Discrimination can take many different forms

What Is Disability Discrimination in the Workplace?

Over the past few blog posts, we have discussed creating a more inclusive work culture, hiding disabilities, and invisibility disabilities in the workplace. In our fourth post in the series, let’s discuss what disability discrimination looks like, and best practices to make a workplace less discriminatory and more inclusive.

The Canadian Human Rights Act (the Act) prohibits discrimination in employment on a number of grounds, including disability. The Act considers mental or physical disabilities, including drug and alcohol dependence as disabilities.

Discrimination is when an employee fears that they may face negative treatment because of their disability. This is often linked to “ableism,” a belief that devalues people with disabilities and exposes them to stereotyping, stigma, and prejudice.

Discrimination can take many different forms. It could be discriminatory remarks, patterns of discriminatory behaviour, or actions that are specifically targeted towards employees with disabilities. It could include imposing additional burdens, being screened out of hiring processes based on disability alone, or not having access to full benefits. An employee with a disability could be excluded from additional employment opportunities, both intentionally or unintentionally. Discrimination is often subtle and may only understood when placed within a larger pattern of behaviour. It can also happen “indirectly” when carried out by someone other than the employer, such as by a co-worker or external organization.

Under the Act, employers have two main responsibilities toward employees. First, employers must not discriminate on the basis of a disability or a perceived disability and make that expectation consistent throughout the workplace. Second, the Act requires that employers do everything they can to accommodate an employee with a disability, including providing structural, physical, or communication accommodations, among others.

A 2018 study in the Canadian Journal of Public Health showed that 8% of the sample of Canadian public service employees reported workplace harassment and discrimination. The prevalence was higher for workers with disabilities (26%-37%). Disability was also significantly associated with an increased odds of harassment and discrimination. Additionally, according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disabilities, half (49.9%) of non-employed visible minorities with disabilities aged 25 to 64 had potential for paid employment in an inclusive labour market. These figures show that discrimination and lack of accessibility – not the disability itself – is likely a major hurdle to full and gainful employment for persons with disabilities.

What Is Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Going beyond federal legislative responsibility, how can employers work to create a less discriminatory workplace?

  1. Employees can identify their need for appropriate accommodations on a case-by-case basis, and employers can work to meet these needs. These accommodations can be flexible scheduling, technological modifications, or ergonomic desk settings, among other options. These accommodations might be temporary, periodic, or long term.
  2. Any cases of harassment must be addressed as soon as the employer is aware of it. This includes all cases of stigma or discrimination, which can affect an employee’s ability to do their job and can make recovery or management of a disability much more challenging.
  3. Employees are only required to provide their employer with enough information to understand the accommodation needed, but do not need to disclose further information about the history of their disability and treatment. Employers should not seek additional information beyond what is required to meet accommodations. All medical information shared must be kept confidential.
  4. Employers can work to address the “five barriers to disability” in the workplace, including attitudinal barriers; organizational barriers; architectural or physical barriers; information or communication barriers; and technology barriers.
  5. Employers should actively work to increase their own knowledge on disability and its impacts on employees, as well as providing education opportunities for employees without disabilities. This will allow employers to take a more proactive approach to accommodations, and ensure that positive attitude towards employees with disabilities is consistently modelled throughout the workplace. Studies demonstrate that people who are educated on the impact of disability, are less likely to believe myths or buy into stereotypes about persons with disabilities.

To ensure people with disabilities are fully accommodated in the workplace, the Government of Canada has published a helpful guide for managers and organizations. For more specific guidance, contact Canadian Equality Consulting today if you have further questions about how to make your workplace more responsive to the needs of your diverse employees.

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