Discrimination in the Workplace: What is it? What should I do about it?

DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE: What is it? What should I do about it?

In Alberta, you’re protected against discrimination in the workplace by the Alberta Human Rights Act. By law, Alberta employees have a right to work in a respectful, inclusive, discrimination-free environment, and your employer is expected to accommodate your needs related to protected grounds.

But discrimination in the workplace is a topic with some ambiguity. In this post, we hope to provide some clarity, and answers to the most common questions about workplace discrimination, including:

  1. What qualifies as discrimination in the workplace?
  2. How can I prevent discrimination in the workplace?
  3. What should I do if I’m being discriminated against at work?

In short, we’ll explore what discrimination in the workplace is and what you can or should do about it.

What qualifies as discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination in the Workplace What is it What should I do about it
Discrimination in the Workplace: What is it? What should I do about it?

Discrimination in the workplace can involve bullying or harassment, but it can also be more subtle, such as treating an individual differently based on personal characteristics that are protected by the Alberta Human Rights Act. These characteristics are called “protected grounds”, and they include:

  • Race
  • Religious beliefs
  • Colour
  • Gender, gender identity, and gender expression
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability
  • Age

Under the Act, all Alberta employees are protected from being treated differently because of any of these characteristics.

Some examples of treatment that may qualify as workplace discrimination are:

  • Job ads describing the ideal candidate using personal characteristics that are protected (such as specifying gender)
  • Women receiving lower wages than men for the same job
  • Employers not hiring qualified individuals because they’re pregnant, autistic, or of a certain culture or religion

These are just a few examples, but “discrimination” is a broad term. For more examples of discrimination in the workplace, see also 10 Things You Need to Know About Workplace Bullying & Harassment in Alberta.

How can I prevent discrimination in the workplace?

Both employers and employees have a responsibility to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

How Employees Can Prevent Workplace Discrimination

The Alberta Human Rights Act says employees are responsible for:

  • Carrying out the duties of your job
  • Complying with workplace rules, regulations, and policies
  • Informing the supervisor or manager of discriminatory behaviour
  • Treating clients, coworkers, and the public with respect and dignity
  • Ensuring you don’t take part in discriminatory conduct
  • Informing your employer of your need for accommodation based on protected grounds

As an employee, you can prevent workplace discrimination by advocating for the rights of others and refusing to take part in discriminatory behaviour. When you or a coworker require(s) accommodation based on protected grounds, cooperate with your employer to find a workable option.

If you witness discriminatory actions in the workplace, draw attention to it, gather coworkers and form an obvious group of witnesses, and keep detailed records of the behaviour and the people involved so you can give accurate information to your superiors. If an investigation happens, be willing to participate by sharing your information.

How Employers Can Prevent Workplace Discrimination

Employers are legally required to provide a workplace that’s free of discrimination. The best way to do that is to have effective, clear policies in place, and to ensure that every individual in your workplace is familiar with the policy. Your company culture should discourage unacceptable behaviour.

A healthy work environment:

  • Fosters encouragement and support,
  • Addresses issues before they become serious,
  • Listens and responds to every individual, and
  • Develops ongoing training processes to prevent policies from being ignored.

An effective policy will use clear, easy-to-understand language to define discrimination. It should include instructions for reporting harassment and detail the procedure for reporting, investigating, and resolving all complaints. Commitment to confidentiality and support is crucial and must be stated along with a declaration of complete intolerance of discrimination in the workplace.

Employers have a duty to promptly investigate any allegation of discrimination and to take appropriate action to stop the discriminatory behaviour if the allegation is substantiated.

What should I do if I’m being discriminated against at work?

If you are the victim of workplace discrimination, the first step is to find out if your workplace has a discrimination policy in place. If it does, follow it. If there is no such policy, here’s what you can do:

  1. Talk to someone you can trust. If you don’t trust anyone in your workplace, you can talk to a lawyer. You need support, and it can be helpful to get an objective view of the situation to help you clarify exactly what’s going on.
  2. Keep detailed records of the discriminatory actions. Include dates, times, witnesses, and as much detail as possible about what happened and the outcome. Include any correspondence, such as emails and texts.
  3. Keep copies of any documentation (such as a performance report) that proves you’re doing your job.
  4. Be assertive and confront the person who’s discriminating against you. If you need to, enlist the support of a witness.

If the discrimination continues, talk with your supervisor or manager, and/or seek support from the human resources department, your union, or professional association.

You may have options for further action, such as filing a lawsuit, grievance, or complaint to the Labour Board or Human Rights Commission. Consult an employment law attorney for help to determine the best course of action for your situation.

Discrimination Claims with Alberta Human Rights Lawyers

Your rights as a human being are deeply personal. Discrimination in the workplace can be confusing and emotional, and it can be subtle enough to cause you to question if it’s actually happening.

Don’t wonder. Your human rights are important and you deserve to be protected. If you’re unsure if what you’re experiencing or witnessing is workplace discrimination, contact an employment lawyer at Osuji & Smith. Our experienced attorneys are prepared to listen to you and to advocate for you.

The employment lawyers at Osuji & Smith represent both employees and employers in human rights issues in the workplace. We can help employers create effective policies to protect the rights of their employees, and we can help employees who are victims of workplace discrimination, including helping with human rights claims and dispute resolution. Contact us today.