Williams HR Law LLP

NEW POLL SHEDS LIGHT ON CANADIANS’ ATTITUDES TOWARDS DISABILITY IN THE WORKPLACE

December 4, 2015

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Half of Canadians believe that hiring a person with a disability could carry a degree of risk for employers, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey released today. The poll found that 50 per cent of those surveyed agreed with this statement: “It’s understandable that employers feel it is risky to hire people with physical disabilities.”  Angus Reid pollsters noted that:

Agreement is conspicuously high among Canadians under 25 years of age (74%) and among those with lower levels of formal education (57%, compared to 39% of those with a university degree). Interestingly, there is very little difference in perceptions on this issue by one’s personal exposure to disability/challenges, with fairly significant levels of agreement across the board. Even among those who have a physical disability or challenge, fully 50 per cent agree that it’s understandable for employers to feel it’s risky to hire them.

The survey not only underscores the challenges that individuals with disabilities encounter when attempting to find work and build meaningful careers, but also sheds light on the potential exposures that organizations may face as a result of entrenched biases and misperceptions within their recruitment processes.

Indeed, the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”) guarantees equal opportunities and rights under law for any person with a disability in the areas of services, accommodation and employment, while also requiring an employer to accommodate these individuals to the point of undue hardship should the need arise.  The duty to accommodate an individual with a disability does not solely arise after an employment relationship is formed, but could also be triggered during the recruitment process. Undue hardship, as the term suggests, indicates some hardship is to be endured when accommodating and the legislation stipulates undue hardship can only arise in certain circumstances—specifically where financial cost, sources of outside funding (if any) and health and safety risks are involved.  

Many of the requirements under the Code relating to individuals with disabilities are also enforced under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).  The AODA sets accessibility standards that are designed to prevent and remove barriers for individuals with disabilities to facilitate participation in everyday life—in particular, when accessing services, accommodation and employment.  The accessibility standards are being phased in over time with the goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025.  The upcoming deadlines for January 1, 2016 are detailed in the sidebar below.

Put simply, employers should be wary of harbouring biases and stereotypes of individuals with disabilities given this legislative environment.  Lack of compliance will not only be an expensive gamble in terms of possible damages and penalties for violations of the Code or the AODA; there will also be missed opportunities for an organization to proactively demonstrate awareness, credibility and fairness.  The Angus Reid survey highlighted these opportunities for employers who work to ensure workplace accessibility.  It found that:

  • A full majority of Canadians (56%) “strongly agree” that accessibility for people with physical disabilities is a human right
  • Nearly as many (49%) feel strongly that it should be a high priority for Canada to do whatever it can to ensure everyone can fully participate

This means that prospective customers and employees are more likely to look favourably on an organization that makes workplace accessibility a priority and a goal.  Ignoring that fact could impair your ability to secure contracts with leading companies or top talent, as well as undermine your credibility amongst your current employees.  In some cases, embracing and implementing accessibility could be a mere starting point for doing business.  

We’ve seen a growing number of organizations—typically large multinationals—require their supply chain to adhere to a wide range of fundamental social, environmental and legal principles that reflect their core values.  Very often, these organizations will conduct comprehensive workplace audits of their supply chain to ensure consistency with the organization’s principles.  Ensuring full accessibility for customers and employees is almost always on that list.  Suppliers who ignore these principles could find themselves left in the cold when lucrative contracts are handed out to competitors.

Further, accessibility has become an international political matter as intergovernmental bodies, such as the United Nations, continue to work towards eliminating the challenges faced by persons with a disability.  In fact, December 3rd is designated as International Day of Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations, in order to promote awareness and mobilize support for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.  This year’s theme centres on increasing access and empowerment by investing in people with disabilities when it comes to jobs, health and education.  

In other words, compliance is not only a legal requirement, it’s also a smart business practice for any growth-focused organization.

AODA requirements set to take effect

As of January 1, 2016, businesses and non-profit organizations will be required to comply with a range of new measures under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

 New requirements for private organizations with 1 to 49 employees include the following:

  • Provide training on the requirements under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation and on the disability-related obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code
  • Make feedback processes available to people with disabilities in accessible formats or with appropriate communication supports, upon request

 New requirements for private organizations with 50 or more employees include the following:

  • Provide information and communications in an accessible manner or with communication supports, in a timely manner, upon request
  • Notify job applicants of the availability of accommodation throughout the recruitment process
  • Inform employees of the availability of accessible formats and communication supports
  • Develop written individual accommodation plans
  • Develop documented return to work processes
  • Account for accessibility needs during performance management, career development and redeployment

For full compliance requirements, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/accessibility-rules-businesses-and-non-profits

 

This blog is provided as information and a summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.

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