2014 AODA Requirements for Large Private Employers

On January 1, 2014, private sector employers with 50 or more employees in Ontario face the next round of compliance requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act, 2005 (“AODA”). 

Most organizations have already complied with the AODA Customer Service Regulation.  The AODA Integrated Accessibility Regulation  (“IAR”) sets out the followings requirements to be met in the new year by “Large Organizations”, defined under IAR to include private sector employers with 50 or more employees:

1.     Accessibility Policies:  Large Organizations must develop, implement and maintain policies governing how the organization achieves or will achieve accessibility through meeting its AODA requirements.  The policy must be in writing and include a statement of organizational commitment to meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in a timely manner.  The policy must be publicly available, and provided in an accessible format upon request. 

2.     Multi-Year Accessibility Plan:  Large Organizations must establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan, which outlines the organization’s strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet its AODA requirements.  The plan must be reviewed and updated at least once every five years.  The company must post the accessibility plan on the company’s website, and if requested, provide the plan in an accessible format. 

3.     Self-Service Kiosk:  Large Organizations should review any “self-service kiosk” to determine whether the kiosk is accessible to a person with a disability.  A kiosk is defined to mean “an interactive electronic terminal, including a point-of-sale device, intended for public use that allows users to access one or more services or products or both.”  This will likely capture all self-service online job application and career websites, as well as any other “interactive electronic” parts of an organization’s website or online presence.  The IAS requires Large Organizations to have regard to the accessibility for persons with disabilities when designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks, and to consider how to ensure people with disabilities can use the kiosks independently and securely. 

4.     Accessible Websites and Web Content:  Large Organizations are required to make their internet websites and web content conform with Level A of the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.  More details (for the company’s IT team) can be found at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.   The requirements apply to (a) websites and web content, including web-based applications, that an organization controls directly or through a contractual relationship that allows for modification of the product; and (b) to web content published on a website after January 1, 2012.  While only public sector organizations are specifically required to make their intranet accessible, large private employers should be aware of those internal sites that will be captured under the future employment standards accessibility requirements.  In many cases, it will be cost-effective to consider the wider range of website material.

The above is intended only to be a brief checklist and overview summary.  If your organization has any questions about complying with AODA or would like to start planning for the additional requirements that will continue to roll out over the next couple of years, do not hesitate to contact me to discuss further.

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Can You Discriminate Against a Volunteer?

The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability set out the rights and obligations regarding employees, but what about volunteers?  A reader of this blog (thanks Angie!) has asked about the application of these laws when recruiting volunteers.  Human rights codes across Canada work largely the same on this issue, but since Angie is from Ontario, I’ll focus on this province.  

Volunteers are not “Employees”

Can You Discriminate Against a Volunteer?First of all, volunteers are not “employees”.  The Ontario Employment Standards Act defines “employee” as a person who performs work or services for an employer “for wages”.  As long as the person is receiving wages, they are not a volunteer and are therefore entitled to minimum wage, paid holidays and all of the other minimum standards set out in the Employment Standards Act

It is possible to reward a volunteer, but that reward must be purely discretionary and not tied to performance.  In other words, you can provide the volunteer with a generous gift basket on your annual volunteer recognition day, without the risk of creating an employment relationship.  You cannot, however, pay the volunteer $10 for each new donor to your organization that he or she signs up on the street corner.  That’s a commission and tied to performance, indicating an employment relationship. 

But “Employment” Does Include Volunteers under the Human Rights Code

While the Employment Standards Act clearly does not apply to volunteers, it is likely that the Human Rights Code does.  The Human Rights Code does not specifically refer to volunteers, but it also does not limit “employment” to only paid positions. 

Rather, under the Human Rights Code, employment is interpreted broadly and will generally include volunteers for the purposes of applying the Human Rights Code to the workplace.  See the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website for general guidance (while the Human Rights Tribunal is not bound by the OHRC, the OHRC remains a persuasive voice in the human rights regime in Ontario).

Volunteer Canada has published a useful guide for organizations that engage volunteers.  The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement sets out guidelines for policies and procedures for volunteers, indicating that such policies and procedures should be consistent with human rights legislation (see page 13 of the guide). 

Recruiting Employees/Volunteers

When recruiting employees (which will include volunteers under the Human Rights Code), the law is clear that you cannot discriminate against an individual based on any of the grounds set out in the Human Rights Code:

Employment

5. (1) Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.

For example, it is discrimination if you refuse to hire someone because they are disabled, are pregnant, are too old, are members of a lesbian social club, are members of a particular religious organization, etc. 

The Human Rights Code further specifies that the recruitment process itself cannot be discriminatory:

Employment

23. (1) The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is infringed where an invitation to apply for employment or an advertisement in connection with employment is published or displayed that directly or indirectly classifies or indicates qualifications by a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Application for employment

(2) The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is infringed where a form of application for employment is used or a written or oral inquiry is made of an applicant that directly or indirectly classifies or indicates qualifications by a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Questions at interview

(3) Nothing in subsection (2) precludes the asking of questions at a personal employment interview concerning a prohibited ground of discrimination where discrimination on such ground is permitted under this Act.

Employment agencies

(4) The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is infringed where an employment agency discriminates against a person because of a prohibited ground of discrimination in receiving, classifying, disposing of or otherwise acting upon applications for its services or in referring an applicant or applicants to an employer or agent of an employer.

Special Interest Organizations

It is clear an organization cannot discriminate – but can an organization prefer volunteers that reflect the membership or purpose of the organization?  Many volunteers are engaged by special interest organizations, which by definition may exist to promote specific religious beliefs, gender issues, sexual orientation or cultural backgrounds, etc. 

Can organizations recruit to favour and/or exclude volunteers based these otherwise protected grounds? 

To some extent, yes, they can.  The Human Rights Code sets out special rules or exemptions in the area of recruitment for “special interest organizations” as follows:

Special interest organizations

18. The rights under Part I [the general section on Freedom from Discrimination] to equal treatment with respect to services and facilities, with or without accommodation, are not infringed where membership or participation in a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination is restricted to persons who are similarly identified.

For example, a woman’s shelter is not discriminating against men if it has a policy to recruit only women volunteers.  A church club for teenagers can require members to adhere to the religious practices of that church.  A Dutch social organization can require board members to have a Dutch background.

This exemption is complicated.  There will be limits to this section, and we most often see the limits determined when you have competing human rights issues.  For example, can a religious organization refuse to recruit a transgendered volunteer?  A full review of competing human rights would require a separate blog post, but suffice it to say that an organization can prefer volunteers that reflect the purpose or mandate of the organization, so long as the organization is not discriminating against the volunteer applying for the position (which I know is easier said than done in many situations).  

Volunteers and AODA

The other piece to the human rights regime in Ontario is the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act, 2005.  Both the Customer Service Standard and the Integrated Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act, 2005 specifically require organizations to train both employees and volunteers about the provision of goods and service to persons with a disability and about the accessibility standards set out in the legislation.

The purpose of AODA is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with a disability.  The standards willbe read broadly and interpreted to achieve the highest standard available under AODA and the Human Rights Code.  Any ambiguity around the application to AODA to a volunteer will likely be read widely to capture volunteers and ensure all individuals engaged at an organization are bound by the AODA standards.

 

Take Aways

The world of volunteers is outside and yet part of the employment context.  It is not always crystalCan You Discriminate Against a Volunteer? clear what role a volunteer has within an organization, but given the quasi-constitutional status of human rights legislation in Canada, employers and organization that engage volunteers would be most prudent to assume the full range of discrimination law applies to their volunteers. 

This includes ensuring your volunteers are held accountable for any discriminatory conduct they engage in while representing the organization.  As always, setting out expectations in a policy for all members of the organization - whether paid or unpaid – will provide clarity around human rights issues.

 

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Who Enforces AODA Standards?

I have questioned the teeth of the Accessibility of Ontarians with a Disability Act (“AODA”) in my past blog post, Where’s the Teeth?.  

While the fines for non-compliance are huge (up to $100,000 per day – see section 83 of AODA Reg 191/11), the regime relies on the Ministry of Community and Social Services (the “Ministry”) to identify, initiate and enforce compliance, as there is no mechanism within the AODA regime for an individual to initiate an AODA complaint against one’s employer or an organization. In other words, an organization would have to somehow get on the government’s radar in the first place. 

So how does an individual seek to enforce the standards for disability accessibility set out in AODA? Last fall, I was told by a representative at the Ministry that there is no gap as individuals can take their complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”). He further explained that the purpose of the AODA regime was to focus on compliance, not punishment, and that the Ministry will respond to patterns of a large number of complaints, but not necessarily individual, one-off complaints.

The HRTO’s “does not enforce the AODA”

Since AODA began applying to the public sector in 2010, we have seen about a half dozen HRTO cases involving both public and private organizations that refer to AODA as a floor or minimum standard of accessibility requirements an organization must meet. 

However, in Bishop v. Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities
Inc
.
,one of the few HRTO cases that have considered AODA this year, the HRTO declined to reference the AODA standards and concluded the following: 

The Tribunal does not enforce the AODA. There is a statutory framework for Director's orders and administrative penalties set out in the AODA at sections 21 to 25.”

As a classic example of weak facts impacting the law, in the Bishop case, the applicant was unable to establish any discrimination based on disability.  The applicant claimed that the manner in which the respondent company was attempting to enforce a debt against the applicant’s non-profit organization was discriminatory. He, in part, relied on AODA’s Customer Service Standard to argue that the company did not provide services in accordance with the standards outlined in AODA. 

Ultimately, the HRTO held that based on the facts in this case, there was no link between the debt enforcement and his disability, and it dismissed the matter. 

Is there a gap for individual disability rights?

In dismissing the matter, the adjudicator in Bishop concluded that the HRTO “does not enforce AODA”. This makes sense from a statutory perspective - the Tribunal is not referenced in the AODA legislation, and it is the Ministry of Community and Social Services that enforces the AODA regime as against organizations. 

However, the Tribunal remains the “enforcer” of human rights standards for individuals in Ontario. The AODA legislation expressly states that in the event of any conflict between the AODA standards and the Human Rights Code, the higher standard will trump. Allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability remain squarely within the reach of the Tribunal. 

What remains unsettled, is the extent to which the AODA standards will be referenced as the minimum standards required to be met to avoid a discrimination claim. Many had thought the AODA standards would become a kind of checklist or enumerated criteria that an organization must meet, something we began to see in the HRTO cases, Wozenilek v 7-Eleven and Polangio v Cochrane

This would promote an objective component to the human rights regime that would no doubt be encouraged by disability advocates, and would frankly provide some clarity for organizations regarding accommodation, accessibility and how to avoid a discrimination claim. 

Competing or Complementing Administrative Regimes?

The Bishop case is a relatively short, succinct decision without any detailed analysis on AODA. I hesitate to jump to any conclusions based on this one case, but I am certainly curious what sort of discussion is happening behind the scenes at the HRTO. 

Is the HRTO prepared to absorb the AODA standards and become the “enforcer” of the standards for individuals? While the standards will not tie the hands of the HRTO, is there a reluctance to be the high profile interpreter of the standards? To what extent will the Ministry of Community and Social Services look to the HRTO for guidance on interpreting its own standards? 

It will be interesting to see how the caselaw develops given the distinctly different mandates of the two respective administrative bodies. 

In the meanwhile, given the huge fines for non-compliance, employers are best off to continue to work towards AODA compliance, while being prepared for individuals to use the AODA standards as, at the least, a reference point in individual discrimination claims at the HRTO.

For more info on AODA, here are some of my past blog posts:

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New AODA Public Space Standards

The Ontario provincial government just released proposed regulations for the accessibility of the built environment. The standard introduces various amendments to AODA’s Integrated Accessibility Standard (Reg 191/11), including the introduction of the new Part IV.1, entitled Design of Public Spaces Standards (Accessibility Standards for the Built Environment).

The new Standard will only apply to new construction and planned redevelopment, and will primarily apply to the public sector and to large organizations (i.e. organizations with 50 or more employees in Ontario). The proposed standard would come into effect on January 1, 2013.

Public Comment

The government is inviting public comments by October 1, 2012, by emailing comments to designofpublicspaces@ontario.ca.

Highlights of the New Proposed Standard

Private sector organizations will have to meet the requirements regarding “public spaces” that are new or redeveloped on or after January 1, 2017 (large organizations) or January 1, 2018 (small organizations).  

While “public space” is not defined, the proposed regulation sets out requirements for the following areas:

  • Recreational trails/beach access routes
  • Outdoor public-use eating areas like rest stops or picnic areas
  • Outdoor play spaces, like playgrounds in provincial parks and local communities         
  • Exterior paths of travel, like sidewalks, ramps, stairs, curb ramps, rest areas and accessible pedestrian signals         
  • Accessible parking (on and off street)         
  • Service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines and waiting areas         
  • Maintenance

Proposed Private Sector Requirements

Many requirements will primarily fall within the public sector’s mandate. Beach access routes, playgrounds and recreational trails are likely not on your corporations to do list. Other requirements, however, will also fall within the private sector’s responsibility. 

Some examples include:

  1. Exterior Paths of Travel – large organizations will have to meet the Standard’s requirements for functional exterior paths of travel that are outdoor sidewalks or walkways designed for pedestrian travel, but not intended to provide a recreational experience.
  2. Parking Lots – all organizations both large and small must meet the requirements for off-street parking facilities. Interestingly, however, there are exemptions to these requirements, including that the requirements do not apply to parking facilities that are used exclusively for employees, buses, delivery vehicles, police, ambulances or impounded vehicle lots.
  3. Service Counters & Waiting Areas – all organizations both large and small must meet the requirements for any new or redeveloped service counters, fixed queuing guides and waiting areas. As a specific example, when providing a new or redeveloping an existing waiting area, where the seating is fixed to the floor, three per cent of the new seating must be accessible, but in no case shall there be fewer than one accessible seating space.
  4. Other Requirements:  large organizations will have to meet various specific requirements in the public space, such as for ramps, handrails, slopes, landings and stairs. Such requirements include slip resistant surfaces, specified slopes, specified minimum width and length of ramps, curves on ramps, the minimum risers in stairs, etc.

Small vs Large Organization Requirements

While most of the requirements apply to public sector and/or private sector large organizations (50 or more employees in Ontario) only, a few of the requirements also apply to small organizations (1-49 employees in Ontario). Most notably, small organizations must meet the parking facilities, service counter, fixed queuing guides and waiting area requirements.

For example, if you own a small family-run mechanics shop with less than a dozen employees, you will still need to ensure the customer waiting room meets the accessibility requirements in the Standard.

More Info on AODA

For more background on AODA, feel free to visit my past blog posts on the subject:

·       AODA for Employers Part 1:  Customer Service Standards

·       AODA for Employers Part 2:  Integrated Accessibility Standards

·       AODA for Employers Part 3:  Where’s the Teeth?

 

How will the new Proposed Standard effect your organization?

 

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AODA for Employers Part 3: Where's the Teeth?

This is Part 3 of my three part series on the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act, 2005.  In the first post, I discussed the Customer Service Standard and in the second post, I outlined the Integrated Accessibility Standards.  Both standards are regulations under AODA and set out further detail on the requirements of businesses and workplaces to become accessible for individuals with a disability.

AODA Penalties for Non-Compliance

What are the penalties for failing to comply with AODA?  While AODA lays out the basic framework for how the compliance mechanism will be set up, the details are in the Integrated Accessibility Standard.  The compliance provisions expressly apply to both the Customer Service Standard and the Integrated Accessibility Standard.

In short, organizations can face fines of a daily penalty up to a maximum of $100,000 against the corporation and $50,000 against an individual, in addition to other non-monetary remedial penalties permitted by AODA.

Under AODA, inspectors have the authority to carry out an inspection by entering a business without a warrant, and may require production of documents or data, and/or interview any person present in the business on matters relevant to the inspection.

Where's the Teeth?

AODA’s objective is to encourage corporate compliance. There is no individual compliant mechanism set out in AODA, and the Ministry will not be pursuing individual complaints about an AODA violation.  The Ministry may, however, look into patterns of complaints about certain organizations, but again, with a view to the organization complying, rather than a focus on prosecution. 

Where we will see all the action for individual complaints - and for the respondent employers - is at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.  For anyone with an individual complaint about his or her ability to access a particular goods or service in Ontario, he or she can file a discrimination claim at the Tribunal. 

AODA specifically provides that any law (e.g. the Human Rights Code) that imposes a higher level of accessibility shall prevail, and the Human Rights Tribunal continues to issue awards upholding the paramountcy of the Human Rights Code.

Because the AODA standards came into effect for the public sector in 2010, we are already seeing cases come out of the Tribunal that cite AODA and its regulations as the minimum accessibility standards that organizations should meet.   

Human Rights Tribunal Case Law

For example, in Palangio v Cochrane (Town)the employer was ordered to pay $10,000 to a town counselor because of the manner in which the council addressed (or initially, failed to address) his requests to record the council meetings due to his low hearing.  In that case, the fellow council members suspected he was leaking details to the media and refused his request.  Among other things, the Tribunal held that the town of Cochrane failed to train its employees on how to deal with AODA complaints.

As with so many discrimination cases, the process and method of communicating with individual complainants remain key issues that trigger awards.  For example, in Wozenilek v. 7-Eleven Canada Inc., the Tribunal awarded an individual who uses a wheelchair $6,000 because his local Seven-7 convenience store dilly-dallied in installing an automatic door device.  The Tribunal specifically cited the AODA standards and held that while the Customer Service Standard didn't kick in for private sector businesses until January 1, 2012, Seven-7 knew it was coming down the pipe, has the deep pockets to install a relatively inexpensive device, and was contemplating doing so anyways.  It was the failure to respond to the individual in a timely, effective manner that likely tipped the balance the most. 
 

Take-Away for Employers 

While the AODA feel-good compliance framework may not sound very threatening, employers must be aware of the likely increase of discrimination claims at the Human Rights Tribunal.  It may prove to be a better use of resources to comply up-front, rather than waiting for an individual to complain about their inability access your goods or services, or for an employee to file a claim for discrimination in the workplace.  

 

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AODA for Employers Part 2: Integrated Accessibility Standards

This is Part 2 of my three part series on the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act, 2005.  In my first post, I discussed the Customer Service Standard, which was passed this summer and requires the private sector to comply by January 1, 2012.

In this post, I outline the AODA Integrated Accessibility Standards, which set out further detail on the requirements of businesses and workplaces to become accessible for individuals with a disability.

The Integrated Accessibility Standards is divided into 5 parts:

  1. Part I - General: addresses the general purpose of the Standards, and general requirements regarding accessibility policies, plans and training.
  2. Part II - Information and Communication Standards: addresses requirements around accessible formats of documents such as training material and websites, as well as laying out requirements regarding service animals and communication supports.
  3. Part III - Employment Standards:  lays out accessibility requirements during specific stages of the employment relationship such as recruitment, return to work processes, performance management and career development.  This part also lays out requirements regarding emergency response information.
  4. Part IV - Transportation Standards: lays out accessibility requirements for transportation providers such as bus and taxi businesses.
  5. Part V - Compliance: lays out the compliance requirements for both this standard, as well as for the Customer Service Standard.

What to do by January 1, 2012

By January 1, 2012, all employers with at least one employee must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if:

  1. the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary; and
  2. the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee's disability.

As with other situations requiring accommodation, employers need not be clairvoyant and detect undetectable disabilities in the workplace.  While employers must be observant of reasonably obvious disabilities in the workplace, employees are similarly required to voice their needs and to actively and meaningfully participate in dialogs concerning their own workplace accommodation.

Take-Away for Employers

For most employers, Part II and III will require the most effort to become compliant.  The deadline to comply is staggered over the next several years, primarily between 2013-2021.  While that sounds like a lot of lead time, some items will require significant effort. 

For example, as I discussed in a post this past summer, the website accessibility standard will require "large organizations" (employers with 50 or more employees) to ensure all website content conforms with the WCAG 2.0 Level A.  If you don't know what that means, you probably want to simply outsource through your IT department.

Another area requiring some lead time to prepare are workplace policies.  As with most aspects of Canadian employment law, much will turn on your organization's policies.  AODA lays out general requirements for workplace policies.  While many workplaces already have policies that address anti-discrimination or disability, few will have the layer of detail required by AODA, let alone written accessibility programs to implement and train on the policies.

Finally, the Employment Standards (Part III) will have an impact on your organization's recruitment process.  Application forms, selection processes, and communications with successful applicants will all require certain steps to ensure accessibility.  Additionally, if you are part of the growing world of online recruitment, you'll need to ensure your content on Facebook, LinkedIn, your website and any other social media platform "notify" the public, applicants, and employees of the availability of accommodation.

Stay tuned for my next AODA post, which will look at the enforcement and compliance issues associated with the standards.

 

 

 

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AODA for Employers Part 1: Customer Service Standards

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act ("AODA") has been around since 2005, but the specific obligations for employers do not start to kick in until 2012.  This is the first of a series of blog posts I will be writing to discuss the requirements of AODA for employers.

AODA lays out the general framework for ensuring Ontario businesses and workplaces are accessible to people with a disability.  The Regulations made under AODA lay out the details of specific requirements to comply with AODA.  So far, there are three Regulations:

  1. Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Reg. 249/07
  2. Exemption from Reporting Requirements, Reg. 430/07
  3. Integrated Accessibility Standards, Reg 191/11

The main requirements are in the first and third Regulations, with the Employment Standards set out in detail in the third Regulation, the Integrated Accessibility Standards.  This post will discuss the first Regulation, the Customer Services Standards.

Customer Service Standards

The first regulation outlines the requirements for businesses to ensure customers can access their goods and services.  The public sector had to comply by 2010 and the private sector must comply by January 1, 2012.

The specific requirements include:

  • establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to persons with a disability;
  • permitting the use of service animals and support persons;
  • notifying the public if there is a temporary disruption of goods or service;
  • ensuring your staff are trained about the provision of goods and services to persons with a disability;
  • establishing a process for receiving and responding to feedback about the manner in which you provide goods and services; and
  • ensure the format of documents that you are required to provide to a person with a disability is in a format accessible to that person.

Several of these requirements are common sense items that most business probably already meet, such as allowing a service animal into your store.  Others, such as training and establishing a feedback process may require more pro-active steps.

Because the public sector has already had to comply for a year and a half, there are plenty of helpful resources out there, including detailed guides on the Ontario government website.

Tricky Areas for Employers

While most employers are happy to get behind the concepts of the Customer Service Standards, I've had some clients raise concerns about both the cost and the logistics of compliance.  For example, the cost of providing a large amount of materials in Braille can be prohibitive for a small business or even a large business that runs at a low profit. 

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the parties involved discuss accessibility, that those requiring accessibility are included in that dialogue, and that alternative formats and approaches are considered.  No where, for example, does the legislation require that all businesses must always produce a Braille version of their materials, a prohibitively expensive proposition for some businesses. 

Rather, if a customer requests an accessible format, the provider of goods and services "shall give the person the document, or the information contained in the document, in a format that takes into account the person's disability".  In a restaurant, for example, the "format" could include simply reading the menu out to the customer.  Braille documents are expensive to produce, and frankly, many people who are blind or have low vision either don't read Braille or prefer other formats.

The point of the legislation is to not assume and to ask the person effected.  Having said this, employers should expect to shoulder the cost of accessibility when required to do so.

Take Away for Employers

The Customer Service Standard focuses on your company's obligations to customers and members of the public, not on your obligations as an employer to your employees.  The main obligation that impacts the employment relationship will be the training requirements.  Staff must "receive training about the provision of its goods or services to persons with disabilities".

A good example of where this amounted to litigation and a $10,000 award against the employer is in the case of Palangio v Cochrane (Town) 2011 HRTO 1491, issued by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario last month.  In that case, the applicant was elected as a member of the Town Council who made a request for certain tools, such as permission to record meetings, to enable him to better hear the debate in council meetings. 

He was initially denied the request because other members of Council believed he was in fact attempting to surreptitiously record the meetings for ulterior purposes.  The Tribunal held that the ability to replay meetings was directly related to his disability of low hearing.  One of the findings of the tribunal was that the employer should have trained its staff (i.e. the other members of council) on how to deal with requests for accessibility. 

While AODA does not provide a direct complaint system for individuals (more on this in a future post on AODA's teeth), individuals can take their concerns directly to the Human Rights Tribunal.  It is at the Tribunal where we will continue to see AODA act as a minimum floor above which employers must comply. 

Has your workplace run into any particular challenges with preparing for AODA complaince?  Any unique obstacles you are facing at this point?

Stay tuned for my next posts on the AODA Employment Standards and whether AODA has any teeth...

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New Employer Standards for Employees with Disabilities

Last Friday, the Ontario government passed the Integrated Disability Regulation under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).  The Regulation includes a number of requirements for employers to remove barriers and ensure accessibility for employees.  The Regulation contains three standards for organizations to meet, including an Employment Standard at Part III

A good summary of the Regulation can be found on the First Reference blog.  Further details can be found on the Ontario government website, including a toolkit that will be available in the fall of 2011.

Workplace Emergency Response Information by January 1, 2012

By January 1, 2012, all employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability is such that individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee's disability.

Other Requirements

In general, employers will be required to address accessibility of employees, including:

  • develop policies on how the organization will achieve accessibility;
  • establish a multi-year accessibility plan outlining the organization's strategy to prevent and remove barriers; and
  • ensure that training is provided on the requirements of the accessibility standards.

Depending on the size of your organization, the various requirements of the Regulation must be implemented between 2014 and 2021.

Accessibility of the Internet

An interesting requirement that too few of us put our mind to is the accessibility of the internet.  For many people with a disability, viewing information that is often critical to one's employment is either very difficult or not possible.  The Regulation includes a number of standards that organizations will have to introduce over the next few years to ensure that all employees have access to the company's intranet and to computer systems in general. 

This includes ensuring compliance with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards, an initiative by the World Wide Web Consortium to improve accessibility of the internet for people with disabilities.

Donna Seale has written a helpful post on her Human Rights in the Workplace blog explaining how to improve internet accessibility.

This will be a challenging but positive process for employers.  I'd love to hear from you if you have any tips on how to smoothly implement accessible technology in the workplace.

 

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