Duty to accommodate

Accommodation means making changes to certain rules, standards, policies, workplace cultures and physical environments to ensure that they don't have a negative effect on a person because of the person's mental or physical disability, religion, gender or any other protected ground. Accommodation is a way to balance the diverse needs of individuals and employers. For example, a person may be unable to work on a particular day because it conflicts with his or her religious beliefs. In such cases, the employer must try to resolve the conflict in a way that is agreeable to both parties. An employer's duty to accommodate is far reaching.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that an employer has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to accommodate an employee's individual needs based on a protected ground to the point of undue hardship.

Undue hardship occurs if accommodation would create onerous conditions for an employer such as intolerable financial costs or serious disruption to business.

For example, an employee with a physical disability that prevents him or her from climbing stairs may be required to carry boxes up a flight of stairs as part of the job. If the business has no elevator, it may be deemed an undue hardship to expect the employer to install an elevator to accommodate the employee. However, it may be possible to have another employee do that task. In exchange, the person with a disability could assume one or more of that other employee's regular tasks.

Accommodation that is reasonable in one case may not be reasonable in another situation. Every situation should be handled and assessed on an individual basis and in consultation with employees. Employees must cooperate in the accommodation process and accept reasonable accommodation. An employee is not legally entitled to instant or perfect accommodation.

For detailed information about undue hardship and the duty to accommodate, see the Commission information sheet Employment: Duty to accommodate and human rights guide Duty to accommodate.

Reviewed: February 5, 2010



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