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The employer's duty to accommodate

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The requirements of a workplace can affect different workers differently. When a protected personal characteristic is involved (such as age or religion or disability), employers must do what they can to accommodate these differences. This is called the duty to accommodate.

What you should know

The duty to accommodate is connected to the laws against discrimination in the workplace. An employer must not discriminate against a worker based on certain personal characteristics.

These are:

  • 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 protected grounds. If you’re treated differently based on any protected personal characteristic, it’s called discrimination.

The requirements of a workplace might pose more problems for some workers than others. For example, the requirement to work a regular work week severely inconveniences a worker whose religion has holy days that fall on a weekday.

When a protected personal characteristic is involved (such as religion), employers must do what they can to adjust. This duty to accommodate helps ensure everyone is treated equally.

What accommodation looks like varies, depending on the circumstances. These include your specific needs, medical evidence, and cost of the accommodation. Your employer might have to:

  • modify your work area because you have a disability
  • let you take a leave of absence to get treatment for an addiction
  • change your job duties to ones you are able to perform

Accommodation is a two-way street. If you ask your employer to accommodate you, you have a duty to cooperate with them.

Your employer may need some information from you to understand your needs. For example, they may need to know more about your health or your religious practices. The more reliable information you can give, the more effective your accommodation will be.

At the same time, you only need to respond to reasonable requests for information. Your employer doesn’t need to know (for example) your specific diagnosis or disability. They need enough information to know how it affects your ability to do the essential tasks of your job, and what modifications you require.

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. In considering what is undue hardship, factors 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 for undue hardship is high. Mere inconvenience or disruption isn’t enough for an employer to skirt the accommodation rules. The employer must show that they would suffer serious consequences if they accommodated you any further.

Take action

Here are steps to ask your employer to accommodate your needs.

Step 1. Ask your employer for accommodation

Step 2. Gather information for your employer

Step 3. Consider making a human rights claim

Step 1. Ask your employer for accommodation

If requirements of your workplace have a negative effect on any protected personal characteristic, speak up. Suggest accommodations that could make things better for you. Put your request in writing.

Step 2. Gather information for your employer

Your employer may ask you for information to help them accommodate you. Do your best to respond to a reasonable request from your employer. Otherwise, you may not get the accommodation that's best for your needs.

Keep in mind that you’re not entitled to the specific accommodation you want. Your employer only needs to provide you with a reasonable accommodation.

Step 3. Consider making a human rights claim

If your employer refuses to accommodate you, or fails to provide you with a reasonable accommodation, you may have a claim against them for discrimination. In BC, discrimination claims are heard by the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

We have information on the steps to file a human rights complaint. See our page on if you’re discriminated against at work.

We also have more on the employer’s duty to accommodate. See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

Who can help

Consider reaching out to these agencies for help if your employer refuses your request for accommodation.

BC Human Rights Tribunal logo
BC Human Rights Tribunal
Deals with discrimination complaints against BC employers.
Call 1-888-440-8844 📞Visit website 🌎
BC Human Rights Clinic logo
BC Human Rights Clinic
Provides assistance to eligible workers to file a human rights complaint.
Call 1-855-685-6222 📞Visit website 🌎
Canadian Human Rights Commission logo
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Deals with human rights complaints against federally-regulated employers.
Call 1-888-214-1090 📞Visit website 🌎

There are options for free legal advice.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Visit website 🌎Call 1-800-663-1919 📞
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Visit website 🌎Call 1-877-762-6664 📞
People's Law School logo
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website 🌎

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in April 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Sara Hanson, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

Sara Hanson, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Rights at work in the section on Work.