The Alberta government has laws in the form of acts, regulations and codes to try to ensure that workplaces are fair and safe for those in them. These rules set out the responsibilities and rights of both employers and employees.
- Employment Standards set minimum standards for how employees are to be treated in terms of pay, work hours, leaves and termination.
- Occupational Health & Safety rules aim to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.
- The Alberta Human Rights Act bans discrimination in hiring and on the job based on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, family status and sexual orientation.
Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Regulation are the laws that define the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees for fair treatment. The Code sets out rules for how long you can work without a break, how soon you must be paid for the work you have done, general holidays and time off work for vacations and leaves, and ending your employment, among other things. The Regulation sets out minimum wage rules and exceptions to the Code that apply to managers (e.g., hours of work and overtime), camp counsellors (e.g., hours of work, overtime and statutory holidays), and some other groups. These rules set out the minimum that you are entitled to, but your employer may set policies that give you more than that minimum.
Your Rights and Responsibilities at Work is one of several government publications at this web location that explains Alberta’s employment rules and exceptions in easy-to-understand words. With recent changes to the law, some of these easy-to-read publications are being updated. You may need to check back later. You can also read the laws directly:
There are also separate Employment Standards rules for wages, hours of work and overtime for residential workers.If you think that you may have been treated unfairly or have a question about Alberta’s Employment Standards, call 1-877-427-3731 free.If you have questions related to being a Temporary Foreign Worker, you can also call 1-877-944-9955 free.
Safety at Work
Alberta’s Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) laws set out the minimum standards for a safe and healthy workplace.
Who is Protected?
Everyone in our field is currently protected by the OH&S Act. This was not always the case, but ADWA advocated for better protection for disability workers, regardless of their employment situation.
Who is Responsible for Worker Health and Safety?
Both workers and employers have responsibilities to keep everyone in the workplace safe. Employers are required to ensure the health and safety of workers as far as “reasonably practical” and to ensure that workers know their responsibilities in ensuring their health and safety. Workers are required to follow employer health and safety rules and take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of themselves and others at work.The OH&S Act defines employer and worker responsibilities in protecting health and safety and in reporting accidents at work sites. Your “work site” is wherever you carry out the responsibilities you are paid for. As a disability worker, it may include an office, the home of the person you support, their job site or other places in the broader community. The work site includes your car when used for work, such as taking individuals you support to or from an appointment, job or other activity. It does not include driving to or from your work. Needless to say, employers have little control over the safety of community settings—it is just not “reasonably practical.” Your responsibility to take reasonable care of yourself and those you support at work is still required. The Act says the Minister may require an employer to have a Health & Safety Committee that includes both workers and management staff, as well as written health and safety policies that workers know about.
Can I Refuse Unsafe Work?
Yes. This is another area where ADWA advocacy has made a real difference. For example, if the equipment you need to use is not in good working order (e.g., likely to give you an electrical shock or cut you), you could legally refuse to use it and your employer could not penalize you for your refusal. The more complicated situation is if you want to refuse to work with a person who has violent behaviour because you do not feel safe with that individual, even though you have training in non-violent crisis prevention. If you tell your employer that you do not feel safe to work with the individual, the employer cannot force you to work with that individual and must also tell anyone else offered that shift that staff has refused the work on safety grounds. The employer is also supposed to find you alternative work that you do feel is safe for you and pays the same. The challenge is that there may not be an alternative available that pays the same. As a worker, you must take responsibility to learn and practice the skills needed for safety. The OH&S Regulation says that if work may put a worker in danger, the employer must ensure that the worker is competent to do the work or is supervised directly on the worksite by a worker who is competent to do the work (i.e., not working alone). Therefore, your employer is must support you in your efforts to be safe by paying for safety training, setting time for workers to practice skills and supporting safe practices, which may include working in pairs.
When Must Employers Report Safety Issues to Government?
The OH&S Act says that employers must report serious injuries and accidents to the government that result in:
- Hospital admission
- Explosions, fires or floods that could result in a serious injury
- Collapse of any part of a building or structure that holds a building together
They must also report potentially serious incidents that could have caused injury or death but did not.
What Worksite Issues Require Protection of Workers?
The OH&S Code details different types of hazards and the protections required. The Code requires employers to conduct a hazard assessment of its work sites and involve the workers there in controlling or eliminating the hazards, and/or supply personal protective equipment for workers (e.g., latex gloves for those providing personal care). Here are the most common hazards in the OH&S Code that are relevant to disability work:
- Hazardous chemicals – The Code identifies a number of chemicals and the safe level of exposure in an 8-hour period. Besides asbestos and lead, which might be present in floors or walls of older buildings, the list includes mold, many cleaning supplies found in homes, offices or job sites of individuals being supported, as well as gasoline and propane. Workers must be informed of any hazardous materials at their work site. Employers must have a code of practice for safe storage, handling, use and disposal of any hazardous chemicals at the work site. Workers must follow those rules. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) rules must be followed, including having current material safety data sheets from the supplier available to workers who may be exposed.
- Emergency response plans – Employers and workers must jointly identify emergencies that could require rescue or evacuation and create an emergency response plan that includes identifying potential emergencies, procedures for dealing with them, how to use emergency response equipment and training requirements, location of emergency facilities, fire protection requirements, alarm/emergency communication requirements, needed first aid services, rescue and evacuation procedures and who will be in charge of the process. The most common example is response to a residential fire, with fire drills as part of the training requirements. The employer must provide personal protective clothing and equipment to their designated rescue/evacuation workers related to the emergencies in the plan and workers must wear and use them in the relevant emergency.
- Safe buildings – Employers must ensure that doors, stairs, ramps and pathways used in emergencies are clear, safe and easy to use. That includes surfaces with traction to avoid slipping, doors that open easily and stairways with more than 5 steps having a handrail. Drop-offs of more than 1.2 meters are to be protected by a guardrail to prevent falls.
- First aid – Employers are to ensure that first aid equipment/supplies and services are available and accessible at or near the work site during all working hours. Workers should know where first aid supplies are kept. In disability work, employees are generally required to have up-to-date first aid training as part of meeting this requirement. Employers must provide a means of communication at the work site to be able to call an ambulance if needed. Workers are required to report an illness or injury at work that requires immediate care to their employer as soon as practical after it happens.
- Safe lifting – Workers who are required to lift, carry or move heavy objects (including persons) should have and use equipment that will help them do so safely. This equipment requirement is reasonably practical in a home environment, but is less likely possible when working out in the community. Employers are required to have a safe lifting/transferring protocol with an annual evaluation of its effectiveness. Workers are required to follow the protocol. Employers must also determine whether a worker has the physical capability to lift a person safely. They must ensure that employees who are required to lift or move heavy loads are trained to recognize factors that could lead to their injury, signs that they have injured themselves and preventative measures to take. Workers must assess the hazards and plan how to move heavy loads safely before acting.
- Liquids and toilet access – An employer cannot restrict a worker’s access to liquids (e.g., water) for hydration and toilet facilities. While most of the OH&S Code’s rules in this area are clearly designed for construction sites rather than community disability work, Part 24 of the Code clearly intended that necessary bathroom breaks should not be restricted by employers.
- Violence and working alone – Employers must have policies and procedures around workplace violence and inform workers about how to recognize it, ways to minimize or eliminate it, how to respond and get help when it happens, and how to report, investigate and document it. If an employee is along on a job site without help being easily available in an emergency, the employer must provide an effective communication system (e.g., radio, phone, panic button or system of regular pre-planned contact with an on-call staff) to use in an emergency. If such a system is not practical, the employer must ensure that someone checks in on the worker by visiting or contacting them at intervals “appropriate to the nature of the hazard.”
The Alberta government has a number of resources that help workers understand their rights to a safe and healthy workforce, in addition to helping them stay safe and healthy. Here are some you may find useful:
For a wider range of information that is focused on disability work, download the Staff Safety Toolkit from ACDS. If your employer provides coverage through WCB and you need to make a claim, Alberta Injured Workers is a website for and by injured workers that you may find useful in navigating that system. There is also a Fair Practices Office within the government to help injured workers manage the WCB claims process. Call 1-866-427-0115 or e-mail at email@example.com. To ask a question or report a concern or safety incident, phone the OHS Contact Centre toll-free at 1-866-415-8690.
Alberta Human Rights Act
Canada – Several pieces of human rights legislation exist in Canada to protect people from discrimination. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution of Canada. It guarantees that Canadian citizens have the right to believe what they wish and express their opinion, get together with others peacefully, vote in elections, move around Canada and try to make a living, leave and return to Canada, live freely and securely, and have equal protection of the law with other citizens. The Canadian Human Rights Act bans discrimination by federally regulated employers and service providers against people on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction of a crime that was pardoned or whose record was ordered suspended. The Canadian Human Rights Act only applies to a limited number of people and bodies. Federally regulated employers and service providers include banks, airlines and all levels of government, including First Nations. If you believe you have been discriminated against on prohibited grounds by a government employer, you would make a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission within 1 year of the event. Complaints of discrimination against others would be made based on provincial human rights law, which must be in line with the Canadian Human Rights Act. Alberta – The Alberta Human Rights Act protects people from discrimination based on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, source of income, physical disability or mental disability. People are not allowed to discriminate against you in hiring, continuing employment, or the terms or conditions of employment. Unions cannot discriminate either. Men and women must get equal pay for similar work. Independent contractors and subcontractors are also considered to be in an employment relationship with those who pay them, as far as this law is concerned. If you believe that you have been discriminated against by an employer on one or more prohibited grounds, you may make a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Is it discrimination? – Sometimes in disability work, a job posting may say the position is only open to males or only to females. While this looks like gender discrimination on the surface, it generally is not. The individual being supported may need support to be from a particular gender for many reasons, including the personal nature of the service they need, past experience with abuse, and respect for their personal preferences. The law says that an employer is not discriminating against you by failing to hire you or keep you on if you cannot do the job. Each job has required skills, abilities and characteristics that are important to completing the work successfully. These are called bona fide occupational requirements. For instance, many jobs require a certain level or type of education, or having a working vehicle with a safe driving record. The law also says that employers have a duty to accommodate, as long as the accommodation can be made without too much expense (reasonable accommodation). If you need time off at a particular time each week to meet religious obligations, this may be accommodated by adjusting schedules. If you have been injured and have a disability that requires modified work, (e.g., back injury that prevents you from lifting and transferring individuals), your employer has an obligation to try to accommodate your disability within its means. This could involve a change in position or who you provide support to (assuming you work for an agency supporting multiple individuals rather than a family). If a reasonable alternative is offered and you refuse it, your employer is not required to keep offering you other alternatives. Note: Please be aware that the Alberta Human Rights Act also bans discrimination in housing, public notices, and access to public facilities and services. ADWA has chosen to focus on workplace issues only.
Human Rights in the Workplace
If you have questions about whether you have been discriminated against, please contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Confidential Inquiry Line 780-427-7661 or Email AHRC.Registrar@gov.ab.ca (include a daytime phone number where you can be reached).