Employers know that they need to accommodate their employees to the point of undue hardship under the Human Rights Code. However, employers may find it challenging to implement accommodations in practice. Below are some tips to help employers accommodate their employees respectfully, while ensuring that their business does not suffer.
- Have an accommodation policy: By creating an accommodation policy, you can set out for your employees who they should be contacting to seek accommodation and what they need to provide them. With a policy, you do not need to reinvent the wheel every time an accommodation issue arises.
- Do not be afraid to ask for relevant information and documentation: If an employee requests accommodation but provides no supporting documentation or does not clarify what they need to be accommodated, do not hesitate to ask your employee for the information you need. Accommodation is a two-way street and often involves a back and forth about what is needed.
- Do not ask for irrelevant information: The accommodation process must however be respectful of the employee’s privacy. For example, employers are not entitled to ask for an employee’s diagnosis; instead, they may ask about the employee’s limitations and restrictions that necessitate the accommodation.
- Keep the information confidential: The employee’s personal information should only be shared with those who need to know the information to accommodate that employee. Do not tell other employees about that employee’s health or family issues.
- Be open-minded: The employee is often the expert about what they need. The employer may have ideas about how to accommodate the employee, but it is very important to listen to what the employee says and consider what they propose.
- Document: Employers should document all steps in the accommodation process, particularly any meetings to discuss accommodation options. Consider having two people in any meeting so that someone can take notes of what is being said.
- An inconvenience is not undue hardship: Undue hardship is a high standard and objective one. It can involve safety risks to customers or employees. It can also involve a financial cost that is high enough to interfere with business.
- Keep communication going: Once an accommodation request has been implemented, keep in touch with the employee to see if the accommodation is working for both of you, whether it should be changed, and/or whether it is no longer necessary. Accommodation is a dynamic process and works best when communication is maintained.
- Get legal advice before saying no to an accommodation request: If you feel that the accommodation request is not properly supported or would cause you undue hardship, get some advice before saying no to the employee. There may be a way to explore another accommodation option. Additionally, employers need to ensure that they communicate such a decision very carefully to avoid facing liability for a human rights claim.