Responding to a complaint

If someone has made a complaint against you, you can respond and share your perspective.
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Has someone filed a human rights complaint against you or your organization?

The Alberta Human Rights Commission accepts complaints from individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination. The complaint must relate to discrimination in a protected area and be based on a protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act. If someone has made a complaint against you, you can respond and share your perspective.

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What you need to know

  • The organization or person who a complaint was made against is called the respondent.
  • The respondent may be an organization or an individual.
  • The person making the complaint is called the complainant.
  • The Commission will contact you if a complaint is made against you or your organization.
  • To respond to the complaint made against you or your organization, complete a Response Form.
  • You must submit your Response Form to the Commission no later than 30 days after receiving a copy of the complaint.
  • You and the complainant can agree to resolve the issue at any point in the complaint process.
  • The Commission does not charge any fees to participate in the complaint process.
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Steps to respond to a complaint

If the Commission sends you a copy of a complaint made against you or your organization, take the following steps to respond:

  1. Review the complaint and any other documents from the Commission.
  2. To prepare your response, review the Response Form, its instructions, and the Defences to Human Rights Complaints guide.
  3. Complete and submit your Response Form. If you are unable to submit your response by email, refer to the Response Form for other options.

Remember:

  • Make sure the Commission receives your response within 30 days of receiving your copy of the complaint.
  • Make sure your Response Form is no more than 20 pages in length.
  • Do not send copies of the documents you list in the Response Form unless the Commission asks for them.
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Things to think about before responding

The Response Form is your chance to share your perspective and explain the issues described in the complaint form. If any of the following apply to your situation, include information about them in the Response Form:

  • Did you accommodate the complainant? You have a duty to accommodate the complainant to the point of undue hardship.

  • Is the discrimination justifiable? In some situations, an employer or service provider can justify its decision to discriminate against someone or not accommodate them because it was an undue hardship, was reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances, or was a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR).

  • Is the program ameliorative? Ameliorative programs aim to improve the conditions of disadvantaged persons, such as Indigenous persons, women, transgender persons, young persons, and persons with disabilities.

  • Did the complainant sign a release in your favour? Depending on what it says, a valid release may stop a human rights complaint from proceeding.

  • Has the complainant started a legal action in another forum? The complainant may have started a lawsuit or other legal proceedings (in another forum) against you about the same issues.
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FAQs

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.

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.

The Response Form asks for the respondent’s full legal name and contact information. If the respondent is an organization, include details for a contact person.

Next, explain what happened. You should say which facts in the complaint you agree with and which you do not accept, and why. There is a spot for a timeline of events – dates, times, or people involved. You can also list your supporting documents here.

Sometimes you must provide a more detailed response. If your situation falls into one of these categories, explain further:

  1. The Commission or another commission has already accepted a complaint on the same issue.
  2. The complainant and you signed a release that covers the complaint allegations.
  3. The complaint falls within federal jurisdiction.

Finally, explain how you think you and the complainant could resolve the issue. A resolution may include a payment of money, an apology, changing a policy, educating yourself about human rights issues, etc. If you believe the complaint should be dismissed, explain why. For example, you may believe the complaint is inaccurate or not justified.

The Commission can guide you on how to complete the forms. We do not give legal advice.

If the complaint was made against your organization, you may choose someone from your organization to complete the Response Form and be the contact person.

If the complaint was made against you personally, you may need or want someone to represent you during the complaint process. For example:

  • you can have another trusted advisor help you with your response
  • 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 are responding personally and 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.

A human rights officer will review your response. If the response is incomplete or the officer needs more information, they will send you a letter requesting more information. You must respond by the deadline stated in the letter.

The officer may also ask you for copies of the documents you listed in the Response Form. Do not send them unless the officer asks for them.

Once the response is complete, the human rights officer will share a copy of it with the complainant and let you know what the next steps are.

Learn more about the complaint process.

It is in your best interest to respond to the complaint to ensure the process is fair. If you do not send your response or provide more information as requested within 30 days, the complaint will still go ahead. The Commission can make a decision based only on the information provided by the complainant and without any information from you.

If you believe you have fulfilled your duty to accommodate, you should include detailed information about this in the Response Form.

You have a duty to accommodate the complainant to the point of undue hardship. The duty to accommodate looks different depending on which protected area and protected ground the complaint falls under. Learn more about the duty to accommodate.

A valid release can stop a human rights complaint from proceeding if it covers the type of issue described in the complaint form.

In these cases, you do not need to provide a detailed response. Note in the Response Form that there is a release signed by you and the complainant that covers the issues raised. You can also ask the Commission to dismiss the complaint because of the valid release. Attach a copy of the release to the Response Form. 

A release may not be valid if the person was pressured to sign it, or if they did not have capacity to sign it (such as if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol).

The Alberta Human Rights Act says a policy, program, or activity does not contravene (go against) the Act if its goal is to improve the conditions of disadvantaged persons. Ameliorative programs are not a form of discrimination.

Ameliorative programs might include programs for groups such as:

  • Indigenous persons
  • women
  • transgender persons
  • persons with disabilities
  • persons of colour

The courts have established a test to show that a program is ameliorative under the Act. For more information on this test, review the Defences to Human Rights Complaints guide.

For example, an organization advertises that they offer programming for youth who identify as transgender or non-binary. At first glance, the ad discriminates based on gender identity because it excludes those who do not identify as transgender or non-binary. However, the program is an ameliorative program, as it is designed to improve the conditions of those groups, which have been found to be disadvantaged in some circumstances.

If you believe the complaint relates to an ameliorative program, provide detailed information about this in the Response Form.

 

 

If the complainant started a lawsuit or other legal proceedings against you about the same issues, include information about this in the Response Form.

In these cases, the Commission can:

  • ask for more information about the other legal proceedings before deciding how to proceed
  • defer (postpone) the complaint until the other legal proceedings are complete
  • dismiss the complaint if it has been or is being dealt with in other proceedings

Yes. You and the complainant can resolve the issue outside of the complaint process without the Commission's help. If the complainant has started other legal proceedings against you, you can take part in that process to reach a resolution. Sometimes the outcome will resolve the human rights issues too.

However, you cannot retaliate against someone who made a complaint against you, or against someone who is part of a complaint. For example, if you contact the complainant and demand they settle the issue, this could be seen as retaliation.

Frivolous means the complaint has no merit whatsoever. Vexatious means the complaint is made for the sole purpose of harassing you. The Alberta Human Rights Act says a person cannot make a complaint with malicious intent that is frivolous or vexatious. Malicious intent means the person is trying to harm you.

If you believe the complaint made against you is frivolous or vexatious, you must still complete a Response Form. You can note in Section D that you believe the complaint is frivolous and vexatious and should be dismissed. You can also make a Section 10 complaint. You have one year from when the complaint was made against you to make a Section 10 complaint. Review the Making a Complaint page and Human Rights Complaint Guide for more information.

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.

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.

Individuals, organizations, and communities have the ability and responsibility to create environments where all people are included, respected, and treated equitably. For more information on prevention, refer to the Preventing discrimination page.

The Act recognizes that sometimes discrimination is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances. This allows a person or organization responding to a human rights complaint to justify a discriminatory practice, requirement, standard, or policy as being reasonable and justifiable.

A discriminatory practice at work that is reasonable and justifiable is called a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). A service provider may have discriminatory standards or policies that are reasonable and justifiable.

Employers, service providers, landlords, and others must meet legal requirements to prove a practice, requirement, standard, or policy is reasonable and justifiable. They must show it:

  • was adopted for a purpose that is rationally connected to the function being performed
  • was made in an honest and good‑faith belief that it was necessary to fulfill a legitimate purpose or goal
  • was reasonably necessary to accomplish that purpose or goal, including that the respondent could not accommodate the complainant without incurring undue hardship

For example, a car insurance company provides different premium rates to people based on a risk assessment of certain age groups. While the company’s rate-setting methods are prima facie (at first glance) discriminatory based on age, the practice of charging more for certain groups is reasonable and justifiable. The insurance company’s methods may be a sound and accepted practice in the industry, and there may be no practical alternatives that are fair to other insured drivers.

Another example is a seniors’ residence only hiring male nursing attendants for male residents who request an attendant of the same gender. A female job applicant applies for a nursing attendant position in the seniors’ residence but is not hired. The employer may have a bona fide occupational requirement, as it is reasonable for residents to have their requests met to preserve their sense of personal dignity and privacy. While the requirement is at first glance discriminatory, it is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstance.

If you are the respondent to a complaint and believe the discrimination described in the complaint is reasonable and justifiable, you should provide detailed information about this in the Response Form.

For more on reasonable and justifiable practices, requirements, standards, or policies, refer to the Defences to Human Rights Complaints human rights guide.

The Commission is committed to ensuring that complainants, respondents, and all those who take part in our processes are able to fully participate. This webpage 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.