Examples of Workplace Accommodations: Do’s and Don’ts for Employers

Samantha Kompa
Employment Law

Employee accommodations are a crucial aspect of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. In Ontario, the Human Rights Code requires employers to accommodate the needs of employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. This includes physical, mental, and developmental disabilities, as well as chronic medical conditions and injuries.

Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can also impact an employee's ability to perform their job duties and require accommodation in the workplace. Accommodations for mental health conditions can range from simple modifications to work tasks or schedules, to more significant changes such as providing time off for treatment or therapy.

Here are a few examples of workplace accommodations that may be relevant to Ontario employers, along with some do's and don'ts to consider:

  1. Flexible work schedules: Allowing employees to adjust their work schedules to meet their medical restrictions can be a simple and effective accommodation. For example, an employee with a disability or mental health condition may need to work a modified schedule in order to attend medical appointments or take time off for treatment.

    Do: Communicate clearly with the employee about the specific accommodations being made and how they will impact their work.

    Make assumptions about what an employee may need. Always ask for their input and involve them in the decision-making process.
  1. Assistive technology: Providing employees with assistive technology, such as software that enlarges text or reads it aloud, can help employees with disabilities perform their job duties more effectively.

    Do: Research and invest in the appropriate assistive technology for the employee's specific needs.

    Refuse to provide assistive technology on the grounds that it would be too costly or burdensome. The undue hardship threshold is high and must be thoroughly considered before denying a request for assistive technology.
  1. Physical renovations: In some cases, an employee may need physical renovations to be made to the workplace in order to accommodate their disability. This could include installing a wheelchair ramp or making other structural modifications.

    Do: Work closely with the employee to determine the specific renovations that are needed and make sure that they're completed in a timely manner.

    Refuse to make physical renovations on the grounds that they would be too costly or burdensome. Again, the undue hardship threshold must be thoroughly considered before denying a request for physical renovations.
  1. Time off for treatment: Providing employees with time off for therapy or other forms of treatment can be an important accommodation for those with mental health and other conditions.

    Do: Work with the employee to determine the amount of time off that may be needed for treatment and make sure that it's granted in a timely manner.

    Deny time off for treatment without thoroughly considering the undue hardship threshold or without engaging in the interactive process with the employee.
  1. Modified work tasks: Depending on the specific needs of the employee, it may be necessary to modify work tasks or responsibilities in order to accommodate a mental health condition.

    Do: Consult with the employee and their healthcare provider to determine the specific modifications that may be needed to their work tasks or responsibilities.

    Make assumptions about what an employee may need. Involve the employee in the decision-making process and make sure that any modifications are tailored to their specific needs.

Important consideration for employers when developing workplace accommodations

In Ontario, employers have a duty to inquire about accommodations that may be needed by employees with disabilities. This means that if an employer is aware, or ought to be aware, that an employee has a disability and may require accommodation, they must take steps to determine what accommodations are needed and how they can be provided.

The duty to inquire applies even if the employee has not specifically requested accommodation. This helps to ensure that accommodations are provided in a timely manner and that employees with disabilities are able to fully participate in the workplace. 

It's important to note that accommodation must be explored and provided in a dignified manner. Although employees don’t get to choose their preferred or “perfect” accommodation, they're entitled to the most reasonable and dignified accommodation short of undue hardship. 

Lastly, it’s illegal to take negative action against an employee for disclosing a disability or accommodation need (such as pregnancy for example). Doing so, even if it’s only partially due to a disability or disability-related factor, will result in liability for discrimination under the Human Rights Code. As such, it’s very important for employers to ensure that any discipline, including termination or constructive dismissal, is not tainted by a discriminatory reason or bias before they take action against an employee. It’s a good idea to get legal advice whenever you’re in this situation. 

Important consideration for employees when requesting workplace accommodations

Employees also have obligations in the accommodation process. Employees have a responsibility to inform their employer of any medical restrictions they may have that require accommodation. They should be willing to provide medical information to support their restrictions, and work with their employer to determine appropriate accommodations. 

In conclusion, employers in Ontario should be proactive in identifying and addressing the accommodation needs of their employees – creating a more inclusive environment, while avoiding potential litigation

By creating a supportive and inclusive workplace, employers can foster a more diverse and engaged workforce, as well as avoiding potential litigation. This includes being aware of the various types of disabilities that may require accommodation, having a clear process in place for handling accommodation requests, and being willing to make reasonable efforts to modify the workplace or work duties in order to accommodate employees with disabilities.

It's also crucial for employers to remember that they have a legal obligation to accommodate the needs of employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. By being proactive in this process, employers can ensure that they're meeting their legal obligations and creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all employees.

Remember, every accommodation scenario is unique. While this post provides a general overview, if you have questions about accommodating an employee it's best to speak with a lawyer before any decisions are made about what you will or won’t do. This is a sensitive time for all involved and it takes careful consideration and decision making to get the accommodation process and outcome correct. 

Kompa Law provides experienced legal counsel to businesses and residents of Belleville, Kingston, Cornwall, Trenton, Quinte West, Prince Edward County, and Ontario. Contact us to find out how we can help.