Nothing funny about bin Laden joke (Legal view)

Employers have an obligation to provide a workplace free from harassment of any kind
By Stuart Rudner
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/31/2007

A recent decision by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal provides a useful reminder that employers have an obligation to provide a workplace free from harassment of any kind. While every workplace has its own culture, and some groups will have more tolerance for behaviour others would find offensive, the fact is once an employer knows, or ought to have known, inappropriate and harassing behaviour is taking place, it has a duty to deal with it.

The recent case involved workers at the Richmond Autobody Ltd. shop in North Vancouver. The workplace was a blue-collar atmosphere, where off-colour jokes and even racial slurs were not uncommon. Much of this behaviour was tolerated and even accepted by the employees, who engaged in such practices to provide some form of relief during long hours of physical labour.

However, the case addressed behaviour that crossed the line and became harassment. Specifically, it involved what the tribunal found to be a campaign of harassment against Shahram Dastghib, an immigrant who had been considered one of the best painters in the shop. The end result of this campaign was he was dismissed after losing his temper while at work. The reason for his anger? The persistent and extreme harassment, which took a dramatic turn for the worse after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.