Inclusivity and accessibility in the workplace are not just moral imperatives—they are legal ones. For employers in Canada, understanding and implementing accessibility laws is critical, ensuring that all employees, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, can thrive and succeed. This blog post unpacks the vital aspects of accessibility laws in the workplace and provides guidance for employers on adhering to these regulations.
- The Foundation: The Canadian Human Rights Act
At the federal level, the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including disability. This act mandates that employers accommodate the needs of employees with disabilities unless it causes undue hardship to the employer.
- Provincial Legislation: The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
Specific provinces have enacted more detailed legislation on accessibility. A prime example is Ontario’s AODA, which sets out comprehensive accessibility standards. These standards cover everything from the design of environments to information and communications, employment, transportation, and customer service.
Employers in Ontario must adhere to these standards, ensuring that their workplaces are accessible and provide accommodations as needed.
- Duty to Accommodate
One of the primary tenets of accessibility law is the ‘duty to accommodate’. This duty obliges employers to take all necessary measures, short of undue hardship, to ensure that employees with disabilities can fully participate in the workplace. This might include physical alterations to the workspace, offering flexible working hours, or providing specific tools or technologies to accommodate various needs. When employees are returning from a leave of absence due to disability, it is important for employers to investigate what changes may be required to ensure effective participation.
- Creating an Accessibility Policy
To ensure compliance and foster an inclusive workplace, employers should draft a comprehensive accessibility policy. This policy should outline:
- The company’s commitment to accessibility.
- Steps taken to remove and prevent barriers.
- Procedures for requesting accommodations.
- Employee training initiatives on accessibility.
- Feedback mechanisms to assess and improve accessibility measures.
- Training and Awareness
It’s crucial for employers to ensure that their employees are aware of accessibility policies and best practices. Regular training sessions should be conducted to educate staff on these laws and teach them how to interact respectfully and effectively with colleagues who have disabilities Employees should be made aware that they have a right to be accommodated and the steps associated with that process. Although some employers have incorporated policies in employee handbooks, many do not, leaving employees uncertain of their rights and resulting in confusion and miscommunication.
Accessibility in the workplace is both a right and a necessity. By understanding and implementing accessibility laws, employers can create a more inclusive, productive, and harmonious work environment. These efforts not only ensure compliance with the law but also promote a diverse and innovative workforce and ensure that individuals with disabilities can actively participate in the workforce in productive ways.