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

Julia Hornstein
Published: July 25, 2023

A lack of Canadian experience is a common barrier identified by newcomers as they pursue meaningful work in their new country.

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The Ontario Human Rights commission identified other barriers that immigrants experience when finding jobs that correspond with their education, skills and experience. These can include:

  • Employers not recognizing foreign credentials and experience
  • Language and communication difficulties
  • Employers not being helpful integrating the employee into the workplace and not providing job-related learning opportunities
  • Being rejected for positions because they are thought to be “overqualified”
  • Arbitrary requirements for “Canadian experience”
  • Outright discrimination

According to the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is illegal for a federal-sector employer to ask candidates about their age, sex or gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, marital status, family status, race, color, religion and mental or physical disability.

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

Human rights tribunals have held that “Canadian experience” questions may constitute discrimination, unless that kind of experience is a real and legitimate occupational requirement.

When an employer requires applicants applying for jobs to have Canadian work experience this can be considered discrimination based on grounds such as race, ancestry, place of origin and ethic origin.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has published a guide titled “Removing the “Canadian experience” barrier – A guide for employers and regulatory bodies”, 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 regulatory bodies to follow.

What is an employer allowed to ask me?

Employers are allowed to 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 can ask you if you have one.

An employer is also permitted to ask if you have been convicted of a crime, and can ask you to get a police record check.

Although an employer is not allowed to ask if you have Canadian work experience, they can ask you if you are legally allowed to work in Canada.

Employment rights in Canada

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

Canadian workers have the right to be fairly treated in the workplace free from discrimination.

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

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