Factsheet 3

Collecting EE Information About your Employees

Requirements of the Self-Identification Survey

A self-identification survey allows employers to determine which employees self-identified as members of one or more of the “designated groups”: women, Indigenous people, members of racialized* groups and/or people with disabilities.

The Act and regulations specify some important requirements which must be communicated to employees either in the survey or in a notice attached to it:

  1. Voluntariness
    Employers can make it mandatory for every employee to complete and return the survey. However, an employer cannot compel someone to self-identify as a member of designated group and cannot identify an employee as a member of a designated group without their consent. It is not enough for a self-identification question to include as a possible answer “prefer not to say”. Employers must also clearly indicate in the survey itself that self-identification is voluntary.
  2. Confidentiality:
    Employers must indicate in the survey itself that the information collected is confidential and will only be used by, or be disclosed to, other persons within the organization, in order for the organization to carry out its obligations under the Act.
  3. Information can be changed:
    Employers must notify employees that they can change the information they submitted in the survey at any time.
  4. Multiple Groups:
    Employers must notify employees either in the survey itself or in a notice accompanying the survey that they can self-identify as being a member of more than one designated group.
  5. Alternative Formats
    The survey must clearly indicated that it is available in an alternate format upon request. An alternate format is a medium and/or methodology adapted to a person’s disability that allows this person to effectively access the information communicated in the original format. Some examples are Braille, ASCII text, large print and recorded audio. 

Scope of the Self-Identification Survey

By law, the survey must “contain the definitions members of visible minorities, persons with disabilities and aboriginal peoples set out in section 3 of the Act” (see “Example of Self-Indentification Survey” below). However, the Act also expressly permits flexibility in terms of the expressions used [Regulations, s. 3 (2) & (3) and also permits employers to ask additional questions with respect to employment equity Regulations, s. 3 (5)].

This flexibility enables employers to use more modern language and explore issues which may not have been as well understood at the time the Act was passed. By taking advantage of this flexibility employers can promote higher rates of self-identification among employees. However, employers are cautioned to seek input from members of designated groups and/or seek expert advice on how to update expressions.

Expressions / Terminology

Language about identity has evolved since the passage of the Employment Equity Act. Some of the terms used in the Act (e.g. “visible minority”and “Aboriginal”) are no longer commonly used, and may indeed be offensive to members of the designated groups. As long as the terms are defined in a way that is consistent with the Act, employers are encouraged to consider using more modern expressions. For example, instead of referring to “members of visible minorities” in the survey employers might consider “racialized people”, or “people of colour”. Instead of referring to “Aboriginal” people, the survey may refer instead to Indigenous people.

However, should an employer chose to use more modern language, it is very important that they:

  • include in the survey “a description of those expressions that is consistent with those definitions” (see “Example of Self-Indentification Survey” below).


  • define new expressions in the same was as the expressions used in the Act. This is important, for example, because Statistics Canada and the Worforce Equity Information Management Systems (“WEIMS”) use the terms “visible minorities” and “Aboriginal” people.

Information about Sub-Groups 

The Act expressly permits employers to collect additional information about employment equity in their surveys. There are potential benefits to doing so. The understanding of equity and diversity has evolved over time. It is now generally accepted, for example, that not all people within a “group” experience disadvantages and discrimination to the same level or in the same way. A survey that captures information about “sub-groups” may therefore assist an employer, and the Commission, to better understand obstacles.

On the other hand, employers may want to consider the value of collecting additional information. For example, although Statistics Canada collects information about race at the “subgroup” level, that level of information is not available in WEIMS. 

Finally, should employers choose to ask additional information beyond that required by they Act they must clearly explain:

  • that the information being requested is not required for purposes of the EE Act
  • the reason why they are collecting the information
  • how the information will be used

Approach to the Workforce Survey

Activities related to conducting the workforce survey should have a strategic link to the organization’s mission, vision and business plans to foster a human rights culture. To do so, the organization could:

  • Create a team of representatives from management, human resources, bargaining agent(s) (in unionized workplaces) and members of each of the four designated groups;
  • Include in the survey or a notice attached to it information about EE with specific examples;
  • Make the forms available in both electronic and hard copies;
  • Create a follow-up system to ensure that all employees have the opportunity to return their survey (mandatory);
  • Obtain senior management buy-in and approval to conduct the survey;
  • Ensure that a limited number of people in human resources have access to the data collected (mandatory);
  • Ensure that completed survey forms are kept in a secured place (mandatory). It is also recommended that other information related to the workforce survey also be kept in a secured place. This includes copies of the information sheets that were handed out or e-mailed to employees, minutes of employment equity committee meetings, articles put in the company newsletter or published online, etc.;
  • Keep the results of the workforce survey up-to-date (mandatory). It is also recommended that at least annually employees be reminded that that they have the right to change the information they have submitted or, if they have not filled out a form, that they are welcome to do so;
  • Keep records of the survey so that they can be used for yearly updates and for meeting reporting obligations. Whenever your organization is audited, the documentation could also be used as evidence (mandatory);

Promising Practices

Over the course of many years, the Commission has audited many employers and identified activities that although not required can be very effective at promoting equality in the workplace, including adequate representation of the members of the designated groups.  Here are some examples:

  • Choosing an appropriate method to conduct the workforce survey: For various reasons, some EE designated group members are hesitant to self-identify. These reasons include privacy concerns; a fear that disclosure may have a negative impact on them (e.g. disclosing a non-visible disability); the perception that they are not being evaluated based on merit; and the fact that they consider themselves Canadians. Therefore, it is important that your organization choose a method to conduct its workforce survey that suits the type of work being performed, respects the organization's culture, and is welcoming and convenient for employees. One organization conducted a “Census Day” where senior management informed employees about its commitment and obligations under the Act and encouraged them to complete the survey.
  • Confidentiality: It is important that managers and supervisors do not have access to the information about individual employees, including that data be reported to them in aggregate form only so that no individual may be identified. Employees need to know that they have control over when and how their self-identification data is used.
  • Mounting an effective communication campaign: To gain the trust and the participation from the employees during the self-identification survey process, some organizations ensure that management and bargaining agents collaborate so the plans and follow-up surrounding the workforce survey are communicated to all employees and are well understood.
  • Making the return of survey forms mandatory: Although the completion of the self-identification survey relating to the four designated groups is voluntary, some organizations make the return of the survey form mandatory. When new employees are hired, the organization includes the survey form in the new hire or orientation package of the documents to be returned to the organization.
  • Using WEIMS: In the private sector, organizations use the Workplace Equity Information Management System provided by Employment and Social Development Canada to incorporate all data about EE and the workforce. 

Example of a Self-Identification Survey

Information collected from this survey is confidential and will only be used by, or be disclosed for, carrying out the organization’s obligations under the Employment Equity Act. With your consent, it may also be used for human resources management purposes related to employment equity. This includes referrals for training and developmental assignments, as well as the establishment of special programs. Completing the self-identification section of the survey is voluntary. However, completion of the employee identification section is mandatory, as is the return of the survey. Please note that an employee may be a member of more than one designated group and may update their information at any time. This survey is available in alternate formats.

This survey contains two types of questions: questions we are required to ask you pursuant to the Employment Equity Act, and questions that we are asking because we believe they are relevant to promoting diversity and inclusion even though they are not required by the Act. Questions seeking information in addition to that required by the Act are marked with an asterisk.

Employee self-identification survey
(confidential when completed)
We are not required by the Employment Equity Act to ask questions marked with an *. We are asking these questions because we would like to better understand and address barriers to equality, diversity and inclusion in our workplace that may vary, even among the designated group members as defined in the Employment Equity Act. As with all answers you provide to these questions, your responses will be kept strictly confidential and will not be shared with your manager or supervisor except to describe general trends without identifying you personally. As such, please note that identifying a disability in this survey does not constitute a request for accommodation, which should be made in accordance with the accommodation policy.
Employee Identification
Family Name:
Given name:
Employee ID:


Persons with disabilities are those that have a long-term or recurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric or learning impairment and who (a) consider themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment, or (b) believe that an employer or potential employer is likely to consider them to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment. This also includes persons whose functional limitations owing to their impairment have been accommodated in their current job or workplace.

Are you a person with a disability?
( ) Yes
( ) No
( ) Prefer not to say

* Please consider providing us with additional detail about your disability/disabilities (select all that apply):
( ) Not applicable (I have no disability)
( ) Prefer not to say
( ) Hearing
( ) Seeing
( ) Mobility
( ) Flexibility
( ) Dexterity
( ) Pain
( ) Learning
( ) Memory
( ) Developmental
( ) Mental and/or psychological
( ) Unknown disability type
( ) Other

For the purposes of the Employee Equity Act an Indigenous person is a North American Indian or a member of a First Nation, a Metis, or Inuit. North American Indians or members of a First Nation include status, treaty or registered Indians, as well as non-status and non-registered Indians.

Are you an Indigenous person?
( ) Prefer not to say
( ) Yes
( ) No

* If yes, please consider providing us with additional information about being Indigenous. Are you:
( ) Prefer not to say
( ) First Nation
( ) Inuit
( ) Metis

For the purposes of the Employee Equity Act racialized persons are persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in color, regardless of birthplace.

Are you a racialized person?
( ) Yes
( ) No

* If you are a racialized person please consider providing us with additional information about your race. Are you:
( ) South Asian (e.g., East Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Indo-Caribbean etc.)
( ) Chinese
( ) Black
( ) Filipino
( ) Latin American
( ) Arab
( ) Southeast Asian (e.g., Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, etc.)
( ) West Asian (e.g., Iranian, Afghan, etc.)
( ) Korean
( ) Japanese
( ) Mixed Race
( ) Other (please specify) _________________

Do you agree that this information may be used for human resources management purposes related to employment equity?
( ) Yes
( ) No
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