CLAS at the Supreme Court of Canada fighting for Harassment-free workplaces


March 27, 2017

If you are being harassed at work, you may not have the right to file a human rights complaint, because it all depends on who is harassing you.

A case being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada recently decided that a worker can only make a human rights complaint about harassment in their workplace if the person harassing them is in a position of authority, such as a supervisor or manager, or if their employer allows the harassment to occur. But what happens if the person harassing you is not above you at work? Or, what if the harasser works for a different employer at your multi-job worksite? Right now, the situation is unclear.

The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on Tuesday March 28, 2017. Its decision could impact whether everyone in BC is protected from harassment in the workplace under the province’s human rights legislation.

The Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) is supporting the rights of all workers by acting as an intervener in the appeal, along with several other groups. CLAS lawyer Juliana Dalley, who will be appearing at the Supreme Court of Canada, says all workers should have the ability to make complaints about discrimination and harassment in the workplace — whether it is from a supervisor or co-worker.

The appeal will look at a recent case in Delta, where the person’s position of authority was the deciding factor in having the complaint dismissed. The case involves an engineer and construction foreman working at the same construction site, but employed by two different companies. The engineer filed a human rights complaint, alleging that the foreman shoved him and harassed him with racist, Islamophobic and homophobic insults, such as, "You are not going to blow us up with a suicide bomb, are you?" The BC Court of Appeal dismissed this complaint finding that the foreman could not have discriminated against the engineer since he was not in a position of "authority" over the engineer.

Dalley warns this could send the wrong message about harassment in the workplace. She says many people already find it difficult to bring a human rights complaint forward because they may not know their rights or have access to legal help, may feel embarrassed, worry about how co-workers might treat them, or fear for their job security. So if they do come forward with a complaint, only to have it dismissed because of the position of the harasser within the company, the person is being victimized again, but this time by a legal system that does not recognize their complaint.

She says this case is an important step towards ensuring everyone’s right to a safe workplace — free from discrimination.

Lawyers Lindsay Lyster, of Moore Edgar Lyster, and Juliana Dalley will be representing CLAS at the Supreme Court.

Media inquiries contact:

Dianne Bankay, Communications Coordinator

Community Legal Assistance Society

604 657 0667