Question 7: What are my obligations when someone is on disability?
The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities.
What is a disability?
Physical disability is defined in the Act as any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness. This includes, but is not limited to, epilepsy; paralysis; amputation; lack of physical coordination; visual, hearing and speech impediments; and physical reliance on a guide dog, service dog, or wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device.
Mental disability is defined in the Act as any mental disorder, developmental disorder or learning disorder, regardless of the cause or duration of the disorder.
In Alberta, employers, landlords, tenants and service providers are expected to make reasonable efforts to accommodate individuals with disabilities unless it would cause undue hardship.
It may be possible to make adjustments to a building to accommodate people with disabilities. On the job, workloads may be rearranged so that duties that cannot be performed by an employee with a disability are handled by another worker.
- A ramp may be built to a building entrance to make it accessible to wheelchairs.
- An employee in a wheelchair may find filing impossible. However, another employee could do the filing, and the worker with the disability could assume responsibility for a larger volume of work on the computer.
- An employee suffering from a mental illness might require altered job responsibilities, on a partial or permanent basis.
If you have an employee who is off work due to a disability of any kind, you are obligated to bring them back to the organization when they are fit to do so in a job that is comparable in pay and duties - preferable the same job they left. You are also obligated to accommodate their return to work if they need accommodation from the physical workspace to change of job duties or hours of work. You must accommodate their return unless you can show that by doing so would put you in an undue hardship situation.
For more information about accommodating people with disabilities, see the Commission information sheet Employment: Duty to accommodate and interpretive bulletin Duty to accommodate.
Health and safety
Employers are not expected to hire or continue to employ anyone whose disability notably increases the probability of health or safety hazards to themselves, other employees and/or the public.
For example, someone subject to epileptic seizures that are not fully controlled with medication could not be expected to safely perform a job working on a scaffold or driving a truck. Someone with a serious mental impairment may not be permitted to be responsible for children in a day care setting.
It is up to the employer to demonstrate that the individual's disability would threaten the safety of that employee or others at the worksite.