FAQs: Information for employers
Our company wants to encourage applications from visible minority groups. Are we allowed to indicate that we would like to hire a member of a visible minority group?
Employers may develop policies that address under-representation of historically disadvantaged groups if it is reasonable and justifiable. Your company must be able to justify why the hiring policy is required.
You can read more about increasing the diversity of your workforce.
I own a business. My clients prefer to work with individuals that they can identify with. Why do I have to be restricted by human rights laws? I should be able to hire people suited to working with my clients.
All employers have responsibilities under the Alberta Human Rights Act. No employer can opt out of complying with the Act. As an employer, you can set the criteria relevant to the position and hire the best qualified candidate for the job. However, you must ensure that the criteria do not discriminate against individuals based on any of the grounds protected under the Act, which are 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 cannot use client preference to discriminate against individuals based on the protected grounds unless client preference is justified as a bona fide occupational requirement.
Terms and conditions of employment
An employee at our company has been sick for a month. The only information we have received is a brief note from his family doctor stating that he is unable to work. What information can we request?
Employers are entitled to receive information confirming that an employee's absence is for a medical reason. Depending on the situation, you may be justified in requesting further information. For example, it is reasonable for an employer to ask for a prognosis indicating when the employee is likely to be fit and ready to return to work, as well as information about the ability of the employee to perform the job. When a physician or other health professional is providing information about an employee's fitness for work, it may be helpful to them to review the employee's job description so that they have a clear idea of the type of tasks the employee is required to perform.
Employers are generally not entitled to know the diagnosis or medical history of the employee.
For more information, please see:
Duty to accommodate
Employees at our company perform manual labour. It is important for us to know that prospective employees are able to perform the requirements of the position. What medical information can we request from a candidate prior to hiring? Can we require a job-related medical examination?
It is acceptable to request job-related medical information, including a job-related medical examination, only after an applicant has accepted a conditional offer of employment. It is acceptable to ask the applicant to sign a declaration such as "I understand that a job-related medical examination is required and that the offer of employment is contingent upon a satisfactory job-related medical examination."
Information requested needs to be restricted to information that impacts the applicant's ability to perform the key requirements of the position. Employers are required to accommodate applicants to the point of undue hardship. If you are not considering an applicant for employment because the applicant is unable to perform a requirement due to a disability, you should ensure that the requirement is justified as a bona fide occupational requirement.
We are a retail business that is open to the public. Can we implement a dress code for our staff?
In Alberta, employers have the right to establish dress code standards necessary for the safe or effective conduct of a business. When setting your dress code, ensure that your standard is not discriminatory. Dress codes should not be used to exclude certain individuals from employment or to treat an employee adversely based on the grounds protected in the human rights legislation. For more information, see:
Appearance and dress codes
Dress codes (in certain instances)
Termination and severance
Our company recently dismissed an employee for excessive absenteeism. Upon termination, the employee signed a severance agreement with a release clause. The employee is now claiming that the release is not valid and that she was fired because of her gender. What factors determine if a release is valid?
A human rights tribunal may ask questions to determine if a release is valid, including:
- How is the release worded?
- Was the settlement substantially unfair?
- Was there undue influence that forced the employee to sign the release or severance agreement?
- Did the employee receive independent legal advice before signing the release?
- Did the employee experience duress? (That is, did the employee experience unlawful pressure to act against their will? Feelings of stress and unhappiness are not enough to prove duress.)
- Did the parties signing the release know about the human rights complaint process?
- Did the employee lack the mental capacity to make a good decision about the release?
- Was there any other reason that would make the release invalid?
You can read Alberta human rights tribunal decisions on severance agreements. All decisions released after January 1, 2000 can be accessed free of charge through the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) website. Search the key words "severance agreement."
We are a small company and have had an employee on medical leave for a month. Now she tells us she will be away on medical leave for another month. We cannot leave her position vacant any longer. Can we terminate her employment and hire someone in her place?
Employers are required to accommodate employees with physical or mental disabilities to the point of undue hardship. To substantiate a claim of undue hardship, an employer must show that an accommodation would create onerous conditions such as intolerable financial costs or a serious disruption to their business. In many cases, accommodation measures are simple and affordable and do not create undue hardship. A temporary staffing agency may be able to help you fill a temporary position.
While certain accommodation measures may create an undue hardship for one employer or service provider, the same measures may not pose an undue hardship for a different employer or service provider. For example, a business office with only two or three specialized employees may not be able to wait very long for an employee to return to work, or may not be able to find a qualified person willing to accept a temporary and perhaps uncertain assignment without undue hardship.
For more information about the duty to accommodate and undue hardship, read the Commission interpretive bulletin Duty to accommodate.
I own a small business in Alberta. We are finding that it is difficult for us to develop policies to comply with human rights law in our workplace. What resources are available to small business owners?
All businesses, however small or large, have to comply with the Alberta Human Rights Act. The Alberta Human Rights Commission provides information and advice to help employers deal with human rights issues. The Commission may be able to assist you in developing your human rights policies. You may also contact the Commission for assistance in dealing with the human rights issues in your organization.
Our company has developed a harassment prevention policy that was distributed to all employees. One of our employees who alleged sexual harassment did not follow the policy and, instead, decided to go directly to the Alberta Human Rights Commission to make a complaint. Should she not have followed the procedures in our policy before going to the Commission?
You need to inform employees of your policy and ask them to follow your internal procedures should they have a complaint. However, employees may make a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission whether or not they decide to use your internal procedures. Individuals may decide to make a complaint with the Commission because the internal policy is not clear on the process or because the individual fears retaliation or is not confident any action will be taken to deal with the harassment. Be sure that your policy clearly explains the internal complaint resolution process and identifies the key people who will deal with the complaint. Also ensure that there is no retaliation against an employee who makes a human rights complaint, whether it is an internal complaint or a complaint made to the Commission.
Revised: October 11, 2011
The Alberta Human Rights Commission is an independent commission of the Government of Alberta.
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