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Understanding the Duty to Accommodate

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Two colleagues have a conversation in American Sign Language at a table with the words 'What is the Duty to Accommodate?' overlaid.

Effective disability management requires a meaningful integration of the duty to accommodate into a department's or agency's culture and policies.

The Duty to Accommodate is a legal obligation (pursuant to sections 2 and 15 of the Canadian Human Rights Act) that requires employers to identify and remove barriers that have an adverse impact on employees protected under the Act, and to implement measures necessary to allow employees to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.

Here are some key points about the Duty to Accommodate in Canada:

  1. Protected Grounds: The Duty to Accommodate is applicable to several protected grounds under human rights legislation, including disabilities, but also factors like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and more.

  2. Definition of Disability: In this context, disability is broadly defined and includes both visible and invisible disabilities, ranging from physical disabilities to mental health conditions.

  3. Reasonable Accommodation: Employers, service providers, and educational institutions must make reasonable efforts to accommodate individuals with disabilities. This may involve making adjustments to policies, practices, or physical environments to ensure that individuals can fully participate.

  4. Undue Hardship: While the Duty to Accommodate is a strong legal obligation, it is not without limits. If accommodation would result in undue hardship for the employer or service provider, they may not be required to proceed with a particular accommodation.

  5. Interactive Process: Accommodation is often an interactive process between the individual seeking accommodation and the employer or service provider. It involves open communication, consideration of options, and an effort to find suitable solutions.

  6. Examples of Accommodations: Accommodations can take various forms, including but not limited to providing assistive devices, modifying work hours or duties, altering workplace environments, offering flexible work arrangements, or allowing for additional training or support.

  7. Education and Training: Employers and service providers have a responsibility to educate their employees or staff about the Duty to Accommodate and the importance of providing equal opportunities to individuals with disabilities.

  8. Documentation: It is often recommended to document the accommodation process, including requests, discussions, and the agreed-upon accommodations. This helps ensure transparency and clarity.

  9. Legal Consequences of Non-Compliance: Failing to fulfill the Duty to Accommodate can result in legal consequences, including complaints filed with human rights commissions or tribunals, potential fines, or legal actions.

Overall, the Duty to Accommodate is a crucial aspect of Canada's human rights framework, reflecting the country's commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunities for all individuals, including those with disabilities.

What is an accommodation?

An accommodation is the modification of a work environment and the creation of a welcoming workplace for employees with disabilities and diverse abilities so that they can stay at work. Accommodations are also considered when an employee returns to work from an absence due to illness or injury, and enables them to perform job functions efficiently and safely.

Examples of workplace accommodations include but are not limited to:

  • Noise-canceling headphones for employees with neurodivergence.

  • Closed captioning during virtual meetings, or an ASL interpreter during live events

  • Ensuring the workplace is free of obstructions and is easy to navigate for people who use mobility aids.

  • Allowing time off to attend medical appointments, including therapy.

  • Providing sit/stand desks and ergonomic chairs and stools for employees with chronic pain and/or injuries.

  • Job coaches for employees who require assistance with onboarding into a new role.


Looking for more detailed information on workplace accommodations?

Job Accommodation Network Logo

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues. Serving customers across the United States and around the world for more than 35 years, JAN provides free practical guidance and technical assistance on job accommodation solutions, and self-employment and entrepreneurship options for people with disabilities.

Self-Assessment logo

Do you want to be a more inclusive and accessible employer?

Take this 15-minute Disability Inclusive Employer Self-Assessment to gain a deeper understanding of where you’re doing well and where there’s room to improve.

Open Door Group and Presidents Group collaborated on this tool, created from recent international research on practices that truly increase inclusion and retention of people with disabilities in the workplace.


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