Human rights in Alberta are protected by the Alberta Human Rights Act. The Act protects Albertans from discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for all Albertans to earn a living, find a home, and receive public services.
The Government of Alberta established the Alberta Human Rights Commission to educate Albertans about discrimination and equality and to resolve and settle human rights complaints through tribunal and court hearings.
The Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on the following protected grounds:
- Place of origin
- Religious beliefs
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Family status
- Physical disability
- Mental disability
- Source of income
Here are 3 key things you need to know about human rights in an Alberta workplace.
1. Rights & Responsibilities of an Employee
Based on the grounds mentioned above, the human rights of Alberta employees are protected by the Act from discrimination in various areas, including employment applications, employment practices, membership in trade unions and other employee organizations or occupational associations, and other areas.
What does this look like practically? Let’s consider several common scenarios.
If you have a physical disability that prevents you from performing a part of your job, the Act protects you from getting fired. Your employer is actually required to accommodate your disability.
In most cases, an employer cannot require a Muslim employee to remove a hijab at work.
Employees with less availability on a specific day of the week because of regular attendance at religious services cannot be offered less opportunity for work than non-religious employees.
Race, Age, Gender, Etc.
An employer is prohibited from denying promotions and opportunities to employees of a specific race, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. This includes denying advancement to an employee because of pregnancy.
The Act also protects Alberta employees in the area of equal pay. When any employee performs the same or similar work as another employee, they must receive the same pay for that work.
2. Rights & Responsibilities of an Employer
Every Alberta employer is required to protect the human rights of their employees through every part of the employment process, including:
- Recruitment & job application
- Promotions & transfers
- Dismissals, layoffs, and terminations
Employers have a duty to ensure that discrimination or harassment does not occur in the workplace.
They also have a duty to accommodate employees under protected grounds and in certain situations. For example, when a physical disability prevents an employee from performing a part of their job, or when an employee requires time off to care for a loved one with COVID-19.
Human rights issues often arise during an employment termination, whether the termination is initiated by the employer or the employee (as in the case of an employee resignation). Let’s look at a few common scenarios.
Employee Resignation Due To Human Rights Violation
If an employee resigns because of discrimination, the employer must take steps to address and prevent discriminatory practices. If physical or mental disability are a cause of the employee’s decision to resign, the employer should consider their duty to accommodate before accepting the resignation.
When an employer determines that the employment relationship must end, the law demands that the employee is treated with dignity, respect, and access to any necessary support. Even in a termination with cause, the employer must follow the regulations in the Employment Standards Code.
Alberta employers must be cautious about the motives and manner in which a termination is carried out. Refusal to complete termination documents, withholding termination pay, or using termination as a disciplinary measure based on discriminatory grounds could all result in a human rights violation.
Sometimes, employee layoffs are necessary as a strategic measure to meet business goals. Employers must be careful to avoid discriminatory layoffs when choosing which employees will stay and which must go. For example, it would violate human rights to lay off only women who are pregnant, on maternity leave, or have recently returned from maternity leave.
3. How Do I Make A Human Rights Complaint Against My Employer In Alberta?
If your human rights have been violated, you can make a human rights complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Complaints are only accepted if they meet specific criteria outlined in the Act.
- Time limit: You must make your complaint within one year of the alleged discrimination incident.
- Jurisdiction: The discrimination incident occurred in Alberta or with an Alberta employer. The exception is employers governed by federal law and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
- Protected areas and grounds: It is only a human rights violation if what you experienced happened in one of the protected areas and under one of the protected grounds in the Act.
If your complaint is denied, you can ask for a review.
Human Rights Lawyers in Alberta
The Alberta Human Rights Commission offers general assistance to people who want to file human rights complaints, but they can’t provide legal advice or legal representation. An Alberta human rights lawyer can guide you through the complaint process and advocate for you if your complaint is denied.
A human rights lawyer can help employers avoid human rights violations by advising you of the legal steps required to accommodate, discipline, or terminate an employee before you take any action.