What is the duty to accommodate and how can it help me?

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The Canadian Human Rights Act requires your employer or service provider to ensure that you are treated equally. This sometimes involves accommodating your needs—in other words, changing the work environment or your duties to enable you to participate fully and do your job every day. This is called the duty to accommodate. It applies only to needs that are based on one of the grounds of discrimination.

For instance, requiring all applicants for a job to pass a written test may not be fair to an individual with a visual disability. Or having a blanket policy on days of work may discriminate against an employee who practices a certain religion. In such cases, the duty to accommodate may require that alternative arrangements be made to ensure full participation of the person. In other words, it may be necessary to treat someone differently in order to ensure equality.

Businesses and organizations that are federally regulated are required by law to accommodate people’s needs when they provide services to the public. An example is making wheelchair access available to people with disabilities.

If you have individual circumstances related to one or more grounds of discrimination that need to be accommodated, it is your responsibility to:

  • Tell your employer or service provider about your individual circumstances that relate to one or more protected grounds of discrimination.
  • Discuss with your employer or service provider changes they can make to accommodate your needs.
  • Give enough information about your individual circumstances to your employer or service provider to justify the change (s). 


Sonia's Story

Sonia has worked for a federal government department as a clerical assistant for 12 years.

Six months ago she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Her doctor told her that she could continue working but that she would have to cut back on her hours from 37.5 to 25 hours per week.

In addition to changing her work schedule, she was also told that she was no longer able to perform certain duties due to the related stress.

She discussed her situation with her supervisor and the human resources advisor. Together they agreed to a modified work schedule and redistributed the duties that she was unable to perform in order to accommodate her condition. 

It is also important to consider that there is a reasonable limit to how far your employer or service provider has to go to accommodate your needs. Sometimes accommodation is not possible because it would cost too much, or create health or safety risks. This is known as undue hardship. Your employer or service provider can claim undue hardship as the reason why certain policies or practices need to stay in place, even though they may have a negative effect on you. They will need to provide sufficient evidence, but this is something that they may be able to claim if you file a complaint.


Example of undue hardship

A pilot for a small airline develops a medical condition that limits his peripheral vision. Because of his condition, he is no longer allowed to fly planes. The airline has very few employees, and there are no other jobs to offer him. The employer could argue that keeping the pilot on their payroll would cause undue hardship, and that letting him go is their only option.

Chapter 3: Duty to Accommodate