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The BC Human Rights Code, in Summary

The purpose of the Human Rights Code is to allow all British Columbians full and free participation in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the province, promote a climate of equality, prevent discrimination, eliminate patterns of inequality, and provide a means of redress for individuals who have been discriminated against.


The BC Human Rights Code attempts to limit discrimination to areas relating to employment and, therefore, contains multiple provisions regarding discrimination in the workplace. Some practices that are forbidden under the Code include discrimination in employment advertisements, employee wages, or in regard to an employee’s association with unions or other groups.

When advertising for new employees, an employer is specifically forbidden from expressing that preferential treatment will be given to employees based on their political beliefs, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, race, color, ancestry, or place of origin unless the preference is based on an occupational requirement. Regarding wages, an employer is barred from employing an employee of one sex at a wage that is less than that of an employee of the other sex, if the position of the two employees in the company and the work that they are asked to undertake is similar. In short, if an employee is paid less based on nothing other than their sex, then they are entitled to recover the difference in the amount paid between them and a comparable employee of the opposite sex. It is important to note, that an employer is not allowed to lower the pay of another employee in order to comply with this provision of the code.

With regards to employment generally, employers are barred by the Code from discriminating against employees based on their race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political beliefs, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, or legal history. Once again, this restriction on discrimination does not apply to instances where there is a provable occupational requirement.

Complaints & Compensation

If an individual feels that they have been discriminated against in violation of the BC Human Rights Code they are encouraged to file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal. Complaints can be filed on behalf of other people, or a class of persons.

If an individual is discriminated against, they must file their complaint within 6 months of the time at which the discrimination took place. If the discrimination took place over a period of many years, then the complaint must be filed within 6 months of the last act of discrimination. If the complaint is filed past this period the panel may accept it if they determine that accepting the complaint will serve the public interest or that the delay in filing does not prejudicially affect the case of the claimant or defendant.

Members of the panel can dismiss all or part of a complaint without a hearing if the member determines that the complaint does not fall within the jurisdiction of the tribunal, the acts or omissions alleged in the complaint do not fall within the jurisdiction of the tribunal, it would be unreasonable to assume the complaint will succeed, or proceeding with the complaint would not benefit those discriminated against or otherwise further the purposes of the Code. Additionally, a panel member can dismiss a complaint if they find that the complaint was filed in bad faith or has been dealt with in another proceeding.

If the panel decides not to dismiss the complaint and the complainant succeeds at the hearing of the complaint, the panel may order that the business or person that violated the Code ceases the violation and refrains from further instances of the specific violation. The main forms of relief granted by the Human Rights Tribunal are the following:

  • an order that the person who contravened the Code take steps to address the effects of their discriminatory practice;
  • an order compelling the employer to adopt and implement an employment equity program or similar program;
  • making available to the complainant the right, opportunity, or privilege that was previously denied to them;
  • compensate the complainant for wages and salary lost as well as expenses incurred;
  • pay the complainant an amount that the panel considers appropriate to compensate them for injury to their dignity, feelings, or self respect; or
  • award costs.

Contact our Human Rights Lawyers

If you feel that you have been discriminated against in a way that violates the terms of the BC Human Rights Act or are facing a claim yourself, then you will benefit from contacting a team of experienced lawyers familiar with issues arising under the Code. Please contact a McQuarrie Hunter LLP employment lawyer as soon as possible, to ensure that your interests are protected.