Which human rights laws apply to your employer
The BC Human Rights Code applies to most employers in the province.
But federal human rights law applies to some employers, including those in federally-regulated industries (such as banking and telecommunications).
The guidance below focuses on your rights under BC’s human rights law. However, many of the same points apply to workers covered by the federal law.
If your situation involves federal law, contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Your employer must not discriminate against you
The duty to accommodate is connected to the laws against discrimination in the workplace. Under the law in BC, an employer must not discriminate against a worker based on these personal characteristics:
- their race, colour, ancestry, or place of origin
- their age
- their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression
- their marital or family status
- their political belief or religion
- any physical or mental disability
- any criminal convictions that are unrelated to the job
These characteristics are called protected grounds. If you’re treated differently based on any protected personal characteristic, it’s called discrimination.
Your employer has a duty to accommodate you
“I hurt my shoulder skiing and needed to get surgery. My job involves heavy lifting, so I was worried about getting back to work. I got a note from my doctor explaining how long my recovery would take, and the types of work I’d be able to continue doing. My employer agreed to modify my duties until I’m fully recovered. I really appreciate their efforts to make things easier for me.”
– Nina, Surrey
The requirements of your workplace might pose more problems for you than for other workers, because of your unique circumstances. If you’re a single parent, you may need more flexibility to leave work to deal with emergencies than what’s normally permitted by the workplace policy. If you suffer from insomnia, you may have trouble getting to work at the required time.
Where a protected personal characteristic is involved — such as marital status or a physical disability — employers must do what they can to adjust. This duty to accommodate helps ensure everyone is treated equally.
Examples of accommodation
What accommodation looks like varies, depending on the circumstances, including your specific needs, medical evidence, and cost of the accommodation. Your employer might have to:
- modify your work area because you have a disability
- provide special software or equipment you need because of a disability
- let you take a leave of absence to get treatment for an addiction
- adjust your schedule while you recover from an injury
- change your job duties to ones you are able to perform
If you belong to a union and you feel you have a need for accommodation, talk to your union representative. Your union and your employer both have a duty to accommodate you.
If you ask to be accommodated
Once you ask to be accommodated, the request triggers your employer’s duty to learn more about your needs. Even if you don’t ask, your employer may still have a duty to investigate if they themselves suspect you need accommodation. For example, a co-worker may have mentioned to your employer that your recent physical injury appears to hamper your ability to meet all the requirements of your role.
For the steps to ask for an accommodation, see the “Work out the problem” section, below.
You have a duty to help your employer accommodate you
Accommodation is a two-way street. If you ask your employer to accommodate you, you have a duty to cooperate with them.
You must be frank about your situation
Your employer may ask you for information to help them accommodate you. For example, they may ask for information about your health, or want to know more about your religious practices. Generally, they’ll require enough reliable information to confirm you have a real need for accommodation. For example, you may have to provide a medical report that speaks to your restrictions and limitations.
You should do your best to respond to reasonable requests by your employer. Otherwise, you may not get the accommodation that's best for you.
Some types of information you don’t have to share with your employer
If you have a disability and need accommodation, you don’t have to tell your employer what your disability or diagnosis is. All your employer needs to know is:
- that you have a disability
- how it affects your ability to do the essential tasks of your job
- what you need your employer to do
Your employer can’t ask for information that would reveal your diagnosis. For example, they can’t ask you what medication you take. But they can ask about any side effects from your medication that may require accommodation. They can ask if you are following your doctor’s treatment plan. But they’re not entitled to the details of the plan.
Generally, you’re only required to speak with management about accommodation. But you should cooperate with experts if their assistance is required.
Your employer’s duty goes to the point of “undue hardship”
Your employer’s duty to accommodate you isn’t limitless. It extends only to the point where the accommodation starts causing them undue hardship. The perfect solution isn’t required, if that solution would be hugely costly or would seriously hinder other workers.
Some factors that go into deciding whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship include:
- the financial cost to your employer
- health and safety risks
- the size and flexibility of the workplace
- the impact on the rights and interests of other workers
The standard of undue hardship is high. Mere inconvenience or disruption isn’t a good enough reason to ignore the accommodation rules. The employer must show they would suffer serious consequences if they accommodated you any further. The law gives more weight to a worker’s right to be free from discrimination than it does to an employer’s right to control their workplace.
In accommodating you, your employer has no obligation to provide the perfect solution, or the specific accommodation you want. You must be prepared to accept an accommodation that provides a reasonable solution.