We all want employees to do their best work. Everyone should be able to fully participate and engage in the workplace. But when someone has a protected characteristic (such as disability, race, or religion, among others) that results in a barrier to their full participation, it’s necessary to reduce or eliminate challenges by adjusting standards and rules. This is called the duty to accommodate.
The principles behind the duty to accommodate aim for dignity, individualization, integration, and full participation for those with a physical or mental disability or other protected characteristics, such as gender identity and expression, colour, family status, age, sexual orientation, and religion.
Workplace accommodations ensure that you meet the needs of your employees. There are, however, some common misconceptions around accommodations. Here are three myths and the facts behind them.
The myth: All employees should be treated the same.
The facts: Every Canadian has the right to fair treatment, equal access to goods and services, and equal opportunity for employment without discrimination. To achieve equal opportunity, sometimes it’s necessary to treat someone differently to prevent or reduce discrimination.
For example, say you include a written assignment in the hiring process. For a candidate with a visual impairment, they may need the assignment in an accessible format, such as braille or audio files.
The duty to accommodate ensures everyone can participate and no one is unfairly excluded. Keep in mind this applies throughout the employment process, from when a candidate applies for a position until the end of employment.
The myth: Accommodations will seem like favouritism and affect workplace culture.
The facts: Accommodations give every employee an equal chance to excel at work. Some employees may think a provided accommodation is simply favouritism, particularly when the accommodation is for an employee with an invisible disability. You should not disclose personal information about any employee. However, there are ways to combat perceptions of favouritism.
It begins by having important discussions about inclusion in the workplace. Consider creating and implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. By encouraging dialogue and providing training on accessibility, you can reduce misunderstandings about accommodations. At the end of the day, accessibility helps everyone and benefits your workplace.
The myth: Accommodations are extremely costly.
The facts: When some employers think of accommodations, they picture expensive equipment or major structural renovations. In most cases, accommodations are quite inexpensive. According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, more than half of accommodations cost less than $500.
Many accommodations are likely things you have already considered for all employees. This includes flexible work schedules, remote work arrangements, and minor modifications to workstations. If more expensive equipment or modifications are required, you can look into federal, provincial, or local funding to help offset the costs.
The duty to accommodate does have limitations. An employer is only obligated to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship. However, what amounts to “undue hardship” is a high threshold. Also, If the employee cannot perform a bona fide occupational requirement even with accommodation, there is no need to provide an accommodation, and the failure to do so would not be considered discrimination. These instances would be rare.
What’s my duty?
Still have questions about your duty to accommodate? Not to worry! Our experts have put together a FREE Guide on the Duty to Accommodate. In the guide, you get information and advice on:
- When accommodations are necessary;
- Handling accommodation requests; and
- Limitations to accommodations.