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Is it illegal for employers to ask newcomers about their lack of work experience in Canada?

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Posted on Jul 25, 2023 at 09:00 am EDT


Lack of Canadian experience is a common barrier identified by newcomers when looking for meaningful work in their new country.

Find out if you are eligible for Canadian immigration

The Ontario Human Rights Commission identified other barriers immigrants face when finding jobs that match their education, skills and experience. These may include:

  • Employers who do not recognize foreign credentials and experience
  • Language and communication difficulties.
  • Employers do not help integrate the employee into the workplace and do not provide job-related learning opportunities.
  • Being turned down for positions because they are believed to be “overqualified”
  • Arbitrary requirements for “Canadian experience”
  • absolute discrimination

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is illegal for a federal sector employer to ask applicants about their age, sex or gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, marital status, familial status, race, colour, religion, and mental or physical disability.

Most employers in Canada are considered private and are governed by provincial rather than federal law. However, provincial laws generally mirror federal laws and reflect the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Human rights courts have held that questions about “Canadian experience” may constitute discrimination, unless that type of experience is a genuine and legitimate occupational requirement.

When an employer requires job applicants to have work experience in Canada, this can be considered discrimination on grounds such as race, ancestry, place of origin and ethnicity.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has published guidance titled “Removing the ‘Canadian Experience’ Barrier: A Guide for Employers and Regulators,” which states that requiring Canadian work experience could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code. The guide sets out how to make sure job requirements are legitimate and best practices for employers and regulators to follow.

What can an employer ask me?

Employers may ask questions about your qualifications and your ability to do the job. For example, if you need a driver’s license for a job, an employer may ask if you have one.

An employer may also ask if you have been convicted of a crime and may require you to obtain a police background check.

Although an employer cannot ask if you have work experience in Canada, they can ask if you have legal permission to work in Canada.

Labor rights in Canada

There are laws across Canada to protect workers. The rights of foreign workers in Canada are also protected by federal and provincial/territorial labor laws.

Canadian workers have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace without discrimination.

The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity and other grounds. This also applies to permanent residents and those working in Canada on a work or study visa.

Find out if you are eligible for Canadian immigration

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