Understanding the Significance of Human Rights in the Workplace


What Constitutes A Human Rights Conflict in the Workplace?

Any workplace conflict, personal harassment or bullying that partially or wholly relates to an employee’s:

Race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age or unrelated criminal conviction (often referred to as “protected grounds” under the Human Rights Code) constitutes a human rights conflict in the workplace.

Discriminatory Harassment

Discriminatory harassment includes direct harassment (conduct or statements directed at employees) and indirect harassment (conduct, such as jokes, pictures and stories, not directed at an employee but which adversely affects the overall workplace environment). The harassment must be based, at least in part, on the “protected grounds”.


Discrimination entails any unfair differential treatment or management decision in the workplace (for example, hiring, firing, discipline) that is in any way based upon the “protected grounds”.

Human rights conflicts, through discriminatory harassment or discrimination, violate the BC Human Rights Code. Employees who are subject to this type of treatment are entitled to file internal workplace complaints or formal grievances or may launch a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

What Should You Do If You Suspect There May Be A Human Rights Issue In Your Workplace?

Given the many and often complicated legal requirements regarding human rights in the workplace, and the costly financial and emotional consequences of ongoing human rights violations, managers should seek expert advice as soon as they suspect that there may be an issue in the workplace. Often, this suspicion arises well before a formal complaint is filed.

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What Should You Do If an Employee Files An Internal Complaint?

If an employee raises an informal concern or files a formal workplace complaint that may involve a human rights violation, it is imperative that the Employer responds quickly yet carefully. A proper and objective investigation of the complaint should be conducted to determine if there has been a human rights violation. Following the investigation, the Employer should remedy any human rights violations in a responsive and thorough manner.

What Should You Do If You Receive a Formal Human Rights Complaint?

The Human Rights Tribunal has extensive rules and regulations regarding Employer responses to human rights complaints. Many of these are time-sensitive and procedurally complex.

The Human Rights Tribunal has awarded significant monetary damages against Employers based upon a finding of discrimination or discriminatory harassment in the workplace.

In light of the complex procedural rules and the significant consequences of an “adverse outcome”, organizations should seek expert advice as soon as they receive a complaint from the Human Rights Tribunal.

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