Membership in trade unions, employers' organizations, or occupational associations: How to resolve a complaint


Resolving a human rights issue before a human rights complaint is made to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, or a grievance is taken to a union, can help the union, employee and employer:

  • find a solution quickly;
  • open a dialogue with each other;
  • create a better, mutually satisfying solution to the issue; and
  • save the relationship between member, employer and union.

For the employee
Review your employer's policy manual and follow its instructions on reporting an incident of harassment or discrimination. See if there are policies on how to request a workplace accommodation. (Accommodation means making changes to certain rules, standards, policies, and physical environments to ensure that they don't have a negative effect on a person because of the person's mental or physical disability, religion, gender or any other protected ground. For more information about the grounds protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act, see the Commission information sheet Protected areas and grounds. For more information about the duty to accommodate, see the Commission human rights guide Duty to accommodate.)

If your workplace does not have a policy on discrimination, then talk to your immediate supervisor or other person in a supervisory role about the issue. Try to resolve the issue with the closest possible supervisor. Discuss the issue with your union.

Ensure that all parties (supervisors, employer, union) are aware of what you need to remedy the discrimination, or to be accommodated. If you need an accommodation make sure you clearly outline what is necessary and why. Provide several accommodation options, if possible, to show that you are meeting your responsibility to help facilitate an accommodation.

Document the discrimination or your accommodation needs in a letter to the union and employer, explaining:

  • what the facts of the situation are;
  • who is involved;
  • how the discrimination makes you feel;
  • what you would like to happen; and
  • what accommodations you need, if any.

Use non-accusatory language and make the assumption that all of the parties want to work this out together. Exhaust all possibilities at each level of discussion before escalating the problem to the next level, keeping in mind that a complaint to the Commission must be made within one year after the alleged incident of discrimination. Offer to get some information from the Commission or this website so that all parties can be informed of the options and their responsibilities under human rights law.

For the union
Also see Human rights in the workplace/Information for trade unions when they are representing employees.

Unions are experienced in addressing and resolving complaints. Use the same skills you would use for other complaints, but keep in mind these basic principles of human rights:

  • Human rights legislation is to be given a broad and liberal interpretation.
  • The purpose of human rights legislation is to protect the rights of historically disadvantaged groups.
  • Members have the right to be accommodated to the point of undue hardship. See the Commission human rights guide Duty to accommodate for information about accommodation and undue hardship.

When discussing a complaint with a member:

  • Listen with an open mind to the person's complaint.
  • Review the What you need to know section on trade unions to find out more about human rights in this area.
  • Discuss the situation with the complainant and suggest solutions.
  • Remind the member that they can make a complaint to the Commission and that the complaint must be made within one year of the alleged incident of discrimination.
  • As much as possible, use the complaint process within the organization to resolve the problem.
  • Remember that all collective agreements must comply with the AHR Act. If there is a conflict between a collective agreement and the AHR Act, the Act must be followed.

The Commission's human rights complaint process
An individual may also choose to seek advice from the Commission about how to deal with the discrimination. The individual may decide to make a human rights complaint to the Commission. A complaint must be made within one year after the alleged incident of discrimination. For information about making a complaint to the Commission, see Making and resolving human rights complaints.

Revised: March 10, 2010



Our vision is a vibrant and inclusive Alberta where the rich diversity of people is celebrated and respected, and where everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in society, free from discrimination.