Going Beyond the Law: Five ways employers can go above and beyond in encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Employers who truly want to commit to diversity and inclusion should think about doing more than merely what is required of them by the law. Striving for towards an equitable workplace involves treating the requirements of the Employment Standards Act as bare minimums, rather than guidelines or targets. Here are five examples of things employers can do to create a more inclusive workplace. 

1. Have a generous sick day policy. 

The ESA entitles employees to three unpaid sick days per calendar year. Rather than viewing this as a target, employers should look at this as an absolute floor and should strive to provide more than three days of sick leave per year. Furthermore, it should be paid leave instead of unpaid leave.   

Employers should view sick leave through the lens of disability inclusion—paid sick leave is important because it allows employees with disabilities to take care of their health needs, but it needs to be generous flexible to employees’ individual circumstances. 

2. Have a flexible bereavement day policy. 

Employers that are sensitive to the diverse experiences of employees should be willing to alter this policy to fit their employees’ needs. Recognize people belonging to different cultures might have a variety of needs that are not properly addressed by a blanket bereavement policy. Employers could, for example, allow employees to take their leave non-consecutively or take off more days if they need to. The policy should be as broad as possible and expand the definition of family to include friends and neighbours. Consider also allowing bereavement leave to be taken following miscarriages.  

3. Make the workplace more inclusive for women by not penalizing them for taking parental leave.  

Having policies that are inclusive to women involves not only creating a generous parental leave policy; it also means ensuring that women are not penalized for taking leave. This means that time spent on parental leave should factor into seniority calculations, so that a women who started at the company at the same time as a male counterpart is not considered one year less senior because she took one year of parental leave.  

4. Create a sense of belonging for employees of all cultural backgrounds. 

Employers have a duty to accommodate religious beliefs, which includes giving employees time off for religious holidays. Employers should go beyond their legal duties to make employees feel like their cultural backgrounds are embraced and accepted. Encourage employees to take time off for cultural and religious holidays and make doing so the norm so that people feel safe to access these policies. Ensure that you have spaces that accommodate employees’ spiritual needs, like a room for people whose religious practice includes daily prayer. 

5. Ensure that that your commitment to inclusion spans the entire employment relationship. 

An employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion should start at the hiring process and continue to the end of the employment relationship. When an employee leaves, the way it is handled by employers is a reflection of the company’s culture. When an employee is given an exit package, they should be given plenty of time to review its terms and encouraged to seek legal advice. 

Anisha Nag

Anisha Nag is a Juris Doctor student at Osgoode Hall Law School. She has extensive experience in immigration and refugee law and aspires to practice in this area of law upon her graduation in 2022. In 2021, Anisha participated in Osgoode Hall’s Intensive Program in Immigration and Refugee Law and completed a legal internship at the law office of Raoul Boulakia. Volunteer work is very important to Anisha. She has done pro bono legal research for the Centre for Refugee Studies and the Empowerment Council. She currently volunteers at the refugee shelter Romero House where she serves as an English as a Second Language tutor for teenaged refugees.

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