My sister has worked for a municipal government in the Greater Toronto Area for over 20 years. During that time, she has developed a serious citrus allergy. This allergy causes a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. For my sister, the allergy is life threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.
Because allergies and scent sensitivities are considered a disability under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have a duty to accommodate my sister, short of undue hardship.
My sister provided her employer with the necessary medical documentation so that they would understand the seriousness of her allergy and be able to accommodate her. In response, her employer notified others on her floor about the allergy and asked them not to bring anything into the building containing citrus.
In the same building where my sister works, there is an employee with an allergy to bananas. To accommodate this employee, signs are posted throughout the building reminding employees and visitors alike not to bring bananas into the building. This is typically the minimum that an employer would do to protect employees with scent sensitivities or allergies.
So, while the employer posted signs on each floor reminding people not to bring bananas into the building, the organization would not post signs reminding people not to bring citrus to work—not even signs on the floor where my sister works.
Much of my work involves conducting Equity Audits. That is, I review employment policies and practices through an equity lens and make recommendations for change. One component of an Equity Audit is a review of an organization’s hiring and selection policies and practices. The goal is to remove barriers to the hiring of candidates from diverse backgrounds, communities, and identities so that they can be fairly assessed based on their job-related skills and abilities. The term used in human resources circles is “bias-free hiring.”
The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked protests around the world and made the term “systemic racism” go mainstream. From reporters at major news outlets to the leaders of large corporations and non-profits, everyone is making proclamations against system racism and vowing to eradicate it.
Yet, while many in high-profile positions claim to know what systemic racism is, they fail to understand that the solutions, too, must be systemic. Being nicer to each other does not change the policies and practices that keep Black people from being hired. Hiring more racialized police officers does not change policing practices that target Black and Indigenous people. Being more inclusive at the leadership table also won’t automatically change policies that fail to test for COVID-19 in the hardest-hit parts of the city.