Human rights in the workplace
The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the area of employment. The AHR Act prohibits discrimination based on the protected grounds of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, family status, source of income and sexual orientation. You can read more about protected areas and grounds.
"Employment" is not defined in the AHR Act. Canadian courts have given human rights legislation a broad, liberal and purposive interpretation. In general, an employment relationship exists when an individual earns their livelihood from the relationship. It has also been held that a person is an employer where the person controls, at least to some extent, the ability of a person to earn a livelihood.
Alberta courts have considered the definition of employment in human rights legislation in a number of cases including those cited below.1 In Cormier, the court defined an employment relationship as "any contract in which one person agrees to execute any work or labour for another." In Bugis, the court stated that to employ is "to utilize." Under human rights law, courts and human rights tribunals have found employment relationships in situations which are broader than conventional ideas of what is "employment." Independent contractors, subcontractors, taxi drivers, army cadets and volunteers have all been found to be in employment relationships under human rights legislation and therefore protected against discrimination. This list is not exhaustive. If you believe you have faced discrimination on the basis of a protected ground under the AHR Act, and you are not sure whether you are in an employment relationship, contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
For more information on human rights in the workplace, see:
Information for employers
Information for employees
Information for trade unions and occupational associations when they are representing employees
Alberta Courts have considered the definition of "employment" in human rights legislation in four cases:
- Cormier v AHRC (QB)  A.J. No. 621; (1984) 14 D.L.R. (4th) 55; (1984) 33 Alta. L.R. (2d) 359; (1984) 56 A.R. 351
- Re Prue (QB)  A.J. No. 1006; (1984) 15 D.L.R. (4th) 700; (1984) 35 Alta. L.R. (2d) 169; (1984) 57 A.R. 140
- Pannu v Prestige Cab  A.J. No. 463; (1986) 28 D.L.R. (4th) 268;  5 W.W.R. 89; (1986) 45 Alta. L.R. (2d) 289; (1986) 71 A.R. 212; affirmed (CA)  A.J. No. 1717; (1986) 31 D.L.R. (4th) 338;  6 W.W.R. 617; (1986) 47 Alta. L.R. (2d) 56; (1986) 73 A.R. 166
- Re Bugis (QB)  A.J. No. 203; (1989) 57 D.L.R. (4th) 596; (1989) 65 Alta. L.R. (2d) 274; (1989) 95 A.R. 45; affirmed (CA)  A.J. No. 445; (1990) 70 D.L.R. (4th) 382;  5 W.W.R. 248; (1990) 74 Alta. L.R. (2d) 60; (1990) 106 A.R. 224
Revised: April 11, 2017
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.
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