Work­place ac­com­mo­da­tion

NEW LAWS ARE ABOUT TO TAKE EF­FECT – IS YOUR FIRM READY?

Ottawa Business Journal - HR Update - - Labour Law -

The duty to ac­com­mo­date un­der the Hu­man Rights Code is not a new con­cept to em­ploy­ers. Hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sion­als must fre­quently as­sess and de­ter­mine mea­sures to en­sure em­ploy­ees with dis­abil­i­ties are ap­pro­pri­ately ac­com­mo­dated in the work­place.

Many em­ploy­ers are also busy pre­par­ing for the Ac­ces­si­bil­ity for On­tar­i­ans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act. The pur­pose of the AODA is to make On­tario fully ac­ces­si­ble for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties by 2025 by es­tab­lish­ing and im­ple­ment­ing bind­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity stan­dards for provin­cially reg­u­lated em­ploy­ers in the fol­low­ing ar­eas: cus­tomer ser­vice; trans­porta­tion; in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions; the built en­vi­ron­ment; and em­ploy­ment.

Over the next decade, em­ploy­ers will play a key role in achiev­ing a fully ac­ces­si­ble On­tario. But em­ploy­ers can ex­pect this road to be paved with sig­nif­i­cant legal com­pli­ance re­quire­ments.

Why worry now?

The big­gest cur­rent concern for em­ploy­ers is com­ply­ing with the Cus­tomer Ser­vice Stan­dard. While pub­lic-sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tions should have been in com­pli­ance by the start of this year, pri­vate and not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions must com­ply by Jan. 1, 2012.

The stan­dard has a num­ber of com­pli­ance re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing: Es­tab­lish­ing poli­cies, prac­tices and pro­ce­dures; Train­ing staff, vol­un­teers, con­trac­tors and oth­ers who pro­vide goods or ser­vices to the pub­lic and other third par­ties on be­half of an or­ga­ni­za­tion; and Meet­ing spe­cific re­quire­ments in re­la­tion to as­sis­tive de­vices, ser­vice an­i­mals, sup­port per­sons, no­tices of tem­po­rary dis­rup­tions, feed­back pro­cesses and com­plaint pro­ce­dures.

Many pub­lic-sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tions en­coun­tered sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to achiev­ing com­pli­ance in a timely fash­ion. This was es­pe­cially true for large or­ga­ni­za­tions, many of which have hun­dreds – if not thou­sands – of em­ploy­ees pro­vid­ing goods and ser­vices to the pub­lic and who there­fore had to be trained. Em­ploy­ers in the pri­vate and not-for-profit sec­tors would be well-ad­vised to get a head start well in ad­vance of Jan. 1, 2012. Em­ploy­ers who are cur­rently un­der­tak­ing con­struc­tion or ren­o­va­tion of their work­places should also con­sider in their de­signs the po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of the AODA.

What do we need to do?

DES­IG­NATE A PER­SON WHO IS RE­SPON­SI­BLE FOR AODA COM­PLI­ANCE

Each or­ga­ni­za­tion should con­sider des­ig­nat­ing an in­di­vid­ual who will be re­spon­si­ble for com­pli­ance with the AODA and, by ex­ten­sion, with the cus­tomer ser­vice stan­dard.

LEARN ABOUT THE AODA AND THE STAN­DARD

It is im­por­tant for em­ploy­ers to ed­u­cate them­selves about the AODA and the var­i­ous stan­dards. The Min­istry of Com­mu­nity and So­cial Ser­vices has cre­ated a large vol­ume of ma­te­ri­als to as­sist em­ploy­ers that can be found on the Ac­cessON web­site (http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/ac­cesson/in­dex.aspx).

DE­VELOP POLI­CIES, PRAC­TICES AND PRO­CE­DURES

The stan­dard re­quires all or­ga­ni­za­tions with at least 20 em­ploy­ees in On­tario to pre­pare one or more doc­u­ments to de­scribe its poli­cies, prac­tices and pro­ce­dures in the area of AODA com­pli­ance. The em­ployer’s poli­cies, in par­tic­u­lar, should be fi­nal­ized be­fore train­ing be­gins, so that the pol­icy it­self can form part of the train­ing.

DE­TER­MINE WHO HAS TO BE TRAINED

A broad range of in­di­vid­u­als will have to be pre­pared for the task. The pri­mary fo­cus is on peo­ple who pro­vide goods or ser­vices to the pub­lic or other third par­ties on be­half of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. This in­cludes em­ploy­ees, agents, vol­un­teers, con­trac­tors, con­sul­tants, and any per­son who par­tic­i­pates in de­vel­op­ing the em­ployer’s poli­cies, prac­tices and pro­ce­dures on the pro­vi­sion of goods and ser­vices (e.g. se­nior man­agers or con­sul­tants).

DE­TER­MINE WHEN TRAIN­ING WILL OC­CUR

Un­der the stan­dard, train­ing should be com­pleted by the com­pli­ance dead­line ( Jan. 1, 2012 for the pri­vate and not-for-profit sec­tors). New em­ploy­ees will have to be trained as soon as prac­ti­cal af­ter the in­di­vid­ual is as­signed his or her du­ties. On­go­ing train­ing may be re­quired if the poli­cies, prac­tices and pro­ce­dures change. Em­ploy­ers should keep records of train­ing ses­sions and the peo­ple trained.

TRAIN­ING FOR­MATS AND METH­ODS

The stan­dard does not pre­scribe the train­ing for­mat or method – it may range from e-mail­ing or dis­tribut­ing brochures or hand­outs, to on­line learn­ing, to in-per­son train­ing, or all of the above. Thus, em­ploy­ers have a high de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity in pre­par­ing and de­liv­er­ing a train­ing pro­gram that is suited to their needs and cir­cum­stances. Many em­ploy­ers are us­ing the min­istry’s Serve­Abil­ity on­line train­ing mod­ule to train their em­ploy­ees. The mod­ule is cur­rently pro­vided free of charge, takes ap­prox­i­mately 45 min­utes to com­plete, and cov­ers all the re­quired el­e­ments of a train­ing pro­gram. The min­istry also has writ­ten ma­te­rial that could be handed out, in­clud­ing a com­plete train­ing man­ual, sam­ple poli­cies and check­lists.

FILL­ING OUT THE AC­CES­SI­BIL­ITY RE­PORT

By March 31, 2010, des­ig­nated pub­lic-sec­tor em­ploy­ers had to file an ac­ces­si­bil­ity re­port with the min­istry signed by a se­nior of­fi­cer of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The same re­quire­ment will ap­ply to busi­nesses and other or­ga­ni­za­tions with 20 or more em­ploy­ees, on a date to be de­ter­mined in 2012. The ac­ces­si­bil­ity re­port is on the min­istry’s web­site and re­quires, for ex­am­ple, that em­ploy­ers in­di­cate whether they have suc­cess­fully com­pleted all nec­es­sary train­ing un­der the stan­dard.

PRE­PAR­ING FOR THE FU­TURE

The cus­tomer ser­vice stan­dard is only the first of five stan­dards to come into force un­der the AODA. All provin­cially reg­u­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions, whether pub­lic, pri­vate or not-for-profit, should con­sider re­view­ing the most re­cent ver­sion of each pro­posed stan­dard to gain an un­der­stand­ing of what those stan­dards may re­quire when they be­come law. This will help iden­tify the ex­ist­ing re­sources and the po­ten­tial new re­sources and costs that will need to be al­lo­cated to­ward com­pli­ance ef­forts. With these strate­gies in place, or­ga­ni­za­tions can en­sure they are pre­pared to com­ply with the AODA’s ac­ces­si­bil­ity stan­dards as they come into force over the next sev­eral years. For hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sion­als, the AODA rep­re­sents a unique op­por­tu­nity to play a lead­ing role in the move to­wards greater ac­ces­si­bil­ity of fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices in On­tario. Andrew McCreary is an Ot­tawa-based part­ner at Hicks Mor­ley, prac­tis­ing ex­clu­sively in labour, em­ploy­ment and pen­sions law.

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