Your rights and responsibilities as an employer
The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on the grounds of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender, age, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, family status, source of income and sexual orientation. (You can read more about the protected grounds.) Employers are expected to create an inclusive workplace that respects the dignity of every individual. Employees can also play an important role in creating an inclusive workplace by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the AHR Act.
Employers have the right to run their business as they envision it so long as they comply with all relevant laws and regulations, including human rights law. Outlined below are some of your responsibilities as an employer under human rights law. This list is not exhaustive.
Employers are responsible for:
- ensuring no discrimination in the workplace
- building an inclusive workplace by removing barriers that are based on protected grounds
- considering requests for accommodation for needs based on a protected ground
The AHR Act works to ensure that the workplace is free from discrimination in all aspects of the employment process such as recruitment, promotions, assignments, and termination of employment. Employers have a primary obligation under the AHR Act. No employer can contract out of the AHR Act.
Employers, jointly with employees (and unions, if applicable), are responsible for taking reasonable steps to accommodate employees' needs based on the protected grounds. Employers are required to provide accommodation to the point of undue hardship. You can read more about accommodation and undue hardship.
Employers are responsible for ensuring that the work environment is free from discrimination, including harassment based on a protected ground. Employers are responsible for developing non-discriminatory policies and procedures. Any infringement of the AHR Act in the course of employment will likely make the employer liable.
Employers have the responsibility to promptly investigate an allegation of discrimination. If an allegation is substantiated, appropriate action, including disciplinary action, must be taken to stop the discrimination. Employers should consider preventative measures such as introducing policies to maintain a respectful workplace.
An employer's liability for discrimination is not necessarily limited to the workplace or work hours. Human rights law includes the notion of the "extended workplace." Employers may become liable for behaviour or actions that occur away from the physical workplace but that have implications or repercussions in the workplace. For example, staff may be held liable for discriminatory behaviour during business trips, company parties or other company-related functions.
Human rights issues arising in a workplace demand an employer's utmost attention and diligence. It is important not to discount an employee's version of events even if there are no witnesses as harassment may occur without witnesses. Supporting facts for the complaint may be found through repeated patterns of harassing behaviour, inconsistencies in the description of events by the alleged harasser, and thorough and credible record keeping by the person making the complaint.
When an allegation of discrimination is made, an employer has the responsibility to protect the privacy of the parties involved. This is true whether the matter is being handled under a company's anti-discrimination policy or through a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. All aspects of the internal process should be handled with the utmost confidentiality and neutrality. Employers should not take sides with coworkers or managers and supervisors.
Revised: December 16, 2009