Canada: Ontario’s New Disability Standards Affect Employers

In 2005 the Ontario government passed landmark legislation, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the "AODA"). The purpose of the AODA is to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities on or before January 1, 2025 (the "Standards). The government will establish the Standards by making regulations that apply to a "person or organization" that:

  1. provides goods, services or facilities;
  2. employs persons in Ontario;
  3. offers accommodation;
  4. owns or occupies a building, structure or premises; or
  5. is prescribed by regulation.

To date, the government has passed the first regulation that establishes a standard for providing goods, services or facilities to persons with disabilities (the "Customer Service Standard"), which includes new requirements for employee training. A second regulation, the Accessible Information and Communication Standard (the "Communications Standard") has been released for public comment but is not final or enforceable. A third regulation, which will establish standards for employment ("Employment Accessibility Standard"), is currently being developed by a government committee.

Who Must Comply

All organizations in Ontario that provide goods or services to the public or other third parties, and have at least one employee, are covered by the Standards. These organizations include private businesses, not-for-profit organizations, provincial and municipal governments and agencies, and designated public sector organizations such as universities, colleges, hospitals, school boards and public transit organizations.

Customer Service Standard

What: The regulation establishing a Customer Service Standard came into force on January 1, 2008. Among its other requirements, the Customer Service Standard requires employers to provide training on providing customer service to persons with disabilities "as soon as is practicable" after hiring an employee, and thereafter on an ongoing basis.

Who: Training must be provided to: (a) any individual who deals with the public on the employer's behalf, and includes volunteers, agents or third parties, and (b) any employee who is involved in developing policies, practices or procedures on providing goods and services to the public. It may be appropriate to provide different training depending on an individual's role in your organization.

How: In order to comply with the Customer Service Standard, the training program must include a review of the purpose of the AODA, the requirements of the Customer Service Standard and instruction about the following matters:

  1. How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability.
  2. How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person.
  3. How to use equipment or devices available on the provider's premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability.
  4. What to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider's goods or services.

The Ministry suggests employee training could be provided in various forms, including videos, online seminars, or pamphlets.

Employers who provide goods or services to the public and who have at least 20 employees in Ontario must prepare a document describing its training policy and program, and must keep a record of the implementation of its training program.

When: All designated public sector organizations with one or more employees are required to comply with the Customer Service Standard starting on January 1, 2010. This will include annual filing of accessibility reports with the appropriate Ministry under the AODA. All private sector and non-for-profit businesses and organizations are required to comply with the Customer Service Standard starting January 1, 2012.

Such organizations with 20 or more employees will be required to have accessibility policies in writing and to file annual accessibility reports. All private sector and non-for-profit businesses and organizations with 1 to 19 employees will be exempt from having a written policy and filing accessibility reports.

Accessible Information And Communications Standard

The government released a second proposed regulation in draft form for public comment in late 2008. If adopted, the regulation would establish the Accessible Information and Communication Standard (the "Communication Standard"). The Communication Standard, if passed, would require private, non-profit and public sector organizations to provide accessible information and communications to a person with a disability. This could include prepared communications (e.g. forms, brochures, or correspondence) or unprepared communications (e.g. providing advice to a walk-in customer, or receiving a telephone call for service).

Employment Accessibility Standard

A government committee has been asked to develop a third regulation that will establish an Employment Accessibility Standard that will apply to "a person or organization" that "employs persons in Ontario." The committee will focus on paid employment practices, employee-employer relationships including recruitment, hiring and retention policies and practices.

The Employment Standard is expected to set out the measures, policies, practices or other requirements for the identification and removal of barriers with respect to paid employment. There will likely be a timeframe for compliance, as well as record keeping and reporting requirements.

The committee is expected to deliver a proposed Employment Accessibility Standard to the Minister and for public comment within the next year. Although the AODA is intended to complement and enhance existing laws that address accessibility, it is unknown how the Standards will mesh with the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, nor is it known how the new Standard will address enforcement, appeals or complaints.

Consequences Of Non-Compliance

There are a number of offences set out in the AODA. Every person who is guilty of an offence under the Act is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $50,000 for each day in which the offence occurs or continues to occur, or if that person is a corporation, to a fine up to $100,000 for each day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur. Also, every director and officer of a corporation is under a duty to take all reasonable care to prevent the corporation from committing an offence under the Act. Every director or officer who fails to carry out this duty can be held liable to a fine of up to $50,000 per day.

What Employers Should Do Now

  • Become familiar with the AODA and the Customer Service Standards requirements for employee training. Ministry materials are available at: www.accesson.ca
  • Start thinking about developing a compliance plan and how to provide employee training.
  • Continue to comply with the ODA, 2001. Until the regulations under the AODA have been fully developed, the provisions of its precedessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 (the "ODA, 2001"), will remain in force. Under the ODA, 2001, public sector organizations must prepare and submit annual accessibility plans.
  • Stay tuned for updates about the Accessible Information and Communication Standard and the Employment Accessibility Standard.

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