The duty to accommodate employees with disabilities

Written by  Wednesday, 22 January 2014 19:00
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By Anne-Marie Langan, Staff Lawyer


In small rural communities where it may be difficult to find full time local employment, disabled workers often do not request accommodation for their disability for fear it will put their employment at risk. This is especially true for people who have a disability that would not be obvious to others, such as a chronic pain disorder, mental health issue or an addiction.

Disabled employees can encounter discrimination in the workplace. Examples include the worker being made fun of by other employees and/or management because of the disability; the existence of a “poisoned work environment” that exacerbates symptoms of employees with mental health disorders such as anxiety and/or depression; employers refusing to give time off or flex time to accommodate symptoms resulting from the disability; or an employer terminating employment for reasons related to the disability.

The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) states that all employers in Ontario have a duty to accommodate an employee with a disability to the point of “undue hardship”. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has a lot of information on its website about the rights of disabled employees to accommodation at http://www.ohrc.on.ca.

The Human Rights Commission states that:

Those responsible for accommodation should be aware of the standards for accommodation and be mindful of the following guiding principles:

  • The needs of persons with disabilities must be accommodated in the manner that most respects their dignity, to the point of undue hardship.

  • There is no set formula for accommodation – each person has unique needs and it is important to consult with the person involved.

  • Taking responsibility and showing willingness to explore solutions is a key part of treating people respectfully and with dignity.

  • Voluntary compliance may avoid complaints under the Code, as well as save the time and expense needed to defend against them.

If you or someone you know is experiencing discrimination in employment due to a disability, Rural Legal Services may be able to assist by asking for accommodations or filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. You can also contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre by calling: 1-866-625-5179 or consult with your own lawyer.

By taking steps to address the issue you will not only be helping yourself, you may also be helping others who have similar problems but are afraid to come forward for fear of retribution.


Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H 2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

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