Over the last few years, an increasing number of jurisdictions in Canada have been enacting accessibility laws.
Ontario was the first province in Canada to enact accessibility legislation governing the private sector, followed by Manitoba. More recently, the federal jurisdiction, plus British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia passed similar Acts. Saskatchewan has a Bill in the works.
So, what are accessibility laws? Where do these laws apply? And, what should employers watch out for in 2023?
What are Accessibility Laws?
The goal of accessibility laws is to achieve accessibility for people with disabilities and remove/prevent barriers with respect to employment, goods, services, facilities, accommodation, buildings, structures, premises and transportation. This is done by developing and enforcing accessibility standards, and requiring employers to develop accessibility plans, policies and processes and file reports.
To better understand accessibility, it is useful to review Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) – the most detailed accessibility legislation governing the private sector in Canada. The AODA’s accessibility standards require all Ontario organizations to meet certain requirements with respect to employment, customer services, information and communications, transportation and the built environment.
For example, the Ontario accessibility standard regarding employment requires all Ontario employers to:
- integrate accessibility into hiring processes (e.g., notify job applicants of available accommodation when recruiting);
- provide employee accessibility training;
- take into account employee accessibility needs and individual accommodation plans; and
- develop policies governing how they achieve or will achieve accessibility.
Additional obligations apply to Ontario organizations with 50 or more employees. This includes requirements to document their accessibility commitment through a multi-year accessibility plan, and regular reporting on their compliance with applicable accessibility standards.
Since Ontario passed the AODA, other Canadian jurisdictions started to implement similar laws.
Status of Accessibility Laws in Canada and What to Watch for in 2023
Federally regulated employers (e.g., bank, airline, shipping, telecommunications, interprovincial trucking) must comply with the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). This Act is relatively new – it was enacted in 2021. So, there are not yet any standards in place. However, employers with 10 or more employees are required to prepare and publish accessibility plans and annual progress reports.
Upcoming Deadlines: Private sector organizations with 100 or more employees must prepare and publish initial accessibility plans, taking into account the principles of the ACA, by June 1, 2023. Smaller organizations (with 10-99 employees) have until June 1, 2024 to develop their first accessibility plan.
So, far, the Accessible British Columbia Act, which came into force last year, only applies to the B.C. government. The Act will, however, be expanded to apply to specified organizations later this year. All organizations covered by the Act must establish an accessibility committee, an accessibility plan and a tool to receive feedback on accessibility. There are no accessibility standards in place yet.
Upcoming Deadlines: Per Regulation, schools, post-secondary institutions, municipalities, public libraries and other specified organizations will be subject to the Act as of September 1, 2023. It will apply to public health providers and additional listed organizations the following year.
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act plus employment standards and (where applicable) customer service standards apply to all organizations in Manitoba. Private sector organizations do not have to develop an accessibility plan, but employers with 50+ employees must publish accessibility measures, policies and practices.
Upcoming Deadlines: The new information and communications standard will apply to the Manitoba government as of May 1, 2023, other public sector organizations on May 1, 2024 and all Manitoba employers by May 1, 2025.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador enacted the Accessibility Act in 2021. While there are no standards in place yet, the Act does provide the government with broad authority to establish accessibility standards applicable to the private and public sector. Only public sector bodies must prepare accessibility plans.
While Nova Scotia passed accessibility legislation a few years ago, there are still no accessibility standards in place. Similar to Newfoundland, only public sector bodies must prepare accessibility plans.
As noted above, Ontario has a robust accessibility regime that applies to all employers in the province.
Upcoming Deadlines: Private sector employers that filed their inaugural accessibility reports in 2014 must file their next report on December 31, 2023.
Saskatchewan introduced Bill 103, An Act respecting Accessibility in Saskatchewan, for first reading on November 15, 2022. If passed, the Bill will provide the Saskatchewan government with the authority to develop accessibility standards that may apply to employers across the province.
Note: Currently, there is no accessibility legislation in Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Quebec’s Act to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights with a view to achieving social, school and workplace integration only applies to the public sector.
How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals
Accessibility requirements are detailed and often include ongoing deadlines. Compliance Works makes it quick and easy for HR professionals to understand the requirements that apply to their workplace.
In addition to Accessibility, Compliance Works provides easy-to-read summaries and the latest changes on Employment Standards, Health & Safety, Human Rights, Labour Relations, Official Languages, Pay Equity and Privacy.
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