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Complaint Process


I think I was discriminated against or harassed. What should I do now?

You have many options if you think you were discriminated against or harassed.

• Learn more about your human rights here
• Fill out our on-line Human Rights Application Form
Contact us and talk to someone in our office

Commission staff can help you understand your legal rights and options. We can also help you self-advocate for yourself or refer you to other community or government services.

Fill out a Human Rights Application Form

The Application Form is your chance to tell us what happened. It’s simple to understand and easy to use. You can fill it out on your own or get help from family, friends or a support person. There is no cost to fill out the Application Form.

Answer all the questions with as much detail as possible. Use specific examples and include the following:

  • What happened?
  • Who was involved?
  • When it happened?
  • Where it happened?
  • Were there any witnesses?
  • How did it negatively impact you?

Decision about Jurisdiction

We can only accept a complaint if your allegations (what you say happened) fall within our jurisdiction.

The Human Rights Commission can only accept your complaint if you say yes to all of these five questions:

  • Were you treated unfairly?
  • Did the unfair treatment happen in Newfoundland and Labrador?
  • Did the unfair treatment happen within the last 12 months?
  • Did the unfair treatment happen in a protected area (work, housing, school, hospital, renting, etc.)? Find more information here.
  • Was the unfair treatment because of  your personal characteristics (disability, race, religion, sex, etc.)? Find more information here.

The Human Rights Act also sets out some exceptions to these rules. Contact us for more information about whether any of these exceptions might apply to your situation.

If the Human Rights Commission cannot accept a complaint

We will tell you about why we could not accept your application. We can help you self-advocate for yourself or refer you to other community or government services.  We may also help you find other ways to resolve your dispute.

If the Human Rights Commission can accept a complaint

We will tell you that your application was accepted. In certain situations, we may suggest that your complaint be dealt with as a pre-complaint. Sometimes, complaints can be resolved easily through a quick phone call or meeting.  In the pre-complaint process, we will reach out to the parties and try to resolve the complaint before it goes any further.

If  the complaint does not go through the pre-complaint process, the details of the allegations (with the exception of personal contact information) will be sent to the person or business you are complaining about. You are the Complainant. The person or business you are complaining about is the Respondent. There can be more than one Respondent.

Accepting a complaint does not mean that your allegations are proven. It only means that the Commission has determined that your case met all five criteria set out in the Human Rights Act.


Failure to Participate

You have certain responsibilities as a Complainant. After all, this is your complaint. If you fail to participate in the complaint process we will assume you no longer want to continue. Your complaint may be considered withdrawn and the file closed.


Section 20 of the Human Rights Act protects you from retaliation if you’ve made a complaint, given evidence in a complaint or helped in respect of the initiation or furtherance of a complaint.

This means that you’re protected once your complaint is accepted by the Commission, even if it hasn’t been officially sent to the person you’re complaining about. However, you will need to prove that the person who retaliated against you knew that the complaint was accepted.


Early Mediation

The parties can choose to go to early mediation. This usually happens after the Complaint Form is first sent to the Respondent.  Mediation is not about arguing who is right and who is wrong. It is about trying to find a creative solution to the problem. Mediation works well for everyone because:

  • it is free, voluntary and confidential
  • it is fast, easy and informal
  • the parties are in control of the process
  • the goal is to find creative and restorative solutions

Find out more information about our mediation process here.

Review and Investigation by Human Rights Specialist

A Human Rights Specialist investigates the complaint if the parties choose not to go to mediation or were unable to resolve the complaint in mediation. The Respondent gets a chance to reply to the complaint and tell their side of the story. The Complainant can then address any new points raised by the Respondent. The Human Rights Specialist gathers documents or other information from the parties and may interview witnesses. The parties get to respond to the investigation once it is completed.

The investigation is always thorough, neutral and unbiased. The type of investigation depends on the facts of the complaint and what is reasonable in the circumstances. The Human Rights Specialist will try to finish the investigation quickly. The actual time, however, will vary according to the complexities of the complaint, Commission caseloads, and other factors.

Find out more information about what happens during an investigation here.

The Executive Director can defer or dismiss the complaint in certain situations

If a Complainant started a court action or another process to deal with their problem, their human rights complaint can be deferred or “put on hold” until that other process is finished.

A complaint can also be dismissed at any stage of the process if:

  • the Commission does not have the jurisdiction or ability to deal with the complaint
  • the complaint is trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith
  • the issue(s) in the complaint has been appropriately dealt with in another proceeding

If a complaint is dismissed, a Complainant can seek judicial review of the decision in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, General Division.

Find out more information about how to request a deferral or dismissal here.


Complaint Review by Human Rights Commissioners 

Human Rights Commissioners review the complaint and all evidence after the investigation is complete. The Commissioners decide whether or not there is enough evidence to send the complaint to a Board of Inquiry hearing.  Find out more about the Human Rights Commissioners here.

The Commissioners can either decide to:

  • dismiss the complaint if there is not enough evidence to support the allegations OR
  • refer the complaint to commission-directed mediation and/or to a human rights hearing

If a complaint is dismissed, a Complainant can seek judicial review of the decision in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, General Division.


Commission-Directed Mediation  

The parties get a last chance to resolve the complaint at Commission-directed or late mediation.  At this late stage, both parties and the mediator know more about the facts of the complaint.  They also know that the complaint will go to a hearing if it cannot be resolved at mediation.

The mediator takes a more active role at Commission-directed mediation and can give their opinion on possible outcomes.

Find out more information about our mediation program here.

Human Rights Hearing

At a hearing, the Complainant gets a chance to prove their complaint and the Respondent gets a chance to defend themselves. A Human Rights Adjudicator listens to all sides of the story, reviews and considers evidence, and decides if discrimination or harassment happened.  Adjudicators are independent of the Human Rights Commission. They have experience, knowledge and training in human rights law. Find out more about our Adjudicators here.

The goal of the hearing process is to resolve disputes in a way that is accessible, informal and flexible.  A hearing must happen without undue delay.

The Human Rights Commission developed guidelines to help the parties navigate their way through the hearing process:


The Complainant or Respondent(s) can appeal the Adjudicator’s decision to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, General Division.