In A Flash

The Return of the British Columbia Human Rights Commission – Why Employers Should Pay Attention

Last August, the newly formed NDP/Green Coalition Government in British Columbia announced its plan to reinstitute the Human Rights Commission (the former Commission was dismantled in 2002).  That plan is now becoming reality.

On November 1, 2018, the Government introduced a Bill which, if passed into law, will amend the current Human Rights Code in a number of significant ways.

The proposed amendment will create an appointed position of “Commissioner”, who will be charged with the broad task of promoting and protecting human rights in the province, report directly to the legislative assembly, and have a wide range of powers, including the power to:

  • Intervene in any human rights complaint which is filed with the Tribunal. This ability is troublesome given the adversarial nature of these complaints and the Commissioner’s purported role as an independent and impartial officer.
  • Conduct public inquiries into any matters which “promote or protect human rights”. This includes the power to inspect workplaces or property, presumably based solely on the discretion of the Commissioner.  Problematically, these inquiries may be made even in the absence of any complaint ever being filed with the Tribunal.

Beyond the broad powers granted to the Commissioner and other amendments, the Bill will also extend the time limits for filing a human rights complaint to a one year period following the date the alleged act of discrimination occurred, doubling the current 6-month time limit. This is concerning for employers as allegations often involve events that are heavily disputed between parties.  Allowing an extended period of time during which complaints will be accepted may have serious consequences on an employer’s ability to investigate the allegations properly and defend them.

While employers support a discrimination free workplace, the contribution of the proposed amendments will be added bureaucracy, cost and delay.
The proposed amendments to the Code is one of several ongoing changes to workplace legislation being considered or implemented by the Government.  Since coming into power, the NDP/Green Coalition has commissioned reviews of both the Labour Relations Code and the Employment Standards Act, both of which have now been completed and contain recommendations which, if accepted, will make British Columbia a less competitive place to do business.  Our analysis of the recommendations made with respect to each of these statutes can be found below:

Workplace Changes Upcoming in British Columbia: Proposed Changes to BC’s Employment Standards Legislation
BC Labour Relations Code Review Report: A Concerning Future for Employers

The text of the proposed amendments to the Human Rights Code may be found here. The proposed amendment has not yet been made law. As a result, the possibility for further changes remains. We will continue to keep BC employers posted on new developments.

If you have questions regarding the impact of these potential changes, please do not hesitate to contact one of the lawyers in our British Columbia office.

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