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:
What is considered a human right and the kinds of activity that draw human rights protection seems ever expanding, including:
- persons with mild and temporary ailments and illnesses are considered disabled and entitled to human rights protection; and
- 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.
- Invisible disabilities and related employee performance/misconduct issues continue to be very difficult situations for employers to manage.
- 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.
- There are increasing instances of conflict between competing human rights, such as religious freedoms and freedom from discrimination based on sexual preference.
- 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.
- 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.