Understanding Ontario’s New Human Rights Commission Policies: What Employers Need to Know

On September 29, 2016, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released its new version of a Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability. This is an update to a policy that was first introduced in 2001. Since that time, there have been many important case law developments, new international human rights standards and evolving social science research. The OHRC also introduced a number of handouts that are available on their website including one that explains the roles and responsibilities of employers and the duty to accommodate disabilities in the workplace.

Key Policy Updates

The updated Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability includes current case law and best-practice examples from the employment, housing and service sectors. It outlines the history of discrimination based on disability, and discusses ableism as underlying attitudes and beliefs that give rise to discrimination. It also recognizes the unique experiences of people who face discrimination based on disability combined with other code grounds such as age, sex, sexual orientation, race, another type of disability, etc.

While these policies are not legally binding law, they can be used to support complaints that proceed to human rights adjudicators. They are also very useful in helping employers deal with the evolving legal definition of disability, the types of medical information they can request (and not request) during an accommodation process and suggestions about how to structure an appropriate drug or alcohol testing program in their workplace.
Understanding the Changes and What They Mean for You
The new and updated Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on Disability starts by establishing that “disability” continues to evolve under the Ontario Human Rights Code. It applies to both past and present disabilities and any adverse treatment which results from a perceived disability. This allows conditions like multiple chemical sensitivities and food-related anaphylaxis to meet the new definition of “disability.” Those are major changes from the original 2001 policy.

One of the most useful portions of the updated policy is that it provides some example scenarios and what employers should determine when they become aware of an employee who claims a disability. This might include how to establish a person has a disability and the impact of that disability on their health and their ability to perform the essential duties or requirements of their job. It also discusses how accommodations can be requested and provided, as well as how to receive medical updates while employees are off and when they could be expected to be back at work.

For more information about the updated Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on Disability you can visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission website.

To stay up to date on legislative changes and the evolving Ontario employment market, contact the experts at Employment Professionals Canada. As Ontario’s leading staffing and HR expert, we can help your company navigate the market changes. Contact us today to learn more!