The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its Regulations have been law in Ontario for several years. The purpose of the law is to remove barriers to persons with disabilities so they may participate more fully in life.
Every employer in Ontario has obligations under AODA. Employers who have 50 or more employees in Ontario ("Large Employers") will have significant, new obligations as of Jan. 1, 2016.
As of January 1, 2016, all Large Employers must:
1. Notify their employees and the public about the availability of accommodation in the company's recruitment processes. A great technique is to ensure that the availability of accommodation is made part of your standard job advertisements and on any job posting. Example:
XYZ encourages applications from all qualified candidates. XYZ has a great record of accommodating persons with disabilities. Contact Jane Doe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416.862.xxxx if you need accommodation at any stage of the application process or want more information on our accommodation policies.
2. Notify candidates about the availability of accommodation during the selection and assessment process, in cooperation with the candidate.
You have been short-listed for the position of ______________. You are scheduled for a written aptitude test on __________________. Please note that if you require accommodation during the interview or selection process, contact Jane Doe at email@example.com or 416.862.xxxx.
3. Ensure offers of employment to the successful candidates contain explicit notification of the company's policies regarding accommodation. Example:
The Company is committed to the success of all its employees. If you feel you need accommodation because of illness or disability, please do not hesitate to contact Human Resources at __________________ at your earliest convenience. You will also be briefed on the Company's policies, including its policies regarding human rights, accommodation and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act ("AODA") during your orientation process.
4. Advise all employees of the company's policies relating to: supporting employees with disabilities, including, but not limited to, the provision of job accommodations that take into account an employee's accessibility needs due to disability. New employees should be advised of these policies during the orientation period and should be directed to any written or intranet resources as soon as possible.
5. On request, provide any information that an employee requires to perform his/her job in accessible format. Collaborate with the employee regarding what is an effective accessible format.
6. On request, provide any information that is generally available to employees in an accessible format. Collaborate with employees regarding what is an effective accessible format.
In addition, as of Jan. 1, 2016, Large Employers will have procedural and documentary obligations with respect to any request for accommodation and/or return to work, as follows:
1. Large Employers must create an explicit written process for the development of written individual accommodation plans ("IAP") for employees with disabilities. This process must include the following:
- How an employee can request accommodation and how the employee can participate in the development of the IAP;
- How an employee can be assessed on an individual basis;
- How an employer can request an evaluation by an outside medical or other expert, at the employer's expense, to assist the employer in determining if accommodation can be achieved and, if so, how accommodation may be achieved;
- How an employee can request help from an union bargaining agent and/or a co-worker in the development of the IAP;
- How the employee's private information will be protected;
- How and when IAPs will be reviewed and updated;
- If an IAP is denied, how the reasons for the denial will be provided to the employee; and,
- How the IAP can be presented in a format that takes into account the employee's accessibility needs due to disability.
2. Large Employers must ensure that the IAP:
- if requested, includes any information regarding accessible formats and communications supports that could be provided;
- if required, includes individualized workplace emergency response information; and,
- identifies any other accommodation that is to be provided.
3. Large Employers must also have a written return-to-work policy for employees who have been absent from work due to an illness or disability and require accommodation to facilitate the return-to-work. This policy should outline the process in some detail and include:
- an outline of the steps the employer will take to facilitate the return to work of employees who were absent because their disability required them to be away from work; and,
- a reference to the use of written IAPs.
4. Large Employers must also take into account an employee's disability, accessibility needs and/or any relevant IAP needs in all aspects of their employment, including:
- performance management;
- career development and advancement; and,
- redeployment (in the context of avoiding lay-offs or job loss).
What about small employers?
Please note that small employers (1 to 49 employees) must comply with these same obligations starting January 1, 2017. Again, certain federally-regulated employers may be wholly or partially exempt.
AODA compliance means that your workplace is taking down barriers faced by individuals with disabilities. While this article deals with the employment standards under the AODA, employers are expected to have met a number of other requirements over the last 4 years and will continue to have increasing obligations in the next few years. These requirements include areas such as customer service, training, website accessibility and the built environment.
The Ontario government wants to create a truly inclusive workplace for all individuals. If you need help with determining your AODA obligations or reviewing AODA compliance, please contact any member of the Gowlings Employment & Labour team.