Workplace Equity Policy for Legal Agents 

The Department of Justice encourages a commitment to and implementation of the broad principles of employment equity in the workplace. Specific requirements differ depending on the size of a law firm and are outlined in the Department of Justice’s Workplace Equity Policy for Legal Agents.

Background

Employment equity, as a broad principle, ensures the fair representation and full participation in the workplace of women, aboriginal peoples, members of visible minority groups, and persons with disabilities. Employment equity is achieved by employment practices that prevent and correct disadvantages in employment for these designated groups through special measures, reasonable accommodation of differences, and programs to remove barriers to equitable employment opportunities.

Employment equity in the federal context is governed by the Employment Equity Act. The purpose of the Act is “to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person is denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and persons who are, because of their race or colour, in a visible minority in Canada by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences”.

Policy Statement

It is the policy of the Department of Justice to provide equal access to employment and career opportunities to members of the designated groups - i.e., women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minority groups - and to ensure their equitable representation and full participation in all occupational groups and levels within the Department.

The Department of Justice fully supports employment equity and is committed to undertaking special measures, where necessary, to eliminate any disadvantages that may be experienced directly or indirectly by designated group members.

It is also the policy of the Department of Justice to encourage respect for, commitment to, and implementation of the principles of employment equity by lawyers and law firms appointed as agents of the Attorney General of Canada. To this end, agents must, as a condition of their appointment, comply with the requirements set out in this policy.

Scope of the Policy: Workplace Equity Principles

This policy embraces the concept of employment equity in its broadest sense and includes the following principles:

employment equity
-i.e., achieving a fair and representative workplace through the elimination of employment barriers and the adoption of positive policies and practices designed to improve representation of the four designated groups: women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities;
anti-discrimination
- i.e., eliminating discrimination in the workplace, including harassment on the basis of prohibited grounds of discrimination (including sexual harassment); and,
reasonable accommodation
- i.e., taking reasonable steps to accommodate the special needs of members of the designated groups in the workplace (for example, improving accessibility to the workplace, religious observance, parental leave and alternative work arrangements). "Reasonable" imports a duty to accommodate unless it would impose undue hardship on the employer.

This policy will be referred to as the Workplace Equity Policy for Legal Agents.

Application

This policy applies to lawyers and law firms in Canada appointed as agents of the Attorney General of Canada.

Policy Requirements

It is recognized that the ability to implement a workplace equity policy is greater in larger firms than in small firms. Therefore, the requirements imposed on agents under this policy differ according to the size of the firm. The policy requirements also differ for standing and ad hoc agents.

Standing Agents

Firms of 1-20 Lawyers
Law firms, or lawyers practising in law firms, of 1-20 lawyers are required as a condition of their appointment as standing agents:
  • to make a commitment in writing to respect the workplace equity principles set out above;
  • to communicate their commitment to all staff within the law firm; and,
  • to report on the representation of designated group members among lawyers within the firm at the request of the Department of Justice.
Firms of 21 or more Lawyers
Law firms, or lawyers practising in law firms, of 21 or more lawyers are required as a condition of their appointment as standing agents: to make a commitment in writing to respect the workplace equity principles set out above;
to communicate their commitment to all staff within the law firm;
to have and implement a workplace equity policy and action plan that meet the departmental criteria set out in Appendix A; and,
to collect and record information on the representation and employment status of designated group members within the firm in terms of hiring, promotion and termination in relation to other employees, and on the measures taken by the firm to achieve workplace equity goals, and to report such information to the Department of Justice on request.

Ad Hoc Agents

  • As a condition of their appointment, all ad hoc agents, regardless of the size of the law firm in which they practise, must make a commitment in writing to respect the workplace equity principles espoused by the Department and communicate that commitment to all staff within the law firm or, in the case of individual agents, to all staff in the firm with whom they work directly.
  • Any reappointment of ad hoc agents who are, or practise in, firms of 21 or more lawyers is conditional upon the written agreement of the firm to be bound by the same workplace equity obligations that apply to standing agent firms of 21 or more lawyers. 

Appendix "A"

Criteria for Workplace Equity Policy and Action (For Standing Agent Firms with 21 Lawyers or More)

  • Communication by a senior person in the firm (e.g., managing partner) to all staff of the commitment to achieve equality in employment through the design and implementation of a workplace equity policy and action plan.
  • Collection and maintenance of information on the employment status of designated group employees, by occupation and level and in terms of hiring, promotion and termination in relation to all other employees.

The requirement for recording this data is to give the firm sufficient information with which to establish objectives and priorities for a workplace equity action plan, and give both the firm and the Department an indication of the results of the firm's subsequent workplace equity initiatives.

  • Analysis of the representation of members of the designated groups within the firm in relation to their representation in the labour force in general or in the supply of qualified workers in the geographic area from which the firm may reasonably be expected to draw staff.
  • Elimination or modification of those human resource policies, practices and systems, whether formal or informal, shown to have an unfavourable effect on members of the designated group.
  • Establishment of a workplace equity action place setting out:
  • measurable goals and timetables for the hiring, training and promotion of designated group members;
  • special measures where necessary to ensure that goals are achieved, including reasonable accommodation as required. 
  • Establishment of a climate favourable to the successful integration of designated group members within the organization.
  • Adoption of procedures to monitor the progress and results achieved in implementing workplace equity.
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