The Village of Burns Lake has recently implemented a nepotism policy intended to avoid potential favouritism or conflicts of interest among village staff and members of council.
But is this new policy discriminatory?
In the 1980s, the town of Brossard, Québec, adopted a hiring policy disqualifying members of the immediate families of employees and town councillors from taking up employment with the town.
A woman filed a complaint with the Québec’s Human Rights Commission when her application for summer employment with the town as a lifeguard was not considered, pursuant to the anti‑nepotism policy, because her mother worked as a full‑time typist at the municipal police station.
The commission stated that she had been wronged and recommended that she be immediately granted the position for which she had applied.
The town then sought a declaration from the Superior Court that the hiring policy did not constitute wrongful discrimination. The court dismissed the motion but the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, stating that the town’s hiring policy was discriminatory.
Since then, Canadian employers have had to re-assess and revise policies and procedures around family member employment.
Burns Lake’s new policy states that employment of a spouse or relative of the mayor or member of council “shall not be considered for any position.” The policy also states that no employee shall be allowed to be in direct supervision of a relative or member of his or her immediate family.
In British Columbia, there is nothing specific in the province’s local government legislation regarding nepotism. Therefore local governments have the authority to establish policies and procedures on many types of matters related to local government administration, including hiring practices and staff policies.
However, this authority is subject to any applicable legislation, including the common law (derived from judicial precedent) and human rights.
The B.C. Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in regard to employment in section 13, which states that organizations must not refuse to employ a person because of family status. Family status is defined as being related to another person by blood, marriage or adoption.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal says people are able to file a complaint if they feel it’s unfair that a municipality won’t hire them because of their relationship to an existing employee who works there.
In making a decision whether an organization’s actions are discriminatory or not, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal would have to listen to each of the parties’ argument. The tribunal adds that there may be instances in employment where it is not appropriate to have family members working in the same organization.