The Ontario Government announced an audit blitz this fall pertaining to compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”). The blitz, which runs from October through to the end of December, is targeting large retailers with 500 or more employees.
The blitz focuses on two specific AODA requirements, namely the requirement to prepare a multi-year accessibility plan and the requirement to put in place individual workplace emergency response plans for employees with disabilities.
Most organizations are required to prepare a multi-year accessibility plan, with the exception of “small” private sector organizations (which are those with under 50 employees in Ontario). The accessibility plan must set out the organization’s strategy to prevent and remove barriers and to meet its requirements under the AODA Integrated Accessibility Standard (which includes the Information and Communication Standard, the Employment Standard, the Transportation Standard and the Public Spaces Standard).
We recommend that organizations treat the accessibility plan like a roadmap to AODA compliance. The accessibility standards under the AODA have rolling deadlines. This has caused confusion for some employers as to what requirements apply and when. An effective accessibility plan will outline the requirements that apply to the organization, the compliance deadlines, and steps taken to achieve the organizations compliance goals. The accessibility plan must be reviewed at least once every five years and should be posted on the organizations website.
All organizations must create individual workplace emergency response plans for employees with disabilities under the AODA Employment Standard. This requirement is engaged where individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation. An individual plan may be necessary, for instance, where there is a fire alarm, power outage or security incident.
The individual workplace emergency response plan should be put in place as soon as practicable once the employer becomes aware of the accommodation need. In addition, employers should ensure that the plan is updated to reflect changes, including when the employee moves to a different location within the organization, the employee’s accommodation needs change, and when the employer’s general emergency response policies are reviewed.
The blitz is part of a larger AODA compliance and enforcement plan. The AODA is still relatively new legislation and the government has, until recently, taken a passive approach to enforcement, through requiring most organizations to file accessibility reports, which is a self-reporting mechanism. Although there have only been a handful of adjudicative decisions released on AODA compliance matters (see our blog on these decisions here), we will likely be seeing more in the future as the government takes a more active approach to enforcement.
Organizations should also take note of upcoming AODA deadlines for January 1, 2016. In particular, large private sector organizations (which are those with over 50 employees in Ontario) will need to be compliant with the remaining requirements under the AODA Employment Standard. This will require a review of current employment policies and practices. The Employment Standard covers all aspects of the employment relationship starting from the recruitment stage. We can provide the tools to assist employers in being compliant with these obligations.
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