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Human Rights Tribunals in Canada

Jan 07, 2020

In recent years, human rights complaints against employers have escalated.  In British Columbia, the grounds for discrimination in BC are on the basis on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender, age, criminal conviction, political belief and as otherwise outlined in the British Columbia Human Rights Code.  Each province has its own definition https://ccdi.ca/media/1414/20171102-publications-overview-of-hr-codes-by-province-final-en.pdf

 
While some privately held companies purchase Directors’ & Officers’ Liability (D&O) which typically includes employment practices liability (EPL), many do not.  Often private companies forgo this coverage with the belief that their exposure is minimal.  In essence though, any organization that has employees has an EPL exposure.  For organizations who do not carry D&O, employment practices claims, including human rights complaints can greatly impact their organization’s bottom line - whether the allegations are founded or not.  The Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) will decide each case on its own merit.  Meanwhile, legal costs will continue to mount. 
 
In 2018, a client’s employee filed a HRT claim alleging age discrimination. Until that case, all HRT “age” related claims we’d heard of were based on older employees.  Since the employee bringing the HRT action was in her early 20’s, this was a real eye opener.  When the HRT tossed out the first complaint, the employee pursued another angle and the case is still on-going.  Legal costs for the organization have already reached over $40,000 and are expected to climb.
 
Organization’s due diligence in training staff on human rights issues as well as making sure Employee Handbooks clearly state what unacceptable behaviours are, is paramount.  Nevertheless, an organization can do everything right and still have a HRT complaint lodged against them that they have no choice but to defend.  If a full Directors’ & Officers’ Liability policy does not make sense for your organization, the alternative is to purchase a stand-a-lone Employment Practices Liability policy which will provide employment related claims and respond to human rights complaints.
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