What is the “duty to accommodate”? Human rights legislation protects the right of all workers to be free from discrimination on the basis of a disability. In the workplace this means an employee has the right to be “accommodated” so they can continue to work despite restrictions or limitations.
Have you ever wondered how it’s possible for someone to be “appointed” to a position you thought or hoped you might get at work? Was there an opening coming up, a possible promotion or new challenge you wanted to take a shot at, only to find the position filled without a competition being run? It may have been an “accommodation”.
What is an accommodation? Simply, in terms of a worker with a disability, an accommodation is an adjustment to the employee’s job, duties, workstation, tools, schedule or hours that allows the worker to maintain employment. It is an employer’s duty to accommodate an individual suffering from an illness, injury or disability which might make it impossible for them to perform some or all the duties of their substantive position.
What is an accommodation NOT? An accommodation is NOT a handout. It’s not favoritism, it’s not an abuse of the system and it’s not cheating. It’s not something being done TO the co-workers of the accommodated worker and it’s not something done in conflict with the Union. Everyone at the workplace has a responsibility to support an accommodation.
In a unionized workplace, the employee, union and employer have duties and responsibilities in the accommodation process. The employer has a duty to inquire when there is a reason to believe the employee may have a disability. This duty may be triggered by changes in behaviour, performance or attendance. The employee has a duty to disclose that they have a disability that may need an accommodation, and to provide sufficient medical evidence on their restrictions and limitations to support the process. The union has a duty to support accommodations; they may need to authorize adjustments to hours of work or exemptions from the usual hiring practices.
What is the role of co-workers in an accommodation? Union members are obliged to treat their co-workers with respect and to cooperate with accommodation efforts in their workplaces. While it can sometimes appear someone has been given preferential treatment in terms of duties, equipment, flexibility or exemption from competition, it’s important to understand there may be an accommodation in place. A work environment with supportive and accepting colleagues helps disabled workers feel safe. It’s also important to remember that co-workers are not owed full disclosure about an accommodated workers’ medical condition or issues. All workers can expect their privacy to be respected.
A successful accommodation requires the active participation of the employee; they are obliged to maintain communication with their doctor, employer, disability manager and union. The employee must accept that the accommodation will be imperfect; a role will be found which suits their skills and knowledge as closely as possible.
Experienced workers provide enormous value to any workplace; they hold tremendous corporate memory and organizational intelligence. Workers with disabilities, injuries, addiction or illnesses do not cease being valuable when they face personal challenges. When you think about it, it’s good to know that accommodations will be made for you, should you need them.