Workplace Accommodation Denied – What About the Duty to Accommodate?Ian
As an employee in Ontario, you have the right to request accommodation for your disability in the workplace. The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) mandates that businesses have a duty to accommodate employees up to the point of undue hardship. Sometimes an employee’s accommodation request is wrongfully denied.
In this article, we will explore the responsibilities of employers regarding workplace accommodations and measures an employee can take if they find themselves in a situation of being denied accommodation.
What Is The Duty To Accommodate?
Under the Code, employers have a duty to accommodate their employees by making necessary modifications or adjustments to their duties and work conditions based on individual needs. This duty ensures an inclusive workplace that allows the full participation of its workers.
Accommodations can take various forms, including granting time off for religious observance, adjusting work schedules for caregiving responsibilities, constructing wheelchair access ramps, offering flexible work hours, and allowing employees to respond to family emergencies.
Employers should proactively offer accommodations when an employee’s needs are evident without waiting for formal requests. However, employees should inform their employer if they require accommodations.
When requesting accommodation, employees should actively participate in the process. They should provide sufficient information to enable employers to assess available accommodations.
If the company has a workplace accommodation policy, employees should follow the process outlined in that policy. If no such provision exists, employees can submit the request to their manager or supervisor.
Making accommodation requests in writing is advisable, as it creates a documented record. In their written request, employees should include the reason for the accommodation (though you may leave out any confidential medical information and diagnosis), information confirming the need for accommodation, and suggestions for possible accommodation measures.
In addition to the written request, employees may attach supporting documents from third parties. Supporting documents can include medical notes, a functional abilities form, or written evidence regarding childcare or family status needs. While not mandatory, providing these additional documents can assist employers in assessing accommodation needs. For example, a functional abilities form can help explore suitable tasks for an employee unable to perform labour-intensive duties due to an injury.
Employers have an obligation to consider and evaluate accommodation requests from employees and provide accommodations accordingly.
Understanding the Employer’s Duty to Accommodation
The duty to accommodate requires employers to ensure appropriate accommodations for employees by considering their individual circumstances. Employers must develop and implement accommodations that enhance employees’ ability to integrate and participate in the workforce.
It is important to understand that what constitutes sufficient accommodation can vary based on the protected grounds outlined in the Code, including age, disability, sex, religion, and family status.
Employers have a duty to provide accommodation, but they are not obligated to provide perfect accommodation. The employer’s duty to accommodate is limited to the point of “undue hardship.” The Code outlines three considerations to determine if an accommodation would cause undue hardship:
- Outside sources of funding, if any
- Health and safety risks, if any
Proving undue hardship can be challenging for employers. Merely claiming that accommodating an employee is expensive or inconvenient would not likely meet the threshold. However, employers may be able to argue undue hardship based on excessive accommodation costs.
It is a good idea for employers to consult an employment lawyer when it comes to accommodation requests. Employment lawyers play a crucial role in helping employers navigate accommodation requirements and understand their legal obligations. They provide expertise in labour and employment laws, ensure compliance, and minimize legal risks.
By working with an employment lawyer, employers can fulfill their duty to provide reasonable accommodation while protecting their legal interests and promoting inclusivity in the workplace.
What Can Employees Do If Their Accommodation Request Is Denied
When an employee’s workplace accommodation request faces a denial, it can be a challenging and sometimes disheartening situation. However, it’s important to understand that there are steps you can take to address this issue and seek a resolution.
Ask for Reasons in Writing: As the first step, it’s crucial to request the reasons for the denial in writing. This provides a clear and documented explanation for the decision.
Engage in a Follow-Up Meeting: After receiving the written reasons for the denial, schedule a follow-up meeting with your supervisor or HR department to discuss the denial in more detail. This can help clarify any concerns and explore potential solutions.
Review Company Policies and Documentation: Start by carefully reviewing your company’s policies and any documentation related to accommodation requests. Ensure that you have followed the correct procedure and that your request was made in accordance with the company’s guidelines.
Request a Formal Review: In many cases, companies have an internal process for reviewing accommodation denials. Request a formal review of your case, providing any additional information or medical documentation that supports your request.
Consult with Legal or Union Representation: If you believe your request was denied unfairly or unlawfully, consider consulting with a legal representative or your union (if applicable). They can provide guidance on your rights and potential legal recourse.
Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all communication, including emails, letters, and conversations related to your accommodation request and its denial. This documentation can be crucial if you need to escalate the matter.
Consider Alternative Solutions: While pursuing your accommodation request, it’s wise to explore alternative solutions that may address your needs without formal accommodation. This could involve flexible work arrangements, job modifications, or other creative solutions.
Be Patient and Persistent: Resolving accommodation denials can take time. Be patient and persistent in pursuing a resolution while maintaining professionalism and respect throughout the process.
Employers have a duty to accommodate their employees to the point of undue hardship. If your request for accommodation has been denied, it is essential to take proactive steps to address the situation. Seek clarification from your employer by requesting a meeting to discuss the reasons for the denial and gather relevant documentation. Maintain a record of all communication throughout this process.
During this challenging time, consulting an employment lawyer can greatly assist employers and employees in navigating the process. Employment lawyers can help advocate for your rights and organize your evidence to strengthen your case.
By taking these steps and seeking the appropriate support, you can ensure that your rights are protected, your case is properly presented, and you have knowledgeable advocates working on your behalf. Together, you can navigate the complexities of the legal process and increase the likelihood of a fair resolution.