As a small business owner with employees, you’re invested in your employees’ productivity because they’re essential to your success. But what happens if one of your employees encounters a workplace barrier that affects their ability to do a good job? You’re responsible for ensuring that reasonable measures are taken to mitigate any workplace factors that may result in a disadvantage to the employee.
What is the Duty to Accommodate?
Duty to accommodate” is a concept in Canadian law that ensures employees are treated equally. If you have workplace rules, job requirements, policies, or practices that discriminate against certain classes of employees, you’re required to modify them to accommodate employee needs, providing that such accommodation doesn’t result in undue hardship for your business. For example, you may be required to change the physical aspects of a workspace to accommodate the needs of a disabled employee.
Passed by Parliament in 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) prohibits discrimination. Section Two of the act specifies 13 banned grounds for discrimination, and specifically outlines the steps and lengths that you as a small-business owner are responsible for taking to avoid discriminating against employees. The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of nation of origin, colour, religion, race, sex, age, sexual orientation, family status, marital status, disability, or conviction of an offence that has been pardoned. The CHRA requires that workers with special needs because of one or more of these characteristics are entitled to accommodations on the job. The employer’s duty to accommodate, as outlined by the CHRA, is generally applied in situations where an employee has a disability, but accommodations must also be made for the other grounds.
When Is Duty to Accommodate Required?
As an employer, be alert for situations that require a duty to accommodate. A common example of when a duty to accommodate may come into play include addressing the needs of an injured worker. Employees who convert to a religion that places restrictions on what they can and cannot do or workers who must change their hours or work schedules because of pregnancy or a medical condition may also trigger a duty of the employer to accommodate those needs.
Many employees may feel singled out or embarrassed to ask for accommodations, but as an employer, it’s your responsibility to recognize changes in a worker’s performance that may be an indication that an accommodation needs to be made.The burden is on the employee to provide all necessary medical documentation or other formal paperwork that indicates the need for an accommodation to be made.
In the case of religion, focus only on the actual limitations the worker faces and the specific accommodations that must be made to accommodate their religious beliefs. Make sure to adhere to all privacy laws regarding the personal information of employees. Any records you request and the information they contain must stay within the strictest confidence and should be viewed only by necessary parties, such as yourself and a member of your human resources department.
Undue Hardship Exception
You’re only required to accommodate employees up to the level of undue hardship. Unfortunately, there isn’t a set-in-stone formula to calculate that level. To determine undue hardship, consider things like cost, safety, health, and the operational requirements of the work environment. With this in mind, make every effort to accommodate all workers and regularly document the steps you take to do so. Canadian law requires you to provide every opportunity for an employee to fulfill his or her duties.
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