Liability for discrimination at work reaches new levels

Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in B.C. case shows employers must address discriminatory behavior by non-employees if it is in the context of the work environment
By Laura Williams
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 07/18/2018

Human rights legislation across Canada is frequently evolving and adding protected grounds against discrimination, including discrimination with regards to employment. A recent change in many jurisdictions – and backed up by the nation’s top court – doesn’t just limit employment-related discrimination to between employees. Any discrimination that affects an employee while he’s trying to do his job may require the employer to take action or face liability.

There was a time when workplace discrimination was commonplace, even an accepted practice, across Canada. Employees who reached a defined age, for example, might be forced to retire depending on the policies of the organization that employed them or the nature of their position. Women and minorities, too, might be dissuaded or blatantly barred from pursuing certain positions, their career advancement limited by longstanding misconceptions or prejudice.

Much has changed in 2018. Now, every province has human rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on more than a dozen grounds including age, gender, race, religion and disability. In an increasingly multicultural country that accepts hundreds of thousands of newcomers each year, not to mention one that embraces diversity, this is incredibly important progress.