LEGAL RIGHTS BULLETIN: Human Rights in the Workplace

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The Human Rights Code (“the Code”) gives everyone the right to equal treatment in employment without discrimination or harassment on the basis of: race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, of family, handicap and several other fields.

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Applying to all provincially regulated workplaces, the Code is a powerful law that can override other laws.

The Code covers all aspects of the employment relationship and the working environment. This means that an employee’s human rights are protected in the areas of training, transfers, promotions, terminations and layoffs, discipline, performance reviews and shift work.

In fact, the Code even protects potential employees during the application, recruitment and hiring process.

Disabilities in the workplace are one of the fastest growing areas of human rights law. The Code protects both physical and mental disabilities. The definition of disability is broad and does not necessarily require a formal medical diagnosis.

Physical disabilities are illnesses or injuries that impair an employee’s ability to function in the workplace. This includes things like arthritis and back problems.

Mental disabilities are “invisible” psychological or cognitive problems that interfere with functioning in the workplace. This includes things like depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities.

The Code requires employers to accommodate disabilities to the point of “undue hardship”. This means that the employer may be legally required to modify work duties or grant an employee time off for treatment.

An employer cannot choose to hire exclusively men for physically demanding work assuming that women are incapable of this type of work. Doing so is discrimination based on sex.

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Unwelcome comments or jokes related to sex, religion, gender identity or race are examples of harassment.

Systemic discrimination refers to policies or practices that appear neutral but have discriminatory effects.

For example, an employer cannot require all employees to stay late to complete a special project or face disciplinary action. Such a practice may discriminate against employees with child care obligations that are protected under the family status provision of the Code.

Importantly, the Code contains an anti-retaliation provision. This means that an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee for attempting to enforce a right under the Code.

Human rights in the workplace are a complex area of ​​law. The specific facts of each case should be analyzed by a labor lawyer who is able to provide confidential advice.

At Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic, we provide advice and representation to people regarding human rights in the workplace. If your case is well founded and your family income is low, the legal clinic may be able to represent you. If your family income is not low enough to qualify for our services, we will refer you to the private bar.

Travis McKay, CKLC labor lawyer (www.cklc.ca, 519-351-6771)

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