Office Halloween parties and costume contests are a fun way to
celebrate this time of year. However, offensive costumes will ruin
the fun and, more importantly, could even result in a human rights
complaint, the consequences of which are likely to haunt an
employer long after October 31st.
In Ontario, the Human Rights
Code entitles every employee to the right to freedom from
harassment in the workplace. Halloween costumes that are racist,
sexist, based on oppressive stereotypes, or that otherwise
project an unwelcome message rooted in a prohibited ground of
discrimination could be found to constitute harassment under human
Employers do not need to prohibit employees from wearing
costumes or cancel office Halloween parties in order to comply with
their human rights obligations. Rather, communicating to employees
in advance that the employer will not tolerate inappropriate and/or
offensive costumes and stressing the importance of maintaining an
inclusive and non-discriminatory work environment will help ensure
that workplace Halloween festivities do not stray into territory
that potentially infringes employees' human rights.
Ultimately, when employers take ownership over protecting and
promoting human rights, the result is an inclusive work environment
that allows employees to focus on Halloween's most important
With Samantha Cass, articling student.
Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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