Can Unionized Employees Start Human Rights Complaints

Can Unionized Employees Start Human Rights Complaints?

Navigating a workplace complaint when you’re part of a union can be a bit tricky. If you’re a union member and have problems at work, you typically have to follow the union’s grievance process. This approach works well if your union is well-organized, reliable, and handles issues promptly. However, there are situations where you might face problems with your union or need assistance they can’t provide.

One such scenario is when you have human rights concerns at work. These need to be addressed through the Ontario Human Rights Commission rather than the union’s grievance process.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of what a human rights complaint involves, why it differs from other union-related complaints, and the steps you can take to file such a complaint.

What Is a Human Rights Complaint?

A Human Rights Complaint is a formal process through which individuals can seek a resolution for situations where they believe their human rights have been violated. In the context of the workplace, a human rights complaint typically arises when an employee believes they have been subjected to discrimination or harassment based on one or more of the protected grounds outlined in human rights legislation.

When someone files a human rights complaint, they are essentially stating that they have been treated unfairly or unlawfully due to their membership in a particular group or characteristic protected by human rights laws. In Ontario, the complaint is submitted to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

The goal of a human rights complaint is to address and rectify the alleged discrimination or violation of rights. This process can involve investigations, hearings, and the imposition of remedies or penalties if a violation is found to have occurred. It’s an important mechanism for ensuring equal treatment and protecting individuals from discrimination in various aspects of life, including employment.

Is Filing a Human Rights Complaint Different for a Unionized Employee?

Most employees in Ontario receive their rights through the Employment Standards Act (ESA). The ESA sets the standards of employment in Ontario and ensures that employers are complying with the law. If a non-unionized employee has a complaint against their employer, they can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour to make their employers comply. Similarly, employees who experience a human rights violation can file an application through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to have their issue addressed.

For unionized employees, the process looks a bit different. Rather than relying on the ESA exclusively, unions will usually have a collective agreement with their employer that determines employee rights. 

In most cases, if you are a unionized employee with a complaint against your employer, you must use your union to file a grievance. Your union should address the concern that way.

However, human rights complaints are treated differently. As a unionized employee, you can file an application through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario like a non-unionized employee would.

I’m in a Union and Face Discrimination Because of a Protected Ground, What Should I Do?

If you experience discrimination based on a protected ground in Ontario at your workplace, there are several steps that you can take as a unionized employee.

Before going to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), you can file a grievance with your union to see if that addresses the issue. Even though you can file a claim immediately, it may be beneficial to see if your union can solve the issue, as filing a claim may be a lengthy and expensive process.

If the issue is not cleared up by filing a grievance, speak to an human rights lawyer about whether it is a good idea to file an application through the HRTO. If a human rights lawyer believes it is a good idea for you to pursue your claim, they will be able to explain the process of filing an application to you, along with your next steps.

In some cases, your human rights complaint may be against your union directly. Maybe your union has not responded to your grievance or is otherwise discriminating against you based on one of the protected grounds. If so, you should immediately seek help from an employment and human rights lawyer. A lawyer can help you with the next steps of filing your human rights claim and get you the best outcome.


A human rights complaint is a complaint that someone can make because they have been discriminated against based on one of Ontario’s protected grounds in one of Ontario’s protected social areas. Since employment is area where the Human Rights Code applies in Ontario, human rights complaints often come from workers. 

Union workers will usually file any complaints that they have about their workplace through their union, but in the case of human rights complaints, workers can send an application directly to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. If you believe that you have experienced human rights abuse at work, whether you are unionized or not, reach out to a qualified employment lawyer at Achkar Law for help figuring out your next steps. 

Contact Achkar Law

If you are an unionized employee or an employer with more questions about human rights complaints or unions, our team of experienced lawyers at Achkar Law is here to help.

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist. 

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