Since the coming into force of Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”), subsequent regulationshave ramped up employers’ obligations to individuals with disabilities.Ontario employers must now be in compliance with all of the requirements of the Customer Service Standard (Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Ontario regulation 429/07). The Customer Service Standard was the first accessibility standard to come into effect under AODA and was the subject of our April 3, 2012 Snapshot. However, Ontario has four other accessibility standards, all of which are contained in Ontario Regulation 191/11, known as the Integrated Accessibility Standards (the “Integrated Standard”). These new standards have staggered deadlines that depend on the type of employer and range from January 1, 2013 to January 1, 2017, with one important exception: as of January 1, 2012, all employers were required to provide individualized emergency response information in an accessible format to employees who require assistance in case of a workplace emergency.
The Government of Ontario has developed an online AODA Compliance Wizard through which an employer can learn all of its compliance deadlines for each requirement of the standard.
What does the Integrated Standard include?
The Integrated Standard combines accessibility standards in three (3) functional subject areas – Information and Communication, Employment, and Transportation and Public Space. The “fourth” standard is really an overarching set of General Standards requiring employers to develop, implement and maintain policies on how they will achieve accessibility in accordance with the regulation. All employers are required to provide accessibility training to employees, volunteers, and those contracted to provide goods or services on behalf of the organization.
In addition, the General Standards also require the public sector and any organization with 50 or more employees to put their accessibility policies in writing, draft a statement of commitment to accessibility, develop a multi-year accessibility plan, make each of these documents available to the public, and file an AODA accessibility report with respect to the Integrated Standards.
Of particular interest is the Employment Standard component of the new regulation. This standard applies only to paid employees, but government guidelines recommend applying the standard to unpaid staff and volunteers as good business practice. It is unclear whether the term “employee” includes contractors for the purposes of the Employment Standard.
What do employers have to do?
The employment standards are extensive and require employers to consider accessibility across all stages of the employment life cycle – from hiring to performance management and professional development. Most of the requirements are procedural in nature: the regulation usually requires employers to “notify”, “develop”, “consider” and “inform” at key points in the course of employment. Employers are often given flexibility to decide which precise form of implementation best suits their business. Nevertheless, many important processes are prescribed in great detail and employers will need to be careful to ensure compliance.
The Employment Standard includes the following obligations for employers:
§ Accommodating persons with disabilities during the recruitment process and notifying all potential applicants of the availability of such accommodation;
§ Informing employees about the employer’s policies on accommodation of employees with a disability;
§ Providing key workplace information in accessible formats when requested ;
§ Providing individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability if the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation;
§ Developing documented individual accommodation plans for disabled employees; and
§ Taking into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities during performance management, career development and advancement, and during any return to work.
The Ontario government has provided a number of useful resources which outline implementation obligations in greater detail. Specifically, the government’s Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation Guidelines provide a section-by-section description of what each standard requires of employers. For in-depth resources and practical examples, employers can consult an employers’ toolkit produced jointly by the Ontario government and the Conference Board of Canada, entitled Making Ontario Workplaces Accessible to People with Disabilities.
Going forward, employers will need to determine which standards and compliance deadlines contained in the Integrated Standard apply to them. Employers not in compliance with the standard may face penalties, including an order requiring compliance within a specific period of time and financial penalties. However, careful planning will allow employers to implement the requirements in a flexible way that suits their specific business and builds on policies already in place.