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Office politics is not discrimination

Good news and bad news for HR in decision

By Todd Humber

When it comes to office politics, there is some good news — and some bad news.

The good news is that a judge in New Brunswick recently confirmed office politics are not grounds for discrimination, and therefore should not land in front of a judge or a human rights tribunal.

The bad news is that the same judge also said office politics are matters for HR to deal with. OK, so maybe it’s not bad news — or news at all, really — just judicial confirmation that yes, the job of human resources professionals can be a massive headache at times.

The case involved Richard Doucet, 59, a former employee of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. To make a long story short, Doucet filed a complaint back in 2009 with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination based on age, mental disability, physical disability and political belief or activity.

According to the ruling, there was a lot of tension in the executive office and Doucet lost an election to become vice-president, which resulted in him losing his job. Doucet, who had heart disease and other ailments, was forced to use six months of accumulated vacation and was then given an unreduced pension after unsuccessfully challenging the current vice-president in the election.

“The issue is concerned with his interaction with other elected officials of the (CEP) and does not involve ‘political belief or activity’ associated with a political party,” wrote Justice E. Thomas Christie of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench. “In other words, the present complaint involved ‘office politics.’”

The message from the court is simple — strained relationships may not make for a fun working environment, but they don’t amount to discrimination and they shouldn’t be allowed to clog already busy human rights tribunals.

There are plenty of good reasons that employment-related cases end up in front of decision-makers — discrimination, harassment and wrongful dismissal to name a few.

While courts and human rights tribunals may not have to deal with cases of office politics, the lineup outside HR’s door won’t get shorter anytime soon. HR professionals across the country will continue to have to wear the mantle of peacemaker in resolving disputes between workers who just can’t seem to get along.

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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