2 Accommodation, Disclosure, Legal Rights and Obligations
Accommodation in the Workplace
Students may find it to be the case that their requires some sort of in the workplace. Accommodations involve a change to the work environment or your duties in order for you to successfully carry out your job (PEI HRC, 2016b; Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2013).
Essentially, if an employee has a disability or develops a disability during the course of employment that requires accommodation, their employer must provide reasonable accommodations in order for them to remain in their position.
Types of accommodations
There are a number of options available for an employer to accommodate an employee with a disability depending on the unique circumstances of each situation. The following chart provides examples of some specific disabilities and possible accommodations that may be utilized:
|Visual impairment||- Text-to-speech software
- Alternate formats of print materials
- Magnifiers or CCTVs
|Chronic back pain||- Ergonomic chair
- Sit to stand desk
- Back roll for chairs
|Wheelchair use||- Modify the physical work space to make it
- Provide wheelchair ramps
- Provide accessible washrooms
|Autism Spectrum Disorder||- Providing questions for an interview in
- Allowing them to have an attendant to
help with communication and emotional
|Hearing impairment||- FM System
- Closed captioning
- Providing notes or note taking support
|Anxiety Disorder||- Flexible work schedules
- Frequent breaks
- Pre recorded presentations
|Walks unsteadily/with difficulty||- Ensure accessible access to the building and
- Grab bars in hallways, work spaces,
Refer to Appendix B for a more detailed list of possible accommodations.
Requesting an accommodation from an employer
While it is clearly established that employers in Canada have a legal duty to accommodate employees with disabilities, the student’s manner, attitude and approach in seeking workplace accommodation(s) can make a great difference to making the process smooth and successful.
Students should not assume that their employer understands what accommodations they need or how an accommodation can be implemented. While an employer may understand that they have a legal obligation to accommodate, they may not understand what the student’s specific needs are or may be under the impression that implementing accommodations will be difficult, time-consuming, or expensive.
In most cases, accommodations cost very little and are easy to implement. Students can make it easy for their employer to implement an accommodation by presenting them with specific information along with the solution. This will likely facilitate a positive interaction resulting in the accommodations the student needs.
Advise students to be experts on their disabilities. They should view it as their role to be a self-advocate and respectfully educate their employer on the issue. They can present their request to their employer once they have already mapped out the solution. It is recommended that they place their request for accommodation in writing in order to keep their request documented throughout the process. They should clearly explain to their employer why they need the accommodation and how it will help them to perform their duties successfully.
Students who require accommodations need to identify who in the workplace can assist them with their requests. Advise the student to begin by discussing with their direct supervisor. If they have not already addressed their need for an accommodation (in the job interview, for example), they may be directed to speak with a manager or a representative from Human Resources.
Encourage students to tell their employer what they need without necessarily their medical diagnosis. Disclosure of a medical diagnosis is a choice and not legally required. For example, a student with chronic back pain could disclose that they have a medical condition that requires accommodating (such as a standing workstation), without disclosing what exactly their medical condition is. An employer may be able to accommodate this request without further information. However, students should keep in mind that they may have to provide medical or other documentation to support their request. This medical documentation just needs to explain the need for accommodation; it does not need to disclose a diagnosis. As stated in the PEI Human Rights Commission publication Workplace Rights: A Guide to the PEI Human Rights Act for Employers and Employees:
An employer does not have an unconditional right to full disclosure of an employee’s medical situation. An employer may only request information as it relates to the specific job of
the employee. An employer may not request medical information which is not employment-related as it is a violation of the employee’s privacy (2016a).
It is an employee’s right to explicit confidentiality concerning the disclosure of private medical information. Therefore, an employer is not permitted to release medical information to anyone other than authorized staff who need it for a specific purpose. Any other communication of medical information is considered a violation of the employee’s right to privacy.
It is an employer’s right to be provided medical information from an employee’s physician if the medical information concerns the accommodation of specific needs of an employee such as specific treatment plans which necessitate changes in the workplace to accommodate (PEI HRC, 2016a).
- Know how much it costs to provide physical accommodations you need and where they can be purchased.
- Know what funding is available for accommodations and show your potential employer how to access it. Contact the Council of People with Disabilities to discuss funding options as they often have programs to help employers cover the cost of accommodating.
- Take care of your own needs, if possible, by providing equipment or technology. This removes a potential for employers who are considering your application.
- Be honest and clear when you request an accommodation. Give examples so the employer can understand what’s involved.
- Explain what your specific needs are. Don’t expect your employer or co-workers to anticipate them.
- Offer solutions and suggestions. Emphasize what the accommodation will enable you to do.
What if an accommodation request is denied?
Under the duty to accommodate, employers must accommodate employees with disabilities to a reasonable degree unless this places the employer in a position of . How undue hardship is defined depends on several different factors and varies from one situation to the next.
An accommodation request can only be denied if changing a , practice, or rule would cause undue hardship (PEI HRC, 2016a). If the student’s employer denies an accommodation on the grounds of undue hardship, the student may file a human rights complaint with the PEI Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the HRC will determine whether implementing the accommodation would place undue hardship on the employer. The employer will be required to demonstrate undue hardship to the HRC; it is their responsibility to prove the existence of undue hardship as a result of providing accommodation (PEI HRC, 2016a).
Students should keep their expectations reasonable when requesting an accommodation. They may not get exactly the accommodation they requested but may be granted a reasonable accommodation that does not place undue hardship on their employer. Employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation, and such accommodation is circumstantial and addressed on a case-to-case basis (PEI HRC 2016a, 2016b; CHRC, 2013).
Disclosing a Disability to an Employer
Many students with disabilities wonder if they should disclose that they have a disability to an employer or prospective employer. There is no right or wrong answer to this question as every situation is different. Disclosure of a disability is a personal decision. The decision to disclose or not, and the timing around disclosure, is completely up to the student based on their needs and the job requirements.
As stated by Disability Alliance BC, “You are not required to tell a potential employer about your disability or health condition if you can do the work required without accommodation and your disability will not pose a danger at work for you or others” (DABC, 2016).
Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding disabilities, and not all employers are immune to biases and misinformation. Because of this, some employers may not hire an individual if they know the applicant has a disability. Therefore, disclosing their disability on an application form, resume, or during an interview may place the student at an unfair disadvantage, or may be used to screen them out from other applicants (ALIS, 2016b). Unless they know that they will need accommodations to perform the job, most experts recommend not disclosing until an offer of employment is secured. If the student knows that they will need accommodations to perform the job, they should think carefully about choosing when to disclose. It is also important that they practice and become comfortable with how to disclose their disability, explaining what accommodations they will need, potential sources of funding (if applicable), and discussing their strengths and abilities with the employer.
Making the Decision
In making the decision the student should carefully weigh the pros and cons of disclosure. Each situation will be different, depending on the nature of their disability and the duties they will need to perform. Students should think carefully about their own needs and abilities and intentionally decide if and when they will disclose. One factor that will impact their decision is whether their disability is visible or invisible. Read on for recommendations based on visible and invisible disabilities.
In the case of a visible disability that is obvious to an employer, students should give some forethought to the timing of disclosure. If they need accommodations for the job interview (e.g., ASL interpretation, making sure the interview location is wheelchair accessible, etc.) it would be better to make these arrangements in advance rather than take a potential employer by surprise. This will give the employer time to prepare if alternative arrangements need to be made and will show the employer that the student is proactive and taking initiative.
Depending on the requirements of the job, a prospective employer may have questions about how the student’s disability will impact their ability to perform job-related tasks. Some employers will ask directly about this; others may be hesitant or unsure how to broach the subject. Students should be upfront and honest about their abilities as well as their limitations. Employers may have misconceptions about a student’s disability. Students should be prepared to discuss strategies they have developed for working effectively, and how certain accommodations may remove barriers for them in the workplace. Students should also be prepared to clarify any misconceptions respectfully. Rather than focusing on limitations, encourage the student to talk about their disability positively and be able to explain how their abilities will allow them to meet the requirements of the job. If safety is a concern, they need to discuss this with their employer to ensure their safety and that of co-workers and clients.
It is entirely possible that if a student has an there may be no need to disclose it at all. If the student does not require an accommodation, and if their disability will not have an impact on their job performance, disclosure of an invisible disability is a personal choice. If the student’s safety or the safety of others is a concern then they will need to disclose at an appropriate time (ALIS, 2016c). Otherwise, they will need to weigh the pros and cons of whether to disclose or not and when the best time to do so would be.
When deciding whether to disclose an invisible disability, students can consider the following questions (ALIS, 2016c):
- Will disclosure help or hurt your chances of getting or keeping work?
- How will the employer react?
- What are the misconceptions about your disability and how will you address them if you disclose them?
- If you are effectively managing your disability, would it be in your best interest to disclose it?
- Do your accommodations and strategies allow you to meet the job requirements?
- If you know you can’t perform some of the duties in the job description because of your disability, would disclosure encourage the employer to modify the job to fit your abilities?
Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS, 2016b) provides these helpful tips for successful disclosure of a disability to a prospective employer:
- If you’ve had little success in disclosure situations or feel uncomfortable, try role playing the disclosure process with supportive friends or family members.
- Be positive. Focus on your skills and qualifications and don’t present your disability as a weakness.
- Be prepared to address any concerns employers might express, even if they’re not expressed directly.
- Know what workplace accommodations you may need, including their availability, cost and funding programs the employer can access.
- Anticipate the employer’s questions about your disclosure and know how you’ll answer them. Use examples.
The following table, adapted from Alberta Learning Information Service (2016b), can help students weigh the pros and cons of disclosure at various points in the hiring process:
|Application, resumé or cover letter||
|When the interview is scheduled||
|After the interview is scheduled||Same as above||Same as above||
|When you meet employer||Reduces risk of employer forming preconceived opinions||Employers might react negatively to surprise||Use this method if you are confident you can keep the employer focused on your abilities|
|During the interview||
||Same as above||If your disability is not visible, use this option and focus on your abilities|
|After receiving a job offer||If your disability won’t adversely affect your ability to do the work, the employer can’t withdraw the offer||A possible strong negative reaction from the employer||In this situation, if your disability is invisible, you may choose not to disclose it at all|
If a student chooses to disclose their disability to their employer, they can follow these steps when disclosing (NEADS, 2021):
- State that you have a disability and require a change or accommodation
- Share how the disability or symptoms are impacting your work using everyday language
- Discuss possible consequences if the issue is not addressed
- Discuss an accommodation and provide realistic suggestions
Final thoughts on disclosure
Ultimately, the decision to disclose is a personal one, based on weighing the pros and cons while taking into consideration the nature of your disability, your strengths, weaknesses, and the demands of the job you are applying for.
By putting effective career planning and job search techniques into practice the student will likely be able to minimize any concerns they may have around the disclosure of their disability (ALIS, 2016c).
Students should keep in mind that if they feel that they will need accommodations in the workplace they will likely need to have a conversation with their employer and disclose their disability.
If the student needs accommodations in the workplace, they should keep in mind the following:
- In Canada, employers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities
- Be an expert on your disability and clearly explain to your employer why you need the accommodation and how it will help you perform your duties successfully
- In most cases, accommodations cost relatively little and are easy to implement
- If your employer denies a request for accommodation they must demonstrate that the accommodation places them in a position of undue hardship
- If your employer denies an accommodation you may appeal the decision to your local human rights commission
- Keep your expectations reasonable and work with your employer to come up with a suitable solution
One of the biggest questions students with disabilities have is whether or not they should disclose that they have a disability to an employer.
In deciding to disclose or not, some important considerations are:
- Disclosure is a personal decision; some individuals will disclose, while others choose not to
- If you choose to disclose your disability to your employer, decide what is the best time to disclose
- If you have a visible disability, give some forethought as to the timing of disclosure, especially if you are going to need accommodations
- If you have an invisible disability, you may not need to disclose it unless your ability to perform some tasks or safety is a consideration
- If you decide to disclose, talk about your disability in a positive way by focusing on abilities, not limitations, if any
- Know what accommodations you will need and work with your employer to implement them
One reason why persons with disabilities will disclose is if they need accommodations to perform some of their duties.
It is crucial to encourage and teach self-advocacy, as it is the student’s responsibility to apply for jobs, go to interviews, choose whether or not to disclose their disability, and request accommodations if necessary.
Worksheets and scripts to come!
References & Resources
Alberta Learning Information Service (2016a). Accommodations – working with your disability. Retrieved from https://alis.alberta.ca/succeed-at-work/additional-resources-for-specific-audiences/for-persons-with-disabilities/accommodations-working-with-your-disability/
Alberta Learning Information Service (2016b). Disclosure: What to say about your disability – and when. Retrieved from https://alis.alberta.ca/look-for-work/additional-resources-for-specific-audiences/for-persons-with-disabilities/what-to-say-about-your-disability-and-when-to-say-it/
Alberta Learning Information Service (2016c). Talking about invisible disabilities. Retrieved from https://alis.alberta.ca/plan-your-career/additional-resources-for-specific-audiences/for-persons-with-disabilities/talking-about-invisible-disabilities/
Canadian Human Rights Commission (2013). What is the duty to accommodate? Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/en/about-human-rights/what-the-duty-accommodate
DC Gov Office of Disability Rights (ND). Types of Reasonable Accommodation. Retrieved from https://odr.dc.gov/book/manual-accommodating-employees-disabilities/types-reasonable-accommodation
Disability Alliance BC (DABC) (2016). Disclosing Your Disability: A Legal Guide for People with Disabilities in BC. Retrieved from http://disabilityalliancebc.org/disclosureguide/
HR Council. (2016). HR policies and employment legislation. Retrieved from http://www.ccsc-cssge.ca/hr-resource-centre/hr-toolkit/hr-policies-employment-legislationhttp://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/policies-human-rights.cfm
National Education Association of Disabled Students (NEADS). (2021). Transition to Employment for People with Disabilities. Webinar.
PEI Human Rights Commission (2016a). Workplace Rights: A Guide to the PEI Human Rights Act For Employers and Employees. Retrieved from http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/sites/humanrights/file/Workplace%20Rights-english-web.pdf
PEI Human Rights Commission. (2016b). They’re Your Rights to Know: A Guide to the PEI Human Rights Act. Retrieved from http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/YRTK.pdf
WorkSafeNB, New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education, & New Brunswick Human Rights Commission. (2013). Accommodation at work. Retrieved from http://www.worksafenb.ca/docs/dtaaccommodationatwork_e.pdf
- This section will refer to the procedures in place in the province of Prince Edward Island under the PEI Human Rights Act. However, the legal requirements of the duty to accommodate are similar across Canada, and also widely recognized in the United States (WorkSafeNB, 2013). ↵
- An excellent resource for accommodations in the workplace can be found at askjan.org. This website includes the Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR), which allows users to search for accommodation options for various types of disabilities. SOAR can be accessed from the following link: https://askjan.org/soar.cfm ↵
The term disability is defined as a functional limitation caused by a long-term or recurring physical, sensory, mental, physical or learning impairment that restricts the ability of a person to perform the daily activities necessary to participate in learning or daily living. Disabilities can be visible or invisible.
In this guide, accommodation refers to equipment, practices or policies that enable an employee with a disability to succeed in the workplace. Examples of accommodation include additional equipment or modifications to existing equipment, flexible hours of work or modified work schedule, additional training, modified work environment, and customized work duties .
Disclosure refers to the act of making information about a disability known. In the employment setting, disclosure would be the act of an employee informing their employer about their disability.
A barrier is an element of the environment, including physical elements and emotional attitudes, that prevents a person with a disability from full participation in an activity.
Undue hardship means that accommodating the special needs of protected individuals (employees protected under the PEI Human Rights Act) imposes an unreasonable burden on employers. “What constitutes undue hardship will vary in each case, as will the factors taken into consideration.” For example, it is considered undue hardship if the accommodation creates unsafe working conditions for one or more employees.
A bona fide occupational requirement, or BFOR, is a job requirement or qualification that is essential to completing the job safely and efficiently. An employer would not be required to provide an accommodation if it can show that the specific job duty or requirement is a bona fide occupational requirement. For example, operation of a vehicle to transport equipment from one work site to another would qualify as a BFOR. Accommodating a worker who is blind would not be a reasonable expectation in this scenario
An invisible disability is a disability that is not noticeable or apparent to others. Invisible disabilities can include brain injuries, chronic pain, mental illness, diabetes, hearing impairments, gastrointestinal disorders, and many more. All of these conditions can disrupt everyday activities, but they are not obvious to others. Invisible disabilities may be overlooked and misunderstood.