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The Right to Accommodation in Employment

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), employers, landlords, and service providers must accommodate people with disabilities. In other words, organizations have a duty to make changes in order to meet the needs of workers, tenants, customers, or clients with disabilities. In this article, we will explore the right to accommodation in employment. Workplace accommodation ensures that people with disabilities can work productively in an environment of mutually supportive colleagues.

The Right to Accommodation in Employment

Scheduling Accommodations

some workers with disabilities need scheduling accommodations, such as:

  • Shifts at a certain time, to maximize focus or work with transit scheduling
  • A longer shift with more frequent breaks
  • A compressed work week

Changing Job Tasks

Moreover, some workers may need accommodations to their job tasks. On one hand, the worker could find a new way to accomplish tasks. On the other hand, the worker could exchange some job tasks with a colleague. For example, a worker who develops back pain may no longer be able to lift and carry boxes. The employer could re-assign this task to a colleague. In turn, the worker could take on one of the colleague’s tasks in exchange. In this way, both workers are doing the same amount of work.

Alternatively, the worker and employer could find another way for the worker to accomplish this task. For instance, the worker could use a cart to wheel boxes around the building, instead of carrying them.

Work Station Accommodations

Similarly, some workers with disabilities need accommodations to their work locations. For example, some work station accommodations include:

  • A raised desk
  • Back or wrist supports
  • A quiet work station
  • A stairless route from the door to their work station

Information and Communication Accommodations

Likewise, some workers with disabilities need to use assistive technology, communication supports, or accessible formats to do their jobs. Some information and communication accommodations workers may use include:

  • Sign language interpretation or captioning at meetings
  • Documents in Braille or accessible digital files
  • Communication by email, instead of by phone or a company’s inaccessible app
  • Accessibility hardware or software, such as large monitors or speech recognition

Accommodations for Time Off

Disability is not the same as illness. Most people with disabilities do not need medical appointments or time off to manage their conditions. However, some workers may have episodic disabilities. In other words, they may experience periods of illness between times when they are feeling their best. As a result, they may need the accommodation of a flexible policy for sick days. For instance, they may need to:

  • Take time off suddenly
  • Schedule a few hours off for recurring appointments
  • Take more time off in a row than workers are usually allowed

For example, a worker’s accommodation plan could state that the worker will:

  • Attend appointments at certain times, and make up missed work at another specified time
  • Have flexible deadlines or exchange tasks, in the event of sudden sick days

Policy Accommodations

Similarly, some employment accommodations may involve changes to workplace policies. For example, a worker with environmental sensitivities may need their workplace to implement a scent-free policy. Alternatively, accommodations could involve removing policies that adversely affect a worker. For instance, a workplace could have a policy requiring workers to complete all work tasks on computers the workplace owns. However, the workplace may need to temporarily waive this policy for a newly-hired worker who needs assistive technology to do their job. If the employer cannot provide a computer with this technology, the worker may need to start their job using their personal computer. However, once the employer has provided the worker with a workplace computer that meets their needs, the worker must abide by the workplace-computers-only policy.

Structural Accommodations

In addition, other accommodations may involve making changes to the physical structure of the workplace. For instance, some structural accommodations workers may need include:

  • Widened doorways or aisles
  • A ramp, in buildings with stairs up to the main entrance
  • Automatic doors
  • Accessible washrooms

There is funding that can support workplaces in making more costly accommodations, such as installing new building features or software.

Our next article will explore the accommodation of alternative work.