It’s that time of year again! As we prepare for the holidays and for the new year, organizations are also reminded that they should be preparing for new deadlines and obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”).

Snapshot of previous requirements

As you know, the AODA, which is broken down into five broad integrated standards (information, employment, communications, transportation, and design of public spaces), distinguishes between small and large organizations.

By now, large organizations (those with 50+ employees) were required to develop and implement accessibility policies and plans; incorporate accessibility when designing self-service kiosks; develop websites that generally meet the specifications of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for websites created after January 1, 2012; train all employees or those providing services on behalf of the organization on the Ontario Human Rights Code; and ensure that feedback processes are available in accessible formats upon request. This is in addition to the requirements of the Customer Service Standard, which mandated the filing of an accessibility report confirming compliance with the Standard.

Small organizations (those with 1-49 employees) were required to develop and implement accessibility policies and consider accessibility issues when designing or acquiring self-service kiosks, in addition to their requirements under the Customer Service Standard.

Looking forward

As of January 1, 2016, small organizations must:

  • Ensure all employees have been trained on the Ontario Human Rights Code and the AODA integrated standards, particularly with respect to accommodating persons with disabilities;
  • Provide accessible formats and communication supports in all feedback processes, upon request; and
  • Notify the public that accessible feedback processes are available.

As of January 1, 2016, large organizations must:

  • Upon request, provide information to the public (including emergency and public safety information) in accessible formats and with supports. This must be done in a timely manner and at a cost equal to the regular cost charged to others;
  • Upon request or as necessary, provide accessible workplace information (including information about emergency workplace procedures) to employees with disabilities; and
  • Ensure human resources practices explicitly consider accessibility issues in workplace recruitment, accommodation, performance management, training, career development and return-to-work processes. This includes:
    • notifying job candidates that accommodation during the recruitment process is available and arranging for such accommodation upon request;
    • notifying a successful candidate of the organization’s accommodation policy when an offer of employment is made to them;
    • being cognizant of the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities when managing the employee’s performance or considering the promotion of the employee; and
    • developing written individualized accommodation plans and return to work processes for employees with disabilities.

Are your accommodation processes AODA compliant?

We routinely remind our employer clients to document the steps they take when accommodating employees (whether for disabilities or otherwise). This best practice will now be a mandated requirement under the AODA for some employers.

As of January 1, 2016 large organizations, as part of ensuring that their human resources practices consider accessibility issues, are required to develop and have in place a written process for the development of documented individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities. These accommodation plans ought to include:

  • The manner in which an employee requesting accommodation can participate in the development of the individual accommodation plan.
  • The means by which the employee is assessed on an individual basis.
  • The manner in which the employer can request an evaluation by an outside medical or other expert, at the employer’s expense, to assist the employer in determining if accommodation can be achieved and, if so, how accommodation can be achieved.
  • The manner in which the employee can request the participation of a representative from their bargaining agent, where the employee is represented by a bargaining agent, or other representative from the workplace, where the employee is not represented by a bargaining agent, in the development of the accommodation plan.
  • The steps taken to protect the privacy of the employee’s personal information.
  • The frequency with which the individual accommodation plan will be reviewed and updated and the manner in which it will be done.
  • If an individual accommodation plan is denied, the manner in which the reasons for the denial will be provided to the employee.
  • The means of providing the individual accommodation plan in a format that takes into account the employee’s accessibility needs due to a disability.

In addition to developing individual and accessible accommodation plans, large organizations are required to develop and have in place an individualized return to work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability (and require disability-related accommodations in order to return to work), and document the individualized return to work process.

Blitzes are coming

Enforcement of the AODA has thus far been minimal but the Ontario government recently announced plans to target large retailers with a round of accessibility blitzes. With the penalties that may be imposed (penalties range between $500.00 to $2,000.00 per day for individuals and $500.00 to $15,000.00 per day for corporations, depending on the number of contraventions), employers are encouraged to keep up to date with their annual requirements. For a detailed listing of requirements and deadlines applicable to your organization, please visit the AODA compliance wizard.