Workplace Accommodations under the Human Rights Code

Human Rights in the Workplace

In Ontario, most employees are protected by a piece of legislation called the Human Rights Code (the “Code”). The Code gives everyone the right to be treated equally at work. This means that employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of the following characteristics:

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of origin
  • Colour
  • Ethnic origin
  • Citizenship
  • Creed
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Age
  • Record of offences
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability

The right to equal treatment applies to all stages of employment, including job applications and interviews, hiring, training, promotions, and termination.

What is a Workplace Accommodation?

The right to equal treatment does not mean that your employer needs to treat everyone in the exact same manner. Rather, it means that employers need to take steps to ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities and benefits in the workplace. Many employees require accommodations in order to do their jobs and be treated equally. Examples of accommodations can include:

  • If you have mobility impairments that make it difficult to navigate your workplace, your employer may be required to make modifications to your workstation or the building;
  • Your employer may be required to allow you to take a leave to receive medical treatment, and return to the same job after your leave ends;
  • Your employer may be required to change your schedule to allow you to fulfill your childcare responsibilities; and
  • Your employer may be required to change its dress code or uniform policies to allow you to wear a religious head covering.

Your employer has a duty to accommodate any needs you have arising from one of the characteristics protected by the Code. Once you advise your employer that you require a workplace accommodation, they must provide an appropriate accommodation unless that would cause them undue hardship, such as if the accommodation would cause a significant health and safety risk. Your employer cannot deny your accommodation simply because it would cause them some business inconvenience or because of customers’ preferences.

What Should I Do if I Need a Workplace Accommodation?

If you require a workplace accommodation, you are responsible for making your needs known to your employer, to the best of your ability. That usually includes telling your employer that you require an accommodation, participating in discussions about possible accommodations, and providing information about what you can do and what your needs are, such as a medical note. However, you are generally not required to provide your employer with the details of your diagnosis and treatment, which are private.

Unfortunately, many employers ignore their legal duty to accommodate. They may try to force you to continue working without an accommodation, or they might try to fire you for asking for an accommodation. You can protect yourself by making sure that your requests for accommodation and any discussions you have regarding accommodations are recorded in writing. If you have discussions over the phone or in a meeting, make a note of the date and time and write down what you asked for and your employer’s response. If you have discussions over email, make sure to keep a personal copy of those emails so that you have them even if you lose access to your work account.

What if my Employer Does Not Accommodate Me?

If your employer does not fulfill their duty to accommodate, you have legal remedies. You may be able to file a lawsuit in court or an application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”). In court or at the HRTO, you can ask for monetary damages to compensate you for the experience of being discriminated against. At the HRTO, you can also ask to be reinstated at your job, and for your employer to undergo human rights training and develop human rights policies.

Keeping a written record of your discussions about accommodation can help you with a legal claim, and ensure that you can benefit from the human rights protections provided by the Code.

***This is legal information and not legal advice. If you need further information or need legal advice, please call our Intake Line at 416-441-1764 ext. 1 or complete our online Intake Form.***