Accommodating Disabilities: What Ontario Employers Need to Know

  • Employee wellbeing
Francis Ibana

Francis Ibana, Employment Law Content Specialist

(Last updated )

According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, an estimated 6.2 million Canadians aged 15 years and older reported having at least one disability that limited their daily activities.

Employers can play a crucial role in making their workforce more accessible for these individuals. This means providing equal employment opportunities and removing barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from participating in the workplace.

Accommodations can include physical modifications to the workplace, such as wheelchair ramps and accessible washrooms, as well as accommodations for individuals with sensory or cognitive disabilities, such as assistive technology and sign language interpretation.

These accommodations can help ensure that employees with disabilities are able to perform their job duties effectively and can help create a more inclusive workplace. Accommodating employees with disabilities can improve job satisfaction, reduce turnover rates, and increase employee productivity and engagement, and promote a more diverse workplace.

Accommodating employees with disabilities is also a legal and ethical obligation. If you fail to provide reasonable accommodations, you may face complaints and legal action from employees, which can result in financial penalties and damage to your company’s reputation. Here is everything you need to know about accommodating employees with disabilities in Ontario.

What are the legal requirements for accommodating employees with disabilities in Ontario?

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship. This means that employers must make every reasonable effort to accommodate employees with disabilities, unless the accommodation is too costly, requires outside funding, or jeopardize health and safety obligations.

What Conditions Are Considered a Disability?

The term disability describes both visible and invisible conditions. They can be present from birth, the result of an accident or developed over time. Examples of disabilities are:

  • Speech impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Mental health challenges
  • Physical disabilities, including:
    • Amputation
    • Paralysis
    • Difficulty with coordination or balancing
  • Blindness or visual impairment
  • Deafness or hearing disabilities

How does the size of my business impact how I accommodate accessibility?

As an employer, you have an obligation in creating an accessible workplace depending on the size of the company. Businesses with 1 to 49 employees are responsible for complying with the following four requirements under the Accessible Employment Standard:

  • Hiring
  • Workplace information
  • Talent and performance management
  • Communicate accessibility policies

If your business has 50 or more employees, as an employer, you are responsible for fulfilling six requirements of the Accessible Employment Standard:

  • Hiring
  • Workplace information
  • Talent and performance management
  • Communicate accessibility policies
  • Accommodation plans
  • Return to work process

The aim of the above requirements is to make sure employees and job applicants are receiving accessible employment practices.

What are my obligations under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR)?

The Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) is an important piece of legislation in Ontario that guides employers in creating an accessible and inclusive workplace for employees with disabilities. This regulation is part of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which is a comprehensive law that aims to create a barrier-free Ontario by 2025.

The IASR sets out specific requirements for organizations with 50 or more employees in the areas of information and communication, employment, and transportation. These requirements include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Providing accessible formats and communication supports for employees with disabilities upon request, including accessible electronic formats and large print materials
  • Making websites and web content accessible, including web-based applications and intranet sites.
  • Ensuring that job postings and recruitment processes are accessible to candidates with disabilities.
  • Providing accommodations to employees with disabilities during the recruitment process and throughout their employment, including flexible work arrangements and assistive technologies.
  • Developing and implementing individualized accommodation plans for employees with disabilities.
  • Providing training to employees and volunteers on accessible customer service and disability-related issues.
  • Ensuring that new or renovated public spaces are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Establishing a feedback process for employees to report accessibility barriers and other issues related to accessibility.

It is important for Ontario employers to understand and comply with the IASR because failure to do so can result in significant legal and financial consequences. Employers who do not comply with the regulation may face complaints, investigations, and penalties from the Ontario government. Additionally, failing to provide accessible accommodations for employees with disabilities can lead to low morale, absenteeism, and reduced productivity, which can negatively impact the company’s bottom line.

To ensure compliance with the IASR, Ontario employers should take a proactive approach to accessibility by educating themselves on the requirements of the regulation, engaging with employees with disabilities, and developing policies and procedures that promote accessibility and inclusion. By doing so, employers can create a more diverse and inclusive workforce and avoid potential legal and financial penalties.

What standards must I comply with under the IASR?

The IASR is comprised of five standards in the following areas. These standards lay the foundation for how employers should approach accessibility in the workforce.

Information and Communication Standard:

This standard summarizes an organization’s responsibility to create, provide and receive information and communications that are accessible to people with disabilities.

Employment Standard

Outlines an employer’s responsibility to make their workplace and employment practices accessible to potential or current employees with disabilities.

Transportation Standard

Describes the expectation for transportation service providers. Specifically, this standard discusses the features and equipment on vehicles, and routes and how all services offered must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Design of Public Spaces Standard

Highlights a need for newly constructed or redeveloped public spaces to be accessible for individuals with disabilities.

Customer Service Standard

Explains how to remove barriers so individuals with disabilities can access good, services and/or facilities.

What are some tips for accommodating an employee with a disability?

Communicate with the employee

When an employee requests an accommodation, it is important to have an open and honest conversation about their needs and how they can be accommodated. Employers should work with employees to identify any necessary accommodations and provide them in a timely manner.

Consider a range of accommodations

Accommodations can take many forms, and you should consider a range of options that may be appropriate for the employee and the job duties involved. This may include providing assistive technology, modifying work schedules, or allowing for telecommuting.

Consult with experts

You may want to consult with experts, such as occupational therapists, disability management professionals, or accessibility consultants, to help identify appropriate accommodations and ensure that they are effective.

Maintain confidentiality

Employers must maintain confidentiality about an employee’s disability and accommodation needs, except where necessary to provide the accommodation or where required by law.

Review and update accommodation policies

You should regularly review their accommodation policies and procedures to ensure that they are up-to-date and effective. You should also ensure that their managers are trained to handle accommodation requests sensitively and effectively.

Address accommodation-related conflicts

You may encounter conflicts related to accommodations, such as disputes over the appropriateness of a particular accommodation or concerns from other employees about perceived preferential treatment. You should work to address these conflicts in a fair and transparent manner while ensuring that the accommodation needs of the employee with the disability are being met.

Need help creating an accessibility policy?

Accommodating employees with disabilities is not only a legal and ethical obligation but also a key aspect of promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce. Employers who fail to provide reasonable accommodations may face legal consequences and negative impacts on their business, while those who prioritize accommodation can benefit from increased employee productivity, engagement, and retention.

An essential component of effectively accommodating employees with disabilities is by developing an accessibility policy. Peninsula’s experts can help you draft a policy catering specifically to your employee’s unique needs. We can also assist with any HR, health & safety, or employee management advice that you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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