In Unit 9, we looked at employment discrimination, anti-discrimination law, and the burdens placed on women by family responsibilities. We took a factual and historical approach to workplace employment policies, and reflected on the role of work in our lives.
In this unit, we will focus on affirmative action and sexual harassment, two of the most hotly debated issues in human resources ethics. There are many philosophical arguments for and against the justice of and consequences of affirmative action. There are many different senses of the term. Sexual harassment is controversial, not because there is any doubt that it is wrong, but because the behavioural boundaries of what constitutes it are fuzzy.
There is also a case about drugs in the workplace. That topic fits more with Unit 9, but I held it over to balance the number of readings and cases.
10.1 Affirmative Action
In Canada, the Charter of Rights both forbids discrimination and leaves the door open for various sorts of affirmative action.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)
15 (1) "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental and physical disability."
15 (2) "Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program, or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions disadvantaged individuals or groups [in the above categories]."
Soon after that, the Canadian Employment Equity Act (1986) recognized four designated groups to be benefitted by affirmative action policies:
Women (2) Aboriginal People (3) Disabled Persons (4) Visible Minorities (i.e. non-whites).
In Canada, the term "employment equity" is often used where Americans would say "affirmative action," although both terms have a currency in Canada. Both terms are positive sounding (as opposed to "quota hiring" and "reverse discrimination") and vague enough to be used in a number of senses.
In an 1984 article, Ontario Judge Rosalie Abella distinguishes four senses of equality in employment.
Rosalie Abella - "Defining Equality in Employment"
Non-Discrimination - the most basic step is simply to outlaw discrimination in employment and allow victims to bring suit.
Economic, Social, Political, and Educational Equality - provide opportunities for all through good social programs (quality public education, affordable college and university tuition, job training, programs for children in poverty, etc).
Meeting Special Needs - technical supports for the disabled, language programs for immigrants, child-care and part-time options for parents (generally mothers). Like 2, this promotes quality of opportunity. You help the disadvantaged overcome barriers that get in the way of them competing for jobs.
Quota Laws, Reverse Discrimination - the most extreme and controversial step.
There is widespread consensus in favour of banning discrimination. The only problem people have with 2 and 3 is that it costs money which must come out of tax revenue.
The opposition to anti-discrimination laws comes from libertarian advocates of a free market, who believe that employers should have the right to hire who they want without interference from the state.
Jan Narveson - "Have we a Right to Non-Discrimination?"
Narveson, a retired University of Waterloo professor, is one philosopher who took this view. He denied we have a right to non-discrimination because:
There is no duty to hire anyone, thus there is no duty to hire the most competent person. The company that creates the jobs can give them to the people they want on whatever basis.
Discrimination is not economically rational. In a free market, companies will be rewarded for hiring the most competent people. Therefore the state and the law don't need to get involved.
Point 2 is an…