Calgary & Strathmore Employment Lawyers Advising on Human Rights in the Workplace

When most people hear the phrase “human rights,” they immediately think of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although the Charter does outline human rights protections that apply across Canada, the Charter only applies to governments and other public actors.

Nevertheless, private companies are still bound by human rights obligations. All provinces and territories in Canada have laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against their employees (or prospective employees) on the basis of any “protected” ground. In Alberta, that law is found in the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Getz Collins and Associates provides comprehensive advice on human rights issues as they pertain to workplaces across Alberta. Our knowledgeable employment lawyers create robust legal solutions to protect employees’ rights and support healthy workplaces for all workers.

What Is a “Protected” Ground Under the Alberta Human Rights Act?

Section 7 of the Alberta Human Rights Act lists the following protected grounds:

  • race;
  • religious beliefs;
  • colour;
  • gender, gender identity, and gender expression;
  • physical disability;
  • mental disability;
  • age;
  • ancestry or place of origin;
  • marital status;
  • source of income;
  • family status; and
  • sexual orientation.

Workplace conduct, policies, or decisions which treat employees differently based on any of the grounds listed above — such as not hiring a candidate for a job, firing an employee, or any other differential treatment — may constitute discrimination contrary to the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Exceptions to Human Rights Protections in Alberta

As with most legal tests, there are a few important exceptions.

The first rule is that companies can treat employees differently based on a protected ground if it is necessary for a “bona fide occupational requirement”. This essentially means that otherwise discriminatory practices may be legally justified based on the nature of the employment. To provide a very simple example, a liquor store’s decision not to hire a 16-year-old for a clerk position is not discriminatory based on age because it is a legal requirement to be 18 years old to sell alcohol. This exception can be applied in many circumstances where certain attributes are required to perform necessary employment duties.

The second exception covers any policies or programs which are intended to help disadvantaged persons (a.k.a. “affirmative action”). For example, a job listing granting priority to applicants from historically under-represented groups will not be considered discriminatory.

The last exception – and most commonly relied upon – is that conduct will not be considered discriminatory if the employer can demonstrate their actions were reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances. In practice, this refers to the employer’s duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship.

The Duty to Accommodate & The Point of “Undue Hardship”

The employer’s duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship is a well-known rule in human rights law. But what does it actually mean?

The duty to accommodate on the basis of a protected ground can take many different forms. Common examples of accommodation include granting time off due to illness, modifying work duties or responsibilities for employees with disabilities, or making necessary arrangements for employees to observe religious practices while at work. To put it simply, employers have a duty to grant reasonable accommodations to their employees on the basis of any protected ground.

However, the phrase “undue hardship” is important. Although employers have a duty to grant reasonable accommodations, this duty is not unlimited. If the employer can prove the requested accommodation would impose significant disruption or expense for their business, this will be considered undue hardship and the employer will not be required to oblige.

What to Do if You’ve Suffered Discrimination in the Workplace

If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of a protected ground, the first step is to attempt a reasonable compromise with your employer. This may involve an agreement to prevent the offending conduct from reoccurring in the future or to obtain reasonable accommodation.

If the issue cannot be resolved amicably, you may file a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC has exclusive jurisdiction for human rights matters involving provincially-regulated employees. This means that discrimination claims must go to the AHRC, rather than Alberta Provincial Court or the Court of Queen’s Bench. (If you work in a unionized position or in a federally regulated industry, this will impact where you can file a complaint.) The AHRC will then investigate the claim to decide if discrimination has occurred. Successful complainants can be awarded general damages and additional compensation depending on the circumstances of the case.

Having an experienced employment lawyer guide you through this process can help you avoid costly mistakes that could jeopardize the outcome of your claim.

Getz Collins and Associates: Advising Employees Across Alberta on Human Rights & Accommodation in the Workplace

Hiring someone to help you with your employment law needs can seem costly while dealing with discrimination and accommodation in the workplace. However, an experienced employment lawyer can ensure your rights are protected and provide peace of mind while pursuing any amicable resolution possible with your employer. If matters are better handled through a human rights claim or other form of litigation, the skilled employment lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates provide vigorous advocacy on behalf of clients across the province.

For decades, Getz Collins and Associates has maintained an unyielding commitment to providing employees with top-notch service and advocacy. Combining big-firm innovation with a community focus, our skilled employment lawyers represent clients in CalgaryStrathmore and across Alberta, including Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks, Drumheller, Chestermere, Hussar, and all surrounding areas. To schedule a confidential consultation, please contact us online or call 587-391-5600.