Race and the Workplace

Employment and Labour

With workplaces slowly increasing their operations and in light of the significant rise in hate crimes against the Asian community in the last year, it is imperative for employees and employers alike to appreciate the protections provided by the BC Human Rights Code (the “Code”).  The Code seeks to:   

  • foster a society in British Columbia in which there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of British Columbia;
  • to promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights;
  • to prevent discrimination prohibited by the Code;
  • to identify and eliminate persistent patterns of inequality associated with discrimination prohibited by the Code; and
  • to provide a means of redress for those persons who are discriminated against contrary to the Code.

The Code, under Section 13, provides that a person’s race, ethnicity, ancestry or place of origin are protected classes under the Code.  This means that, in the employment context, for a complaint to succeed at a Human Rights Tribunal hearing, the employee would need to prove, on a balance of probabilities, the following: 

  • the employee has one or more characteristics protected under Section 13 of the Code; 
  • that the employee experienced an adverse treatment at their place of employment; and
  • that the employee’s race, ethnicity, ancestry or place of origin, was a factor in that adverse treatment.  

The employee’s race, ethnicity, ancestry or place of origin do not have to be the only factor in their adverse treatment nor does the employee have to prove that there was an intention to discriminate.  The employee, by way of their evidence, must demonstrate that their race, ethnicity, ancestry or place of origin was one factor in their adverse treatment at their place of employment.   That being said, it is important to appreciate that negative comments or acts that may create a difficult workplace do not necessarily constitute discrimination.  Your employment lawyer will want to discuss your workplace environment, the nature of your adverse treatment, how egregious such treatment was and assess any other patterns of behaviour at play at your workplace.    Parties to a Human Rights Tribunal complaint, however, must appreciate that perfection is not the standard imposed by the Code.  .  For instance, there may be evidence of derogatory conduct directed at a particular employee, but, depending on the circumstance of the matter, that instance may not be found to be discriminatory.   This is why it is important to discuss your employment matter with an employment lawyer – employment relationships and the surrounding dynamics and environment are unique.  Lastly, parties should be aware that there is a limitation period, or a deadline, to file a discrimination complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal.  We encourage you to contact any member of our Labour and Employment Law Group to discuss your matter as soon as possible. This article is intended to be an overview of the law and is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that this article does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Rather, readers should obtain specific legal advice in relation to the issues they are facing.