Employers have important obligations towards workers with disabilities

Diversity is one of British Columbia’s greatest strengths and employers gain the diversity advantage when they seek to employ people with disabilities. It is estimated that more than six million Canadians identify as having a disability. Globally, the population of persons with a disability is 1.3 billion. Employers are realizing the infinite advantages of hiring and promoting persons with disabilities and creating inclusive workplaces.

That said, it is not an easy road for all disabled employees. Many people face discrimination or disrespectful treatment at work because of a disability. Many injuries and illnesses are invisible, and some go unnoticed by the employer until they are viewed by the employer as a problem.

If you want to learn more about disabilities in the workplace, there are government sources available to inform employers and employees about disabilities in employment.

If you have a disability and you are not being treated appropriately, you may have recourse under multiple areas of law. This blog article reviews some of the legal issues that can arise.

If your disability arose out of your employment, see our article “I have been injured at work”.

Occupational Health and Safety

Whether you are in unionized or private employment, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace to all their workers, including a workplace free from bullying and harassment. This requirement comes from Occupational Health and Safety legislation.

For assistance, a worker with a disability can seek out their workplace health and safety representative and request copies of the workplace policies relating to health and safety, inclusiveness, bullying and harassment, emergency preparedness, etc. If you are comfortable speaking with your supervisor directly, identify hazards you face. You can propose ways in which the employer can alter the workplace to make it safer for you and meet your individual needs.

If you are not comfortable speaking with the employer directly, you may contact a lawyer or another representative to request that the employer conduct a hazard assessment. They are obligated under Occupational Health and Safety law to do so.

If your employer refuses to conduct a hazard assessment or accommodate your needs at work, we recommend scheduling a free half-hour consultation with one of our employment lawyers.

Human Rights 

Employers are not permitted to discriminate against employees who are disabled.  In BC, discrimination on the basis of a disability is prohibited under section 13 of the Human Rights Code.

Under human rights law, employers have a duty to accommodate disabilities to the point of undue hardship. “Accommodating” means that the employer must help a person, or make exceptions for them, to make it possible for them to do their job. Among others, this involves things such as speaking to the employee to understand their individual needs, proper workplace planning, hazard assessments, job modifications, flexible scheduling, and implementing other inclusive workplace policies and tools.

Accommodation is often referred to as a “two-way street.”  For workers with a disability, there may be an onus on you to discuss your disability with your employer and expressly notify them of your limitations at work. This is particularly important if your disability creates health and safety risks for you or your colleagues. Further, if you can identify easy workplace solutions and modifications, it is in your best interest to raise them with your employer. Information you share about your disability is confidential between you and your employer.

If your disability is creating a barrier for you to access the job market or a particular job, you may have a claim under Human Rights law. If this is the case, please see our article on Human Rights Law 101 and speak to a knowledgeable human rights lawyer to discuss your particular circumstance.

Employment Standards

Employment standards legislation sets out the basic standards of compensation and conditions of employment and aims to promote the fair treatment of employees.

In several jurisdictions in Canada, employment standards legislation obligates employers to allow employees time off for temporary illness, which could include employees with illnesses resulting from disabilities.

Employment standards legislation also provides different types of leaves for employees, including some leaves that could benefit employees with disabled family members.  Under the BC Employment Standards Act, for example, an employee can take up to five days of unpaid family responsibility leave in each employment year to help with the care or health of a child under 19 in their care, or any other member of their immediate family. The same legislation also provides leaves for an employee who has a child under their care, or immediate family member, whose health has significantly changed and whose life is at risk as a result of an illness or injury.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this article, and this website generally, is not intended as legal advice and cannot be relied upon as legal advice.  To provide legal advice on your problem, a lawyer must first understand your specific situation.

We offer free half-hour consultations in person at our Coquitlam office or virtually via software. To book a consultation, please give us a call toll-free 1 (877) 708-8350 or locally (604) 475-0041. You can also book your free consultation online here.