Job advertisements and applications

The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination during the advertising and application process for a job.
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What does the Alberta Human Rights Act say about job advertisements and applications?

When advertising a job or interviewing candidates, an employer cannot express a limitation, specification, or preference that discriminates against candidates based on a protected ground. The exception is where the requirement or duties are based on a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR).

A job candidate can make a complaint to the Commission if they believe they have experienced discrimination based on a protected ground. It is up to the employer to show the discriminatory element is a BFOR.

What you need to know

  • Employers cannot discriminate against candidates in their job advertisements and during the application process.
  • Employers may be able to justify discriminatory job requirements as being BFORs.
  • Employers can develop ameliorative programs to overcome historic systemic discrimination if they can show the program or policy is reasonable and justified in the circumstances.
  • Candidates who experience discrimination can make a human rights complaint even if they do not get the job.

Job requirements and advertisements

Job descriptions and advertisements should describe the requirements and key duties of the position. They should not describe qualifications, preferences, or requirements related to a protected ground, unless they are BFORs.

For example, a job advertisement cannot say the position is only for strong men. If the position requires heavy lifting, it can require candidates to be physically capable of carrying out the described work. However, the employer may have to consider modifications to the position, such as assistive devices, to accommodate particular candidates. Another example of discrimination is an employer limiting applications to candidates from a specific country in which they do business. Instead, an employer may express a preference for candidates with knowledge of that country.

Job applications and interviews

Employers and recruiters cannot require a candidate to provide information related to a protected ground in a job application or during an interview unless the requirement is a BFOR. All requested information must help an employer discover the candidate’s skills, knowledge, and ability to do the job. It is more appropriate to discuss accommodation issues after the employer makes a conditional job offer, such as a job-related medical examination if necessary.

For example, an employer cannot ask a female candidate if they have or plan to have children. This is discrimination based on the protected grounds of family status or gender. An employer can ask if a candidate can legally work in Canada, but they cannot ask where the candidate was born.

Bona fide occupational requirements (BFOR)

Sometimes a qualification or requirement is necessary to perform the job. For example, roofers must be physically able to climb ladders. Another example is requiring servers to be 18 years of age to serve alcohol. While these requirements are at first glance discriminatory, they are reasonable and justified in the circumstance. This is a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). Bona fide means in good faith.

A BFOR is a standard or rule that is integral to carrying out the requirements of a position within a workplace. For a standard to be a BFOR, an employer must show that any accommodation or changes to that standard or rule would create an undue hardship.

Targeted recruiting

Employers may wish to diversify their workforce to achieve greater representation of historically disadvantaged groups. For example, an employer may wish to employ more individuals from diverse racial and religious backgrounds or other genders to ensure different perspectives are included.

The Act allows employers to develop ameliorative programs to overcome historic systemic discrimination if they can show the program or policy is reasonable and justified in the circumstances. Ameliorative programs improve the conditions of disadvantaged persons, such as Indigenous persons, women, transgender persons, youth, and persons with disabilities. Employers considering targeted recruiting should identify the degree of under-representation of the targeted group and the barriers that may affect this group.


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.




The Alberta Human Rights Act does not include a criminal record as a protected ground. Therefore, a person with a criminal record cannot file a complaint.

Employees covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act may be able to make a complaint if they experience discrimination based on a criminal record. The Canadian Human Rights Act includes the protected ground of conviction for an offence for which the person received a pardon or where the court ordered a record suspension. Read the What are human rights page to learn more about who the Canadian Human Rights Act applies to or contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

An employer cannot ask questions that relate to a protected ground. Doing so is discrimination.

In job applications, interviews, or advertisements, employers cannot ask a job candidate for information related to a protected ground, unless it is essential to the position. For example, employers cannot ask about past or present:

  • physical or mental conditions
  • diseases
  • medications
  • treatments
  • workers’ compensation claims
  • sick leaves
  • plans to have children
  • sexual orientation

Employers also cannot ask job candidates to provide information about the general state of their physical or mental health, appearance, height, weight, or family status.

The exception is where the question relates to a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR), such as a firefighter being physically fit. The employer should clearly state these requirements in the job description or advertisement.

The Commission has an information sheet called A recommended guide for pre-employment inquiries. The document lists recommended and not recommended questions about topics such as languages, age, disability, family status, and ancestry or place of origin.

If you believe you did not get a job because of a protected ground, you may make a complaint to the Commission. You may do so whether you are a job candidate for a new employer or are applying for a new job with your current employer.

First, understand your rights and responsibilities as an employer under human rights legislation. Reading the information on this website is a good start.

Second, consider what information you need to know about a candidate to help you decide if they can perform the job. Think about what the job requires, not what personal characteristics you would prefer in an employee.

Third, be aware of your own biases. You may have an idea of who would be the perfect candidate. However, you should focus on whether the candidates meet the job requirements, not whether they match your idea of an ideal candidate.

Contact the Commission or seek legal advice if you are unsure.

If a job candidate has the experience and skills for the job, there should be no “special tests” to see if they have the capacity to do the job. However, an employer may ask a candidate if they can safely complete the duties as outlined in the job description.

Any test for dexterity, medical exams for physical ability, or stress‑handling tests must be job‑related. Employers should advise that they require candidates to pass such job-related tests or exams once hired. Read the Medical information page to learn more.

An employer may have policies on drug and alcohol testing. On its own, a requirement to take a drug or alcohol test does not violate the Act. It may be discrimination if an employer targets an employee or group of employees for testing because of a protected ground. Employees should check their workplace policies and the consequences for not complying with a drug or alcohol test.

A drug or alcohol dependency or addiction is a disability under human rights law. An employer has a duty to accommodate an employee or job candidate with a disability to the point of undue hardship. An employer’s duty may be triggered by an employee returning a positive (or non-negative) test result due to a drug or alcohol dependency or because of a prescription medication. Employees should also check their workplace policies about disclosing disabilities and requesting accommodation. Some policies may require an employee to disclose a drug or alcohol dependency before there is a requirement to test.

Discrimination in this area can be complex. Contact the Commission if you have questions or refer to the Other helpful agencies page.