Ridout Barron


Poisonous work environments under the AHR Act

The Alberta Human Rights Act prevents any member of a workplace, whether manager or employee, from harassing, insulting, degrading or offending other workers. Consistent misbehaviour along these lines is known as creating a poisonous environment, and it is grounds for making a formal complaint under the AHR Act.

The AHR Act makes provisions for specific types of discrimination complaints. Violation of any of the protected grounds under Alberta Law is a legal basis for a complaint before the commission. If the behaviour is not specifically mentioned in the protected grounds, then no complaint may be made. A comprehensive list of prohibited forms of discrimination would include bias based on gender, marital status, sexual orientation or family conditions. No employer may give preferential treatment, whether positive or negative, based on the worker's race, ancestry, colour, or the place of familial origin. Their religious beliefs, age, physical or mental disability, and economic status are also protected from discrimination.

Continuous insults or degrading behavior based on any of those grounds warrants a formal complaint under the AHR Act. However, the insults or harassment must have a basis in the grounds. For example, repeated speculations about intelligence and lack of mental ability are only violations of the AHR Act if the person in question has a mental disability. Normal insults, though unpleasant, are not necessarily covered by the Act. The allegations of a poisonous environment must be shown to have a basis in fact before the Alberta Human Rights Commission may act upon any complaints.

Since discrimination is strictly forbidden by this act, but it is necessary to show the basis of the discrimination, the assistance of a lawyer can be helpful. They may be able to assist in gathering relevant evidence and presenting it in the complaint.

Source: Alberta Human Rights Commission, "Poisoned work environment", October 29, 2014

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