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Think proactively about workplace policies and practices even if it’s not the law (yet)

In these articles that I write for First Reference Talks readers and in the training programs I design for my clients I usually focus on two important topics:

  • Legal obligations of employers (especially new laws)
  • Best practices in employee management (usually based on legal obligations)


This article is about all that but also provides the opportunity for you to think proactively about

  • Adopting policies even if it’s not the law (yet)
  • adopting best practices for the benefit of your customers and other stakeholders (because that can affect your bottom line)
  • Avoiding decisions that are based solely on an emotional response

Business people responsible for people management must make business decisions based on several criteria:

  • Practices that make sense for your particular business
  • Policies required by law
  • Motivational techniques that your workers and stakeholders respond to
  • Public relations concerns
  • Gut instincts
  • Emotions
  • Common sense

It’s the last two on the above list that sometimes get people into trouble: decisions based on emotion alone and a lack of common sense.

Last month I wrote on this blog about the message I received during the Toronto Pride parade: the inherent right of all persons to be treated with dignity and respect. This article is about another message I received via one little sign that I vaguely recall passing by me as I stood watching the parade. The sign read: “Trans rights now.” I assumed the sign was referring to human rights in the areas of gender identity and gender expression.

  • Canada’s Northwest Territory is the only jurisdiction in the country to pass legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.
  • The federal government passed a private member’s bill last session that has since languished in the Senate following the spring election.
  • Ontario’s Human Rights Commission says discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited under the category of sex discrimination in the Human Rights Code even though the term “gender identity” is not specifically used in the Code.
  • The above means that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, by virtue of legal precedent, will most likely consider gender identity as a valid basis for filing a human right complaint.

The argument in favour of protecting Canadians’ right to express their individual gender identity:

  • seems centered around the concept of allowing a person to express themselves as they see themselves rather than how society views them or how society thinks they should dress and behave.

Some of the arguments against legal protection for persons expressing themselves on the basis of their own gender identity: (such as a biological male using a female designated washroom)

  • seem to be focused on protecting women and children from perverts. “Our girls and women can be rest assured no man who innately feels like a women will be going into their washrooms, change rooms, and showers, for now.” (

Learn don’t litigate:

As a business manager don’t get involved in a debate about the morality of these issues. Remember that not all that long ago people said it was immoral for woman to be in the workplace. Look for a solution that works for everybody. The solution for people who are squeamish about with whom they share facilities: provide private AND shared facilities and then everybody can choose to the facility that suits them. There is no need to enter into a philosophical debate about a toilet!

Andrew Lawson

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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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