Canada: Legislation Update: Accessibility Standards Impose Obligations On Employers In Ontario

On July 1, 2011, the Integrated Accessibility Standards came into force through Ontario Regulation 191/11. The Accessibility Standards were developed by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration pursuant to the powers established by the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 (the AODA). The purpose of the AODA is to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, building, structures, premises and, importantly, employment.

The Accessibility Standards have broad application, effectively applying to any organization that provides goods, services or facilities to the public or other third parties and that has at least one employee in Ontario. Such organizations are referred to in the regulation as an "obligated organization". Although the application is broad, the Accessibility Standards leave organizations with plenty of time to achieve compliance. For example, every obligated organization shall develop, implement and maintain policies governing how the organization achieves or will achieve compliance with the Accessibility Standards. The dates for achieving compliance with this obligation are staggered depending on the nature and size of the organization in the following manner:

  • For the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly, January 1, 2012;
  • For all designated public sector organizations with 50 or more employees, January 1, 2013;
  • For all designated public sector organizations with fewer than 50 employees, January 1, 2014;
  • For all other obligated organizations with 50 or more employees (Large Organizations), January 1, 2014; and
  • For all other obligated organizations with at least one but fewer than 50 employees (Small Organizations), January 1, 2015.

Designated public sector organizations include school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities.

The Accessibility Standards further require all designated public sector organizations and Large Organizations to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan. The plan will outline the organization's strategy to prevent and remove barriers to accessibility. The plan will be available to the public and must be updated every five years. Large designated public sector organizations must have a plan by January 1, 2013 while small designated public sector organizations and Large Organizations must comply by January 1, 2014. Small Organizations are exempt from the requirement to develop an accessibility plan.

The Accessibility Standards require employers of an obligated organization to train their employees and volunteers on the requirements of the Accessibility Standards and on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities. Training must take place as soon as practicable but, again, compliance with this obligation is staggered depending on the nature and size of the organization from January 1, 2014 for large public sector employers to January 1, 2016 for Small Organizations.

The Accessibility Standards also create Employment Standards that apply to all obligated organizations. The Employment Standards will require these employers to:

  • Notify its employees, all job applicants and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in its recruitment process;
  • Provide for suitable accommodation at the request of a job applicant;
  • Notify successful applicants of its policies for accommodating employees with disabilities;
  • Inform its employees of its policies to support employees with disabilities;
  • Where an employee with a disability requests it, consult with the employee to provide accessible formats and communication supports for information that is needed to perform the employee's job and information that is generally available to employees in the workplace;
  • Provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability;
  • Except for Small Organizations, develop and have in place a written process for the development of documented individual accommodation plans, which plans shall include detailed information respecting the development and review of the accommodation plan; and
  • Except for Small Organizations, employers must develop and have in place a return to work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and require disability-related accommodation in order to return to work.

Compliance with the Employment Standards is in accordance with the following time lines:

  • For the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly, January 1, 2013;
  • For all designated public sector organizations with 50 or more employees, January 1, 2014;
  • For all designated public sector organizations with fewer than 50 employees, January 1, 2015;
  • For Large Organizations, January 1, 2016; and
  • For Small Organizations, January 1, 2017.

Employers are also required to take into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities in any performance management, career development and advancement or re-deployment process in their workplaces.

Some six years in the making, the Accessibility Standards set out comprehensive guidelines for breaking down barriers faced by disabled persons. In addition to employment, the standards address the accessibility of public transportation, the sale of goods, the provision of services and encompass a myriad of commercial and other activities. Employers will need to start thinking about developing policies and implementing the requirements now notwithstanding the fact that the government has provided lengthy time periods for compliance. In many cases, compliance will simply be a matter of reviewing and modifying existing policies and practices. In others, compliance will require the completion of new policies and training. In all cases, employers should use the Accessibility Standards themselves as the template and guide for preparing those policies and modifying practices.

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