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Discrimination and the fear of being discriminated against are an everyday reality for people around the world.

Recently, there has been a significant uptick in conversations surrounding discrimination within the federal public service and the staffing process. Here at ACFO-ACAF, we are advocates for the elimination of all systemic barriers that exist within the current staffing regulations and the overall staffing process.

In order to help our members to better understand how discrimination can impact the staffing process, we’ve provided you with the following information:

  • What discrimination is;
  • Understanding the duty to accommodate;
  • How hiring managers can prevent discrimination in their staffing processes; and
  • The importance of speaking out against discrimination.

What is discrimination?

The term discrimination is defined by the Canadian Human Rights Commission as, “an action or a decision that treats a person or a group of people badly for reasons… [that] are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.” These prohibited grounds for discrimination are:

  • Race;
  • National or ethnic origin;
  • Colour;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity or expression;
  • Marital status;
  • Family status;
  • Genetic characteristics;
  • Disability; and
  • A conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

If you are being treated differently for reasons other than those listed above, it is not considered discrimination according to the law. Regardless, you can always contact the ACFO-ACAF Labour Relations team at, and we can help you to find a solution to the issues that you are experiencing.  

Understanding the duty to accommodate

Duty to accommodate is a term used to describe the obligation that employers have to adjust rules, policies, or practices to enable you to participate to the best of your abilities in all work-related activities. An employee can request accommodation based on any needs that are related to the previously outlined prohibited grounds for discrimination. Management is responsible for:

  • Determining what barriers might affect the person requesting the accommodation;
  • Explore options for removing these barriers; and
  • Ensure that information requests are constructive and respectful of privacy and confidentiality.

The goal of accommodation is to remove barriers for an employee to achieve integration and full participation, in an individualized manner, and in a way that respects their privacy and confidentiality. This includes removing barriers in staffing processes to support inclusion and accessibility.

To request accommodation in a staffing process, we recommend that you contact the management representative listed in the job posting. The employer is not entitled to know your medical condition/diagnosis. ACFO-ACAF’s Labour Relations team can also provide accommodation advice and assist you in making an accommodation request.

Example of when to request an accommodation

Jamie, who is visually impaired, applies for a job within the federal public service and is invited by the employer to complete a written test to evaluate her knowledge prior to moving to the next stage in the hiring process. Jamie can request an accommodation by reaching out to the staffing representative and requesting the necessary accommodations to help her perform to the best of her abilities on the test.

How can hiring managers ensure that bias doesn’t impact their staffing processes?

Hiring managers play an important role in promoting a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

As a hiring manager, it is your responsibility to take the necessary steps to ensure that there is no bias or discrimination in your staffing processes. This includes considering barriers that may impact candidates and options to remove these barriers. If you’re looking for ways to modify your staffing processes and prevent discrimination, here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t strictly use your personal networks, social relationships, or word of mouth to recruit for open positions. This form of hiring tends to exclude people who don’t share similar characteristics to you;
  • Qualifications should be limited to only what is required for the position you are hiring for;
  • Conduct interviews using a diverse panel who ask uniform questions that focus on the interviewee’s ability to do the essential duties of the job;
  • Take steps to eliminate any potential unconscious bias (e.g. remove names and other identifying information from tests and/or applications before reviewing them); and
  • Provide unsuccessful candidates with feedback to resolve any uncertainty about whether discrimination played a role in your final decision.

Example of discrimination in the staffing process

Layla, a young adult working in the federal public service, applies for a new position and is invited  for an interview. During the interview, she mentions that she recently got married, which prompts the hiring manager to ask her about whether her and her partner have any plans of starting a family in the near future.

Questions like this should not be used as a part of the staffing process as they can unconsciously impact your decision on whether to hire a candidate. In this situation, it is possible that the hiring manager would choose another candidate based on the belief that Layla may take maternity leave while in this position.

Help eliminate discrimination from the federal public service

Over the course of the past few months, a number of public servants have come out with statements regarding their lived experience dealing with discrimination throughout their careers in the federal public service. One of the more notable stories was shared by Sandra Griffith-Bonaparte, a Black federal public service employee who hasn’t received a promotion in her 22 years working in the government. You can learn more about Sandra’s experience here

ACFO-ACAF continues to advocate for the elimination of systemic barriers that result in discrimination in the staffing process.

If Sandra’s story feels familiar to you, and you are being discriminated against based on one of the prohibited grounds outlined in the Canadian Human Rights Act, contact our Labour Relations team at Our team of experienced professionals can walk you through the best course of action based on your individual scenario.

If you see something, say something. Discrimination has no place in the federal public service, and saying something about it today will hopefully mean that future generations of public servants will not have to deal with the same injustices that many are faced with today.

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