As most employers and human resources professionals are aware, the Ontario government enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 ("AODA"). The legislation is broad in scope and applies to the majority of organizations across Ontario that have at least one employee and who provides goods and services. The main goal of the legislation is to break down barriers for persons with disabilities who experience difficulties in accessing goods and services in Ontario.
After speaking with a number of our clients since the implementation of AODA, many employers have recently completed their compliance obligations under the Customer Services Standard Regulation, and are now turning their attention towards achieving compliance with the second regulation: The Integrated Accessibility Standard, details of which are provided in our August 9, 2012 blog.
By way of an update, the Ministry of Community and Social Services was the Ministry that was tasked with enforcing and providing information related to AODA to various organizations. This responsibility has now been transferred over to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment (MEDTE). The Ministry has broad powers under AODA to conduct workplace audits and enforce compliance through issuing hefty fines to organizations and individuals who are non-compliant with the legislation. Corporations can face stiff fines up to $100,000 for each day if they are non-compliant with AODA. Directors and officers who fail to take all reasonable steps to prevent the corporation from committing an offence under AODA can also face fines of up to $50,000 for each day the corporation fails to comply. In order to ensure compliance with AODA, MEDTE has published a wealth of useful information for employers and organizations that provide guidance on AODA and the associated regulations.
Despite the abundance of information provided by MEDTE, most human resource professionals that we deal with on a day-to-day basis simply do not have the time or the resources at their disposal to sift through the information provided, or are unclear about what the deadlines are for compliance having regarding to their size, and the nature of their organization (e.g. public sector, private sector or not-for-profit). Not surprisingly, the Toronto Star confirmed in an article written on November 18, 2013, that the majority of private businesses with 20 or more employees or more are not yet in compliance with AODA. The article also states that the MEDTE has ordered the Ministry to send out 2,500 enforcement letters and "will pursue vigorously those businesses that don't respond".
While compliance dates will vary depending on the size and nature of the organization, provided below are key compliance dates that are coming up soon that employers should be aware of:
- Organizations are required to provide workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability. This information must be reviewed when the employee moves to a different location, or other changes related to employment take place;
- If an organization prepares emergency procedures, plans or public safety information and makes the information available to the public, the organization is currently required to provide this information in an accessible format upon request;
- Effective January 1, 2014, large organizations were required to develop, implement and maintain policies governing how they will meet their requirements under the Integrated Standards;
- Effective January 1, 2014, large organizations were required to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan, which outlines the organization's strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet its requirements under the Integrated Standards. The accessibility plan must be posted on the organization's website, if any, and must be provided in an accessible format upon request. The accessibility plan must be reviewed and updated at least once every five years;
- If a large organization (50 or more employers as defined under AODA) launches a new public website or undertakes a significant refresh of the existing website on or after January 1, 2014, the site and any of its web content published after January 1, 2012 will be required to conform to the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A, unless an exception applies;
- Large organizations will be required to file an accessibility report every three years, with the first report due on December 31, 2014.
In order to assist your organization with navigating through this complex legislation, the MEDTE has created the "Compliance Wizard" on its website to assist organizations determine which AODA requirements are applicable to their organizations, and the dates in which they must become compliant with same.
If your organization has any questions about these or other AODA requirements, please feel free to contact the lawyers at CCP regarding your inquiries. We would be pleased to assist you in creating a roadmap in navigating and implementing all of the AODA requirements appropriate to your organization.
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.