The Ontario government is leading the provinces in its push for
accessibility for people with disabilities, a ratio which is
estimated to rise to 1 in 5 people by 2025. In accordance with a
new regulation under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
Act (the "AODA"), employers will be required to
make their workplaces barrier-free for customers and employees.
Although the AODA came into force in 2005, the regulations dealing
with employment have just been introduced. The applicable
regulation, the Integrated Accessibility Standards regulation
(the "Regulation") came into force on July 1, 2011. It
combines accessibility standards in three areas –
information and communication, employment, and transportation.
The Regulation applies to public, private and non-profit
organizations that provide goods, services or facilities to the
public or other third parties. In general, these standards include
requirements for organizations to:
(a) develop policies to achieve
(b) prepare a multi-year
accessibility plan (to be updated every five years) outlining the
strategy to prevent and remove barriers; and
(c) provide training on the
Regulation as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code as it
relates to people with disabilities. This training is to be
provided to employees, volunteers, persons who participate in
developing the organization's policies, and "all other
persons" who provide goods, services or facilities for the
The employment standards in the Regulation build on
employers' obligation to accommodate disabled employees under
the Ontario Human Rights Code. They set out specific
requirements for the recruitment, retention and accommodation of
people with disabilities and apply to all organizations in Ontario
with at least one employee. It is still unclear whether the term
"employee" would include contractors.
Employers will be required to provide accommodation for
applicants with disabilities in the recruitment process. If a
selected applicant requests an accommodation, employers must then
consult with the applicant and arrange for suitable accommodation
that takes into account the applicant's accessibility needs due
to disability. After hiring, the employer must provide the
successful candidate with its accommodation policies. Employers
will now be required to consult with the employee and provide
accessible formats and communication supports to allow disabled
employees to perform their job.
In conjunction with occupational health and safety legislation
requiring emergency procedures for dealing with workplace violence,
employers must also provide individualized emergency response
information to disabled employees. The deadline for compliance with
this requirement is coming up - January 1, 2012.
Public sector organizations and large private sector employers
will be required to develop a written process for individualized
accommodation plans and return to work plans for employees with
disabilities. Employers will also be required to take into account
accessibility needs of employees with disabilities and establish
individual accommodation plans in relation to performance
management, career development and redeployment.
Timelines for Compliance
Not everything must be done by next year. Specific requirements
and compliance deadlines for the employment standards of the
Regulation vary depending on whether the organization is:
the government (January 1, 2013);
a large public sector organization of 50 employees or more
(January 1, 2014);
a small public sector organization of less than 50 employees
(January 1, 2015);
a large private or not-for-profit sector organization of 50
employees or more (January 1, 2016); or
a small private or not-for-profit sector organization of less
than 50 employees (January 1, 2017).
Timelines for other standards, such as customer service, may be
Ontario May Not be Alone
While Ontario is the first province to introduce this type of
legislation, it is widely believed that other provinces will soon
implement similar standards as accessibility becomes an
increasingly prevalent concern across Canada. With penalties for
contravention reaching up to $100,000, employers cannot afford to
ignore this legislation. We suggest that Ontario employers begin to
proactively plan compliance strategies so that they can meet the
timelines outlined above. The requirements for plans and training
are substantial; you don't want to be caught unaware.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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