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When are employment advertisements deemed discriminatory?

On Behalf of | Nov 23, 2021 | Employment Law |

Publishing employment advertisements in British Columbia is a process that needs careful consideration. Employers might not realize that the wrong choice of words could lead to discrimination allegations. It is against the BC Human Rights Code to publish employment advertisements specifying preferences or limitations related to protected characteristics.

What personal characteristics are protected?

The BC Human Rights Code protects the following personal characteristics from discrimination in employment decisions:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Religion
  • Ancestry or place of origin
  • Sex or sexual orientation
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability
  • Marital or family status
  • Age
  • Political belief

Section 11 of the BC Human Rights Code noted that “[a] person must not publish or cause to be published an advertisement in connection with employment or prospective employment that expresses a limitation, specification or preference as to race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age unless the limitation, specification or preference is based on a bona fide occupational requirement.”


Examples of potentially discriminatory employment advertisements

To fill a vacancy, a company invites applications from people who are “dynamic and young.” Even though the ad mentions no age requirement, it demonstrates a preference for a specific age group.

A construction company advertises online for male carpenters.

Requirements for a valid discrimination claim

Anyone who considers filing a claim against a business alleging discrimination must show the following:

  • The existence of an advertisement published inviting applications for prospective employment.
  • The person filing the claim has a personal characteristic protected under the BC Human Rights Code, which deems them ineligible to apply.
  • The ad indicates limitations, preferences or specifications linked to personal characteristics.

Justification defence

If the complainant proves that an employment advertisement limits or prefers job applicants based on a personal characteristic, the complainant will have a prima facie case of discrimination. The respondent can argue that there is no discrimination because the limitation, specification, or preference is justified (i.e., based on a bona fide occupational requirement). The respondent may also have a defence based on sections 41 or 42 of the BC Human Rights Code.

Before taking any action, we recommend that you speak with a lawyer to understand your rights. Contact us to explore your options. Conversely, if you have received a complaint alleging discrimination based on one of your employment advertisements, we can discuss how to respond. Our team’s experience and knowledge of labour and employment law can help you defend allegations of advertising discrimination.




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