By Jennifer Mathers McHenry and Lesley Campbell
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA” or “the Act”) became law on June 13, 2005, but has been and continues to be phased in over time with the Ontario government mandating that all businesses in the province must be accessible for persons with disabilities no later than 2025.
We are now a mere seven years from the government’s goal of a fully accessible Ontario. The phase-in has been great for smaller businesses as it has offered smaller operations time to make necessary adjustments, including planning accessible renovations and physical upgrades, and drafting new inclusive policies. However, the phase-in of the Act’s requirements has also lulled many small business owners into a false sense of security that the requirements established in the Act have either already been fulfilled or do not apply to them.
This is not at all the case. The AODA applies to all businesses in Ontario that have even one employee (including part-time, seasonal or contract employees). In fact, as of January 1, 2017, employers with fewer than 50 employees now have a series of compliance requirements relating to five mandatory “Standards” as set out in the AODA, namely:
- Customer Service Standard;
- Information and Communication Standard;
- Employment Standard;
- Transportation Standard; and
- Design of Public Spaces Standard.
Notably, as of January 1, 2017 (and in some cases prior), employers with one or more employees have AODA-driven requirements relating to staff performance management, hiring practices, staff information and supports for employees with disabilities, accessible communication, training of staff relating to customers with disabilities and the Ontario law applicable to persons with disabilities, and accessibility of the business’s publically available information.
To allow monitoring and ensure compliance, the Act mandates the periodic submission of an Accessibility Compliance Report to the Ontario government, and the failure to file this report can lead to enforcement procedures including fines, inspections, and other penalties. In case the idea of filing a report advising that your business has not lived up to the legal requirements established by the AODA doesn’t, in and of itself, leave you out in the cold, here are some numbers that will: the AODA affords the Ontario government the ability to fine businesses for non-compliance with the Act. The maximum fine for a corporation or organization is $100,000 per day, while directors and officers can personally be fined up to $50,000 per day.
While we don’t yet know what specific acts (or inaction) on the part of a business would attract such large sums, the prudent business or employer shouldn’t risk being the test case. Speak to a lawyer about getting help to ensure that your business is and will continue to be AODA compliant, and do it soon.
About the authors:
Jennifer Mathers McHenry is a Partner in the Colson Group at Teplitsky Colson LLP. She and her team regularly advise employees and employers with respect to all aspects of the employer/employee relationship including: offers of employment, human rights obligations, changes of control, M & A, executive and other compensation issues, resignations, terminations of employment, constructive dismissals, and post-employment fiduciary and contractual obligations. Jennifer is a skilled litigator and negotiator with a business-minded and practical approach that is designed to help her clients achieve their goals, mitigate their risks, and most importantly, succeed in their work or business life.
Lesley Campbell is a recent graduate of the University of Windsor Law School, and she is currently completing her articles at Teplitsky Colson LLP.