(The Canadian Press)

Six UBC employees allege discrimination based on disability, pregnancy

Workers go to the BC Human Rights Tribunal because they can be let go without valid reason

Six employees – five with disabilities and one who is pregnant – have filed human rights complaints against the University of British Columbia, according to the association that represents them.

Joey Hansen, the executive director of the Association of Administrative and Professional Staff, said the eight complaints were made to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal between May and August, and they’re going public now to raise awareness of what they call a systemic issue.

“We’ve seen more of those complaints over the past several years,” said Hansen. “But [the workers] have not wanted to rock the boat due to a lack of job security.”

The association covers 4,500 UBC employees who work in everything from information technology to museum administration to veterinary health. It does not cover faculty or clerical staff.

In this case, the employees spoke out because they are no longer employed by UBC and feel they have nothing to lose, Hansen said. Five of them were at the Vancouver campus, while one was in the Okanagan.

Five of the workers, Hansen said, allege they were laid off or not interviewed for a job because accommodating their disability was an “inconvenience.”

“The university was working with four of them, but then it decided it was inconvenient and claimed there was a reorganization,” Hansen told Black Press Media by phone. “Even though in all cases, only [one] employee was let go.”

The fifth employee alleges that after the contract position they were filling became permanent, the university stopped wanting to accommodate their disability.

Hansen said the employee was not interviewed for the permanent job even thought they had a “spotless” record.

The sixth employee alleges she had been promised a “significant” promotion before her supervisor knew she was pregnant. When her boss learned, the offer was rescinded and given to another employee.

READ MORE: Child abuse victims may carry ‘molecular scars’ for life, says UBC, Harvard study

Hansen said this is by far not the first time the association’s members have complained of discrimination at UBC.

“We have members come to us because they’re afraid to disclose that they have a serious health issue,” said Hansen. “Or asking how soon they have to disclose a pregnancy.”

He said the root of the issue lies in members not being covered by a “just cause” clause, so that the university does not need a valid reason to let staff go. He said UBC has denied requests for such a clause in previous rounds of negotiation.

“[The lack] is being used as an instrument of discrimination… and it causes fear and intimidation in our members.”

The association wants the school to reinstate the six workers and get rid of discrimination, as well as set up a “central fund” to pay for accommodation for disabled employees and cover paid leave for pregnant ones.

“The university central budget pushes [those] costs down onto individual departments,” Hansen said.

In a statement, a UBC official said the school works hard to “ensure employees have access to innovative programs and benefits… that make UBC an exceptional work environment.”

The official declined to comment on specific cases and did not answer questions about the “just cause” clause, saying UBC would defend itself in front of the tribunal.


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