Discrimination in the work place

This past week, two news items caught our attention and need to be brought to the attention of all business owners. 

In the first instance, a PEI man was awarded $8,000 for political discrimination.  The complainant was a liberal supporter who worked as an asphalt raker from 1988 to 1996.  When the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 1996, the complainant was amongst 800 people who were replaced by Tory supporters.  (Most of the other complaints were settled out of court.)

The other item is a complaint being heard by a Board of Inquiry of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission concerning discrimination on the basis of disability.  The case is being heard 25-26 June 2009.  The complainant claims that when the company he worked for was sold to Atlantic Digital Reproduction, the new owners discriminated against him because he was on long-term disability leave. The new company refused to extend an offer to hire him even though all other employees were offered employment.

Human Right’s Commission procedures can be a lengthy, costly and demanding, especially for the business owner who probably do not have access to the same legal resources as the government. 

All Nova Scotians are protected by the Human Rights Act.  Most Nova Scotians probably recognise that age, gender, race, and religion are prohibited grounds of discrimination.  However, the Act includes many more prohibited grounds of discrimination.  In fact there are fifteen items listed under the Act.  According to the Act, no person shall be discriminated against, that is treated any differently because of: age; race; colour; religion; creed; sex; sexual orientation; physical disability or mental disability; an irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease; ethnic, national or aboriginal origin; family status; marital status; source of income; political belief, affiliation or activity; or that individual’s association with another individual or class of individuals having characteristics referred to in previous clauses.

The best defence against accusation of discrimination is to develop clear and specific employee policies, especially Complaint Resolution, and Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination policies.  Business owners should also remember that they can also be held liable for the actions of their employees.  Accordingly, it is equally important to train your personnel on the policies as it is to have them on a shelf somewhere.

HR pros can assist business owners develop employee policies and training programs to mitigate the risk of complaints.

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