The adjustment of work duties, environment, or practices to enable an employee with a disability or other protected characteristic to perform their job effectively, participate fully in the workplace and have equal opportunities.

As we continue to foster inclusive and supportive workplaces, understanding the process and responsibilities of workplace accommodation is helpful. The Ontario Human Rights Code requires employers and employees to work collaboratively to ensure that individuals with disabilities can fully participate in the workforce. Disabilities can be both physical and mental and many are not visible.

Duty to Accommodate; responsibilities shared between employer and employee

Employer Responsibilities:

  • Accept accommodation requests in good faith
  • Conduct individualized assessments of employee needs
  • Explore various accommodation options
  • Implement accommodations promptly
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Cover reasonable costs associated with accommodations

Employee Responsibilities:

  • Make accommodation needs known, verbally or in writing
  • Provide relevant information about restrictions or limitations
  • Participate in discussions about possible solutions
  • Cooperate with experts involved in the process
  • Meet agreed-upon performance standards once accommodated

Types of Accommodations

Accommodations depend on the individual’s needs. Each situation must be assessed individually to determine the most appropriate solution.

Some common examples include:

  1. Flexible work schedules
  2. Assistive technology
  3. Physical modifications to the workspace
  4. Job modifications or reassignments
  5. Remote work options
  6. Leave of absence for medical treatment or recovery

Steps in the Accommodation Process

  1. Request: An employee can request accommodation at any time during their employment.
  2. Information Gathering: Employers can request information about the employee’s functional limitations and restrictions, but not the specific diagnosis.
  3. Exploration: Both parties should work together to explore potential accommodation solutions.
  4. Implementation: Once an appropriate accommodation is identified, it should be implemented promptly.
  5. Review: Regularly meet and review the effectiveness of the accommodation and adjust as needed.
  6. Document: Document the entire process.

Liaison with medical team

Documentation: Employees may need to provide medical documentation to support accommodation requests. The documentation’s focus is functional limitations, not diagnosis.

Payment: There is no requirement for the employer to cover the costs of obtaining medical documentation. However, it is a good idea to offer payment, in case obtaining medical documentation poses a barrier to the employee.

Medical team: identify functional abilities, recommend work restrictions and specific necessary accommodation.

Liaison with benefits provider

Although the employer retains the primary responsibility for the accommodation, there may be an impact on the employee’s benefits (e.g. reduced hours affecting eligibility). The employer should contact their benefits provider for discussion and information.

Liaison with WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board)

The WSIB is involved where an employee’s injury or illness is work-related. For non-work-related mental or physical disabilities, employers manage accommodations internally complying with Human Rights legislation and providing support to the employee.

When in doubt, contact the WSIB helpline: 1-800-387-0750

Disabilities and performance concerns

Sometimes, job-performance concerns arise and it can be difficult to separate the disability from the ability to manage the person and their work product. Conditions such as chronic pain, mental health issues, or learning disabilities may not be apparent but can significantly impact an employee’s work performance.

When performance concerns arise, here are some key points to consider:

  1. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing disabilities or limitations affecting their work.
  2. If an employee discloses a disability during a performance discussion, inquire about potential accommodation needs that could help improve performance.
  3. Treat performance management and accommodation as separate but related processes.
  4. Document all performance discussions, accommodation requests, and steps taken to address both.
  5. Avoid assumptions about the link between poor performance and disability. Focus on observable behaviors, job requirements and work results.
  6. Allow reasonable time for accommodations to be implemented and take effect before reassessing performance.

Potential misconceptions about accommodation

Accommodations are expensive.

Reality: Most accommodations cost very little to nothing.

Employers must provide what an employee requests.

Reality: Employers are obligated to accommodate the need, but not necessarily the specific request. Employers can explore the least expensive option that adequately addresses the need.

Accommodations are a benefit others don’t get.

Reality: Accommodations give everyone an equal chance to perform. They address needs and ‘level the playing field’.

Employers cannot discipline, performance manage or end the employment of employees who have accommodations.

Reality: Employees with disabilities are held to the same performance standards and can be disciplined or their employment ended if they don’t meet job requirements.

Employees with disabilities have higher turnover and absenteeism rates.

Reality: Studies show that people with disabilities often have equal or better attendance records compared to other employees.

Conclusion

By understanding and effectively implementing workplace accommodations, we can create more inclusive, diverse, and productive work environments.  

Contact Ford Keast LLP in London to Discuss Why the Importance of Accommodation in the Workplace

Contact our expert HR Consultants to discuss the importance accommodation in the workplace and in the hiring process.

To learn more about this topic, please contact our expert HR Consultant online or by telephone at 519-679-9330 ext. 401 to help support you and your business.

Resources: Ontario Human Rights Commission, Kompa Law, Government of Ontario, HR Reporter

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