The British Columbia Human Rights Code (the "Code") forbids discrimination in employment based on certain protected employee characteristics. Employees in BC who believe that they are the victim of employment discrimination may file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, a administrative tribunal which has exclusive jurisdiction over hearing human rights matters that arise in BC at first instance. Decisions of the Tribunal may be appealed to the BC Supreme Court by either the employee or the employer.
Section 13 of the Code protects people in BC from discrimination based on protected characteristics in hiring, firing and "any term or condition of employment," including wages, scheduling, benefits, work environment, refusal to promote and others.
Protected characteristics are:
- Place of origin
- Political belief
- Marital status
- Family status
- Physical or mental disability
- Sexual orientation
- Age of at least 19
- Criminal or summary conviction offences unrelated to the employment
Although gender identity and gender expression are not expressly captured as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Code, transgender persons are covered by the Code and their complaints have been accepted under different grounds including sex, sexual orientation and disability.
The Code is violated if the employee can show the four parts of employment discrimination:
- The employer or potential employer's behavior is related to a job, including volunteer work.
- The employee has a protected characteristic or is perceived to have one.
- The employer's behavior adversely impacted the employee such as on a term of employment or on the work environment, including harassment related to a protected characteristic or refusal to reasonably accommodate a religious practice or disability.
- Discrimination was a factor in the negative impact.
Employees who feel they are the victim or discrimination at work should speak with an employment lawyer about potential legal remedies, including whether a complaint to the Tribunal is appropriate. Please note that the time frame to make a complaint in BC is only 6 months from when the act of discrimination occurred.
Legal counsel can also provide guidance about complying with the Code to a BC employer that wants to establish a workplace free from unlawful discrimination. Any employer faced with a human rights matter, whether internal to the workplace or at the level of a Tribunal complaint, should seek the advice of a lawyer for assistance and representation. The Tribunal has a powerful range of remedies available to it.
In future posts, we will discuss other aspects of human rights law in employment under both provincial and federal laws.