As of January 1, 2012, all employers in Ontario who provide goods and services must be compliant with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the Customer Service Standards) issued under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the AODA).
Employers already have a legislated obligation to take reasonable steps to accommodate disabled employees under the Human Rights Code. The purpose of the Customer Service Standards is to impose a new duty to accommodate customers with disabilities.
What's Here: The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service
While the Customer Service Standards have applied to designated public sector organizations since January 1, 2010, they will apply to all providers of goods or services in Ontario effective January 1, 2012 (the Customer Service Standards do not apply to federally regulated employers). Employers covered by the Customer Service Standards are required to:
- Establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities;
- Provide training to all people who interact with the public on the organization's behalf, as well as to those who are involved in developing the organization's policies and procedures (for Training Resources, visit here);
- Allow persons with disabilities who use service animals or support persons to enter areas that are open to the public or that are open to other third parties where the organization is providing goods or services;
- Notify the public regarding temporary planned or unexpected disruptions to facilities or services that persons with disabilities use to access the organization's goods or services;
- Establish a process by which people can give feedback on how its organization provides goods or services to persons with disabilities and describe how the organization will respond to the feedback; and
- Maintain documents containing the general policies, feedback processes and training materials developed pursuant to the above requirements, as well as to provide such documents to any person upon request. This last requirement applies only to organizations with 20 employees or more.
The Customer Service Standards will be enforced by workplace inspections, compliance orders and administrative fines of up to $100,000 for each day that a corporation is not in compliance. For information regarding compliance visit here. The Customer Service Standards also requires that organizations file compliance reports through the ServiceOntario website. If you would like to learn more about any of these requirements and how they may impact your specific workplace, please contact a member of our Employment and Labour Department for further information.
What's Coming: Integrated Accessibility Standards and Built Environment Standard
The purpose of the AODA is to also develop accessibility standards with respect to facilities, information and communication, employment, buildings, structures and premises. The AODA permits the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations establishing additional accessibility standards. Currently there are two proposed standards.
- The proposed Integrated Accessibility Standards contain requirements on information and communications, employment and transportation. The Government of Ontario is accepting feedback on the proposed standards until March 18, 2011. Please advise us if you would like our assistance in preparing submissions.
- The Accessible Built Environment Standard concerns the removal of barriers in buildings and outdoor spaces for people with disabilities. After an initial public review in 2009, the final draft version of the proposed regulation was submitted to the Minister of Community and Social Services for review. We will provide a further update once the finalized Standard has been released.
For further information on these new standards, please contact a member of the Construction & Infrastructure Group.
Special Issues for Franchisors and Franchisees to Consider
As with all employers, franchisors and franchisees who have employees in Ontario must comply with the Customer Service Standards when they come into force, and should review the Standards and develop a compliance strategy in advance of January 1, 2012. This should include reviewing consumer-facing material and customer communication methods to ensure that they take into account potential customer disabilities (i.e., written materials should be available in Braille or by audio) and web sites should be re-designed if necessary so that they are accessible by the visually impaired. While franchisors who are not subject to the legislation could leave compliance issues up to their franchisees in Ontario, such franchisors should nonetheless consider assisting with a compliance program for all franchisees in the province to help ensure compliance and also to ensure a consistent customer service experience. Such standards will apply not only to the franchisees in the course of their dealing with their customers, but also to the franchisor in the course of its dealing with its customers, which may also include franchisees.
Useful guidance materials have been developed by various stakeholders, including the Canadian Franchise Association which has created policy and procedure templates and a franchisee compliance manual, and the Retailers Council of Canada which has designed an online module to facilitate staff training. For more information and suggestions for what to include in a compliance strategy, please contact Osler's Franchise & Distribution Group.
Meredith Ashton's commercial practice focuses on marketing, distribution and trade practice law, including consumer protection legislation, advertising, promotions, packaging and labelling, Internet sales, and privacy law.Golbon Mehrabkhani's practice focuses on human rights issues, workers' compensation, employment standards, occupational health and safety, labour arbitrations, wrongful dismissals, executive employment arrangements and corporate transactions.Dominic Mochrie focuses on franchise and distribution, privacy law, product marketing law and trade practice law. Andrew Wong is a civil engineering graduate whose practice includes work in international and Canadian construction law and infrastructure matters including project planning and related corporate advice, risk assessment and procurement issues.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.