Requesting Accommodations at Work

This week we are excited to talk about working while disabled- specifically requesting accommodations.

Working is a tough subject for a lot of disabled people, as it can come with feelings of shame or embarrassment if they don’t work, or the feeling of pressure to work even if that isn’t the best decision for them.

Society often views people who don’t work as “not contributing to society” or “lazy”. Neither of these are true, and whether you have a full-time job, a part-time job, volunteer, or work on yourself, you are just as valuable!

If you do work, you may be unsure about how to ask for accommodations, or you may not even know that you can ask for accommodations! We’re here to help you figure out how to ask for accommodations, some common examples of accommodations, and what you and your employers’ responsibilities are when it comes to accommodations in the workplace.

According to a Statistics Canada (2017) survey which looked at employees between the ages of 25 – 64 with a disability, more than 1 in 3 needed at least one workplace accommodation. Of these employees, the most commonly required accommodations were flexible work arrangements, workstation modifications, and human or technical supports.

First, let’s get into the legal stuff:

According to Section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, employers have a duty to accommodate employees, unless the accommodation causes undue hardship (ex. too expensive for the size of the business or causes health/safety risk to other employees). When providing accommodations, the employer must respect the privacy and confidentiality of the employee at all times, and the employer is not entitled to the exact diagnosis. However, the employer is entitled to ask for sufficient information to aide in providing effective accommodations. This includes relevant information about the nature of the disability, details on functional limitations, and can include a health evaluation or assessment. An employer cannot fire an employee for requesting accommodations, but it is expected that the employee be able to meet their employment responsibilities with the appropriate accommodations.

Now that the legal bit is out of the way, let’s talk about what types of accommodations are common:

**This is not an exhaustive list, as each person’s situation varies drastically**
  • -Flexible work arrangements
    • modified work hours
    • modified work duties
    • working remotely
    • more frequent breaks throughout the work day
  • Workplace modifications
    • ergonomic chair
    • standing desk
    • wheelchair accessible desk
    • larger workstation
    • specialized technology (ex. screen readers)
    • non-fluorescent lighting at workspace
  • Aides
    • human aide/support (ex. sign language interpreter)
    • service/guide dog

And finally, let’s discuss how to request accommodations:

You may choose to disclose your disability before you’re hired, or after you’ve received a job offer. This is a completely personal decision, and there are pros and cons to each. If you are worried that an employer may discriminate against you and not hire you due to your disability, you may choose to wait until after you’ve received a job offer to disclose your disability; in this case, make sure that your officially accept the job before disclosing.

After you’ve disclosed that you have a disability, you need to clearly communicate the need for accommodations, you cannot assume that the employer knows what you need. You should provide relevant and appropriate information to support your request for accommodation. This includes providing specific examples of what you need (ex. “I need a non-fluorescent light at my desk, and I need to take shorter, more frequent breaks”). Once you’ve communicated your needs clearly, the employer may have a few clarifying questions to ensure you get exactly what you need. Remember, they don’t need to know your exact diagnosis, but they are entitled to have enough sufficient information about the nature of your disability (ex. does your disability vary day-to-day or is it more stagnant?).

After you have requested an accommodation, the employer should arrange a meeting with you in a timely manner so you can discuss what accommodations you need and figure out next steps. The employer may ask for your input on potential options that can be used to accommodate your request, such as what type of lightbulb you require, or which times are best for you to take additional breaks. Once your accommodation is in place, it is your responsibility to advise the employer if they aren’t working as intended or if you need something changed.

We know that requesting accommodations can make some people feel vulnerable or nervous, but we hope that this guide can help you feel more empowered in doing so. Remember, there are laws and regulations that are there to protect you from discrimination, and many employers would be very happy to accommodate your needs.