The Legal Consequences of Treating An Employee Unfairly At Work

  • Employer advice
Work Treatment
Olivia Cicchini

Olivia Cicchini, Employment Law Expert

(Last updated )

In a survey by Statistics Canada, 9.3% of workers in Canada reported experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination at work in 2016.

In Canada, employers have a legal obligation to treat their employees fairly at work. Failing to meet this obligation can lead to legal consequences for the employer including human rights complaints, wrongful dismissal claims, constructive dismissal claims, occupational health and safety violations, and reputational damage to the business.

Treating employees fairly is crucial, as it provides an inclusive and safe work environment. In addition to legal disputes, employees being treated unfairly can lead to lower productivity and morale. In this guide, we’ll explain what unfair treatment at work is, the law regarding it, and how to deal with it in the workplace.

What is unfair treatment at work?

Unfair treatment at work is inappropriate behaviour where individuals are treated differently from others in the workplace. Unfair treatment at work often comes from management but can be committed by anyone in the workplace. For example, a manager continuously micro-managing one employee for no reason.

There are several specific examples of unfair treatment at work in Canada. Here are a few:

Pay discrimination

In Canada, pay discrimination is still a significant issue. Women, Indigenous people, and racialized communities are often paid less than their male, non-Indigenous, or white counterparts, even when they have the same qualifications and experience. This is a form of discrimination that is prohibited under human rights legislation.

Harassment and bullying

Harassment and bullying in the workplace can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical intimidation, and cyberbullying. This can create a hostile work environment and negatively impact employees' mental health and well-being. Harassment and bullying are also prohibited under human rights legislation.

Disability discrimination

Employers are required to accommodate employees with disabilities human rights legislation. However, employees with disabilities may still face discrimination, such as being denied promotions or reasonable accommodations.

Age discrimination

Age discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfairly because of their age, whether they are deemed too young or too old. This can include being denied job opportunities, promotions, or training because of their age. Age discrimination is prohibited under human rights legislation.

Racial discrimination

Racial discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity. This can include being denied job opportunities, promotions, or training, or being subjected to racial slurs or derogatory comments.

What is the law regarding unfair treatment at work?

Unfair treatment at work in Canada can be a result of favouritism which is not illegal. However, showing bias or favouritism towards a specific employee or treating an employee differently based on a preference that is protected under human rights legislation may be deemed illegal.

Human rights legislation protects individuals from discrimination based on certain grounds which include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Gender/gender identity
  • Sexual orientation

Each province has established their own human rights legislation. For example, human rights protections for provincially regulated employees in Ontario are provided under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Other provinces include:

  • Human Rights Code of British Columbia
  • Alberta Human Rights Act
  • The Human Rights Code of Manitoba
  • The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code
  • New Brunswick Human Rights Act
  • Nova Scotia Human Rights Act
  • Newfoundland & Labrador Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act provides human rights protection from discrimination for federally regulated employees. Some examples of federally regulated workplaces are inter-provincial transportation (eg. trucking companies, railways), television, and broadcast workplaces.

The Impacts of unfair treatment at work

Unfair treatment at work can have a huge impact on your workforce and workplace culture. It is important that you know and understand the negative impact of unfair treatment at work.

Toxic work culture

Employees who are treated unfairly at work may experience what is called a toxic work culture or a poisoned work environment. It is the employer’s duty to create a healthy and safe work environment, free from discrimination.

Employees that are treated unfairly are more inclined to resign and experience medical issues such as increased anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. Moreover, employees who are unfairly treated due to discrimination may also bring human rights claims against you for enabling or allowing unfair treatment at work.

Constructive dismissal

If you receive a resignation letter due to unfair treatment at work, the employee may have a claim for constructive dismissal.

A constructive dismissal claim can result when an employer unilaterally changes a fundamental term of a worker’s employment, or when the work environment is so toxic that an employee has no choice but to resign.

If an employee files a claim for constructive dismissal, the employee may be entitled to termination pay and other entitlements such as the continuation of benefits.

Signs of unfair treatment at work

Understanding and identifying the signs of unfair treatment can help you handle and prevent it in the future.

There are several signs of unfair treatment at work. Here are a few:

Inconsistent treatment

Employees who are being treated unfairly may notice that they are being treated differently than their colleagues. This can include receiving different job assignments, being excluded from meetings or training opportunities, or being subjected to different standards than their peers.

Lack of support

Employees who are being treated unfairly may feel unsupported by their employer or colleagues. This can include not receiving the support they need to complete their job duties, being excluded from social events or workplace activities, or feeling like they have no one to turn to for help or guidance.

Isolation

Employees who are being treated unfairly may feel isolated or marginalized in the workplace. They may feel like they don't belong or that they are not valued by their employer or colleagues.

Increased stress and anxiety

Unfair treatment can take a toll on employees' mental health. They may experience increased stress and anxiety, which can manifest as physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, or insomnia.

Decreased job satisfaction and motivation

Unfair treatment can lead to decreased job satisfaction and motivation. Employees may feel like their work is not valued or that their contributions are not being recognized, which can lead to a decrease in their engagement and productivity.

How to handle unfair treatment at work

As an employer, it's important to create a workplace culture that promotes fairness and equality. Here are some steps you can take to handle unfair treatment at work:

Establish clear policies and procedures

Establish clear policies and procedures that outline the expectations for employee behaviour and the consequences of violating these policies. This can help to ensure that all employees are held to the same standards and that any violations are handled consistently.

Provide training and education

Provide training and education for employees on topics such as diversity, inclusion, and respectful workplace behaviour. This can help to create a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture.

Encourage open communication

Encourage open communication between employees and management. Create channels for employees to provide feedback and voice concerns without fear of retaliation.

Investigate complaints

Take all complaints of unfair treatment seriously and investigate them thoroughly. If you find that an employee has been treated unfairly, take appropriate action to address the situation.

Monitor the workplace

Monitoring the workplace ensures that all employees are being treated fairly and with respect. This can include conducting regular employee surveys, monitoring workplace behaviour, and providing training and education on an ongoing basis.

Remember, as an employer, it's your responsibility to create a workplace culture that promotes fairness and equality. By taking action to address unfair treatment, you can help to create a more positive work environment for your employees and contribute to a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture.

Do you need assistance creating policies that prevent an unfair work environment?

Unfair treatment in the workplace is not only bad for business, but it’s also bad for your workplace culture. It is important that you treat all your employees equally. Moreover, it is important that you identify unfair treatment in the workplace and implement measures to prevent it.

If you need assistance with an employee being treated unfairly at work or need to implement policies to address unfair treatment, Peninsula’s services allow you to receive quality advice on any employment issues. Contact us on 1 833 247-3652 to speak with one of our experts today.

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