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Duty to Accommodate and Undue Hardship

Employers, service providers and property owners must accommodate the needs of individuals or groups protected by the Human Rights Act to the point of “undue hardship.” Sometimes it is necessary to adjust policies and procedures or modify physical surroundings to accommodate the special needs of protected individuals or groups in order to provide fair or equitable treatment. While the duty to accommodate applies to all areas and grounds covered under the Act, it arises most often in employment regarding the grounds of disability, religion, and sex (pregnancy).  To successfully accommodate someone an employer must implement whatever means necessary (up to the point of undue hardship) to allow that person to work to the best of their ability. 

Some examples of accommodation in employment include:

  • purchasing or modifying equipment to meet the needs of persons with physical disabilities
  • allowing time off for parents to attend a child’s appointment
  • modifying job duties to match an employee’s capabilities
  • transferring an employee to a more suitable position
  • allowing time off for an employee to participate in an addiction rehabilitation program

Accommodation can only be denied if a rule, standard or practice is based on a bona fide occupational requirement (also called a genuine occupational requirement), or on a bona fide justification.  This means that an employer or service provider can only deny accommodation if it does something in good faith for a purpose connected to the job or service being offered, and where changing that practice to accommodate someone would cause undue hardship to the employer or service provider.

Undue hardship means that accommodating the special needs of protected individuals or groups imposes an unreasonable burden on employers, service providers, property owners, etc. What constitutes undue hardship will vary in each case, as will the factors taken into consideration.

Undue hardship for employers can include:

  • unreasonable financial costs
  • health and safety concerns
  • problems of employee morale
  • disruptions of a collective agreement
  • the size of an enterprise limiting the interchangeability of the workplace

Both the person requiring the accommodation and the person or organization providing the accommodation should discuss accommodation needs and how they can be met. The person requiring accommodation should make his or her needs known and both parties should be open to working out an arrangement.

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