Most employers in British Columbia know that human rights are not earned by employees — instead, human rights are held by every person from birth. Regardless of an employee’s level of education, skills or the position they hold, they have rights to equality, respect, dignity, and a right to not face any form of discrimination. While employers cannot give or take away their employees’ rights, they may violate them, in which case the employer might be held accountable.
Human rights issues do not always present themselves clearly, and may only become evident when issues arise. For that reason, employers should be proactive and review your policies and practices to ensure that they comply with human rights legislation before any legal claims arise.
Under the provincial B.C. Human Rights Code and the federal Canadian Human Rights Act, it is your obligation as an employer to ensure equal treatment of all employees, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation or other attributes protected by the applicable legislation. Employment policies and work practices in your organization must be fair, just and free of discrimination, retaliation or harassment against employees. As an employer, you must also ensure that employees do not harass co-workers, and be ready to take action if this happens.
Your duty to accommodate
As an employer, you also have an obligation to take steps to take into account the special needs of certain employees. This is known as your duty to accommodate, and it applies to workers who are members of protected groups under the applicable human rights legislation. Your duty to accommodate might require you to make alternative arrangements to allow some workers full participation in the workplace. Enforcing comprehensive policies and procedures with respect to accommodation will ensure that your workplace is an accessible environment, and will also avoid the costs and delays of having to remove barriers as the need arises.
As we have previously written, there may sometimes be justifiable limits to your duty to accommodate. If adjustments to company practices, policies, facilities or buildings are unfeasible or create risks to the safety or health of others, you may be able to claim that you have reached the point of undue hardship in attempting to accommodate an employee. However, undue hardship is assessed on a contextual basis and employers must be able to provide evidence to justify such a claim.
Ensuring compliance in your organization
Along with your responsibility to protect the health and safety of your employees, you are also responsible for ensuring compliance with the applicable human rights legislation. The following steps could significantly improve your organization’s appeal to potential new employees along with its ability to keep talented employees:
- Provide training: Make sure managers and employees have access to anti-discrimination training. Everyone must know their rights and responsibilities along with the company’s practices, policies and rules to prevent discrimination and the potential implications of human rights violations.
- Review human rights policies: Schedule reviews of your organization’s human rights policies to ensure that they are up to date. Look at current rules, practices and policies to ensure that the needs of employees are being met and that and any steps taken to comply with human rights legislation are being accurately recorded.
- Inspire leadership: Organizations can lead by example. Appoint a human rights officer and leaders to uphold the policies, and inspire them to ensure compliance and empower all employees to report human rights violations.
Legal guidance and support
Many employers in British Columbia who are serious about creating workplaces free of human rights violations choose to seek the guidance and support of an experienced lawyer. A savvy lawyer with comprehensive experience in all matters related to labour relations and employment law can review your organization’s policies and practices and advise you on any issues regarding human rights in employment.
Furthermore, if unanticipated legal proceedings arise, your lawyer can be your advocate throughout, ensuring your rights are protected and increasing your chances of achieving the best possible outcome in your particular circumstances.