Call it a job perk? As a workplace investigator, I not infrequently get questions from friends, family, people I’ve just met, about whether Situation XYZ may be an example of discrimination and/or harassment. A recent discussion about digital blackface led me to think of other possible examples of how anti-Black stereotypes and microaggressions can manifest in the modern workplace.
The breadth of human rights cases may make it seem daunting for investigators to delve into the legal principles relating to discrimination. However, as workplace investigators, it is incumbent upon us to be informed of these principles. We have summarized in this blog some legal principles that can help guide the investigation process and decision-making in discrimination cases (of course, these have to be considered in conjunction with whatever discrimination policy applies to an employer’s workplace).
Last week, my colleague Dana Campbell discussed the difference between racism and racial discrimination, and the ways in which racial discrimination can manifest in the workplace. In the spirit of her article and her quote from Clarence B. Warren – “Everything can be improved” – we review here three human rights cases where anti-black racism occurred in the workplace, what the law told us then, and considerations for how the application of some of these legal principles may evolve going forward.
We are living in a time when racism and racial discrimination are at the fore globally. The world is being awakened to an issue that is by no means new but has not necessarily received sufficient attention. There is now a global call for radical institutional and systemic changes which acknowledge the equality of racialized persons. While the focus is in many cases on the justice system, it is imperative that the systemic changes, if they are to be effective, must permeate to the core of every society at all levels, including the workplace.
Evidence of racial discrimination can be hard to come by. In Ontario, it is settled law that discrimination will more often be proven by circumstantial evidence and inference; the law has also accepted the principle that racial stereotyping will usually be the result of subtle unconscious beliefs, biases, and prejudices.
A recent decision from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario shows how an external review body may make such an inference based on flaws in an organization’s investigation.
Standards of appropriate workplace behaviour have rapidly changed over the last few years, and conduct that was once deemed acceptable is no longer tolerated in the workplace. But as the following arbitration decision demonstrates, one fundamental requirement still remains: the need to demonstrate a prima facie case of discrimination or harassment before the obligation to investigate a complaint is triggered.
Despite this opening sentence in her decision, Tribunal Chair Juricevic found that the complainant’s allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination were not substantiated.
As a workplace investigator, I am sensitive to the fact that conversations around #MeToo in the workplace have been an evolution; people are not always sure about “where the line is” when assessing whether conduct in the workplace amounts to sexual harassment. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently chimed into this discussion. The decision¹ provides a detailed refresher on the legal test for claims of sexual harassment and draws a line in the sand regarding what is (or is not) considered sexual harassment.
In a recent decision, T.A. v Manitoba (Justice), 2019 MBHR 12 (CanLII), the Manitoba Human Rights Board of Adjudication (the “Board”) took a major step by ordering the Government of Manitoba to revise the criteria for changing sex designation to include recognition of non-binary sex designations on Manitoba birth certificates. This was the first adjudication in Manitoba on gender identity since its inclusion in the Manitoba Human Rights Code (the “Code”) in 2012.