About the Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in areas such as jobs, housing and services. The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, sex, physical and mental health disability and age, to name a few of the 17 grounds. All other Ontario laws must agree with the Code. The Code protects people from discrimination in specific situations. Under the Code, you have the right to be free from discrimination in five parts of society – called social areas – based on one or more grounds. The five social areas are: employment, housing, services, unions and professional associations and contracts.
The Code prohibits discrimination based on 17 different personal attributes – called grounds. These are: citizenship, race, place of origin, ethnic origin, colour, ancestry, disability, age, creed, sex/pregnancy, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing) and record of offences (in employment).
“Disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and some not visible. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. There are physical, mental and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, drug and alcohol dependencies, environmental sensitivities, and other conditions. This is not an exhaustive list, as our understanding of disability is continually evolving.
The Code protects people from discrimination because of past, present and perceived disabilities. For example, the Code protects a person who faces discrimination because she is a recovered alcoholic. So is a person whose condition does not limit their workplace abilities, but who is believed to be at greater risk of being able to do less in the future.
The Ontario Human Rights Code applies to the workplace, housing, facilities and services, contracts and union/trade/professional memberships. In all of these areas, the human rights of people with mental health disabilities or addictions are protected. At work, when receiving services, or in housing, you are entitled to the same opportunities and benefits as people without mental health disabilities or addictions. Examples of services are schools, learning centres, restaurants, shops, hotels, movie theatres, transit, policing, and government services.
In Ontario, the Human Rights System is made up of three different components: the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
- All claims of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code are addressed through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The purpose of the Tribunal is to provide an expeditious and accessible process to assist parties to resolve applications through mediation, and to decide those applications where the parties are unable to reach a resolution through settlement.
- The Human Rights Legal Support Centre offers human rights legal services to individuals throughout Ontario who have experienced discrimination. Their services may include legal assistance in filing applications at the Tribunal, and legal representation at mediations and hearings.
- The Ontario Human Rights Commission works to promote, protect and advance human rights through research, education and policy development. The Commission is no longer responsible for receiving discrimination complaints.
About the Duty to Accommodate
Under the Code, employers, unions, landlords, service providers and others have a legal duty to accommodate people with mental health or addiction disabilities. This means that employers, housing and service providers may need to change their rules, policies or procedures to create equal access and equal opportunities. Accommodation is a shared responsibility. Everyone involved, including the person asking for accommodation, should share information and jointly explore accommodation solutions.
Sometimes, a person with a mental health or addiction disability cannot identify they need accommodation. Accommodation providers must try to help a person who is clearly unwell, or they think has a mental health or addiction disability. They have a duty to inquire if the person has needs related to a disability and offer help and accommodation. For example, an employer is not aware of an employee’s mental health disability, but thinks changes in their behaviour may be due to a disability. The employer sees that they are having trouble doing their job, and is showing obvious signs of distress that include crying at their desk. The employer asks them if they have any accommodation needs and offers to refer them to an employee assistance program.
For example, if a person misses a deadline to apply for a benefit because they are away receiving treatment for a drug addiction. The service provider extends the deadline to accommodate the disability.
However, organizations are not entitled to try to diagnose illness or “second-guess” a person’s disability.
Many accommodations can be made easily and at low cost. Where putting the best solution in place right away may result in “undue hardship” because of costs or health and safety factors, the person or organization that accommodates has to look at and take the next-best steps that would not result in undue hardship. Next-best steps should be taken only until better solutions can be put in place.
If you need accommodation based on your disability:
- Tell your employer, union, landlord or service provider what your disability-related needs are related to your job duties, tenancy or the services being provided, in writing, if you can
- Provide supporting information about the needs and limitations relating to your disability, including information from health professionals where needed
- Co-operate with the accommodation provider on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process.
Employers, unions, landlords and service providers must:
- Accept requests for accommodation in good faith, unless there are legitimate reasons for acting otherwise
- Ask only for information needed to provide the accommodation. For example, employers may need to know that someone needs time off to go to medical appointments related to their disability, but not that they have schizophrenia
- Take an active role in looking at accommodation solutions that meet individual needs
- Deal with accommodation requests as quickly as possible, even if it means creating a temporary solution while developing a long-term one
- Respect the dignity of the person asking for accommodation, and keep information confidential
- Cover the costs of accommodations, including any needed medical or other expert opinion or documents.
Generally, the organization or person providing the accommodation does not have the right to know your confidential medical information, such as the cause of the disability, diagnosis, symptoms or treatment, unless these clearly relate to the accommodation asked for.
In rare situations where your accommodation needs are complex, challenging or unclear, you may be asked to provide more information, including possibly your diagnosis. But the accommodation provider must justify why they need the information.
Source: The Ontario Human Rights Commission. “Human Rights, Mental Health and Addiction Disabilities.”
About the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
The goal of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is to make Ontario accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. Barriers can include environmental, organizational, technological, communications and/or attitudinal barriers. Under the AODA, accessibility standards are being developed for customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation and the built environment. The standards by which organizations have an obligation to comply are being phased in. The Customer Service Standard and Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation are now in effect and apply to all organizations (public, private and non-profit) that provide goods or services to Ontarians.
- Organizations must demonstrate they have taken action (including training staff) in order to ensure that their services are accessible to people with disabilities.
- To learn how and where to file your compliance report, visit the Government of Ontario website.
- If a person with a disability believes that barriers exist with respect to services, they may discuss the situation with the organizations involved and indicate how services could be made more accessible.
- Individuals may file complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if they believe their human rights have been violated.
Not sure where to start? The Government of Ontario has developed an easy-to-use online tool, The Accessibility Compliance Wizard, that assists organizations to identify what they need to do in order to comply with the AODA. The tool is anonymous and takes less than 5 minutes to complete.
Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, many organizations are required to provide training on accessible customer service. A free Government of Ontario training resource is available.
The Government of Ontario and Curriculum Services Canada have developed AccessForward, free training resources for organizations to use to meet requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation under the AODA.
Working Together: Understanding the Code and AODA Together
The Ontario Human Rights Code and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) accessibility standards are laws that work together to promote equality and accessibility in Ontario. The Code says people with disabilities must be free from discrimination where they work, live, and receive services, and their needs must be accommodated. The goal of the AODA is for Ontario to be accessible by 2025, by removing and preventing barriers so that people with disabilities can take part more fully in communities. As part of the AODA, the Government of Ontario is developing and enforcing mandatory province-wide accessibility standards in key areas of daily life. The first regulation under the AODA was the Customer Service Standard. The next three standards – Information and Communications, Employment and Transportation – are contained in one regulation called the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation or IASR for short.
The Code has primacy. This means that it overrides the AODA and other provincial laws when there is a conflict. In fact, the AODA states that if there’s a conflict between it and any other Act or regulation, the law offering the higher level of accessibility comes first.
The Code and the AODA are both provincial laws, so they don’t apply to the federal government and federally-regulated organizations like banks, airlines, and interprovincial transportation companies – these are covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Under the Code, when a person with a disability needs accommodation, there is a duty to accommodate. This means organizations may need to provide an individualized response to an accommodation request. For example, employers must consider disability-related accommodation requests and provide timely accommodation, from recruiting and hiring through to retirement or dismissal. The Code applies to all Ontario organizations regardless of type and size. This includes “owner-operator” organizations without employees. It also covers volunteers and unpaid workers.
The AODA sets accessibility standards that organizations must meet. The human rights principles of the Code help to inform and guide how AODA standards are to be met. The AODA standards apply to all organizations (public, private, and not-for-profit) with one or more employees in Ontario. Requirements depend on an organization’s type and size. The AODA standards don’t limit or replace the requirements of the Code or any other law. Meeting AODA standards doesn’t guarantee that an organization has met Code requirements or that it won’t receive human rights complaints, but it may lower the risk of complaints.
Discrimination Takes Many Forms
Discrimination can happen in a direct, overt way, for example, when someone is specifically excluded because of their mental health disability or addiction. For example, a landlord who does not rent an apartment to someone with a mental health disability or addiction because they think the person will not take care of their apartment or pay their rent is discriminating “directly”. “Indirect discrimination” is discrimination carried out through another person or organization. For example, a building manager tells her superintendent not to rent to people with mental health disabilities or addictions because they think they will not pay rent. Both the manager and the superintendent could be named in a human rights claim.
Discrimination can also happen when people are singled out for greater scrutiny, or treated as a security risk to other people based on stereotypes about their disability, not on “reasonable grounds.” This is called “mental health profiling.” Harassment is when someone shows a vexatious (which means distressing or annoying) pattern of doing or saying something based on a person’s mental health or addiction disability that they know, or ought to know, is unwelcome. An example is an employee who experiences name-calling about their disability from another employee. Discrimination does not have to be intentional. It can also take place in more subtle ways. Sometimes rules, standards, policies or requirements that seem neutral may actually have an “adverse effect” on people who have mental health or addiction disabilities. For example, a landlord that turns down rental applicants who cannot give a recent reference from a past landlord may discriminate against people with mental health disabilities who have spent time in hospital.
A person’s mental health or addiction disability needs to be only one factor in the treatment they received to be able to show that discrimination took place.
Under the Code, employers, housing and service providers must make sure their organizations are free from discrimination and harassment. Organizations must take steps to address negative attitudes, stereotypes and stigma to make sure they do not lead to discriminatory behavior toward people with mental health disabilities or addictions. Employers must recruit, hire, train and employ employees without discrimination based on disability or other Human Rights Code grounds. Landlords and housing providers cannot deny housing to someone because they have a mental health or addiction disability. Housing providers must work with the tenant to accommodate their disability before any steps are taken towards eviction. It is important to know that a landlord or housing provider cannot deny housing to someone because they have a mental health or addiction disability.
The Ontario Human Rights Code also recognizes that people may experience discrimination based on multiple grounds at the same time. A person’s experience of discrimination is often linked to the compounding effects of multiple grounds. Based on their unique combination of identities, people may be exposed to particular forms of discrimination and may experience significant personal pain and social harm that come from such acts of discrimination. For example, a young Black man living with bipolar disorder can be seen as a “person with a disability,” a “Black person,” a “young person,” and as a “man” and is protected under the grounds of disability, race, age and gender. He may be exposed to discrimination based on any of the grounds of disability, race and/or colour, age, and gender on their own. However, he may also be exposed to discrimination on intersecting grounds because he is a “young Black man with mental health disabilities,” based on the various assumptions and/or stereotypes that are uniquely associated with this socially significant intersection.
A person identified by multiple grounds may experience disadvantage that is compounded by the presence of each of the grounds. For example, research confirms that older persons and persons with disabilities face higher unemployment rates. As well, members of racialized groups are more likely to be underemployed. Therefore, an older African Canadian person who is developing a disability will likely face compounded disadvantage when looking for work.