Get to know your rights as an employee with TRU’s John O’Fee

Speaker talks exercising your rights and how you're protected from unlawful discrimination

John O’Fee, a lawyer who has been practicing law for almost 30 years, spoke to TRU students about employee rights on March 13 in the TRUSU Lecture Hall. O’Fee is a prof. in the School of Business and Economics. (Juan Cabrejo/Ω)

The TRU Human Resource Management Club and TRUSU Co-op Club co-hosted an event to inform students of their rights as an employee. Speaker John O’Fee discussed topics such as overtime hours, wage negotiations, job layoffs and the history of human rights in Canada.

O’Fee, a Thompson Rivers University business faculty member, has been practicing law since 1988. On March 13 in the TRUSU Lecture Hall, O’Fee highlighted the inequalities Canadians endured during the early/mid-1900s. Delving into Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and B.C.’s Human Rights Code, O’Fee established a foundation of knowledge for the attendees to consider when thinking about workplace discrimination and core worker safety rights.

O’Fee emphasized that your rights, in law, belong to you as a person and employee. These rights cannot be taken away from you, only suspended. He also examined the difference between intra vire laws and ultra vire laws; how your rights fall inside or outside of the law. Canada, as a country, revises old laws to fit new definitions of human rights as society progresses.

O’Fee explained prohibited discriminations under Section 13 of the B.C. Human Rights Code: race, religion, colour, sex/sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, family status, political belief, and conviction of a criminal or summary conviction offence that is unrelated to a person’s employment.

O’Fee deliberated between personal appearance when considering workplace expectations and religious beliefs. He explained that non-religious appearance is not protected. Transitioning acceptable grounds for discrimination, O’Fee explained the Bona Fide (good faith) reasons to discriminate against protected human rights if the discrimination pertains to the job. To test the legitimacy of Bona Fide discriminations, O’Fee outline the Meiorin Test; to be regarded as a Bona Fide discrimination, the workplace policy must: be adopted for a purpose rationally connected to the job; be adopted in an honest belief that it was necessary to satisfy a legitimate business purpose; and be reasonably necessary to accomplish that purpose – and impossible to accommodate the individual without creating undue hardship.

“A lot of people are going to find themselves in job placements. They should understand their core workplace rights and that you have a right to refuse unsafe work,” O’Fee said in an interview with the Omega. “We need to treat each other as the human beings we are, show respect.” O’Fee stated, “I don’t think it is common knowledge. Most people have no idea about their rights under the employment standards act or the human rights code.”