British Columbia

Supreme Court rules employees can allege workplace harassment against people from other companies

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a B.C. worker who was harassed at a worksite by a contractor for another company, can file a human rights complaint.

Ruling in British Columbia case redefines limits of workplace discrimination legislation

At the heart of decision was the question of whether a worker can claim workplace discrimination against someone from a different company. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a B.C. worker who was harassed at a worksite by a contractor for another company can file a human rights complaint.

According to the ruling, "the code is not limited to protecting employees solely from discriminatory harassment by their superiors in the workplace.…This may include discrimination by their co‑workers, even when those co‑workers have a different employer."

University of British Columbia law professor Margot Young says the decision reflects the modern workforce, where employees are often brought in on individual contracts and have no formal employment relationship.

"It's really very significant for employees, because it confirms a broad, contextual understanding of what's going to count as your workplace," she said.

"It's not only those who have formal power over us who are prohibited by the code from discriminating against us."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association applauded the ruling, saying it's especially important as workplaces evolve. 

"This is really important, because in more and more workplaces these days, we see all kinds of different working arrangements," said BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson.

"It makes clear that discrimination in the workplace will be covered, whether it's a boss discriminating against an employee, whether it's employees against other employees or whether it's contractors who are an integral part of the workplace who are there almost every day."

Derogatory comments

In 2013, Mohammadreza​ Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul was the target of repeated derogatory comments and emails concerning race, religion and sexual orientation while working as a supervising engineer for Omega and Associates Engineering Ltd. on a road project in Delta, B.C.

The comments were made by foreman Edward Schrenk, who was working on the same project but for a company called Clemas Construction Ltd., the primary construction contractor on the project.​ Sheikhzadeh-Mashgoul filed a complaint against Schrenk.

Omega had certain supervisory powers over employees of Clemas Construction Ltd.

Schrenk was eventually fired by his employer because of the comments, and Sheikhzadeh-Masgoul had his claim of employment discrimination upheld by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 2014.

Schrenk applied to dismiss the complaint, arguing that section 13 of the Human Rights Code had no application because the pair were not in a direct employment relationship. 

The B.C. Court of Appeal subsequently dismissed the complaint in 2015, ruling that the tribunal acted outside of its jurisdiction, stating that not all insults made in the workplace amounted to "discrimination regarding employment."​​

The appeal was sent to the Supreme Court of Canada in March 2017.​