Can My Boss Do That? Questions about Discrimination and Bullying
Can my boss treat me differently from how they treat my coworkers?
If your boss is treating you differently, this might be discrimination, harassment or violence in the workplace.
Under the Alberta Human Rights Act, your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin (where you were born), marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.
Employers and supervisors are also required to make sure that workers do not experience or participate in harassment or violence at a work site.
Harassment is any single incident or repeated incidents of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action by a person that will or would cause offence or humiliation to a worker, or negatively affects the worker’s health and safety. Harassment includes:
- conduct, comment, bullying or action because of race, religious beliefs, colour, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status, gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, and
- a sexual solicitation or advance.
Harassment does not include any reasonable conduct of an employer or supervisor that has to do with managing a worker or work site. For example, a supervisor giving feedback to a worker is not considered harassment unless the manner in which the supervisor gives the feedback is not appropriate.
Violence is defined as “the threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a person that causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or harm, and includes domestic or sexual violence.” Workplace violence includes violence at a work site or violence that is work-related.
Can my boss yell at me or bully me?
If the bullying includes or threatens behaviours such as physical assault, aggression or harm, then it may be harassment or violence under Alberta’s occupational health and safety laws. For more information, contact Occupational Health and Safety.
The Alberta Human Rights Act protects you from harassment based on your race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin (where you were born), marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation. If the yelling or bullying you experience is based on one of these protected grounds, then you may make a complaint against your employer under the Act. For more information, read our infographic or visit the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s website.
If the bullying is putting your personal health or safety in danger and you feel you have no choice but to quit your job, you may be able to claim constructive dismissal. You can read more about constructive dismissal in CPLEA’s Post-Employment Guide.
If you belong to a union, you may have other options available to you through your union. Talk to your union representative.
Can my boss bully me or pressure me into doing something that I think is unsafe?
No. It is your legal right to refuse to do work if you think the work will put you or others in danger. Your employer cannot punish you for exercising this right.
If you think the work is unsafe, you should not do the work and you should immediately tell your employer, supervisor or other designated person what you’re refusing to do and why. Your employer must investigate your concern and try to remove the danger.
If the danger is not resolved, you or anyone present during the investigation can file a complaint with Occupational Health and Safety.
If you have refused to do dangerous work or work that is a danger to your health, your employer must still pay you your wages and benefits as if you were working. Your employer can assign you to do other reasonable work.
For more information about refusing dangerous work, including steps the employee and employer must take, see the Government of Alberta webpage called Refuse dangerous work.
Can my boss tell me what I cannot wear at work?
Your employer can require certain dress and appearance standards for safety, health and aesthetics. The dress code must apply to all employees equally.
The dress code cannot be used to discriminate against an employee on a protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act. If a piece of clothing you wear is based on one of the protected grounds, your employer has a duty to accommodate you to the point of undue hardship.
Last updated: September 2019
All of the materials on this page were funded by the Alberta Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund (HREMF). This project was a result of a research project funded by HREMF. The research report is available here.