Workers should all have equal access to employment opportunities, and their human rights must be protected at all times. However, even when workplace equity exists, human rights problems may not be immediately evident. The British Columbia Human Rights Code is meant to protect employees from discrimination at work.
Employers in British Columbia may schedule work hours as they see fit. They may draft schedules weeks in advance or on a daily basis. However, employment law prescribes the number of hours workers may work, the number of free hours they should have, and how they will be compensated for extra work hours. Overtime is due whenever work hours exceed the standard 40 hours per week, from Sunday through Saturday.
Many workers' fear of losing their jobs may prevent them from filing human rights complaints at the BC Human Rights Tribunal against their employers when they encounter discrimination contrary to the protected grounds established under the BC Human Rights Code (the "Code"). However, employees in British Columbia are in fact protected against retaliation by employers under the Code.
We have previously written about a number of significant amendments to the British Columbia Employment Standards Act which have come into effect this year. Many of these amendments will affect low-wage earners in BC. The amendment with the most direct effect is a change to the minimum wage rate, aimed at assisting in providing economic security for many thousands of low-wage workers. An immediate increase will be followed by further adjustments over the next two years.
It is almost one year since it became legal to use cannabis in Canada. In April 2019, a director of WorkSafeBC, Tom Brocklehurst, answered some of the questions that both employers and employees have about legal cannabis use in the workplace. One of the frequently asked questions addressed in his comments is whether there are new WorkSafeBC regulations in place to deal with recreational cannabis.
The #MeToo movement brought workplace harassment and bullying to the attention of many. Safety professionals across Canada, including British Columbia, have revealed that bullying and harassment remain some of the most significant workplace hazards. WorkSafeBC was the first to make policy changes in 2012, by which harassment in the workplace became a recognized occupational injury that could cause compensable mental trauma.
Employers in British Columbia are legally obligated to comply with employment standards and provide safe work environments. They must always honour workers' rights and protections. Following the disclosure of employment standards violations in a case in which a wealthy British Columbia family were found to have committed wage theft against 174 foreign workers, the Minister of Labour connected recent Employment Standards Act amendments with the prevalence of these kinds of complaints.
Employers in British Columbia can land in hot water if they publish discriminating advertisements for job vacancies. Under employment law, the human rights of applicants may not be violated by placing ads that restrict some people from applying. No such advertisement may include specifications, limitations or mention preferences as to the types of applicants who may apply.
Many British Columbia business owners choose to use the services of independent contractors instead of employees. There are benefits for both parties with such a work relationship, but there can also be severe consequences if the independent contractor arrangement is improperly executed.
Employers' legal obligations to their employees are not limited to meeting workplace standards under the applicable labour or employment legislation. Legal proceedings on the basis of human rights violations in the workplace have grown to comprise a significant part of employment law today. Federally regulated employers in British Columbia must comply with the Canada Human Rights Act, while provincially regulated employers must follow the BC Human Rights Code. Both of these pieces of legislation prohibit discrimination in employment on certain protected grounds.