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Human rights legislation prevents employers from discriminating against employees based on national or ethnic origin, race, ancestry, or other enumerated grounds. Some forget, however, that human rights laws across Canada also prohibit employers from discriminating against prospective employees or job applicants.

A recent case from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario acts as a reminder and serves as a lesson on how not to act towards prospective employees.

Ottawa Valley Cleaning and Restoration, a company located in Ottawa, was ordered to pay $8,000 plus interest to Mr. Malek Bouraoui, an individual who had sought employment with the company but was subsequently denied employment.

Bouraoui submitted a job application to Ottawa Valley Cleaning in June 2013. He was later contacted by a man named Jesse, who asked Bouraoui what country he was from and about his race. Bouraoui informed Jesse that he was not from Canada. Bouraoui subsequently received a text message from Jesse, telling him “try learning English you will have better luck I don’t hire foreners (sic) I keep the white man working.” Bouraoui responded back and commented that the text messages were discriminatory and if they continued, he would file a complaint against the company. Jesse continued to send text messages of a discriminatory nature and in one particular text, he wrote, “go file a complaint he will probably be a white man and he will probably laugh at you and tell you to go away.”

The adjudicator accepted the printed versions of the text messages that Bouraoui submitted as evidence. The company’s failure to respond to the allegations, file supporting documents or participate in the process was not viewed favourably by the Tribunal. In its decision, the Tribunal said, “Though the applicant’s interactions with the respondent were of a very short duration, the contents of the text messages sent to the applicant are not only discriminatory but they are egregious and abusive in nature”.

Here are some lessons to take away from this case:

  1. While an employer has full discretion as to who it wishes to hire, decisions for hiring and termination should not be based on discriminatory grounds.
  2. An employer may be found liable for discriminatory comments made by an employee or an agent of the employer. Employees who interact with prospective employees or the public must be informed about their obligations to abide by human rights laws in Ontario and Canada.
  3. It may be in the employer’s best interest to have a company policy on how to deal with prospective employees, especially those who are not selected for the position. A clearly and carefully worded response to unsuccessful job applicants may be advisable.

Employers would be well-advised to keep these considerations in mind when accepting job applications or discussing employment opportunities with prospective employees.

Article written by: Abira Balendran
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