In some situations, you may need changes or supports at work to remove barriers that keep you from doing your best. These changes are called accommodations.
There are many reasons why you may need to talk to an employer about accommodations. For example, you may have recently developed a disability, or perhaps the way your disability affects you has changed. You may be starting a new job or have recently disclosed your disability to your employer.
Accommodations can take many forms, such as different work hours or a computer keyboard with large keys.
It’s up to you and your employer to work together and decide how to best accommodate your needs. But it’s a good idea to plan so that you:
- Understand what your employer must do and what they don’t have to do.
- Know what will help you most, where or how to get it, and if there’s funding to help cover the cost.
Duty to accommodate
Under the Alberta Human Rights Act [pdf], employers have a duty to accommodate. This means they must make every reasonable effort to meet your needs as a person living with a disability, so you can get your work done and do well on the job.
For example, you may need a wheelchair ramp, or flexible work hours so you can go to medical appointments.
An accommodation doesn’t have to be made if your employer can prove:
- It will cost the company too much money.
- There is no outside source of funding to help pay for the accommodation (such as a government program).
- The accommodation is likely to cause health and safety risks.
As well, employers don’t have to hire a person living with a disability who isn’t ready, or doesn’t have the skills needed, to do the work.
It’s your choice to tell your employer about your disability. But remember, they can only accommodate your disability if they know about it. For example, if you request a different type of office chair, your employer needs to understand how that will help with your disability.
Types of help you can get
The accommodation made for you will match your individual needs. What works for you may not work for another person with the same disability. Some people think accommodations will cost a lot of money, but that’s often not the case. Many changes, such as allowing you to take short breaks or to switch tasks with a co-worker, cost your employer nothing.
There are many ways to accommodate your needs, such as:
- Changes in the hours you work—for example, part-time, flexible hours or working from home
- Adaptive technologies—for example, special software or changes to your workspace
- Accessible parking
- Handrails, ramps, or wider doors
- A sign language interpreter
- Teaching you new skills or to do a different job
- Giving you different types of work
Do your research. Always have a good understanding of what accommodations you actually need, which ones you simply want, and what they might cost.
Often, changes that are made at work make things easier for everyone—think of automatic doors, for instance. And if your needs change over time, or if new solutions arise, you can request a different accommodation.
Things are changing in the workplace
The work world is always changing. When things that used to be rare at work become normal, these are called workplace trends. For example, COVID-19 lockdowns led to more people working from home. People got used to working as virtual teams—employees working together online, from different locations. Remote work, job sharing, or flexible work hours may be just what you need to accommodate your disability.
Workplace trends, such as ergonomic chairs with adjustable height and armrests, can be a big help for people with disabilities. New technologies that most people now use at work, like a smartphone, can be adapted to accommodate special needs. For example, people who are deaf or hearing impaired can use a program on their smartphone so the phone’s screen shows what people are saying.
How to talk to your employer
When you talk to your employer about your disability, consider these suggestions:
- Be open, honest, and clear. Talk about what you need and why it will help you. Help your employer understand why the accommodation will be good for you and for the company.
- Know what you need and offer solutions.
- If the accommodation will cost money, there are programs, such as Disability Related Employment Supports (DRES), that will help cover the cost.
- Understand and work with your employer’s needs and suggestions. If your wheelchair is too large to fit under your desk, it’s reasonable to ask for a new desk. But your employer might suggest making your desk taller or moving to a different office. Work together to find the change that’s good for both of you.
- If you can, offer to take care of your own accommodation. Let’s say you’re applying for a job. If you can bring the equipment you need to do well at work, the employer is less likely to think there might be reasons not to hire you.
What to do if your employer says no
If your employer won’t agree to the accommodation, even though you’ve tried your best to help them understand what you need and to work together on a solution, you have several options:
- Move up the chain and talk to your employer’s supervisor or to HR.
- If you belong to a union, talk to your union rep.
- File a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Work as a team to find success
Employers need people who know how to solve a problem, want to work hard, and feel good about their work. Be clear about what you need, offer solutions, and talk about how making a change or finding you a support will help you do well at your job. If you work together, you can find the accommodations that are best for both of you.