Frequently Asked Questions
The information on this page is intended to help explain elements of the Commission's dispute resolution process. If you do not see the answer to your questions here or wish to learn more about the role of the Commission, please contact us.
- How do I file a complaint?
- What are your office hours to speak with a Human Rights Officer?
- When will someone call me?
- When should I contact the Commission about a situation I am experiencing?
- What should I have prepared before contacting the Commission?
- Who can file a complaint?
- How long do I have to file a human rights complaint?
- Can I file a complaint for another person?
- Can I file a complaint for my child who is under 18?
- Can a person under 18 file a complaint without parental consent?
- Can I file a complaint for a group?
- Whom can I file a complaint against?
- What if the distinction between provincial versus federal jurisdiction is not clear in my situation?
- When will the Commission contact the Respondent that I am complaining about?
- Are complaints confidential?
- What is the difference between an inquiry and a complaint?
- My boss is a bully – do I have a human rights complaint?
- Why isn’t my support animal protected like a service dog?
- I am an employee who needs accommodation or medical leave. How much detail should my doctor’s note include?
- I am an employer. What medical information can I request from my employees?
- I am an employer. What is my duty to accommodate an employee who has a disability in the workplace?
- I am the target of retaliation by my employer. What can you do to help me?
The first step of our dispute resolution process is to speak with a Human Rights Officer. This can be done in person at our office location (Suite 305, 5657 Spring Garden Road, Halifax, NS), by phone (902-424-4111 or toll free within NS 1-877-269-7699), by email (email@example.com), or by regular mail ( PO Box 2221, Halifax, NS B3J 3C4).
Our office hours for a walk-in meeting with a Human Rights Officer are 8:30am to 4:00pm Monday to Friday. No appointment is necessary.
The Commission’s call volume is often very high. All messages are placed on a call back list and returned in order of the time they are received. We strive to return all calls within three business days.
Anytime. When you contact the Commission, a Human Rights Officer will assess your situation for jurisdiction. If it is appropriate, we will entertain a formal complaint at that time.
When you speak to a Human Rights Officer, you could be:
- advised that a complaint could be drafted;
- referred to another community resource for assistance;
- asked for additional information;
- advised that the situation is premature for a complaint at the present time;
- advised that we are unable to entertain the complaint due to a lack of jurisdiction;
- involved in an early resolution process
It is important when speaking to a Human Rights Officer to be organized and clear in the information that you present. Human Rights Officers are assessing for possible jurisdiction of a complaint and need to be able to understand your situation. Human Rights Officers are guided by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act which has very clear parameters about when we have jurisdiction to intervene.
It will be helpful if you have:
- a detailed timeline of events;
- names of individuals involved;
- relevant documentation;
- a clear, concise presentation of events;
- information about why you feel the situation was discriminatory in nature.
Anyone that is legally present in Canada can file a complaint, such as a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, or someone on a visa. If you are not currently in Canada but the alleged discrimination happened in Nova Scotia, you can still file your complaint if you are legally entitled to return to Canada.
If you are not present in Nova Scotia, some exceptions may apply. For example, we may accept complaints from Canadian citizens who are not in the province but are filing a complaint about something that happened to them when they were in Nova Scotia.
You can also get help or support from someone close to you, such as a friend or family member, when you go through our process. You can also be represented by a lawyer, but you do not need a lawyer to file a complaint.
The Act allows 12 months following the last date of discrimination to file a complaint. In exceptional circumstances, the Director of the Commission may be able to extend this deadline to 24 months, but the threshold for this extension is very high. If you wish to discuss the timeline and process for filing a complaint, please contact us.
If a person is of the age of majority and has legal capacity, they would need to file a complaint on their own behalf. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission uses restorative principles for our dispute resolution process. There are certain details and information that only the individual impacted can provide, and so the person named in a complaint would be expected to be involved in our process. However, with written consent or legal representation, we can speak with another person to assist the individual looking to complain.
Yes, a parent or legal guardian of a minor can file a complaint on their behalf.
No, you must be of legal age in order to submit a complaint on your own behalf.
No, we do not accept group complaints. Each member of a group who has experienced similar treatment based on a protected characteristic will be assessed individually regarding their own situation. Everyone experiences situations differently and the impact can be different on each person. It may not be possible to address all the concerns of all members of a group within one large complaint. Complaints that are individualized can possibly address concerns of each person and have a greater overall impact. If it appears there is a pattern of discrimination impacting multiple individuals, the Commission may open a systemic investigation.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission can only accept complaints within provincial jurisdiction as outlined in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. Any activities conducted within provincially regulated businesses or enterprises would fall within the jurisdiction of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
Any incident which occurs under the scope of a federally regulated business or enterprise would be considered the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. For example, banks and most telecommunications organizations fall under the federal jurisdiction. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Sometimes there are exceptions to jurisdictional questions. If you are unclear about the jurisdiction of an issue you have experienced or have other questions, please contact us. Our staff are best suited to answering your questions regarding jurisdiction and, if necessary, can refer you to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The Respondent is not contacted until after the complaint is drafted, signed, and accepted. The file will then be assigned to an investigation, and the investigating Human Rights Officer will contact both the Respondent and the Complainant (i.e. yourself) when the investigation begins. If you have concerns about how or when we contact the Respondent, please communicate this to our staff.
Yes, all complaints are confidential. During the process, we will need to provide the Respondent your complaint form and inquire about their position on your allegations. We may also need to speak to witnesses and anyone else who can provide information about what has happened.
Each unique contact by an individual with the Commission is called an “inquiry”. The Commission receives approximately 2800 inquiries each year (in person, by phone or, email). Common inquiries include:
- Individuals requesting information on the Human Rights Act;
- Employers and service providers seeking information on how the Act applies to them, their employees, and their customers;
- Employers and other organizations seeking training from the Commission’s Race Relations, Equity & Inclusion unit, and;
- Individuals seeking to file a human rights complaint under section 29 of the Act.
The Commission receives many inquiries where the caller’s information or request has no relation to human rights. Examples of these include:
- Individuals seeking contact information for other government agencies;
- Individuals looking for information unrelated to human rights;
- Vendors seeking to establish a business relationship with the Commission.
A formal complaint is drafted when an individual expresses an interest in filing a complaint under section 29 of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and where it can be shown that the following criteria are met:
- Discrimination, as defined by section 4 of the Act, may have occurred;
- That alleged discrimination occurred within one of the protected areas of the Act;
- That alleged discrimination occurred on account of one of the protected characteristics of the Act;
- The parties to the alleged discrimination fall under the provincial jurisdiction of the Act, and;
- The last alleged date of discrimination occurred within 12 (twelve) months.
Only when these criteria are met can the Commission accept the complaint for investigation by its Dispute Resolution unit.
Disrespect doesn’t generally constitute a human rights offence. People often call the Commission with complaints of a disrespectful or toxic work environment. They wonder if they can file a human rights complaint against a boss who mistreats or bullies their staff. While we do not condone disrespectful conduct in the workplace, this is different than someone who contacts the Commission with concerns about mistreatment due to a protected characteristic – such as sex/gender, gender identity, or race/colour.
The Commission does not have jurisdiction when mistreatment is widespread and not directed at an individual or group of individuals due to a characteristic protected under the Act. Your best action would be to contact your human resources department or a supervisor. You may also wish to reach out to the Labour Standards Board online or by phoning 1-888-315-0110. You can also contact Nova Scotia Health and Safety 24/7 at 1-800-952-2687.
Service dogs, therapy animals and emotional support animals all provide important assistance to people. They all perform important roles, but the terms are not interchangeable. The training and certification of a service dog is extensive. Service dogs are individually trained to perform specific tasks and to work with people with disabilities. Therapy animals and emotional support animals provided people with support and comfort.
People who contact the Commission with concerns about mistreatment relating to their use of unregulated support, comfort, or self-appointed service animals may find that we are unable to assist them. In general, we are only able to entertain complaints involving trained, certified, and medically required animals. For guidance, you may refer to the Service Dog Act or the Blind Persons Rights Act.
I am an employee who requires accommodation or medical leave. How much detail should my doctor's note include?
In order to provide your employer with the information required to support you at work, you must request detailed and clear documentation from your doctor. If you require leave due to a specific medical condition, ensure this leave request is described clearly. Your doctor’s note does not need to disclose your personal medical information or diagnosis but should be specific about what accommodation is required. Ideally, your medical note should indicate that the accommodation (i.e. medical leave) is due to a protected characteristic (i.e. a disability). This helps your employer understand their obligations under the Act.
If you require accommodation due to a limitation or disability (permanent or temporary) it would be helpful for if your medical note provides the following information, if applicable:
- if the accommodation is related to a disability, though not necessarily what the disability is;
- what the accommodation request is (such as reduced work hours, a medical leave), and;
- how long you will likely need the accommodation.
This will allow your employer to have the proper information to best accommodate you. Simple notes, such as, “Employee requires six weeks leave for medical reasons” are rarely sufficient.
Employers have a responsibility to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. When an employee communicates that they need accommodation, employers should request medical information relevant to determining how to best accommodate them.
It is the employee's responsibility to provide details that will help the employer assess any accommodation request. Employers seeking medical information about an employee with a disability are not automatically entitled to a diagnosis of the employee's illness or disability or to information about the employee's specific medical treatment. Should an employer receive job-related medical information about an employee, such information should be kept strictly confidential and only released as needed.
Employers may request information about:
- the nature of any accommodation(s) required, or restrictions upon the employee’s ability to complete their work;
- the prognosis for full or partial recovery;
- the employee's fitness to return to work;
- the employee's fitness to perform specific components of the pre-injury job;
- the likely duration of any physical or mental restrictions or limitations following the employee's return to work.
Employers may also request information to ensure that an employee is fit to perform the key duties of the job. This could include information regarding an employee's mental and physical functional abilities. When a physician or other health professional is providing information about an employee's fitness for work, it may be helpful to them to review the employee's job description so that they have a clear idea of the type of tasks the employee is required to perform.
Employees are responsible for cooperating with reasonable requests for medical information. It may not be reasonable for an employee to be expected to provide a medical note for a short absence of one day. However, it would be reasonable for an employer to request a medical note regarding an employee's fitness to work after an employee has been absent for a longer period of time, or after an unusual series of short absences.
Broadly speaking, employers are responsible for providing accommodations to employees with disabilities. An employer can request medical information from an employee to determine what is required for an accommodation. Employers can ask if the accommodation is related to a disability, the prognosis, and for particulars of what kind of accommodation is required. The employee is responsible for cooperating with reasonable requests for medical information.
The employer has a duty to accommodate to the point of “undue hardship”. Factors that can be used in determining whether the accommodation would pose an undue hardship are: employee and customer safety, financial cost, interchangeability of the workforce and facilities, disruption of a collective agreement, disruption of services to the public, the morale of other employees, and the size of the employer’s operation.
Because these obligations are very specific to the individual organization and to the individual requesting the accommodation, you may wish to seek legal advice, or to contact us.
Employees are often concerned about the act of retaliation (a negative or harmful response to an action taken by someone) due to their complaint or involvement with the Commission Employees may fear that their employer will punish them in some way for filing a human rights complaint.
Retaliation is included in section 11 of the Human Rights Act in reference to retaliation for filing a human rights complaint, expressing an intention to do so, or otherwise participating in the Commission’s dispute resolution process. If an individual file a human rights complaint and then is retaliated against by the Respondent (i.e. their employer, if it is a workplace matter), then this act of retaliation would be within the jurisdiction of the Commission. Likewise, if you act as a witness in a human rights investigation under the Act and your employer fires or disciplines you for this, this could also be considered retaliation under the Act.
Retaliation based on other actions (breaches of court orders, failure to pay ordered maintenance, internal complaints filed, refusal to accept duties assigned, etc.) are not prohibited by the Act and the Commission is unable to provide assistance in these situations.