Guidance for managers on the Duty to Accommodate during the COVID-19 pandemic
As a result of this unique and unprecedented situation and to respect the public health advisories aiming to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, some employees are continuing to work remotely to deliver services.
Even though employees are working remotely, the employer continues to be legally obligated to accommodate their needs, in a timely manner, when they stem from one or more prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The Treasury Board Policy on People Management and Directive on Duty to Accommodate give expression to these legal obligations, requiring that:
- candidates for employment and persons employed are treated with dignity and respect in an inclusive, barrier‑free environment
- when barriers cannot be removed, individuals be accommodated up to the point of undue hardship, taking into consideration issues of health, safety and cost
- accommodation is made based on the circumstances of each case while respecting the individual’s right to privacy and confidentiality
Where an employee requests accommodation and that request is related to the prohibited grounds of discrimination, it is your duty to follow the appropriate steps to ensure that the duty to accommodate is met.
Please keep in mind that while accommodation may already be in place for employees at the worksite (that is, pre-COVID), some employees may require new or different accommodation while working remotely.
In some circumstances, ergonomic equipment is provided to partly or fully address an accommodation request. However, it is more often a measure used to ensure that employees can work productively while preventing injury and is separate from the duty to accommodate. Further information on providing equipment to employees is available on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Working remotely web page.
The Accessibility Strategy for the Federal Public Service, which is the Government of Canada’s response to the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), further identifies actions that all federal departments need to take to improve the recruitment, retention and promotion of employees with disabilities. Managers are responsible for creating the conditions for their employees to succeed in their jobs, which means providing them with the necessary tools and support measures to mitigate or eliminate barriers.
Managers are encouraged to take the following steps to assess accommodation needs for employees who are working remotely.
- Identify employees who are required to work remotely and discuss with employees (and your human resources department) what accommodation may be required for remote work.
- Have periodic one-on-one discussions with employees to identify any accommodation that may be newly required or need adjustment, recognizing that, typically, employees would initiate a request for an accommodation.
- As needed, seek guidance from your human resources department on employee accommodation and considerations on whether and how accommodation can be implemented (for example, technical aids, flexible hours of work, adaptive technology, etc.).
- Assess each situation on a case-by-case basis, beginning with an open and positive conversation with the employee. Do not automatically assume that an employee who is accommodated at the worksite will necessarily require any or similar accommodation while working remotely. Equally, an employee who was not accommodated at the worksite may now require accommodation while remote working.
- Contact the Accessibility, Accommodation, and Adaptive Computer Technology team at Shared Services Canada, if you need advice and assistance specific to job accommodations concerning computer technology or adaptive solutions (details below).
- Assess any health and safety impacts and measures that should be considered when providing necessary equipment, including how it should be delivered (for example, contactless pickup, disinfecting equipment, etc.).
- Employees provide important information and advice on their functional limitations and what may be needed to accommodate their individual work-related circumstances.
- Trying to identify an employee’s disability-related accommodation needs on your own comes with risks.
- Each case must be examined on its own merits.
- Human resources departments prove a critical source of advice and information on accommodations.
- Public health advisories may have an impact on the employee’s ability to obtain evidence or new documentation.
- The employer also has legal obligations beyond the Duty to Accommodate to address ergonomic workplace hazards relating to occupational health and safety. Equipping employees with approved equipment while working remotely can prevent injury and ensure safety.
For details on the accommodation process and procedures, refer to the Directive on Duty to Accommodate.
For general information on equipment for employees working remotely, consult the working remotely section of Canada.ca or your HR team to learn more about your organization’s procedures.
For detailed guidance on the resumption of work, consult the Guidebook on Easing Restrictions.
For guidance on leave provisions, consult the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Employee illness and leave section.
If you have questions about the accommodation process and procedures:
- consult your Human Resources Advisor
- send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For advice and assistance on adaptive solutions, contact the Accessibility, Accommodations and Adaptive Computer Technology (AAACT):
- team at email@example.com or;
- by telephone at 819-994-4835;
- TTY 819-994-3692.
The team continues to serve clients during the COVID disruption via audio and video conference and can ship equipment directly to the location where the employee is currently working.
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