A joint committee comprising of union representatives and management work together to accommodate employees as required was initially established some time ago. Letter of Understanding #35 clearly outlines the process. Discussions by the Accommodation Committee have shown there is a need to better communicate what accommodation is and when it may be required.

The duty to accommodate is usually thought of in terms of disability. A disability is defined as a physical or mental condition that is both permanent, ongoing, episodic or of some persistence, and a substantial or significant limit on that person’s ability to carry out some of life’s important functions or activities, such as employment. Disabilities include both visible disabilities, such as the need for wheelchairs, and invisible disabilities, such as cognitive, behavioral and learning disabilities.

The Duty to accommodate also relates to a broad range of individual differences among workers. Some other examples of accommodation may be but not limited to:

  • Modified physical and ergonomic conditions of the workplace: To perform their duties, employees with disabilities sometimes require changes to their physical environment.
  • Modified terms and conditions of employment: The duty to accommodate may require modifications in job duties if, for example, a person’s disability or religion prevents them from carrying out certain aspects of the job. Some tasks may be incidental and rarely required. Other tasks can be delegated to other employees, perhaps in exchange for duties or tasks that the person requesting accommodation can perform. Alternatively, the employee could be excused from those tasks.
  • Temporary assignments: Temporary reassignment can be a form of accommodation. This may involve temporary light duties. For example, an employee returning to work after back surgery may require a six-month period of modified or light duties until their back is strong enough to carry out the full functions of the job. In other cases, accommodation may require a temporary transfer to a different position. For example, a pregnant employee may be reassigned to eliminate exposure to chemicals until her baby is born.
  • Leaves of absence: Sometimes an employee requires a temporary leave of absence to accommodate a disability-related illness or family emergencies. Generally, an employer is expected to accommodate such requests and to hold the position until the employee returns.

All reasons for accommodation need to be recognized. Individuals or groups who are protected under human rights legislation have the right to accommodation on the following grounds: Race or colour, Religion or creed, Age, Sex or gender, Marital Status, Physical\Non-physical disability, Sexual orientation, National or ethnic origin, Family status, Ancestry or place of origin and Addictions such as alcohol or drugs.

Unions play a pivotal role in the accommodation process. While the employer has the primary duty to provide reasonable accommodation, in some circumstances the union shares that responsibility. The responsibilities of the union representative include:

  • to insist that the employer fulfills its duty to design workplace requirements and standards so that they do not discriminate;
  • to model a problem-solving approach to accommodation;
  • to represent the needs of the worker for accommodation;
  • to collaborate with the worker and the employer in accommodating the worker;
  • to respond to employer accommodation proposals;
  • to follow-up after the accommodation is implemented to assess whether it is working and
  • to help address any associated issues that may surface; and
  • to ensure that the collective agreement does not discriminate during the collective bargaining process and during the life of the collective agreement,

Recognizing the need for accommodation can be difficult. Some signs that an employee may require accommodation include a sudden drop in attendance, a rise in tardiness, and changes in behaviour or unusually poor work performance. The employee may also start exhibiting unsafe work practices.

Employees are often reluctant to inform an employer that they require accommodation, because they do not feel comfortable asking the employer for help. In some situations, employees fear that telling the employer about a problem or asking for accommodation will have negative consequences, such as losing their position, being refused future promotions, being demoted, receiving fewer hours or being humiliated by their supervisor or peers. In other situations, employees may be embarrassed to admit that they require accommodation because of the stigma and indignity associated with disabilities concerning mental illness or substance addictions. Sometimes, the very nature of these disabilities means that employees are unable to ask for accommodation.

If you think you, a union brother or sister, may need accommodation of any type, please speak up. Contact an accommodation committee member, shop steward or any member of the union executive for advice and to ensure rights are protected. All discussions are confidential.

In Solidarity,

Sharlene Stanley

Information for this article was gathered from:

  1. May 2019, Canadian Human Rights Commission’s document entitled “Duty to Accommodate – Frequently Asked Questions”. Read this document online DUTY TO ACCOMMODATE – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
  2. 2019, Public Service Alliance of Canada’s document entitled “Duty to Accommodate Guide”. Read this document online DUTY TO ACCOMMODATE GUIDE