OHRC Report: Employers not doing enough to accommodate workers with disabilities

A worker wears a mask.
A worker wears a mask. Stock photo by Getty Images.

With all the mental-illness awareness campaigns going, it's hard to believe most employers still aren't doing enough to help troubled workers.

This week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a report  containing a statistical breakdown of what people battling mental and addiction disabilities endure and some recommendations for how employers can better support these workers.

Perhaps the report’s most startling statistic is that nearly 70 per cent of workers battling mental health and addiction issues said they are being “disadvantaged” at work due to their condition.

“Discrimination against people with mental health or addiction disabilities is often linked to prejudicial attitudes, negative stereotyping, and the overall stigma surrounding these disabilities,” says Ruth Goba, interim chief commissioner of the OHRC. “Because of this, many are often afraid to either disclose their disability to others or even discuss accommodation needs that can help them out at work.”

Therefore they suffer silently, which only adds to their burden.

Goba says employers have a large role to play in helping workers cope with these disabilities at work. Employers should provide a “proactive workplace” that accommodates the needs of vulnerable employees, adds Goba.

Furthermore, employers need to keep “key principles” of accommodation in mind, which are:

  • respect for dignity;
  • individualization;
  • integration and full participation.

Employers shouldn’t just wait around for employees to come to them, but instead “work towards identifying and removing barriers.”

Ontario courts appear to echo this sentiment. In some cases the employer unsuccessfully challenged the failure to accommodate in court.

This was true in Adga Group Consultants Inc. v. Lane, a case that dealt with a bipolar employee who had notified his employer of his condition and requested accommodation. Instead of accommodating him, however, his employer terminated him for misrepresenting his ability to perform the essential duties for which he was hired.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found Adga contravened the Human Rights Code of Ontario under s. 5, which is the freedom from discrimination section for people who suffer from disabilities. The tribunal also found there was a failure to accommodate the employee.

The employer refused to accept the tribunal’s decision and brought it to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which sided with the tribunal decision.

The court stated: “a failure to give any thought or consideration to the issue of accommodation, including what, if any, steps could be taken constitutes a failure to satisfy the ‘procedural’ duty to accommodate.”

It looks like Ontario employers have some work to do to brush up on their human-rights etiquette when dealing with employees who are facing mental and addiction disabilities.

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