The Alberta Human Rights Act protects against discrimination based on protected grounds and in protected areas.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is an action, policy, practice, or decision that has a negative effect on an individual or group and is related to certain personal characteristics such as race, age, disability, gender, religious beliefs, family status, or sexual orientation. The behaviour may or may not be intentional. The Alberta Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on one or more protected grounds and in one or more protected areas, as described in the Act.

Harassment, racism, and hate can be forms of discrimination. They are prohibited under the Act if they are based on one or more protected grounds and in one or more protected areas.


What you need to know

  • Discrimination can occur regardless of what someone intended.
  • The Act describes six protected areas and fifteen protected grounds.
  • The Alberta Human Rights Commission can help with discrimination prohibited by the Act, but may not be able to help with all issues of discrimination.
  • A person who experiences discrimination in a protected area and based on a protected ground can make a complaint to the Commission within one year of the incident.
  • Communities and organizations can play a role in preventing discrimination and encouraging respectful and inclusive behaviours.
  • The Commission can work with communities and organizations to help prevent discrimination and promote respectful behaviours.

Protected areas

The Act protects against discrimination in six protected areas:

  1. Employment practices, including terms and conditions, benefits, and terminations of employment
  2. Job advertisements and applications
  3. Membership in a trade union or association
  4. Goods, services, accommodation, and facilities customarily available to the public, including age requirements, and rules and bylaws for condominiums
  5. Tenancy, including when looking for or living in a rental home
  6. Public statements, publications, notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations

The Act also prohibits:

  • unequal payment to employees of different genders who perform the same or similar work. The equal pay rule addresses a common practice of female employees receiving less pay than their male colleagues. An employee who receives less pay can make a complaint to recover from the employer the difference between the amount they received and the amount their colleague received.
  • any person retaliating against a person because of their involvement in a human rights complaint
  • making complaints that are frivolous or vexatious

Protected grounds

The Act protects against discrimination based on the following protected grounds:

  1. Mental disability
  2. Physical disability
  3. Gender (including pregnancy and sexual harassment)
  4. Gender identity
  5. Gender expression
  6. Sexual orientation
  7. Race
  8. Colour
  9. Ancestry
  10. Place of origin
  11. Religious beliefs
  12. Age
  13. Marital status
  14. Family status
  15. Source of income (such as government assistance or disability pension)

Read the Protected grounds page to learn more about these protected grounds, including examples of each.

The Commission cannot help with complaints of discrimination that happen outside of these protected areas and protected grounds. This does not necessarily mean the behaviour is acceptable. You may have other options to deal with this behaviour.


Legal test for discrimination

The law says discrimination has occurred under the Act if all the following are true:

  1. The individual has a protected characteristic (based on a protected ground).
  2. The individual suffered an adverse (negative) impact.
  3. The individual’s protected characteristic was a factor in the adverse impact.

For complaints to the Commission, the complainant is responsible for proving the discrimination occurred. The Commission or Tribunal must accept that it is more likely than unlikely that the discrimination occurred. In legal terms, the complainant bears the burden of proof on a balance of probabilities.



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 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.




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.


Discrimination can take many forms. Some examples from human rights cases include:

  • failing to accommodate an employee’s need for modified duties because of their disability
  • firing an employee because they are pregnant
  • demoting an employee for reporting sexual harassment against their boss
  • allowing a poisoned work environment due to derogatory comments about an employee’s place of origin or religious beliefs
  • refusing to rent to a potential tenant because of their race, ancestry, or source of income
  • refusing to serve a customer because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • forcing an employee to retire due to their age, unless it is a bona fide occupational requirement

Individuals, businesses, and organizations have rights and responsibilities when responding to discrimination. How you respond depends on whether you experienced or witnessed discrimination, or are responding to a complaint. Learn more by reading the Responding to discrimination page.


If you make a human rights complaint, the Commission follows a process to decide whether to accept the complaint. If the Commission accepts the complaint, there is a process to try to resolve the issue. If the issue does not resolve, the Director of the Commission will make a decision to either dismiss the complaint or refer it to the Tribunal for resolution. Learn more about the complaint process and the Tribunal process.


Equal pay addresses a common practice of female employees receiving less pay than their male colleagues. The Act says an employer must provide equal pay to employees of different genders who perform the same or very similar work. This does not stop an employer from paying employees differently based on experience, education, or merit, even if they perform the same or very similar work. However, an employer must ensure it hires, promotes, pays, and dismisses employees based on objective guidelines applied equally to all genders.

The Act also says an employer cannot reduce an employee’s rate of pay to comply with this rule. This means the employer cannot reduce the pay of the higher earning employee to match the pay of the lower earning employee.

For example, an employer pays a female employee $10,000 less per year than her male colleague for the same work simply because of their different genders. The female employee can make a complaint to the Commission against her employer for the difference in pay.

If an employee files a complaint, they can claim the difference in pay they received versus what they should have received. The employee must make a human rights complaint within one year of discovering the unequal pay. The employee can only claim the difference in wages going back one year from whichever date comes first: the date the employer terminated their employment or the date they made a human rights complaint.


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.