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Duty to Accommodate

Creating an equal workplace

As an employer, what is my duty to accommodate?

The duty to accommodate recognizes true equality, substantive equality, and respects people’s different needs. This includes needs that must be accommodated resulting from the person’s gender, age, disability, ethnic or cultural origin, or any of the other human attributes identified in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

It has been said that it is, in general, quite economical to provide a workplace accommodation. Is this accurate?

The average cost of an assistive device is less than $500.

According to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines on allowable deductions, these include any adaptive equipment, assistive device, or modifications to the workplace made by the employer. Any of the above will be deemed an allowable deduction. For further information on disability-related deductions, including lists of acceptable workplace accommodations, please refer to CRA’s Business and Professional Income Guide (T4-002).

Accommodation Examples
Environmental Accommodations Improved lighting, improved ventilation, reduction in temperature changes, reduction of noise levels, etc.
Physical Accommodations Wheelchair accessibility in the workplace, relocation of switches, adjustable workstations, alternate alarm signals (e.g. light as well as sound), rearrangement of machinery, accessible parking, etc.
Job Accommodations Reassignment of tasks, flexible hours, compressed workweeks, job retraining assistive devices, large computer monitors, adaptive software, interpreters, etc.

What is the law regarding duty to accommodate?

“Duty to Accommodate” is the legal obligation that all employers and unions must adhere to as part of their hiring, employment, and promotion practices. These guidelines are set out through Provincial and Federal Human Rights Legislation in order to eliminate the effects of employment practices that discriminate against persons on the basis of any of the prohibitive grounds, including disabilities.

Direct reference to the Canadian Human Rights Act (June 30, 1998) requires that:

“Employers are to provide accommodation to a person with a disability short of “undue hardship” and is judged based on factors of health, safety, and cost (CHRA, s. 1512]).

Examples of undue hardship are:

  • Health and Safety
    Where an accommodation is made and the risk still exceeds the benefit.
  • Financial Cost
    Where an outlay for accommodation is prohibitive; to the point that the business is no longer sustainable.

If my workplace fails to accommodate people with disabilities, what can happen?

There are several ramifications for failing to comply with the Federal Employment Equity Act. A lawsuit, based on discriminatory practices, may be brought against an employer. The complaint may be assigned a court-appointed mediator or be heard by the Human Rights Tribunal. With sufficient evidence, a company can be directed to pay compensation to an individual for lost wages and mental duress. A tribunal-ordered audit of a company’s policies relating to people with disabilities may be conducted within a specific time frame. In all cases, negative public relations can seriously damage the company’s reputation and standing in the community.


  1. Excerpted from: “Recruit Ability…A handbook for success in recruitment & hiring individuals with disabilities”, Persons with Disabilities Collaborative Partnership Network of Nova Scotia, copyright 2006 Employability Partnership, p.16-19,

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