Sexist job posting may land company in hot water

Not only is it forbidden to discriminate against job seekers based on sex and gender in Ontario, but all of Canada.
Not only is it forbidden to discriminate against job seekers based on sex and gender in Ontario, but all of Canada. Stock photo from iStock/Getty Images.

By now many people in Canada have heard about the little job posting that couldn’t get it right.

Vestra Inet, a web development company in Toronto, had posted a job advertisement on LinkedIn for the position of SEO specialist and content writer.

Some of the requirements included: writing website content, update existing texts and writing blog posts. Seems to be pretty normal requirements for content writing and SEO, doesn’t it?

It would have been fine had the company not added this little tidbit to the end of their posting:

“Please note that the Position requires filling in the responsibilities of a receptionist, so female candidates are preferred.”

Not surprisingly, the Internet blew up with anger. Amongst accusations of sexism, the company’s LinkedIn profile was filled with an outburst of angry comments.

What Vestra Inet’s blunder has exposed though is a greater issue at hand: the fact that when it comes to making employment decisions, including hiring and firing, an employer has the legal obligation not use criteria that goes against the law in Ontario.

Female candidates cannot be preferred, as they were in the ad, because discrimination based on gender and sex is a prohibited ground in Ontario.

As Employment lawyer Stacey Ball told Global News: “In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, you might have seen this kind of ad – but today, it’s not socially acceptable and a legal issue.”

Indeed, the ad is offensive to both women and men. Why are receptionist duties something for which a woman is preferred? Why are men excluded when the “responsibilities of a receptionist” are part of the job?

The fact remains that an employer cannot legally discriminate against job applicants due to gender and sex, regardless of what the job requirements may be. Such discrimination is against the Ontario Human Rights Code, which affects all Ontario employers.

But wait, there’s more. Not only is it forbidden to discriminate against job seekers based on sex and gender in Ontario, but all of Canada. The equality rights in s. 15 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee freedom from discrimination based on those grounds.

Vestra Inet quickly removed the job posting from and issued this statement:

“Several individuals have found the wording of the ad to be offensive, and we want to assure everyone that we did not mean to discriminate against any particular gender or group...”

Vestra Inet may say they didn’t mean to offend, but the fact is that they did and committed a legal faux-pas in the process. Whether legal action will arise out of their misguided job posting remains to be seen.

Find a Lawyer