In our November 2015 Employers’ Alert, we summarized the updated employer obligations pursuant to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”). On June 6, 2016, the Ontario government announced yet further updates to the AODA, which took effect on July 1, 2016. While these changes appear subtle, they do have an impact on Ontario employers and warrant a review of existing accessibility policies, practices and training.
The main updates to the AODA and its regulations are summarized below:
a) The standards have been integrated
The regulations to the AODA have been consolidated into a single regulation called the Integrated Accessibility Standards, O. Reg 191/11 (the “Regulation”), which replaces the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, O. Reg. 429/07 and the Exemption from Reporting Requirements, O. Reg. 430/07.
As a result of the above integration, certain terms and definitions have been modified to promote consistency in the language of the consolidated requirements.
b) Certain employers no longer need to document policies
Private employers with 20 to 49 employees are no longer required to document various customer service policies, although compliance and reporting obligations continue to apply. Whereas the obligation to document various customer service policies formerly applied to organizations with 20 or more employees, the threshold for documenting policies has been increased, and now only applies to “large organizations”. In that respect, the Regulation defines “small” and “large” organizations as follows:
- “large organization” means an organization with 50 or more employees in Ontario (other than certain government bodies); and
- “small organization” means an organization with at least one but fewer than 50 employees in Ontario (other than certain government bodies).
c) Additional health professionals can identify service animals
A “service animal” can be now be identified by other regulated health professionals (e.g. chiropractors, physiotherapists, optometrists, etc.), as opposed to only physicians and nurses.
d) Feedback processes must now be accessible
Although organizations were already required to establish a process for receiving and responding to feedback about the manner in which they provide goods or services, organizations must now also ensure that the process is accessible to persons with disabilities by providing accessible formats and communication supports upon request.
e) Process for requiring support persons
Prior to requiring a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person, organizations must now consult with the person with a disability not only to determine that the support person is necessary to protect the health and safety of the person with a disability or others on the premises, but also that there is no other reasonable way to protect the health or safety of the person with a disability and others on the premises.
In addition, if an organization requires a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person, that organization is now required to waive any amount payable in respect of the support person’s presence on the organization’s premises.
f) Expanded training obligations
Previously, organizations were only required to train employees and volunteers who:
- deal with persons outside the organization; and
- participate in developing policies and procedures governing the provision of goods or services outside the organization.
Now, the training obligation applies to all employees and volunteers of the organization. While there is no specific deadline for training this expanded group of employees, the Regulation states that it must be done “as soon as practicable.”
Take-home for employers
Employers should revisit their AODA policies and training schedules to ensure that:
- the policies are updated to reflect the new definitions, references and changes to the customer service thresholds;
- all employees and volunteers receive (or have already received) up-todate training;
- existing feedback processes are made accessible to persons with disabilities; and
- certain additional steps are taken before requiring a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person.