

Employment Equity Plan (Communication plan included) - Wilfred Laurier University

Ethics Lens for Policy Review, NOR-MAN Regional Health Authority

Grismer Case: British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) v. British Columbia (Council of Human Rights), [1999] 3 S.C.R. 868

Meiorin Case:British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 3

Reflecting Religious Diversity in Canadian Public Policy: Perspectives from Federal Policy Practioners - Policy Horizons Canada

Towards an Inclusive Organizational Culture, Applying a Diversity Lens (2001) - Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Anne Buchanan


Canadian Human Rights Commission, A Place for All: A Guide to an Inclusive Workplace

Canadian Human Rights Commission, Bona Fide Occupational Requirements and Bona Fide Justifications under the Canadian Human Rights Act – The Implications of Meiorin and Grismer

Canadian Human Rights Commission, Policy and Procedures on the Accommodation of Mental Illness (2008)

[1] What came out of these decisions was a unified test for looking at policies. The unified test is also the basis for human rights investigations when looking at a complaint that relates to any potentially discriminatory policy that an employer or service provider has put in place.

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