Discrimination in the workplace

posted on May 5, 2014

By Canadian HR Reporter | Link to Article

By Canadian HR Reporter | Link to Article

Earlier this week, we observed Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of the key messages that is expressed, year after year, is “never again.” The Holocaust, widely recognized as one of the greatest atrocities in human history, should serve as a reminder of what mankind is unfortunately capable of: The systematic exclusion, dehumanization and murder of millions of people based upon, in that case, their religion.

While the hope has been that such a thing would never happen again, the decades since the end of the Holocaust have seen other genocides, ongoing racism and continued discrimination. While the Holocaust and other genocidal incidents were horrors of immense proportions, they had to begin somewhere. They would not have been able to take place if the general population did not allow it. As the Supreme Court of Canada recognized, in words echoed by international criminal tribunals, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers — it began with words.

So what does this have to do with employment law in Canada? Simply that while we have human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of a variety of grounds, including religion, and despite the fact that most people know that such behaviour is wrong, we continue to hear about situations where individuals have been either discriminated against or harassed due to their background.

Ironically, the news over the last few days has included allegations that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team made comments to his then-girlfriend about not bringing her black friends to games.

Closer to home, in Islam v. Big Inc., a 2013 human rights case in Ontario, three Bengali-speaking Muslim restaurant kitchen employees in Toronto were mocked and reprimanded for speaking Bengali, subjected to comments about “cleaning Bengali sh-t from the kitchen,” forced to eat pork in violation of their religious beliefs and then forced to break their Ramadan fast.

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