What is discrimination?
You have the right to a work environment that is free from discrimination. Discrimination is when you experience harmful treatment at work that is connected to a part of your identity protected by the Code, such as age or race.
You may be experiencing discrimination if each of these are true:
- A part of your identity, such as age or race, is protected by the Code,
- You experience harm or a negative impact at work and
- The harm you experience is connected to the part of your identity protected by the Code.
You can find a full list of identities protected by the Code here.
Discrimination may be:
a one-time event
For example, a woman is fired after her manager finds out she is pregnant.
For example, a worker using a wheelchair loses their job when the office relocates to a building without an elevator.
words and actions where the impact builds up over time to create a poisoned work environment
For example, co-workers repeatedly make race-based comments and jokes about their Asian co-worker.
For example, a manager limits opportunities for younger workers by assigning important projects to other workers.
What are my rights under the Code?
Discrimination-free practices and policies
You have the right to a workplace where policies and practices are free from discrimination.
Policies and practices may include things that are formally written down but also include the way things are done, such as
- How to request time off work
- Recognition for work achievements
- Using requested pronouns (he/she/they)
- What dress code is required
Your employer is responsible to make sure policies and practices do not discriminate.
If you are experiencing discrimination, you have a right to have the discrimination stop. Workplaces may help stop discrimination by
- Providing a way for you to report discrimination in the workplace.
- Making sure it is safe to report and there will be no retaliation against you for reporting.
- Investigating your report of discrimination.
- Taking steps to stop speech or action that is discriminating against you.
Your workplace may have an anti-discrimination policy with information about how discrimination is prevented and addressed in the workplace.
If you are experiencing discrimination at work, your employer has the responsibility to address it. Failing to address complaints about discrimination at work in and of itself could be discrimination. You can read more about your employer’s responsibility to address discrimination on our page about the responsibilities of employers under the Code.
You have the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation.
Examples of accommodation include:
- A worker who observes the Jewish Sabbath is scheduled to work Sunday instead of Friday evening.
- A worker who is partially sighted is provided a larger monitor for their computer.
- A worker is assigned different duties because she can’t use the chemicals in the lab while pregnant.
You must cooperate with your employer—and your union if you are unionized—to find a reasonable accommodation. This includes:
- Sharing information about your needs. You only need to share as much information as necessary for your employer to understand the limitations and restrictions you are experiencing in relation to your job duties. Your employer must keep this information confidential.
- Accepting reasonable options. The accommodation your employer offers might not be perfect, but you are responsible to try accommodation options that are reasonable.
- Letting your employer know if the accommodation is not working. Your accommodation needs may change over time as your personal circumstances change or if things at work change, such as a change in technology, job responsibilities, or job location.
If you and your employer disagree about the information you need to share as part of the accommodation process or what accommodation is reasonable, you should seek independent legal advice.
Your employer is only required to accommodate you up to the point of undue hardship.
You have the right to be paid the same wages as someone else doing the same work.
- Do I and another person have the same employer?
- Is my rate of pay lower than the other’s rate of pay?
- Is my work the same or similar to the other person’s work?
- Is a part of my identity different than the other person?
For example, am I a different sex, race, or age?
If you answer yes to all the following questions, you might be experiencing discrimination.
Your employer may have a good reason for the difference in pay that isn’t about a part of your identity. In this case, the difference in pay may not be considered discrimination under the Code.
If you apply for a job, you have the right to be considered for that job if you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to do the job. You should not be excluded because of a part of your identity that is protected under the Code.
A job ad should be free of discrimination and not discourage you from applying because of a part of your identity protected by the Code. For example: “We are looking for a young, energetic designer.”
An employer may be able to provide a good reason for the requirement. For example: “We are looking for a person fluent in English and Arabic to support Syrian refugees.”
A job interview provides the employer with information about your skills and experiences relevant to the job. This is valuable information that an employer can use to evaluate your ability to do the job.
It is up to you what information you share about parts of your identity like your age, your race, or your family status when you are interviewing for a job.
Employers should not use information about any parts of your identity protected by the Code against you in a hiring decision.
What can I do if my rights are not upheld?
Confirm your experience
Discrimination in the workplace happens more often than we like to think. Here are some places to learn more about discrimination that happens in workplaces in B.C.
- B.C. Human Rights Tribunal consistently reports that discrimination complaints about employment are the highest number of complaints they receive.
- Our Employment Equity toolkit summarizes some of the persistent problems with discrimination in employment in B.C.
- We are working with community partners and organizations to identify salient human rights priorities and solutions, including relevant to employment.
Take care of yourself
Upholding human rights at work helps to build a workplace that is positive and respectful for all workers. If your rights are not upheld at work, it may be a difficult and stressful place for you.
- Who can I talk to about my experience?
Sharing with friends or family or others who care about you can help.
- What supports do I have outside of work to help me take care of myself?
Think about supports and services, routines and habits that help you look after your physical and mental health.
- What supports do I have at work to help take care of myself?
Some workplaces offer Employee (Family) Assistance Programs that provide free and confidential information, resources and services, including counseling.
You can talk to the person whose speech or actions you feel are discriminating against you, if you feel safe enough to talk to them directly.
- Who can I talk to about my experience?
Make a complaint
If you have experienced discrimination at work, you can tell someone who is responsible to stop the discrimination. This might be your manager or human resources. Your union can also provide support.
- What do I want to happen?
- Who is responsible to stop this discrimination?
- How safe do I feel talking about what’s happening?
- Are there policies or procedures in the workplace that would help me make a complaint?
Any job applicant or worker can make a complaint directly to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
Your employer is usually named in the complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. You may also name another person if they are responsible for the discrimination, such as
- A person who makes a hiring decision
- A person who makes or influences a discriminatory decision
- A coworker who harasses you
- Your union, if they
- help make a rule that discriminates
- block your employer’s efforts to accommodate you
How do I prove discrimination at work?
For you to prove that your experience was discrimination, your complaint will have to show you experienced harm connected to a part of your identity protected by the Code.
Is part of my identity protected by the Code?
B.C.’s Human Rights Code protects you from discrimination based on certain parts of your identity. This includes things like your age, your race, your gender identity or expression, and your family status. See the complete list.
You are protected by the Code if you are perceived to have an identity protected by the Code.
For example: A worker is taunted and excluded at work because other staff think they are gay. Even though the worker is not gay, he is experiencing harm at work related to a part of his identity protected under the Code.
Have I experienced harm?
- A job ad makes clear you should not apply because the employer wants to hire people who are not close to retirement.
- You are not hired for a job because you are Indigenous.
- You are told you cannot wear your religious head covering because the company’s dress code doesn’t allow it.
- You are harassed because you use they/them pronouns.
- You are passed over for a promotion because you have kids.
- You are a woman and are paid less than men with the same duties.
- You aren’t given the same extended health benefits because you and your spouse are the same sex.
- You are disciplined or fired when your disability requires an accommodation.
You do not have to prove that your employer intended to harm you. You must only prove that you experienced harm.
Is the harm connected to a part of my identity protected by the Code?
Here are some ways you can prove the harm was connected to a part of your identity.
- Comments were made by your employer or others in your workplace that make the connection clear.
- Your employer made a rule for all workers but it harmed you because of your identity.
- Your employer did not accommodate you and could have without experiencing undue hardship
If you answer yes to all three of these questions, you have experienced discrimination at work. But your employer may have a good reason for their decisions, which they may use to defend their actions. If their reasons are completely non-discriminatory, they will have a successful defense to a human rights complaint. You can read more about reasons employers can use to defend their actions on our page about the responsibilities of employers under the Code.
Frequently asked questions
I’m a volunteer. Do I have the same rights as workers under the Code?
Probably. Even though you are not paid for your work, volunteers are often considered to be workers under the Code.
- Was there a formal process signing up as a volunteer?
- Did I receive training for my volunteer role?
- Am I given specific tasks to do?
- Do I have to agree to follow the organization’s policies and practices?
- Are there requirements about when or how often I am available?
- Do volunteers have an important role in the organization?
If you answer most of these questions with “yes” you are likely considered a worker for the purposes of the Code and have the right to a workplace free of discrimination.
Do I have rights if I am a part-time, seasonal, temporary, migrant or foreign worker?
Yes, your human rights are protected as a worker under B.C.’s Human Rights Code. You may be more vulnerable to discrimination if your permit to live or work in Canada is tied to one employer, you are not clear about your rights, or if losing your job means you can no longer stay in Canada. You are encouraged to learn more about your rights and supports available to you at Migrant Workers Centre.
I’m working with an employment agency. Do they have responsibilities under the Code?
An employment agency is responsible to ensure they do not discriminate against applicants they are helping match with jobs. If an employment agency does not refer you for a job because of a part of your identity protected by the Code, this would be discrimination.
What if the harm didn’t occur at work?
Your human rights at work include any aspect of the workplace environment.
- The physical workplace, worksite, or office
- Work events held somewhere else.
- Email that is received while away from the workplace
- Other communication related to work that happens away from the workplace
Your human rights at work include any aspect of the employment relationship. This includes
- Dismissals and lay offs
- Rate of pay
- Work hours
- Schedules and shifts
- Performance evaluations
What if the reason I’m experiencing harm at work is complicated?
Workplaces can be complicated! In real life, there is usually more than one thing happening at the same time. The part of your identity protected by the Code may not have been the only reason for the harm you are experiencing at work. Even if a part of your identity protected by the Code is only one part of the reason you experienced harm at work, it still counts as discrimination. The part of your identity protected by the Code doesn’t have to be the only reason or even the biggest reason for the harm for it to be discrimination.
What if I’m experiencing harm because of a part of my identity that is not protected by the Code?
Sometimes a part of your identity is so closely linked to parts of your identity protected under the Code that an employer may breach the Code if they discriminate against you on the basis of that part of your identity, even if it is not listed in the Code. For example, if you speak a first language other than English it may be so closely linked to your race, ethnicity, or place of origin that if an employer refuses to hire you because your first language isn’t English, they may be discriminating against you on the basis of race, ethnicity, or place of origin.
Don’t assume that what you are experiencing is not covered by the Code or other employment laws. Talk to an employment or human rights lawyer.
Who can help?
If you would like to learn more about your rights and responsibilities in employment under B.C.’s Human Rights Code
- Check out the workshops we have available or make a request for us to join your event.
- The BC Human Rights Clinic offers information and training for employers, managers, human resources professionals, and small business owners.
- The People’s Law School of BC provides online information about discrimination at work.
- SHARP Workplaces provides Sexual Harassment Advice, Response, and Prevention information, resources and free training
If you would like to make a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal or have been notified by the Human Rights Tribunal that a complaint has been made against you
- The BC Human Rights Clinic offers information, an information line, a free 30-minute appointment with a lawyer or legal advocate and legal services for workers wishing to make a human rights complaint.
- The BC Human Rights Tribunal website offers information, resources, and examples to help understand and navigate the process of making or responding to a complaint.
- The Law Centre offers help understanding the Human Rights Tribunal process, preparing initial responses, mediation options, and legal representation. Applicants for this service must demonstrate financial need.
- Consult a lawyer with experience in human rights. A lawyer can provide legal advice specific to the details of your complaint and represent you in the human rights process.
If you are looking for resources to learn more about other legal rights and responsibilities at work
- WorkSafe BC has an online resource toolkit and prevention line to help employers and workers prevent and address bullying and harassment in the workplace.
- Employment Standards Branch sets standards for payment, compensation and working conditions in most workplaces in B.C.
- B.C. Labour Relations Board resolves issues in workplaces that are unionized or are becoming unionized.
- Check out local resources available through business associations or community groups.