How Does the Duty to Accommodate Affect Employers?

Accommodation is an equality concept that, when implemented in the workplace, can help eliminate barriers and encourage participation by employees regardless of race, colour, age, sex, physical or mental ability. For employers, the duty to accommodate may seem daunting. Understanding what’s involved and how to comply is a key part of ensuring a safe, respectful workplace that is free from human rights violations

What does a duty to accommodate mean for employers? How does it relate to the BC Human Rights Code? Employers are required by law to respect the human rights of employees, making the concept of duty to accommodate a critical one to understand.

What Duty to Accommodate Means For Employers

In British Columbia, the BC Human Rights Code recognizes that every person is equal in rights, responsibilities, and dignity which translates into a duty to accommodate in the workplace.

The concept of accommodation encourages work environments that are inclusive and promote and respect a diverse workforce and prohibits discrimination based characteristics such including:

  • Race, colour, or place of origin
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Political belief
  • Physical ability
  • Mental ability
  • Martial status
  • Family status
  • Criminal record unrelated to employment

While the duty to accommodate is a legal requirement, it cannot be found in the BC Human Rights Code. Stemming from a series of Supreme Court of Canada decisions, the duty to accommodate process applies to all provincially regulated employers. Failure to uphold the necessary standards may result in a human rights violation dispute, making it critical to understand, implement, and enforce the process.

What Does Accommodation in The Workplace Look Like?

Simply put, accommodation in the workplace means removing barriers that would otherwise prevent people from engaging and participating in a work environment to the best of their abilities.

In some cases, this may look like reorganizing an office space to accommodate a mobility device or changing a job description to support a disability. In other instances, it could involve modifications to ensure that a person’s religious beliefs are respected.

Limits To The Duty To Accommodate

As an employer, the effort to accommodate must be made until the point of undue hardship has been reached. When considering whether or not hardship is a factor in a case of failing to accommodate, the courts may consider things such as:

  • Whether the duty to accommodate posed health and safety risks
  • If accommodation resulted in financial costs
  • If the size, nature, and flexibility of the workplace make certain accommodations exceedingly difficult

Tips For Employers

As an employer, complying with the duty to accommodate is critical. Given the degree of grey area often associated with the definition of accommodation and how to implement changes, taking the time to understand what’s expected can go a long way in preventing problems down the road.

It is important to establish an accommodation process early on and recognize that it may need to be modified depending on the situation. What works for one person may not be suitable for another, making flexibility and creativity essential.

Take the time to work alongside the individual in need of accommodation to understand their specifics while ensuring that their privacy and dignity is protected. In some cases, it may be necessary to secure additional information such as medical documents or religious resources.

Employers are advised to document the accommodation process, keep records, and be prepared to address questions and concerns as they arise.

Taking Proactive Measures

Even the most assiduous employers risk running into complications when it comes to the duty to accommodate. The nature of the law and procedural requirements associated with it often mean there are issues regarding directions and expectations. It can be helpful to take proactive measures by working with an employment lawyer who is familiar with human rights in the workplace and can provide advisory services as needed.

At the end of the day, the duty to accommodate can be a learning process for both employers and employees. A willingness to work together, a sense of cooperation, and a clear understanding of expectations can go a long way in helping ensure a safe, productive, and welcoming workplace.

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