I recently had the opportunity to present a paper summarizing significant human rights decisions of 2012 at the annual BC Continuing Legal Education conference on human rights law. The conference was very well organized and featured a number of excellent topics and speakers.
In considering the case summaries I reviewed at the conference, I have the following thoughts about the state of human rights in British Columbia:
1. What is considered a human right and the kinds of activity that draw human rights protection seems ever expanding, including:
(a) persons with mild and temporary ailments and illnesses are considered disabled and entitled to human rights protection; and
(b) protected political speech has been extended to professionals who engage in personal advocacy concerning their profession (in the recent case (Wali v. Jace Holdings, 2012 BCHRT 389 – in this case, a pharmacy manager was campaigning against his employer’s interests and was considered to be engaged in protected political speech);
This obviously makes managing employees more difficult in that protected grounds are difficult to precisely define.
2. Invisible disabilities and related employee performance/misconduct issues continue to be very difficult situations for employers to manage.
3. Increasingly, employees who are subject to performance management are claiming harassment/discrimination, and immediately go on sick leave, another difficult situation for employers to manage.
4. There are increasing instances of conflict between competing human rights, such as religious freedoms and freedom from discrimination based on sexual preference.
5. There appear to be an increasing number of cases dealing with discrimination based on national origin where the complainants are not traditionally disadvantaged immigrants or minorities.
6. An increasing number of complainants are claiming they have suffered retaliation in connection with making a complaint.
The upshot of the above is clear – human rights continue to be a significant source of risk for employers and managing human rights issues is not getting any easier.