Safety First: BC HRT Affirms Employers Right to Maintain a Safe Work Environment for all Employees

man holding hardhat in a safety vest

In the matter of Warren v. S.G.I., 2024 BCHRT 74, Inlet Law’s Navpreet Chhina succeeded in having BC’s Human Rights Tribunal dismiss a human rights complaint alleging discrimination in the workplace on the basis of a mental disability. 

The Complainant, an employee of the Respondent company, a lumber mill, brought a human rights complaint after the Complainant lost out on a promotion. The promoted role required the Complainant to operate heavy equipment and dangerous tools like chainsaws. The Respondent maintained that the promotion was cancelled due to numerous safety infractions committed by the Complainant during his training, making him a high risk employee particularly on a hazardous worksite where safety and protocol was of utmost importance. The Complainant alleged the Respondent cancelled the promotion due to the Complainant’s mental disability, which was stated to be a diagnosis of depression. The Respondent denied discriminating, and applied to dismiss the complaint pursuant to, among other things, s. 27(1)(c) of the BC Human Rights Code (the “Code”).

The Law

The Tribunal affirmed that the s.27(1)(c) of the Code is a part of the Tribunal’s gate-keeping function, allowing the Tribunal to remove complaints which do not warrant the time and expense of a hearing. The test under s.27(1)(c), is to establish whether there is “no reasonable prospect that findings of fact that would support the complaint could be made on a balance of probabilities after a full hearing of the evidence.”

The Tribunal confirmed that the threshold for a complaint to proceed is low, and that a complainant need only show that the supporting evidence is not founded on speculation or conjecture.

The Analysis

In assessing whether the Complainant’s complaint met the threshold, the Tribunal considered the following:

  • The Complainant never indicated to the Respondent that he may have a mental disability prior to filing his human rights Complaint;
  • Nothing suggested that the Complainant’s conduct leading up to the cancellation of his promotion was perceived to be related to a disability; and
  • Nothing in the evidence suggested that the Complainant was considered to be a “poor fit” in the promoted role due to symptoms of an undiagnosed illness.

The Tribunal found that the Complainant had no reasonable prospect of proving a connection between a mental disability, or a perception of a mental disability, and the cancellation of his promotion. The Tribunal dismissed the Complaint as a result. 

Employer Takeaways

Employers have a duty to accommodate their employees, which means that they must take all reasonable steps to avoid negative impacts based on a protected characteristic (such as, for example, a mental or physical disability). This is called the duty to accommodate, and ensures that employers are taking reasonable steps to treat their employees equally. This is not a limitless duty, however – the employer must only take all reasonable and practical steps “to the point of undue hardship”.

This dismissal of the Complainant’s complaint is a confirmation of the fact that employers are entitled to take steps to maintain safe work environments, even if such steps result in removing an employee from their role. The key is to ensure that when steps are taken to maintain workplace safety, the employer does not, among other considerations, make its decision based on a real or perceived disability in a manner that is contrary to the Code. 

To help prevent human rights or other complaints brought as a result of an employer’s decision to manage risk at a worksite, employers would be well advised to take proactive steps to both learn about their employee’s needs, while also setting expectations for bona fide job requirements. Maintaining clear and open communication is always key, and a failure to do so could result in significant awards for discrimination contrary to the Code.

(Following the initial decision, the Complainant brought an application for reconsideration. The application was dismissed: Warren v. S.G.I (No. 2), 2024 BCHRT 146)

Note: This article does not contain legal advice. If you would like advice on your legal matter, please contact Inlet Law at 604 39-INLET (604 394-6538) or at

Martin Sheard assisted me, and his work was first-rate. He was knowledgeable, efficient, and made me absolutely confident that I had received exactly the legal services I needed.
— Joe Broadhurst / Managing Partner, Broadhurst Kooy Family Law

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Martin Sheard has advocated at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of financially marginalized Canadians. Only about once every two years does the Supreme Court of Canada hear an employment law case, so this was a special moment for Martin.