Tribunal Awards Over $38,000 Damages to Esquimalt Denture Clinic Employee Fired Following Sexual Harassment

sexual harassment at work, office woman and her lustful boss

In reasons released for the case of Basic v Esquimalt Denture Clinic and another, 2020 BCHRT 138 on July 7, 2020, BC Human Rights Tribunal Chair Diana Juricevic held that the Complainant Jasmine Basic was sexually harassed by her employer Andrew Lee at an Esquimalt, BC Denture Clinic and that this harassment was a factor in the termination of Ms. Basic’s employment. This constituted discrimination based on sex and Mr. Lee and his clinic were ordered to pay Ms. Basic over $38,000 in damages.

Ms. Basic had been employed as a receptionist at Mr. Lee’s Esquimalt Denture Clinic Ltd. While at the clinic, Mr. Lee engaged in a extensive conduct of a sexual nature. The conduct is outlined by the Tribunal at paragraphs 94 and 95 of the decision as follows:

He repeatedly commented on the size of her breasts and asked whether her “boobs” were fake. In the context of one conversation, he remarked that she was so attractive that she would likely be sexually assaulted in another workplace. He complimented parts of her body – skin, legs, breasts – and overall appearance.

…..

[95] Mr. Lee also engaged in physical conduct of a sexual nature. Mr. Lee slapped Ms. Basic’s butt with a magazine. He repeatedly grabbed her breasts and looked down her shirt. On one occasion, he tried to look down her pants. He hugged her, rubbed her back, rubbed her leg, rested his head on her shoulder, and kissed the top of her head. He pressed his body up against hers when she was putting away an air compressor. He pulled her onto his lap when she was trying on scrubs.

The case largely turned on whether Mr. Lee’s conduct was unwelcome. Mr. Lee argued that the interactions were consensual in the context of an intimate personal relationship. Regarding this issue, the Tribunal held as follows at paragraph 118:

As explained further below, I have no difficulty reconciling the facts that Ms. Basic enjoyed many aspects of working with Mr. Lee, shared personal information, and at the same time, did not welcome his sexual advances.

Mr. Lee asserted that Ms. Basic sexualized the workplace by engaging in sexualized behaviour and wearing provocative attire. Those arguments were rejected, partly because it is a “myth or stereotype that ‘promiscuous’ or ‘party’ individuals are more likely to consent or less worthy of belief.” Ultimately, found the Tribunal, Ms. Basic was touched sexually by Mr. Lee, she told him to stop, and he persisted.

All of this sexual harassment, held the Tribunal, resulted in Ms. Basic being immersed in a poisoned work environment and terminated.

The Tribunal made the following damages awards against Mr. Lee and his clinic:

  1. $11,796.04 for wage loss and wage differential that flowed from the discrimination;
  2. $1,612 for expenses associated with the hearing; and
  3. $25,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

Tribunal Denounces Use of Prior Sexual History as Consent Defence and Orders Employer pay over $40,000 Damages for Sexually Assaulting House Cleaner

AdobeStock_186130511

In reasons released on June 26, 2020, the BC Human Rights Tribunal awarded a woman nearly $45,000 in damages after she was sexually assaulted by a man who employed her for cleaning services in his home.

The events occurred on October 17, 2017. The case turned on whether the Respondent JS’s conduct towards the Complainant MP was unwelcome (their identities were anonymized by the Tribunal). The evidence about both parties was at odds and they were the only witnesses to the events, so JS and MP’s credibility was a major issue in the case. JS was an 87-year-old man who immigrated to Canada as a youth and owned a house where he lived with his wife until her death in 2013 (paragraph 27). He also owned a second home abroad. MP was a middle-aged woman who immigrated to Canada with her husband in 2009 and eventually began working as a house cleaner.

Tribunal Member Emily Ohler stated at paragraph 3 of her decision that at the hearing, she heard extensive evidence about ongoing sexual relations between the parties prior to October 17, 2017. In JS’s response, he asserted that the Complainant MP had consented to sexual contact with him in exchange for money over the course of years. In response to this evidence, the tribunal stated as follows at paragraph 4:

I would like to acknowledge the issues that arise from seeking to defend against sexual assault allegations on the basis of prior sexual history. Evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual history to argue a greater propensity to consent to the encounter at issue is presumptively inadmissible because of its reliance on myths and stereotypes: R. v. Seaboyer; R. v. Gayme, [1991] 2 SCR 577, R. v. Barton, 2019 SCC 33 [Seaboyer].

While Tribunal Member Emily Ohler recognized that the rules of evidence in the named court cases did not apply to the Tribunal, she noted that the myths and stereotypes referred to in those court cases are similar to three myths and strereotypes recently identified by the Tribunal regarding a sexual harassment complaint in The Employee v. The University and another (No. 2), 2020 BCHRT 12. Those myths and stereotypes were as follows, per paragraph 4:

First, a lack of protest. The Tribunal said at para. 178, “[i]t is not necessary for a complainant to expressly object to the conduct and the law recognizes that a person’s behaviour “may be tolerated and yet unwelcome at the same time”: Mahmoodi, para. 141.” Second, a delay in reporting. The Tribunal observed at para. 179, “I acknowledge that non‐reporting is a stereotype that privileges complainants who resist and report immediately. … A person may choose not to report for a variety of reasons including fear of negative job‐related consequences, not being believed, attacks on their reputation, or the difficult nature of the investigations: Hastie.” Third, participation in prior behaviour. At para. 180, the Tribunal rejected an argument suggesting “a pattern of consent”, saying that such evidence does not support “a finding that the Employee welcomed the conduct, that she is less worthy of belief, or that it is unreasonable to know that the conduct would be unwelcome.”

Consent always needs to be obtained on an ongoing basis. Prior consent does not amount to current consent and is no defence for sexual assault.

Ultimately, the Tribunal made the following findings of fact:

a. JS had a friendly relationship with MP and her family. This included periodic visits
to each other’s houses; a handful of outings together; and MP and her family
sometimes turning to JS for favours.

b. Around 2015, JS began touching MP in a sexual way that was unwelcome. At the
same time, he warned her that if she said anything or stopped working for him,
he would tell her Husband and break up her family.

c. One day, in response to this continuing treatment, MP told JS that she would no
longer return to work for him. After a few weeks of MP not attending the House,
JS visited MP’s Husband to tell him that MP had stopped working for him and ask
the Husband to speak with her. MP reasonably viewed this as a signal that JS
would make good on his threats to tell her Husband about what had been going
on. MP returned to work.

d. The unwelcome sexual contact continued. On October 27, 2017, just before JS
left for overseas, he sexually assaulted her. At this time, MP decided she had
enough and told him she would not be returning to work for him.

e. Once JS left for overseas, MP’s Husband noticed her phone logs showed frequent
telephone calls with JS. When he questioned her, she told him the entire story.
MP and her Husband cut off contact with JS.

f. JS’s conduct has had a lasting impact on MP, leaving her depressed and less able
to engage with work and her family life.

According to MP’s evidence, the unwelcome touching started when JS would brush up against her as she was changing the garbage, for example. Then he asked her for hugs and if she said no, he would hug her from behind. Then, when she was changing the sheets on his bed, he would approach her and push or pull her by the waist on the bed and put his legs over hers when she would try to retreat. He would grab her and grope her, tell her to be quiet, and say that he only wanted to “have fun.” She said that he would try to convince her to have sex with him by complaining that his other cleaners in his home abroad would do it (paras 64 to 73).

Around 2015 or 2016, MP took a break from working for JS as a result of the unwelcome sexual contact. She returned after JS’s visit to her husband, as noted above. The sexual contact and JS’s force escalated, with him forcing himself upon her and then giving her extra money afterwards. The Tribunal made the following findings of fact about the October 27, 2017 events at para 112:

On a balance of probabilities, on the whole of the evidence, I find that it is more likely than not that on October 27, 2017, JS pushed MP onto the bed, put his hands under her clothing, and touched her in a sexual way that she did not want. I find that it is more likely than not that JS touched MP’s breasts, put his fingers into her vagina, and put her hand on his penis. I find that after this encounter, MP told JS that she would not return to work for him when he got back from abroad.

As a result of all of this, MP attended counselling and was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. The sexual assaults impacted her marriage, her relationship with her children, and her work. She stopped working, had suicidal ideations, and retreated from her family and community (para 201).

The Tribunal made the following awards:

  1. $4,300 to replace the income MP would have earned from JS but for the discrimination;
  2. $49.98 for antidepressant medication;
  3. $106.50 for MP’s parking expenses to attend the hearing; and
  4. $40,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect

Employee Awarded Over $23,000 for Employer’s Withholding of Work when Jealous of her Sexual Relationships with other Men

Young woman on scaffolding by roof

Tribunal Member Emily Ohler issued her reasons on June 10, 2020 for allowing a woman’s complaint regarding sexist discrimination in employment and retaliation.

The complainant LL had worked for a roof repair company from 2009 to 2017. She and the owner of the company, DM, began a personal, sexual relationship around 2011. Following an eight-day hearing, the Tribunal held that although DM did not exploit LL’s reliance on him for work by making work conditional upon her having sex with him, he did “impose adverse employment-related consequences on LL for issues arising from their personal relationship rather than the employment sphere,” and that LL’s sex was a factor in these consequences. The Tribunal also held that DM retaliated against LL in breach of section 43 of the BC Human Rights Code by texting a link to a pornographic video LL appeared in to her cousin and others.

DM had a wife who did not like LL. At some point, he apparently confided in LL about his unhappiness at home with his wife. And then the relationship between LL and DM began. LL’s evidence was that she never enjoyed having sex with DM or wanted him to leave his wife for her, but went ahead with the relationship because she thought she needed to in order to work for DM. DM’s evidence was that LL was a manipulator who used her sexuality to exploit him for financial and other benefits.

At paragraph 72, the Tribunal stated the following about the facts:

While I accept that LL exercised a high degree of autonomy and independence in her own life as well as in her relationships with the Respondents, as I will discuss further below, it is clear to me that DM understood how to exercise his own kind of control in the relationship when he became jealous or had his feelings hurt. As I will discuss, he did so by not showing up when LL counted on him, reclaiming the cars that he had given her, or – central to this complaint – withholding work.

At paragraphs 134 and 135 of the decision, the Tribunal Member sets out how DM imposed adverse employment-related consequences on LL when he was jealous about her having other men in her life:

[134] I do, however, find that there were occasions on which DM withheld work from LL when he became jealous or his feelings were hurt. On this point, I accept that LL sought to ‘keep DM happy’ in the relationship in part to avoid such repercussions. While it is undisputed that she derived a number of benefits from the personal relationship, I accept that she could not have normal relationships with other men in the way that she wanted to and that the possibility of a
fight with DM impacting her work adversely impacted her.

[135] In particular, on a balance of probabilities, in the context of the evidence of both LL and DM, and LL’s journal entries, I find that on the day of the February 2016 Incident in 2016, and on September 22, 29, and October 22, 2017, DM either did not pick LL up or did not tell her about where to go for work, and that he did this specifically in response to his feeling jealous about other men in LL’s life.

The tribunal stated the following about why these actions were in breach of the Human Rights Code:

[175] I am satisfied that LL has met her burden on a balance of probabilities in establishing that she experienced an adverse impact in her employment related to her sex. In Araniva v. RSY Contracting and another (No. 3), 2019 BCHRT 97 [Araniva], the Tribunal found that an employer’s decision to reduce an employee’s hours of work because the employee declined an invitation to socialize with him constituted a breach of s. 13 on the basis of sex. Here, DM’s jealousy over LL’s sexual relationships with other men cannot be extricated from her sex. DM imposed employment‐related consequences because that was one place where he had power
over LL when his feelings were hurt in their personal relationship.

[181] While I have not found that DM coerced LL into sex with the promise of work, I do find that DM periodically withdrew or withheld work when he became jealous or, in his words, his feelings were hurt, by LL’s standing him up or being with other men. This is, in fact, undisputed. DM explained that he loved LL, and so his feelings would be hurt when LL spurned him by not seeing him or by seeing someone else. DM would deny LL work simply because he stopped speaking to LL entirely during these periods when his feelings were hurt. This is not a defence, but an admission. DM was the boss. If DM’s feelings got hurt because he loved LL, with whom he was in a sexual relationship, it was his responsibility to put those feelings aside and treat LL fairly in the workplace regardless.

After LL filed the complaint, DM sent her cousin a pornographic video that she had appeared in many years ago when she was 19 years old. He knew the video upset her and would bring it up when he was angry at her.

Ultimately, the Trinbunal awarded LL $640 damages for the days it ruled she was denied work due to DM’s jealousy. It also awarded the complainant $15,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect in relation to the discrimination complaint and $7,500 for the retaliation.

The Tribunal stated the following about the retaliation damages:

It takes courage to file a complaint. In particular, LL’s complaint required her to publicize highly private, intimate details about her life. I view DM’s actions, taken in the context of his comments that the video showed people that LL is a “nasty” person, as depending upon and looking to further stereotypes about women generally and sexually active, sex‐positive women in particular. He wielded this as a weapon in response to his anger about LL’s complaint. Such actions must be discouraged.

Human Rights Tribunal Rules Burden on Mother to Consider Non-Corporate, Home-Based Daycare as Solution to Work Schedule/Childcare Conflict

child plays with wooden blocks with letters on the floor in the room a little girl is building a tower at home or in the kindergarten.

In reasons issued on June 5, 2020, the BC Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the complaint of a Pacific Blue Cross (PBC) employee who alleged that her employer failed to accommodate her in relation to her family status.

The complainant was a team leader in PBC’s customer service department. She had just returned from maternity leave, which was already cut short due to a childcare issue.

Childcare can be difficult to find in BC. As parents of young children know, you often need to put your child on a childcare wait list, especially if you are looking to get them into childcare as an infant. It can take over a year to get off of a wait list. As a result, some parents in BC put their children on childcare wait lists before they are even born. Once your child’s turn on the wait list comes up, you need to choose to either put them in care or lose your spot.

Thus, when a spot became available for the complainant’s child at 10 months old, she decided to take the opportunity to get him into the facility and go back to work for PBC. Her office was in Burnaby and her home and childcare facility were in Langley. With traffic, the commute can be between 45 and 90 minutes.

The complainant’s work schedule prior to her maternity leave ended at 4:30pm and she understood it would continue to end at that time when she returned. Her son’s childcare required pick up by 6:00pm.

When she returned to work, she was told that her schedule would change to require her to work until 5:00pm for one week every four weeks. The complainant told PBC that she could not do this because it would not allow her time to reliably pick up her child by 6:00p.m. She expected PBC to accommodate her childcare schedule. They did not. As a result, she filed a human rights complaint asserting that she was discriminated against on the basis of her family status.

Tribunal Member Norman Trerise noted in his reasons that the law puts the onus on a the complainant to prove that the employer changed a term or condition of the employment and that the change seriously interfered with a substantial parental duty or obligation. Mr. Trerise held that the complainant did show there was a change to a term of the complainant’s employment. He held, however, that the change did not seriously interfere with a substantial parenting duty or obligation.

According to the member, this was because the complainant did not do enough to explore alternate childcare options. He held as follows:

It is clear that Ms. Ziegler made insufficient efforts to ascertain whether she could arrange alternate daycare which would allow her to work the altered shifts which PBC imposed on the TLs. She eliminated, without any visits to ascertain their suitability for her child’s needs, all home‐based private daycare facilities between Burnaby and Langley from her search. She did this out of a pre‐conceived idea that
“corporate” daycares were the only daycares which could provide suitable care to meet her standards. No evidence was placed before me to support such a position other than Ms. Ziegler’s bald assertion to that effect.

Further, he held:

[66] Instead of searching for a suitable daycare her energies went into fighting a battle to get PBC to provide her with an exemption from their revised work schedules for TLs and alternatively a search for alternate employment.

[68] Ms. Ziegler has made it clear in her evidence that she felt it was unfair for PBC to put her in the position where she must alter the childcare arrangement she had in place. In particular, she was not prepared to consider a non‐corporate, home‐based daycare as a possible solution. Many parents might react similarly, particularly given the age of her child. The test for discrimination on the basis of family status under the Code, however, makes it clear that more is required.

This decision provides a lesson for parents alleging discrimination in failing to accommodate their childcare schedules in the future. As per this decision, parents need to show that they have made an effort to find a solution to the problem. This could mean exploring alternative types of childcare facilities, an alternate schedule with the daycare provider you have, or an alternate schedule with your spouse and their employment. Even if your efforts are fruitless because you still could not solve the problem, the point is to show that you tried.

BC Premier John Horgan Scorns COVID-19-Related Racism

While announcing the province’s “Restart Plan,” the Premier of what is now known as British Columbia, John Horgan, expressed serious concern over COVID-19-related racism. He stated as follows:

When I heard about people of Asian descent being pushed to the ground and buildings being defaced with anti-Chinese slogans, I was angry. Hate has no place in British Columbia. Period. We need to stand together united against that type of racism whenever we see it. COVID-19 does not discriminate. British Columbians shouldn’t discriminate either. If we’re going to get through this, we have to stop finger-pointing, put our differences aside, and work together to get it done.

Previously on this blog, we also posted about the BC Human Rights Commissioner’s statement on COVID-19. Commissioner Govender asserted that in addition to the BC Human Rights Code protecting people with the virus from being discriminated against, it also protects people from being discriminated against based on the ethnicity, place of origin, race, colour, or ancestry. This means employers, landlords, and service providers “cannot discriminate against someone on the basis of whether a person comes from (or appears to come from) a COVID-19 hotspot such as Italy or China.”

These are important reminders for folks in the Province to be kind to one another, though it is sad that such reminders are necessary and though Premier Horgan has a lot of work left to do regarding racism in BC. No one should ever be subjected to discrimination or violence on the basis of their ethnicity.

Kayla Bergsson Talks on Danish Podcast About Human Rights in Times of Crisis

 

COVID-19 Amounts to Disability & Employers Must Accommodate Employees Amidst the Crisis, BC Human Rights Commissioner States

AdobeStock_329127953

On March 23, 2020, BC’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender released a statement on COVID-19, saying that in her view, COVID-19 amounts to a disability. While she recognized that in the rapidly changing circumstances, there has not been time for courts of the BC Human Rights Tribunal to weigh in on the matter, she was prepared to provide her opinion. She gave the following reasoning:

The seriousness of this illness – and the potential stigma that attaches to it – make it more akin to the legal protections that apply to HIV than to the common cold. Therefore, discrimination on the basis of someone having (or appearing to have) COVID-19, is prohibited under the Code except where the duty bearer can justify such treatment (for example, to prohibit or diminish the transmission of the virus).

Commissioner Govender also asserted that in addition to the BC Human Rights Code protecting people with the virus from being discriminated against, it also protects people from being discriminated against based on the ethnicity, place of origin, race, colour, or ancestry. This means employers, landlords, and service providers “cannot discriminate against someone on the basis of whether a person comes from (or appears to come from) a COVID-19 hotspot such as Italy or China.”

Additionally, she stated, discrimination based on family status is protected. This means that with the closure of daycares and schools, duty bearers must accommodate parents so that they can ensure their children are cared for.

According to Commissioner Govender, employers have a number of duties in the midst of COVID-19. They cannot make discipline or firing decisions based on someone having (or exhibiting symptoms of) COVID-19 (although they can lay employees off if there is not enough work for the as a result of the impacts of COVID-19). They must accommodate employees that may have COVID-19, or are particularly vulerable to COVID-19 (for example if they are elderly or immunocompromised) by providing flexible arrangements, such as working from home.

Commissioner Govender also presented a survey for citizens to complete in order to assist her with carrying out her duties and advocate for people facing discrimination during the pandemic. The survey asks about how your human rights are being impacted during COVID-19 and you are encouraged to fill it out.

Legislation Allows BC Employees Unpaid COVID-19-Related Leave

On Monday, March 23, 2020, the British Columbia Government amended the BC Employment Standards Act with Bill 16 – Employment Standards Amendment Act (No. 2), 2020  to grant BC employees the ability to take a job-protected unpaid COVID-19-related leave.

This leave was mentioned in our previous post regarding human rights, employment law, and COVID-19, however, the legislation and details contained within it were not known until March 23, 2020.

In introducing the new legislation in parliament, the Honourable Michael Farnworth stated the following:

Bill 16 amends the Employment Standards Act to provide unpaid job-protected leave to employees in British Columbia during the COVID-19 crisis. COVID-19 is an unprecedented public health emergency for British Columbians and for people across Canada and around the world.

The most important part of our work is protecting British Columbians. During this crisis, no employee will lose their job or be fired for following an order of the provincial health officer or for needing to care for a child whose school is closed.

According to section 52.12(2) of the legislation, employees are entitled to unpaid leave if, in relation to COVID-19, any of the following situations apply:

  1. the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is acting in accordance with their doctor or an order of a medical health officer;
  2. the employee is in quarantine or self-isolation in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer (Dr. Bonnie Henry – her Orders are available here), an order made under the Quarantine Act (for example, the most recent emergency order requiring persons entering Canada from elsewhere to self-isolate for 14 days), guidelines of the BC Centre for Disease Control (available here), or guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada (available here);
  3. the employer, due to a concern about exposing others, has directed the employee not to work;
  4. the employee is providing care to their child due to the closure of the child’s school, daycare, or similar facility; or
  5. the employee is outside the province and cannot return to BC because of travel or border restrictions.

These circumstances outlined in section 52.12(2) are quite broad, as they allow people to follow not only the provincial health officer’s orders, but her recommendations as well. For example, when the legislation was being debated, MLA Sonia Fursteau asked for confirmation that it protects a cashier with significant respiratory issues from needing to attend work. Someone in this position is protected because the provincial health minister has recommended that they not attend work.

Section 52.12(3) of the legislation allows the leave to carry on for as long as the circumstances in section 52.12(2) apply to the employee.

The Employment Standards Act, as amended, allows the employer to request proof the the above circumstance exists; however, the employee is not required to provide a doctor’s note. What kind of proof is required will thus vary according to the circumstances and is yet to be seen. If an employee needs to take the leave due to their child’s daycare being closed, for example, a letter from the daycare notifying parents of the closure may be sufficient proof.

The Employment Standards Amendment Act also came with transitional provisions that make employees eligible for the leave as of January 27, 2020 (the first day a coronavirus case was reported in BC). This means that if an employee is already off of work because of an eligible situation set out in section 52.12(2), they cannot be terminated. It also means that if an employee was terminated after January 27, 2020 but before March 23, 2020, due to the circumstances outlined in section 52.12(2), the employer must offer the employee re-employment in the same or a comparable position.

Presumably, if an employee is terminated in the above circumstances, for example when they need to stay home and care for a child who has lost childcare, a human rights complaint could still be available as well.

Covid-19 Raises Employment and Human Rights Concerns Across BC, Government Announces Novel Protections

From both the employer and employee perspectives, the coronavirus pandemic raises real concerns for folks’ health and livelihoods. While the world worries about humanity’s future, individuals worry about the futures of their families and businesses. To combat some of these concerns, Premier John Horgan assured British Columbians today that their jobs will be protected and amendments are coming to BC’s Employment Standards Act in the interest of workers.

Given the complex nature of these issues and continual efforts to strike a balance between health, economic, and human rights concerns, there is a potential for an influx of employment and human rights law claims across BC. Employees terminated prior to the new legislation coming into effect, or despite it, may be entitled to severance above the minimum amounts required under the current legislation. And employees who are not accommodated or are terminated due to health issues, family obligations, ethnicity, or place of origin, may have claims under the BC Human Rights Code.

On Wednesday, March, 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the coronavirus as a pandemic. It stated that “there are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.” British Columbia (BC) has confirmed a total of 186 cases of the coronavirus in the province as of March 17, 2020, with seven people having perished.

Today, BC’s provincial health officer declared a public health emergency. This gave her the power to order that all bars and clubs are to close down, which she did. Numerous businesses have closed voluntarily across BC and Canada. British Columbians fear that a lack of travel restrictions on their neighbours in Washington State, one of the US hotspots for the virus, puts them at risk.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently self-isolating, due to his wife Sophie having tested positive for the virus. He stated on March 16 and 17, 2020 that as much as possible, folks should stay home. He assures Canadians that the federal government is working to keep businesses and employees afloat during this time of crisis and that while parents are working from home, they can “let their kids run around a bit in the house.” Measures are being put in place to speed up employees’ access to Employment Insurance benefits. And, as stated, Premier John Horgan assured British Columbians today that their jobs will be protected and amendments are coming to BC’s Employment Standards Act.

Of course, however, employers and employees are experiencing barriers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Employers are concerned about running debt, or worse, going out of business. As a result, some employers are terminating employees. Others are requiring employees to come to work in-person and due to that, may expose themselves and others to the risk of contracting the virus. There is also potential that employers could expose themselves to negligence lawsuits from those who contract the virus from other employees required to come to work, despite exhibiting symptoms.

Employees face difficult decisions about whether they should go to work in order to provide for themselves, or stay home according to federal and provincial recommendations. They are also dealing with taking care of their children, as many spring break and childcare programs have shut their doors. Today, BC Premier John Horgan announced school closures for the indefinite future, and parents have concerns about child care for the weeks, and possibly months, ahead.

Unfortunately, some employees even have concerns that they have been discriminated against for their ethnicity or place of origin and its assumed connection with the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.

From both the employer and employee perspectives, there is real concern here for folks’ livelihoods and well-being. We are facing a pandemic that has the potential to seriously effect the global population on an unprecedented level and we all have a moral duty to slow the spread of the virus. At the same time, people need to put food on the table and keep roofs over their familes’ heads. Bills continue to accumulate for everyone; rents and mortgages need to be paid.

The WHO, the Canadian federal government, and the provincial and territorial governments across Canada recognize the complex nature of these issues. According to the WHO, “all countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.”

Given the complex nature of these issues and the continual efforts to strike that balance, there is a potential for an influx of employment law and human rights claims across BC.

One common misconception is that employers need a legitimate reason to terminate employees. This is not currently the case, although this may change with the upcoming employment standards legislation in response to covid-19. At present, employers are generally free to terminate employees without cause, so long as they are not breaching employment contracts, union obligations, or human rights laws. They only need to provide adequate notice, or adequate pay in lieu of notice. This will likely change soon with the novel legislation.

Another common misconception is that employees are only entitled to severance amounts required by the BC Employment Standards Act. The Courts have commonly awarded severance amounts greater than the minimum requirements in the legislation. For example, it is possible a court could award someone severance representing 3 months’ pay after they work for their employer for three years, despite the provincial legislation requiring employers to pay a minimum of only 3 weeks’ pay.

The BC Human Rights Code protects British Columbians from being discriminated against in their employment based on a physical or mental disability, their family status, their ethnicity, and their place of origin. This means that if an employee is terminated because they were unable to come to work as a result of being sick from the coronavirus, there is potential for a claim based on discrimination in the area of disability. Whether suffering from the coronavirus constitutes a disability under the Human Rights Code is yet to be determined.

Given that many employees are having to stay home to take care of their children as a result of losing childcare, there is also the potential for discrimination claims based on family status. There are limits on an employer being able to terminate an employee due to their having to meet family childcare obligations.

Lastly, employees terminated due to an assumed connection between their ethnicity or place of origin and the origin of the coronavirus pandemic may also have been wrongly discriminated against under the BC Human Rights Code.

MacIsaac & Company recognizes the complex nature of employment and human rights law concerns in the face of this pandemic. We remain available to help you navigate these issues during this challenging time.