Employers, service providers, landlords, and others have a duty to accommodate. This means making changes to rules, standards, policies, workplace culture, and physical environments to eliminate or reduce the negative impact that someone faces because of a protected ground. The goal of accommodation is to provide an equal opportunity for an individual or group to participate in any of the protected areas under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
What is the duty to accommodate?
What you need to know
When a goods and services provider’s standard or policy discriminates against individuals based on a protected ground, the provider has a duty to accommodate those individuals to the point of undue hardship.
Both the person requesting accommodation and the provider have rights and responsibilities in the accommodation process.
Goods and services providers who receive a request for accommodation must take reasonable steps to accommodate the person’s needs to the point of undue hardship.
Individuals requiring accommodation based on protected grounds must let the provider know their needs.
In some situations, goods and services providers can justify their decision to not accommodate someone because it was reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances, or it caused undue hardship.
The accommodation process is most successful when everyone works together to come up with creative, flexible solutions.
The accommodation process
During the accommodation process, everyone must act reasonably and cooperatively in searching for and implementing accommodation.
The person making the accommodation request must make the goods or services provider aware of their need for accommodation. The person must provide enough information or documentation for the provider to understand what type of accommodation they need.
During the accommodation process, the person making the request must cooperate with the service provider and participate in accommodation efforts. For more information on rights and responsibilities when making an accommodation request, refer to the Duty to Accommodate human rights guide.
If a service provider receives an accommodation request, it must take steps to accommodate the person making the request to the point of undue hardship. These steps may include:
- requesting information about accommodation needs
- being flexible and creative in searching for accommodation that meets the needs of the person requesting accommodation
- engaging and communicating with the person requesting accommodation
For more information on a goods and service provider’s rights and responsibilities when receiving an accommodation request, refer to the Duty to Accommodate human rights guide or the Defences to Human Rights Complaints human rights guide.
For more information on accommodation in a post-secondary education setting, refer to the Duty to accommodate students with disabilities in post-secondary educational institutions human rights guide.
Examples of accommodation in goods and services
Examples of accommodation in goods and services include:
- a taxi operator accommodates customers in wheelchairs by providing wheelchair-accessible vehicles
- a hotel accommodates guests with asthma by providing smoke-free rooms
- an educational institution gives students with mental or physical disabilities extra time to complete exams
- a government service provider allows clients with physical disabilities to attend meetings virtually
- a cultural organization allows non-members to join and charges all users the same fees, even if they are not of the same ancestry
- a retailer provides a private area breastfeeding/chestfeeding while in the store
- a retailer offers Braille or personal service to help blind customers shop
- an insurance provider provides spousal insurance to anyone who qualifies for coverage
Undue hardship in goods and services
Goods and services providers must take steps to accommodate a person’s request for accommodation to the point of undue hardship. Goods and services providers may have to experience some hardship in providing accommodation. To be undue, the hardship must be “substantial in nature.” For example, this could be an intolerable financial cost or serious disruption to business.
In some circumstances, denying goods and services to some people may be reasonable and justifiable. Goods and services providers may refuse to offer services to some people based on protected grounds if providing the service would be an undue hardship. There may also be situations where a provider’s discriminatory standard or policy is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances.
Some examples where a provider may deny goods and services include:
- a taxi operator may refuse to drop off a passenger in a wheelchair to a place where unloading would be physically unsafe
- a bar owner may refuse service to intoxicated customers with an alcohol-related disability to ensure the safety of employees and other customers
- a government agency that issues driver's licenses may refuse to license applicants who cannot meet a vision test unless they can show they can drive safely
- a community organization offering shelter to women who experience domestic violence may only allow women to access its facilities
- a small retail shop located on the second floor of a heritage building that prohibits alterations does not have an elevator, which limits access for people with certain mobility disabilities
- an insurance provider may charge higher premiums for life insurance to clients where statistics show their health will affect their life expectancy
People who need accommodation because of a protected ground, such as a disability, can request accommodation. For example, this can include:
- employees or job candidates
- union members
- current or potential tenants
- housing cooperative members
- condominium owners or renters
- customers or anyone trying to access or use a good or service
The reason for accommodation must be based on a need related to a protected ground under the Act.
The duty to accommodate applies to individuals and groups under the Act, which includes:
- housing providers
- business owners
- public service providers
- educational institutions
- professional associations
- trade unions
- condominium corporations
Employers, service providers, housing providers, condominium corporations, and landlords have a duty to take steps to accommodate individual needs to the point of undue hardship. Some hardship may be necessary in accommodating a person. Where an employer, service provider, housing provider, condominium corporation, or landlord says that accommodating a person causes an undue hardship, it must provide proof. In many cases, accommodation measures are simple and affordable and do not create undue hardship.
Accommodation may cause some inconvenience, disruption, and expense to an employer, service provider, or landlord, but the law requires accommodation to the point of undue hardship.
Undue hardship occurs if accommodation would create significantly onerous conditions for an employer, service provider, or landlord. For example, this may include intolerable financial costs or serious disruption to business. Other factors that may determine if undue hardship would occur include:
- size and resources of the employer, service provider, or landlord
- interchangeability of work force and facilities (the ability to adjust positions, roles, duties, or job location)
- health and safety concerns
Undue hardship is unique to every situation. Certain accommodation may create undue hardship for one employer, service provider, or landlord but not for another. For example, a business with three employees may not be able to accommodate a request for revised work hours as easily as a business that has 25 employees.
For more information on undue hardship, refer to the Duty to Accommodate human rights guide.
What happens if an employer, service provider, or landlord fails to provide reasonable accommodation? What can the person requesting accommodation do next?
It depends. If the person requesting accommodation refuses reasonable and appropriate accommodation, then the employer, service provider, or landlord has likely met their legal responsibilities.
If the employer, service provider, or landlord fails to accommodate the person to the point of undue hardship, then they may be contravening (going against) the Act. The person requesting accommodation can discuss their situation with human resources and may choose to file a complaint with their employer or ultimately make a human rights complaint with the Commission. You have one year after the discriminatory act or treatment to make a complaint to the Commission.
For more information about the complaint process and remedies, refer to the Making a complaint page.
Do housing providers (including landlords and condominiums) and goods and services providers have to accommodate people with assistance and support animals?
Some people with disabilities may rely on an assistance or support animal, such as a service dog or guide dog. There are also other types of assistance and support animals, such as therapy, companion, or emotional support animals.
The Act and other laws in Alberta protect the rights of individuals to use a qualified service dog or guide dog. Guide dogs are trained as a guide for blind people while service dogs are trained as a guide for disabled persons. Both types of dogs must meet qualifications under the law.
Housing providers (including landlords and condominiums) and goods and services providers cannot discriminate against individuals with a disability who have a qualified service dog or guide dog. They must accommodate these individuals to the point of undue hardship. Providers may also have a duty to accommodate individuals with other types of assistance and support animals. Whether there is a duty to accommodate depends on the situation and reliable medical information confirming the person’s disability and need for the animal.
The Act recognizes that sometimes discrimination is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances. This allows a person or organization responding to a human rights complaint to justify a discriminatory practice, requirement, standard, or policy as being reasonable and justifiable.
A discriminatory practice at work that is reasonable and justifiable is called a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). A service provider may have discriminatory standards or policies that are reasonable and justifiable.
Employers, service providers, landlords, and others must meet legal requirements to prove a practice, requirement, standard, or policy is reasonable and justifiable. They must show it:
- was adopted for a purpose that is rationally connected to the function being performed
- was made in an honest and good‑faith belief that it was necessary to fulfill a legitimate purpose or goal
- was reasonably necessary to accomplish that purpose or goal, including that the respondent could not accommodate the complainant without incurring undue hardship
For example, a car insurance company provides different premium rates to people based on a risk assessment of certain age groups. While the company’s rate-setting methods are prima facie (at first glance) discriminatory based on age, the practice of charging more for certain groups is reasonable and justifiable. The insurance company’s methods may be a sound and accepted practice in the industry, and there may be no practical alternatives that are fair to other insured drivers.
Another example is a seniors’ residence only hiring male nursing attendants for male residents who request an attendant of the same gender. A female job applicant applies for a nursing attendant position in the seniors’ residence but is not hired. The employer may have a bona fide occupational requirement, as it is reasonable for residents to have their requests met to preserve their sense of personal dignity and privacy. While the requirement is at first glance discriminatory, it is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstance.
If you are the respondent to a complaint and believe the discrimination described in the complaint is reasonable and justifiable, you should provide detailed information about this in the Response Form.
For more on reasonable and justifiable practices, requirements, standards, or policies, refer to the Defences to Human Rights Complaints human rights guide.