to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond


Since the courts have ruled that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex (or gender), they have continued to interpret harassment to include other protected grounds of discrimination covered under human rights legislation. What other types? Depending on the provincial, territorial or federal human rights legislation, your list comes from a number of the protected grounds noted below:


Age - Physical disability - Ancestry - Sex - Criminal conviction - Political belief - Race - Aboriginal origin - Marital status - Gender - Social condition - social disadvantage - Family status - Colour - Sexual orientation - Gender orientation - Language - Creed - Mental disability - Citizenship - Religion - Source of income - Civil status -Ethnicity - Linguistic background - Nationality - Pregnancy - Irrational fear of illness or disease - Place of origin


If an employee is being harassed, but that harassment doesn't qualify under the protected grounds of discrimination, the human rights commission will not be able to legally assist that employee. The person being harassed and her employer will want to deal with the problem somehow, but it won't be through human rights. Human rights commissions are designed to take care only of issues under their jurisdictions - not all problems that ail us.


If a provincial, territorial or federal commission does not offer all the protected grounds, be aware that a person can argue a new case to forge new ground. In Alberta, Delwin Vriend was fired from his job because he is gay. Since sexual orientation was not a protected ground in Alberta, Vriend was unable initially to secure protection from the province's human rights commission. But after many appeals, the Supreme Court of Canada "read in" protection of sexual orientation to the province's legislation, and the province did not attempt to overturn the decision. The protections were therefore in place and in 2009 the Alberta government re-wrote the law to include sexual orientation, hence the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission protects heterosexual men and women, gay men, lesbians and bisexual men and women when a complaint involves sexual orientation. Those provinces lacking sexual orientation protection also added this protection after that court case.


If I were in charge of a business, I wouldn't lose sleep over whether an employee might end up influencing the Supreme Court to change laws, but I would make sure employees don't feel they have to go elsewhere to resolve internal matters. Just because harassment based on hair loss is not protected under human rights law doesn't mean you should allow one employee to call another employee "cue-ball."



1) Cover them all - since they're covered by the courts anyway. Who would think someone can get protection based on political belief or family status? And how often is someone harassed due to these characteristics? Likely not often, but watch out in case someone is truly affected in some negative way.


2) Feel free to go further - just because a man is harassed based on his lack of hair or his pony tail, doesn't mean it should be allowed (and this isn't about good-natured ribbing). Many policies only protect employees based on their grounds of protection. You may not want to expand your formal policy, but don't let that be an excuse for someone to harass in other ways.


3) Look for "psychological harassment" - if you're in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and B.C. for sure. These provinces have introduced the protection of this form of harassment, which many of us would just think of as bullying. These protections aren't through human rights, but they get legal protection.  In time I expect all  provinces, territories and the federal government will offer similar protection, so pay attention and deal with these issues internally and then you won't have to worry about anyone going outside for protection or to file a claim.

This is TIP #5 of 26 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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