Workers have a right to a workplace free from harassment and discrimination, regardless of who is behind it. Or so we thought, based on the past twenty years of Canadian human rights law.
This March 28, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear an important case concerning human rights protections for workers in BC, and potentially across the country. In Schrenk v. British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal), 2016 BCCA 146 (“Schrenck”), the British Columbia Court of Appeal appeared to roll back the BC Human Rights Tribunal’s ability to hear cases involving workplace discrimination where the wrongdoer is not in a position of economic authority over the worker.
In other words, it says that anti-discrimination law only protects workers from discrimination and harassment from workplace superiors: not co-workers or other workers that might be in the workplace. So if the Supreme Court of Canada upholds the decision, it could mean that a worker experiencing discrimination and harassment by a co-worker may be unable to seek remedies under BC’s Human Rights Code. The decision also appears to roll back an employer’s responsibility to address systemic discrimination and harassment in the workplace and proactively attend to the health and safety of the work environment.
As an organization that has worker members and strives to improve workplace conditions for retail, food service, and hospitality workers, the Retail Action Network (RAN) is intervening in the Schrenk case at the Supreme Court of Canada. RAN will bring forward the perspective of retail, food service, and hospitality workers who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and harassment due to insecure and precarious working conditions as well as other aspects of their social identities such as race, age, and gender.
Workers’ experiences of discrimination and harassment in the workplace are not limited to relationships where there is a clear economic power imbalance. We know that workers in retail, food service, and hospitality often face harassment and discrimination from not only employers, but also co-workers and customers. All of these relationships properly fall under the employer’s responsibility to ensure a healthy and discrimination-free workplace for workers. RAN will urge the Supreme Court to reinstate BC’s human rights protections for workers and the ability for workers to access to access meaningful remedies under BC’s Human Rights Code.