2. Practical steps to reduce potential for conflict

Employers, housing providers, educators and other responsible parties covered by the Code have the ultimate responsibility for maintaining an inclusive environment that is free from discrimination and harassment, and where everyone’s human rights are respected. Organizations and institutions operating in Ontario have a legal duty to take steps to prevent and respond to situations involving competing rights.

There are proactive and practical steps that organizations should take to help reduce the potential for human rights conflict and competing rights. Organizations should be very familiar with the Code and with their obligations under it. They should take steps to educate and train responsible individuals on competing rights situations and the OHRC’s Policy on Competing Human Rights.

It may be helpful for organizations to think of their responsibility to deal with competing rights matters as parallel to their already existing responsibilities relating to the human rights accommodation process. Organizations might consider assigning the responsibility for handling competing rights situations to the same people that are already responsible for dealing with accommodation issues. It could be the job of these people to educate and train others (including new staff), to monitor their environments to detect trends relating to competing rights, etc.

Employers, housing providers, educators and other responsible parties can help promote a healthy and inclusive environment for individuals protected by the Code by having a clear and comprehensive competing rights policy. The policy should include the process to be followed when a competing rights situation arises, alert all parties to their rights, roles and responsibilities, and commit the organization to deal with competing rights matters promptly and efficiently. An effective competing rights policy supports the equity and diversity goals of organizations and institutions and makes good business sense. For more detail on the suggested contents of an internal policy, see Appendix E of this policy.

Everyone in an organization should be aware of the policy and the steps for resolving complaints. This can be done by:

  • giving policies to everyone as soon as they are introduced
  • making all employees, tenants, students, etc. aware of them by including
  • the policies in any orientation material
  • training people, especially people in positions of responsibility, on the contents
  • of the policies, and providing ongoing education on competing rights issues.

Tribunals and courts often find organizations liable, and assess damages, based on failure to respond appropriately to address discrimination and harassment. Some things to consider when deciding whether an organization has met its duty to respond to a human rights claim include:

  • what procedures were in place to deal with discrimination and harassment
  • how promptly the organization responded to the complaint
  • how seriously the complaint was treated
  • resources made available to deal with the complaint
  • whether the organization provided a healthy environment for the person
  • who complained
  • how well the action taken was communicated to the person who complained.

Taking proactive and effective steps to address competing rights matters will help to protect an organization from liability if it is ever named as a respondent in a human rights claim involving competing rights.[8]

[8] The OHRC’s Guidelines on Developing Human Rights Policies and Procedures provides more information to help organizations meet their human rights obligations and take proactive steps to make sure their environments are free from discrimination and harassment.