Source: Canadian Human Rights Commission
Welcome to Barrier Free Employers, the Canadian Human Rights Commission's on-line guide to employment accommodation for people with disabilities.
When the time comes to recruit, hire and promote, people with disabilities are often overlooked. As an employer, you need to hire qualified people, and want to draw from the largest possible pool of candidates. This pool will include people with disabilities -- who comprise a productive sector of the workforce today -- but some of whom need accommodation on the job. More often than not, this accommodation can be provided at little or no cost.
This guide is intended to assist you as employers, managers and/or human resources officers. Its objective is to provide some facts and practical advice on employment accommodation, and to explain the steps that can be taken in order to facilitate the inclusion of employees with disabilities into your work force.
This site will give you the information you need in order to ensure that you can recruit from the widest pool of candidates to get the most qualified employees. Over and above this practical advice, the main message in this guide is the importance of free and open communication between employers and employees and job candidates, and an understanding of what accommodation means in practical terms.
We have made some significant changes to this site, both to its format and to its content. In the interest of keeping the information on this site relevant, and the presentation fresh, we would like to hear your suggestions, so that Barrier-Free Employers can be as useful and as user-friendly as possible.
Please send your comments to (firstname.lastname@example.org). Let us know if you are an employer, a member of a disability group, or an interested individual. This will help us to hone the content of Barrier Free Employers to better meet your needs. Thank you for taking the time to share your suggestions.
The duty to accommodate refers to an employer's obligation to take appropriate steps to eliminate discrimination against employees, prospective employees or clients resulting from a rule, practice, or barrier that has -- or can have -- an adverse impact on individuals with disabilities. The duty to accommodate is written into s.2 and s.15 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; it stipulates that accommodation is required, short of undue hardship.
Accommodation is not a courtesy -- it's the law. An employee who has been denied accommodation can file a complaint under the Act. Failure to provide accommodation short of undue hardship may be found to be discrimination on the basis of disability.
As an employer, you want to be effective and efficient. To achieve optimal results in your organization, you want to reach as wide a pool of qualified candidates as possible. Traditional methods of recruiting, hiring and promotion will often limit your access to a diverse pool of skilled potential employees.
An employer's duty to accommodate is not limited to on-the-job performance, but extends from the initial job advertising on one end, to the exit interviews on the other. Here are some suggestions:
Most forms of accommodation are relatively inexpensive. When accommodating an employee with a disability, it's important not to think along traditional lines; accommodation is just one part of the continuum of meeting the range of needs of your staff. Eight weeks' language training for a uniligual employee will probably cost more than purchasing assistive software for an equally qualified bilingual employee with a disability. Consider the cost of accommodation amortized over an employee's overall stay in your organization.
The Employment Equity Act is aimed at improving the representation of women, Aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and people with disabilities in the Canadian workforce. It places a positive obligation on the federal public service, federally regulated employers (with 100 or more employees) and federally contracted employers (with contracts over $200,000) to ensure that their workplaces and human resources practices do not exclude people from jobs for reasons other than qualifications and competence.
In November 1997, the CHRC began auditing the compliance of employers with the Employment Equity Act. As part of these audits the CHRC will ask employers to review their opportunities for people with disabilities, their representation in the workplace, and possible barriers to employment. Our audits are a way in which we hope to translate our new legislation into concrete action. We will report on the audit findings on a regular basis through the new CHRC magazine, Equality.
Fairness in employment is only going to happen when employers integrate employment equity principles throughout their policies and practices. It is the chief aim of our audits to ensure that this occurs. For more details on the audit process, please refer to the Framework for Compliance Audits Under the Employment Equity Act, and the accompanying Questionnaire.
Acquiring accessibility software, or constructing barrier-free workplaces to accommodate an employee or employees is a good investment all around. The actual monetary outlay is not significant compared to the dividend -- hiring a qualified person for the job. Besides, if your workplace facility is accessible, it ensures access not only for your employees, but also for a whole new clientele. Large-print documentation and hands-free telephones are examples of accommodation that will benefit not only workers but customers as well.
When considering someone for a position, the bulk of your investment is in common sense and open communication. In a recent Supreme court decision, Justice Sopinka said:
In other words, there is no catch-all solution -- not all deaf people require sign language interpreters; not all blind people read braille; and not all people with physical disabilities use a wheelchair. Without proper communication and assessment of needs, effective employment accommodation cannot be achieved.
This section provides some examples of common office items or typical workplace situations where accommodation may be appropriate. An employer has a legal obligation to accommodate individuals with disabilities, short of undue hardship. These are various examples that will accommodate different individuals; not all of these are needed for everyone.
Accessibility of common spaces
As an employer, when and why should I consider accommodation?
You'll find this guide useful if...
Isn't there a high cost to integrating people with disabilities into my office?
No. The cost of accommodation is reasonably modest. According to the Job Accommodation Network, employers can accommodate most adaptation needs for $500 or less. These costs are even more reasonable when you consider them amortized over the entire duration of the employee's stay in your organization. The cost of adapting a workstation to the needs of a person with a disability can sometimes be high, but not prohibitively high -- accommodation is just one part of the continuum of meeting the needs of your employees.
My existing staff are already extremely busy; do I have sufficient resources to train people with disabilities?
Accommodation and training are separate issues (although some people may need training on accommodation equipment). Some flexibility and creativity is required in integrating people with disabilities into the workplace; however, it's a misconception that extra job-related training is always required for people with disabilities. Introducing a new and qualified colleague to a busy staff will only be a help and a morale-booster.
I'm not opposed to the idea of hiring people with disabilities, but what kind of work can they do and not do?
One of the most valuable management tools is the ability to focus on an individual's strengths and abilities, and not on his or her limitations. Like other employees, people with disabilities bring education, expertise and experience to your workplace; providing accommodation ensures that you and your organization benefit from that experience and expertise. Advertise your job openings in the disability community -- you may be surprised how many qualified people you'll find.
What are my legal obligations?
The Canadian Human Rights Act requires (as of June 30, 1998) employers to provide accommodation to a person with a disability, short of undue hardship. "Undue hardship" is judged based on factors of health, safety and cost (CHRA, s.15(2)).
What are the potential consequences if I fail to accommodate people with disabilities in my workplace?
Several precedent-setting cases have been heard by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, most recently Koeppel v. Department of National Defence (June 4, 1997) and Green v. Public Service Commission of Canada, Treasury Board and Human Resources Development Canada (June 26, 1998). In both cases, the tribunal found sufficient evidence of discrimination by failure to accommodate based on disability, and awarded compensation for lost wages and emotional hardship. In Green, the tribunal further ordered that, within a set amount of time, the respondents conduct a substantial review of their policies relating to people with disabilities.
What if I have provided accommodation for an employee, and the situation is still not working out?
Remember that employment accommodation is not always a one-time provision; individuals' needs can change over the course of their employment, as can the job itself. If an employee approaches you to tell you that he or she cannot perform well enough without further accommodation, this may be entirely legitimate. However, if an employee arrives continually late for work, this is a management issue, and not an accommodation requirement of flexible work hours. It is important to ensure that all employees understand what performance level is expected of them, and what workplace ethics are a part of your corporate culture. Accommodation is a means of enhancing an individual's abilities, and of ensuring that workplace performance standards are met, not compromised.
How do I introduce a new employee with a disability, and how do I prepare my staff for his or her arrival?
When someone with a disability joins your staff, you introduce him or her exactly the same way you would introduce anyone else. An individual's disability should not define him or her any more than gender, race or any other personal characteristic. Drawing attention to a new employee's disability should be avoided, since it focuses on an aspect of that employee which -- if properly accommodated -- is irrelevant to his or her function in your workplace.
This category can generally be divided in two: those individuals who have sustained injuries or congenital irregularities, and those with progressive disorders. In virtually all cases, the person's intellectual abilities are unaffected. The needs of an employee with a mobility impairment may change over the course of his or her employment, so open communication and flexibility is essential.
Visual impairments can cover a wide spectrum, ranging from complete blindness to partial blindness. For some individuals, visual impairments are a natural part of aging. Open communication can avoid perpetuating common misconceptions associated with the legal definition of blindness.
DEAF/HARD OF HEARING
While some individuals are completely deaf, others have decreased or obstructed hearing. Some hearing impairments are associated with aging. Again, it is important to make sure that you maintain clear communication and confirm that communication has been understood.
An individual with a speech impairment has no difficulty understanding spoken and/or written language. In some cases, the person may use other means of communication that are equally effective, such as writing or sign language.
Psychiatric disabilities have various manifestations and consequences, depending on their type and severity. Some are the result of trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Still others are the result of chemical imbalances which affect an individual's emotions or perception of reality, but not his or her intellect.
Individuals with intellectual disabilities can improve their self-reliance if adequate support is provided to help them to develop social and professional skills. Most individuals with intellectual disabilities adapt well to the workplace on a social and professional level. Some individuals have case workers that can be consulted with respect to his or her skills and the level of direction and supervision required.
Learning disabilities are neurological in origin, and may affect an individual's capacity to receive, process and communicate information in traditional formats. An individual with a learning disability will have varying degrees of success performing reading, writing and mathematical tasks. Appropriate accommodation can ensure that a person's learning disability will not restrict or limit his or her productivity in the workplace.
Individuals with environmental sensitivities react to some foods, chemicals and environmental agents, singly or in combination. Environmental sensitivities include asthma and allergies, as well as Building Related Illnesses and Sick Building Syndrome.
Page last updated May 22, 2003