Disability in the Workplace

Ryan Wozniak

October 01 2019

Disability is often a point of confusion in the workplace. Employers lack clarity as to what qualifies as a disability and what their responsibility is to individuals seeking accommodation for a disability in the workplace. This article explains what a disability is and addresses common questions employers have on disability in the workplace. 

What is Considered a Disability?

The definition of a disability varies slightly between provinces; however, disabilities are recognized across Canada as either physical or mental. Each form of disability is explained in greater detail below:

  1. Physical disability: Any infirmity, malformation or disfigurement resulting from injury, birth defect, or illness. Examples of physical disabilities include but are not limited to amputation, paralysis, speech impediments, or epilepsy.
  2. Mental disability: Any mental, developmental, or learning disorder, regardless of the cause or duration of the disorder.

For a province specific definition of a disability, employers can look at the following legislation for their province:

Employers have a legal duty to prevent discrimination or harassment towards employees on the basis of physical and/or mental disability. In addition, employers have a duty to accommodate employees with such disabilities. In addition to these legal requirements, fostering a discrimination and harassment free environment helps create a positive work environment with a loyal and productive workforce. 

Frequently Asked Question on Disability in the Workplace

To provide further insight into workplace disability, the following are frequently asked questions on disabilities in the workplace:

What does the duty to accommodate entail?

The duty to accommodate is an employer’s legal obligation to reasonably accommodate employees who invoke a protected ground under human rights legislation. The duty extends to the point of undue hardship.

What is considered an accommodation in the workplace?

An accommodation is adjusting rules, policies, practices, or physical environments to enable an employee to participate fully at work.

In many cases, accommodation can be accomplished without significant time or financial effort. Examples of reasonably simple workplace accommodation solutions are providing software to increase on-screen text size, modifying an employee’s work chair, or adjusting work schedules or responsibilities.

 Will a job candidate disclose any disabilities they have prior to being hired?

A job candidate may disclose the need for accommodation prior to a job interview, during the interview, or even after being hired. Indeed, some candidates may require accommodation during the interview process, and employers should be prepared to meet those needs. In such situations, the duty extends to the point of undue hardship. Needless to say, the hiring decision should be made based on the candidate’s qualifications and nothing else.

 How can I prepare my staff to work with an employee with a disability?

It is important for an employer to ensure that its workplace has a respectful and safe culture for all employees. Depending on the disability, an employee’s ability to assimilate to the workforce may not be impacted at all. However, in some cases, an employer’s staff can benefit from an informal training session or potentially more formal sensitivity training.

Still have questions about disability in the workplace?

For further information about disability in the workplace or other HR or health & safety related questions, contact our HR advisors! Our team can help you create an accommodation solution tailored to your specific business needs. Call us today: 1 (833) 247-3652.

Suggested Resources