Medical and other professional services: What you need to know
The Alberta Human Rights Act protects members of the public against discrimination when using professional services. The AHR Act does not protect against poor treatment or bad service, unless it flows from a protected ground of discrimination such as physical disability, mental disability or gender. Age is not a protected ground in the area of goods, services, accommodation or facilities. You can read more about age as a protected ground and about all protected areas and grounds.
Examples of discrimination covered by the AHR Act:
- denial of service based on AIDS or Hepatitis C (discrimination based on physical disability)
- denial of service based on sexual orientation, race, ancestry, or any other protected ground, except age
- sexual harassment of clients by a professional service provider
Examples of issues not covered by the AHR Act:
- rude and uncaring comments made by a professional service provider
- complaints about the quality of services of a professional service provider
- complaints about billing or fees charged by a professional service provider
Professional service providers are responsible for ensuring that their services do not discriminate against members of the public based on any of the protected grounds. To meet this obligation, professional service providers need to review their services regularly to identify and eliminate any potentially discriminatory aspects of their service. For example, a physician's office might review its criteria for accepting new patients to identify any discriminatory effect based on a protected ground such as mental disability, sexual orientation or place of origin.
If a professional service provider has a requirement that would discriminate against people based on a protected ground like marital status or physical disability, it has a duty to accommodate affected individuals to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation means making changes to any rules, standards, policies or physical environments to ensure that they don't have a negative effect on anyone based on any protected ground. For example, a dental clinic that refuses to treat patients with AIDS discriminates against those patients on the basis of physical disability. The dental clinic could accommodate such patients by reviewing and, if need be, altering its clinical practices.
Individuals who require accommodation based on a protected ground have a responsibility to inform the professional service provider of their needs. Doing so gives the professional service provider the opportunity to make any changes necessary to accommodate the individual making the request, as well as anyone else with the same or similar needs. For more information about the duty to accommodate, see the Alberta Human Rights Commission interpretive bulletin Duty to accommodate.
In some circumstances, discrimination may be reasonable and justifiable. A service provider may refuse to offer services to some people based on one or more protected characteristics if providing the service would be an undue hardship. For example, a counseling service offering group therapy to women who have survived sexual abuse can limit participation in the group to women.
Revised: February 4, 2010
The Alberta Human Rights Commission is an independent commission of the Government of Alberta.
Due to confidentiality concerns, the Commission cannot reply to complaints of discrimination by email. Please contact the Commission by phone or regular mail if you have a specific complaint.
You can access information about making FOIP requests for records held by the Commission on our Contact us page.
The Commission will make publications available in accessible formats upon request for people with disabilities who do not read conventional print.