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Sex or Gender

This ground refers to a person's biological sex, as well as gender.  Gender is a broader notion that includes the social characteristics associated with each sex.  The Act protects against discrimination based on society's expectations of how women or men "should" dress, behave or act, and includes protection for people who are transgendered and transsexual.  Transgendered is commonly used as an umbrella term to describe people who may have been born with the physical characteristics of one sex, but who identify emotionally, psychologically and/or physically with the opposite gender.

Consider these scenarios: 

Scenario 1: Tara is captain of her high school girls' basketball team. Every year, the girls' league has to play in the first time slot for the finals. This year, Tara goes to her principal to see about having the times slots alternate each year between the boys' team and the girls' team. The principal tells her that such a set up would probably not be good for the girls' team. He explains to her that the crowds prefer to see the boys' team last because their games are usually more exciting. He says that if the boys play first, the girls' team may not get the same crowds as they do now.

Scenario 2: John has recently started as an administrative assistant in an office. All the other administrative assistants are women. Two of the men in supervisory roles have been teasing John. Every morning, they come in and address all the assistants by saying “hello ladies” while looking specifically at John.

In scenario one, Tara could be experiencing discrimination on the basis of sex in the area of services.
In scenario two, John could be experiencing discrimination on the basis of sex in the area of employment.


Rental Accommodations
The Act permits some rental accommodations to be restricted to individuals of the same sex, such as a university dormitory or a rooming house. Also, the Act may allow an owner of a house to restrict renting a room to someone of a specific sex, when the occupant has access to the house by sharing common rooms or entryways with the owner. However, the Act does apply to any commercially operated business or tourist home, and to any self-contained apartment that is attached to a family house but has its own entryway.

Genuine Occupational Qualification
There may be some employment positions where being of a certain gender is a genuine occupational qualification. For example, a women’s rape and sexual assault crisis centre may require a female counsellor to assist female clients.

Religious and Ethnic Non-Profit Organizations
The provisions of the Act that prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sex do not always apply to religious or ethnic non-profit organizations that are operated primarily to foster the welfare of the group. The organization must establish that being of a certain gender is a genuine occupational qualification. For example, a religious order of women may want to hire a woman if the job requires the employee to live at the convent.

Social, Philanthropic and Other Service Groups
Social clubs that limit their membership on the basis of sex are allowed under the Act. The group does not have to be tied to a religion or a common ethnicity.

Special Programs
The Commission may approve programs of government, private organizations or individuals designed to promote the welfare of a class of individuals based on sex, such as an employment re-entry program for teenage mothers. Requests to approve programs must be made in writing to the Commission.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct, comment, gesture or contact of a sexual nature that is known or should reasonably be known to cause offense. For more information on sexual harassment, refer to the section Harassment and Bullying: What is Covered?


Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is included under the ground of sex or gender, and occurs most often in employment.  Pregnancy includes the pre and post delivery period, pregnancy related illness, as well as the possiblity of becoming pregnant.

Consider these scenarios:

Scenario 1: Rose had a baby six months ago and took maternity leave. When Rose returns to work, she is surprised to find that her previous position has been filled permanently. She has been placed in a lower paying position with less responsibility than she had before.

Scenario 2: Patricia is a waitress. She is five months pregnant. The manager advises her that they will be laying her off shortly because she is getting “too big” to do her job.

Rose and Patricia could be experiencing discrimination in the area of employment on the basis of sex or gender (pregnancy).

Employers cannot dismiss or refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant or may become pregnant. If a pregnant woman becomes ill, she is entitled to sick leave and health and/or short-term disability benefits the same as any other employee. Under the PEI Employment Standards Act, women who have worked for an employer for 20 continuous weeks are entitled to take unpaid maternity leave and parental leave for up to a year. A woman is entitled to return to the same or a comparable employment position to the one she had prior to taking maternity/parental leave.

Employers must accommodate pregnant women to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation may include allowing frequent washroom breaks, modifying duties, or providing a place for the woman to breastfeed upon her return to work. Refer to the section on “Duty to Accommodate and Undue Hardship” for more information.


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