Human Rights, Accessibility and Equity

1. How are EL students covered under the Ontario Human Rights Code and/or Canadian Human Rights Act?

Students in Ontario participating in paid or unpaid EL placements are covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code except for those in federally regulated industries who are covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

As well, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to prepare policies with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment. The province has a guide for understanding the law on workplace violence and harassment.

The Ontario Human Rights Code and Canadian Human Rights Act entail particular responsibilities for universities and placement organizations with respect to equal treatment, freedom from harassment and non-discrimination on a number of grounds. These include characteristics such as the age and race of a student as well as their physical, racial, religious, sexual, gender, marital and family status. Disabilities, including mental and developmental, are also included.

2. Is there specific legislation, policy or regulations related to working with students who identify as living with disabilities?

The Ontario Human Rights Code necessitates accommodation without discrimination for EL students with a disability.

Disability is defined to include physical, developmental and mental disabilities as well as mental disorders. You should work with your university partner to determine the appropriate accommodation(s) necessary.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) requires individuals with a disability to:

  • Advise you or your university partner of the disability. However, they are not required to disclose what the disability is;
  • Make their needs known (preferably in writing);
  • Provide information regarding their relevant limitations and/or restrictions;
  • Participate in the process of determining suitable accommodations;
  • Co-operate with outside experts needed to implement the accommodation;
  • Meet their agreed-upon performance standards once the accommodation is implemented;
  • Work with you on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation; and
  • Discuss their disability with persons at your organization who need to know, including their supervisor, HR manager, etc.

External partners and academic institutions have a duty to accommodate persons identifying with a disability unless they “cannot be accommodated without undue hardship on the person responsible for accommodating those needs, considering the cost, outside sources of funding, if any, and health and safety requirements, if any.”

More Information

The OHRC identifies 3 factors that can be taken into account to determine undue hardship:

  • Cost;
  • Outside sources of funding, if available; and
  • Health and safety requirements, if any.

Factors that cannot be taken into account include:

  • Business inconvenience;
  • Employee morale;
  • Third-party preference; and
  • Collective agreements or contracts.

The duty to accommodate requires that businesses and organizations determine the most appropriate accommodation that can be undertaken without causing undue hardship.

Similarly, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits the discrimination against or harassment of a person with a disability (and the other enumerated grounds). The needs of the student must be accommodated unless it is established that “accommodation of the needs of an individual or a class of individuals affected would impose undue hardship on the person who would have to accommodate those needs, considering health, safety and cost.”

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act deals with the development and implementation of accessibility standards for public and private-sector organizations in Ontario that provide goods and services (such as EL) as well as employment in the province of Ontario.

For greater clarity, the OHRC has Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate and finds that it costs less than $500 to institute accommodations in over two-thirds of situations. Your university partner may have a cost-sharing policy for certain fees.

With respect to accommodations, the external organization is obligated to:

  • Accept the student’s request for accommodation in good faith;
  • Obtain expert advice and assistance when necessary;
  • Take an active role in ensuring suitable accommodations are investigated and identified;
  • Keep records of the accommodation request(s) and the measure(s) taken;
  • Maintain confidentiality;
  • Limit requests of information to those who need the information to respond to the accommodation request;
  • Grant the accommodation in a timely manner; and
  • Bear the costs for any necessary documentation, such as medical examinations or doctor’s notes. Your university partner may have a cost-sharing policy for such fees.

To determine if an accommodation causes undue hardship, the elements of three factors must be considered:

  1. Cost will be considered an undue hardship if it is:
    1. Quantifiable;
    2. Proven to be related to the accommodation; and
    3. So substantial that it alters the essential nature of the business or organization, OR substantially affects its viability.
  2. Outside sources of funding available to the business or organization need to be considered to alleviate accommodation costs associated with meeting the duty to accommodate.
  3. Health and safety requirements of law (such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act) may outweigh the duty to accommodate. Businesses and organizations are required to determine whether a health and safety procedure can be modified or waived to ensure accessibility and generate alternative procedures in line with the law or regulations.

3. How can we accommodate a student with a mental health diagnosis or learning disability?

The Ontario Human Rights Code protects EL students from discrimination in an employment or service relationship on mental health grounds. Furthermore, it is the position of the Ontario Human Rights Commission that distinctions or separate treatment of individuals with physical or mental disabilities are prima facie discriminatory. Your accommodation policies should treat individuals with physical (or evident) and mental (or non-evident) disabilities in the same way.

Each university will have resources on accommodating students with mental health or learning disabilities.  The OHRC provides a guide on possible accommodations, such as:

  • Flexible work hours;
  • Providing a quieter workspace; and
  • Providing assistive technologies.

It will also be your responsibility to ensure that students do not suffer discrimination, harassment or stigmatization during their placement in your organization.

4. We would like to increase the diversity of our organization. Can the university assist us with recruiting students from underrepresented communities?

Students from marginalized or historically disadvantaged communities based on Indigenous status, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion can bring benefits to you and your organization. However, some students may self-select out of an opportunity due to a perception that they do not “fit in.” You should include equity or inclusivity statements in your EL posting and materials to encourage people from all groups to apply – particularly those from marginalized backgrounds. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion offers a series of toolkits to employers to support the creation of workplaces that embody, value and promote equity and inclusivity.

You can speak with you university partner to determine if their institution can assist you with outreach to students from marginalized communities.

5. Are there any tips or best practices related to human rights in the workplace as they relate to EL?

You should consult with your university partner regarding their policies surrounding human rights, discrimination, accessibility and accommodation for EL placements. In addition to government, EL stakeholders and universities have or are establishing policies that can inform your best practices. For example:

  • The Province of Ontario has a guide for understanding the law on workplace violence and harassment.
  • The Discover Ability Network offers a wide variety of resources to employers to support the hiring and inclusion of people with disabilities.
  • The Government of British Columbia convened a Presidents Group that has created a Workplace Accommodation Guide. NOTE: While all recommendations may not be applicable under Ontario law, the guide includes helpful tips and strategies.
  • The Conference Board of Canada has developed an Employer’s Toolkit for Accessibility to help businesses and organizations meet accommodation regulations and support employees with disabilities.
  • CEWIL Canada has a Fair Treatment Policy that covers abuse, exploitation, harassment, and discrimination as well as procedures for dealing with them.
  • The University of Waterloo has a guide for addressing accessibility at your organization.