Straight Talk: Addiction & Accommodation at work.

addictDid you know that alcoholism and addiction are considered disabilities?

A seven year legal battle for two Ontario residents and a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada set a legal precedent on what constitutes a disability under Human Rights legislation. Employees who suffer from an illness or injury that restricts or limits their ability to perform their duties are considered to be “disabled” under employment law; addictions and alcoholism are considered disabilities.

Under the Yukon Human Rights Act, an employer must accommodate disabled employees – this is the “duty to accommodate”.  The right to equality for persons with disabilities is entrenched in Human Rights legislation across Canada.   If an employee suffers from an addiction they may have access to a workplace accommodation while they are recovering.

We say may because the duty to accommodate usually follows disclosure by the employee. The employee may believe they suffer from an addiction but unless this is disclosed, it’s tough for the employer to know what supports are appropriate.

An accommodation can be anything from  altered  hours of work, time off to attend counseling or treatment or even modified duties.  It may mean working in a different position or location. The intent is to reduce or eliminate the risk of further injury or illness, to meet operational needs and to allow the individual to continue working while recovery takes place.

If an employer suspects a medical condition may be affecting an employee’s performance, they have a duty to inquire. This means they may ask the employee if there are any medical restrictions or limitations, or if they have a medical condition they should be aware of.  This isn’t an invasion of your privacy just for the sake of asking; if you are asked, it likely means your employers have noticed you are struggling.

What can you do if you believe addiction is affecting your ability to carry out your duties?  Ask for help! Talk to your family or friends, consult with your family physician and tap into your employee assistance program.

If you believe you need a workplace accommodation, ask YEU for a union representative to help you talk to your supervisor.  Some employers offer financial support to attend treatment programs, follow up counseling or other rehabilitative programs.  All employers have a legal duty to accommodate an employee to the point of undue hardship.

If you’re in doubt about your responsibilities and your rights as a disabled employee or if you have any questions please contact YEU and your human resource branch. There is confidential support available and all levels can work together to help.  For your protection, it makes sense to make sure you have union support when you approach your employer; we will be with you every step of the way.

What is the Duty to Accommodate or How did THEY get that job?!

 

 

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.