Making a complaint

If you believe that you have experienced discrimination in one of the protected areas and based on a protected ground, you can make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
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Do you believe that you have experienced discrimination?

Discrimination is when you have been treated negatively or unfairly because of something about you that is a protected ground (characteristic) under the Alberta Human Rights Act. If you believe that you have experienced discrimination in one of the protected areas and based on a protected ground, you can make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

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What you need to know

  • If you make a complaint, you are called the complainant.
  • The person or organization responding to a complaint is called the respondent.
  • You have one year after the discriminatory act or treatment to make a complaint.
  • The issue or treatment you are complaining about must have occurred in Alberta or with an Albertan organization.
  • You can withdraw your complaint at any time and for any reason by notifying the Commission in writing.
  • The Commission will not share your personal contact information with the respondent when you make a complaint.
  • You can consider approaching the respondent to try to resolve the issue before making a complaint.
  • The Commission does not charge any fees to participate in the complaint process.
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Steps to make a complaint

If you believe you have experienced discrimination and wish to make a complaint, you can take the following steps:

  1. Complete the complaint self-assessment.
  2. Make a complaint. Review the Complaint Guide for instructions before completing and submitting the Complaint Form.
  3. Complete and submit a complaint form.

Not sure if you have a complaint? Contact the Commission for help.

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Submitting your complaint

Submit your completed form to the Commission by email. Refer to the  Guidelines for emailing electronic documents before submitting. Make sure your Complaint Form is no more than 20 pages.

If you are unable to submit your Complaint Form by email, refer to the Complaint Form for other options.

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FAQs

The one-year period or last date that you can make a complaint is one year after the discriminatory act or treatment occurred. The Alberta Human Rights Act specifies this one-year limit and does not allow exceptions.

For example, if you experienced discrimination on November 15, 2022, then the Commission must receive your complaint on or before November 15, 2023.

If you need help calculating your one-year period, contact the Commission.

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If the last day of the one-year period is on a day when the Commission offices are closed (for example, a Saturday, Sunday or statutory holiday), then you can make a complaint on the next business day.

For example, the last day of your one-year period to make a complaint falls on a Sunday. The Commission must receive your complaint on the next business day (Monday).

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The Commission can guide you on complaint requirements and how to complete forms. We do not give legal advice. You may need or want someone to represent you during the complaint process.

For example:

  • you can have a relative, friend, or advisor help you with your complaint
  • if you are a minor under 18, a parent or legal guardian will represent you
  • a person who lacks legal capacity to participate in the complaint process can have a representative

If you have someone other than a lawyer representing you, you must fill out an additional representative form.

You may also choose a lawyer to help you with your complaint. If you do get legal help, you pay the costs of the lawyer yourself. For more information on where to get legal help, refer to the Other helpful agencies page.

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In the Complaint Form or Response Form, list documents that support your position. Do not send copies to the Commission unless we ask for them.

Documents can be internal documents or from legal or other actions, such as:

  • For complainants:
    • medical documents
    • emails or texts
    • minutes of meetings
    • a Record of Employment (ROE)
    • Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) documents, with a case number
  • For respondents:
    • warning letters or a termination letter
    • a Record of Employment (ROE)
    • medical documents
    • emails or texts
    • signed witness statements
    • union grievances
    • copies of court actions
    • a notice to the Worker's Compensation Board (WCB) with a case number related to the requirement to return injured workers to work

The Commission may send you a letter requesting more information. You must respond by the deadline stated in the letter.

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In deciding whether to accept your complaint, the Commission will assess it based on requirements in the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Commission’s Bylaws. The Commission may:

  • ask you for more information
  • accept your complaint or
  • reject your complaint

If the Commission asks you for more information, you must provide it in a timely manner or we may not continue processing your complaint.

If the Commission accepts your complaint, we will:

  • send a copy to the respondent (the people or organization you made the complaint against)
  • ask the respondent to respond in writing and explain their point of view about the possible discrimination
  • give you a copy of the respondent’s written response

If the Commission rejects your complaint, we will write to you explaining why. If you disagree with the decision, we will explain how you can request a reconsideration.

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If you signed a severance agreement with a release, you must let the Commission know. Sometimes severance agreements may contain a release, which relieves an employer’s obligation or responsibility to an employee. A release can be a clause in the severance agreement or a separate document. A release, depending on whether it is valid, may stop you from making a human rights complaint. If you still decide to file a complaint, the Commission will review the release and determine if it is valid. If you need help understanding what your severance agreement and release says, you should get legal advice.

For further information, refer to the Employment: Releases, severance agreements and human rights law information sheet.

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Yes. You and the respondent can resolve the issue outside of the complaint process without the Commission's help, at any time during the complaint process.

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Retaliation occurs when someone is punished or receives negative treatment for making or assisting with a human rights complaint. An example of retaliation is firing or evicting someone for making a complaint against you or your organization. Retaliation against someone for being involved in a human rights complaint is not allowed under the Alberta Human Rights Act. If you retaliate against someone, they can make a Section 10 complaint against you.

If you believe someone is punishing you or you are receiving negative treatment because of your part in a complaint, you can also make a Section 10 complaint. This type of complaint must meet certain legal requirements.

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If the Commission does not accept your complaint, we will send you a letter with the reason why. You can ask the Commission to reconsider this decision within 30 days. The Office of the Director of the Commission will assign a different human rights officer to review your complaint again. If the Director’s office does not accept your complaint again, then the decision is final. You cannot appeal this decision to the Tribunal or the Chief. However, you can ask the Court of King’s Bench for a judicial review of the decision.

The Commission not accepting a complaint is different from the Director dismissing the complaint. A dismissal can happen at any time in the complaint process. When the Director dismisses a complaint, the complainant may ask the Chief to review the Director’s dismissal. Refer to the Review of the Director’s dismissal page to learn more.

Yes. Only a complainant or their legal counsel or authorized representative may withdraw (cancel) a complaint at any time.

If the complaint is at the Tribunal, the complainant must complete a Notice of Withdrawal form and send it to the Tribunal Office.

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The Alberta Human Rights Commission is committed to ensuring Indigenous Peoples have access to culturally appropriate services that consider the uniqueness of Indigenous culture and heritage. Indigenous people may use a variety of cultural or spiritual practices, including:

  • smudging
  • having an Elder or other culturally relevant person attend a conciliation, tribunal dispute resolution (TDR), or tribunal hearing
  • affirming, swearing in, or giving evidence using an eagle feather or other sacred object

At the earliest opportunity, interested parties should inform the Commission of their request. If you are involved in the Tribunal process, read the Indigenous cultural/spiritual practices at Tribunal proceedings practice direction for more information.

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A human rights officer from the Office of the Director of the Commission reviews and assesses potential complaints under the requirements in the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Commission’s Bylaws. An officer may not accept a complaint if:

  • the complainant does not return the completed complaint to the human rights officer within 30 days after the officer requests more information
  • the Commission does not have jurisdiction to deal with the issue
  • the complainant has not provided the respondent's name and address
  • the complaint does not comply with the Act and the Commission's Bylaws.
  • the Commission received and dealt with a similar inquiry or complaint
  • the complaint is deemed to be frivolous or vexatious
  • the issue is being, has been, will be, or should be more appropriately dealt with in another forum or under other legislation

If the Commission does not accept your complaint, we will send you a letter with the reason why.

The Commission aims to:

  • Resolve complaints at the Director’s stage within one year. This includes intake and assessment of the complaint, asking for a response to the complaint, conciliation, and a Director’s decision.
  • Resolve complaints at the Tribunal stage within one year. This includes tribunal dispute resolution, pre-hearing conferences, and hearings. There are many factors that could impact this time frame, including party-driven delay (e.g. extension requests, preliminary applications, availability).

For the fiscal year 2021-22, complaints took an average of 538 days for the Director and staff to either resolve the complaint or make a decision to dismiss or refer the complaint to the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals. Many complaints resolve at conciliation, which takes less time.

For files that reach the Tribunal stage, in 2021-22, the overall average time for complaints to close was 721 days.

In some circumstances, additional time may be needed to process complaints if:

  • complainants or respondents are unable to be reached
  • the Commission puts a complaint on hold because it is being heard in another forum
  • parties request extensions to submit documents or schedule meetings

Refer to the 2021-22 Annual Report for more information on complaint resolution statistics.

The Commission is committed to ensuring that complainants, respondents, and all those who take part in our processes are able to fully participate. This outlines some of the services available to the public upon request. Refer to the information below to contact the Commission about requesting an accommodation.

Accommodations available

A variety of accommodations may be available to help parties fully participate in our complaint and tribunal processes, including:

  • different communication methods, such as email, video, or in-person
  • language translation
  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
  • Video-Relay Service (VRS)
  • accessible document formats, such as large format
  • a support person
  • reasonable adjustments to scheduling, such as additional breaks, different start times, and shorter days
  • access to a computer or phone from a Commission office to attend a virtual meeting, such as conciliation, Tribunal Dispute Resolution (TDR), pre-hearing conference, or tribunal hearing)
  • recording a tribunal hearing (see the Tribunal’s practice direction on recordings and transcripts of proceedings)

This is not a complete list of all the accommodations available. Parties can work with the Commission to identify and request appropriate accommodations.

The Commission is also committed to ensuring our accommodation process is respectful of the diverse populations we serve. A formal request for accommodation is not always necessary. For instance, a party may inform the Commission of their correct pronoun prior to or at any point during the complaint or tribunal process (see the Tribunal’s practice direction on pronouns and form of address).

Factors impacting an accommodation request

The Commission is only required to provide accommodations for needs (not preferences) to the point of “undue hardship.” This means that if a requested accommodation impacts the timeliness of the complaint process or the right to a fair hearing, it may not be possible to provide. Instead, the Commission will work with the party to determine an appropriate accommodation that is less disruptive to the fairness of our processes, while still accommodating individual needs to the best of our ability.

The Commission may ask for information regarding an accommodation request, such as medical records, to:

  • determine if the requested accommodation is linked to a protected ground in the Alberta Human Rights Act, and
  • better understand an individual’s needs so we can determine how to make our processes more accessible.

How to request an accommodation

The party requesting an accommodation should contact the Commission and provide details of what they need. In some cases, the Commission may ask for more information, including relevant medical records. The party requesting the accommodation does not need to send their accommodation request to the other parties, unless the Commission thinks the accommodation could impact the rights of the other parties.

If you are involved in the Tribunal process, read the Accommodations practice direction for more information, including how to request accommodation.