Skip sub navigation

Reasonable accommodation

Every employer has what is called a "duty to accommodate" disabilities, including mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, in the workplace.

This means that there is a legal obligation to proactively eliminate employment standards, practices or requirements that discriminate against any staff member on the basis of a number of criteria, including disability.

The employer may be required to do everything possible to the point of undue hardship - which can be a very high standard - to meet that obligation. If this is left too late, bridges may have been burnt and the vital requirements for trust and goodwill damaged.

Making Reasonable Adjustments for a Member of the University with a Disability or Health Condition procedure. The University is committed to providing reasonable adjustments to the workplace and/or working arrangements for staff members with disability so that they can undertake their work effectively.

Flexible Working Arrangements Procedure. The University is committed to providing equitable access to employment opportunities, and provides flexible work arrangements to accommodate the responsibilities of staff members as parents and carers.

Managing Accommodation Free scenario based online training for managers.

Thinking about accommodation

Thinking about accommodation

What are some strategies or considerations when thinking about accommodation?

  • Strive to create an atmosphere in which employees are comfortable discussing the issues that prevent them from being productive at work. This can include information about the organization's accommodation policy and procedures for keeping personal information confidential.
  • Assume that an employee's request for accommodation is made in good faith so that you can go forward even as you await supporting documentation. This allows a more positive process than delaying until evidence is submitted.
  • Collaborate with the employee, and experts if necessary, to explore all reasonable accommodation solutions.
  • Maintain records of the request and steps taken to deal with the request.
  • Respect the confidentiality of the information provided by the employee.
  • Respond to accommodation requests in a timely manner.
  • Require the employee to provide only that information which is necessary to develop an appropriate accommodation.
  • Respond to the need for accommodation even if requests are not made in a formal manner or using the term "accommodation."
  • Pay the costs related to accommodation, including any medical certificates required.
  • Ensure that managers are aware of their obligation to prevent an employee from being harassed in the workplace because of their disability. Accommodation should be done in a way that does not subject the employee to ridicule. The employee should also be assured that the organization will not tolerate any form of harassment.
  • Ensure that progressive performance management processes are in place to identify and assist employees prior to their behaviours or performance leading to a disciplinary action.

The employee should:

  • Tell the employer that they require accommodation because of a disability and, to the greatest extent possible, set out the type of accommodation needed. The employee does not have to advise the employer as to the specific diagnosis of the disability, but they do have to provide enough information so that the employer can understand the accommodation needed.
  • If requested, provide supporting documentation from a health care provider or other qualified person in order to assist the employer in developing an appropriate accommodation. This documentation should include the fact that the employee has a valid disability requiring accommodation, the workplace-related limitations resulting from the disability and the prognosis for recovery.
  • Work with the employer (and union, where applicable) to develop an appropriate accommodation. This includes working with any experts the employer has retained to assist with the accommodation.
  • Meet all relevant job requirements and standards once the accommodation has been provided.
  • Continue to work with the employer to ensure the accommodation remains effective.
  • Advise the employer when the accommodation is no longer required.


What kinds of accommodation are people with a mental illness likely to need?

Accommodations are based on the unique needs of an individual employee, in his or her particular position, as well as on the resources available to the employer. There is no "one size-fits-all" solution. In some instances, one work unit will be unable to provide the same type of accommodation as another. In most cases, accommodations for a mental disability are inexpensive and involve workplace flexibility rather than capital expenditures.

Common accommodations for people with a mental disability include the following:

Flexible scheduling

  • Flexibility in the start or end of working hours to accommodate effects of medication or for medical appointments
  • Part-time or split shifts
  • More frequent breaks
  • Graduated return to work if the employee is on sick leave

 Changes in supervision

  • Modifying the way instructions and feedback are given. For example, written instructions may help an employee focus on tasks.
  • Having brief weekly meetings (10 minutes or so) between the supervisor and employee may help to deal with problems before they become serious. Make these a time to check on how the employee is doing and to see if they feel the accommodation is allowing them to succeed at work.

Changes in training

  • Allowing extra time to learn tasks
  • Allowing the person to attend training courses that are individualized

Modifying job duties

  • Assigning minor tasks to other employees. For example, if an employee requires accommodation for obsessive-compulsive disorder and grows anxious if they are exposed to germs, you might assign another worker to take their shift cleaning the kitchen if this is not an essential part of their job.
  • Exchanging tasks with other employees that maintain the balance of work while capitalizing on the strengths of each worker. An example might be one employee taking on more of the telephone calls while another takes on more of the correspondence.

While we strongly recommend supporting your employee to come up with the particular accommodation that will be allow them to do their job successfully, what follows are suggestions shared by successful employees who also have mental illnesses. They are categorized by the particular challenge the employee may be experiencing:

If the challenge is maintaining stamina:

  • Vary tasks throughout the day
  • Provide more opportunities to learn new responsibilities
  • Allow a self-paced workload
  • Supportive employment services or work coach
  • Do some or all of the work from home
  • Job-sharing
  • Change to part-time work
  • Provide back up for regular breaks
  • Take more frequent breaks
  • Take longer breaks

If the challenge is concentration:

  • Remove all but essential functions of job
  • Play soothing music
  • Break large tasks into a series of smaller tasks
  • Take a break when concentration declines
  • Increase natural lighting in your work area

If the challenge is organization and/or deadlines:

  • Use an electronic organizer - to keep track of to-do list and mark off items as completed
  • Break large tasks into a series of smaller tasks
  • Ask for regular reminders from your supervisor
  • Arrange regular meetings for follow-up and to set priorities

If the challenge is memory:

  • Use any recording devices (e.g. digital recorder) to keep track of information discussed at a meeting
  • Write down important or complicated issues
  • Ask for instructions in writing
  • Ask for assignments in writing
  • Ask for additional training time

If the challenge is working relationships:

  • Outline clear expectations
  • Define what constitutes good working relationships
  • Have regular meetings to review and address issues
  • Ask for open and honest feedback in a prompt manner
  • Develop strategies to deal with problems before they arise
  • Look at possible or previous issues - consider a way to address for each party
  • Ask for correspondence in writing
  • Ask for clear expectations and the clear consequences for not meeting them
  • Ask for written work agreements
  • Develop a procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of each accommodation
  • Think about how to measure effectiveness - i.e. deadlines met, no outbursts, etc.
  • Explain to employees (or have your supervisor explain) about the accommodation
  • Allow the option of not attending work related social functions

If the challenge is handling stress and emotions:

  • Outline clear expectations
  • Seek help from counsellors or Employee Assistance Program
  • Ask employer to provide praise and positive reinforcement
  • Allow time off to attend counselling sessions or medical appointments
  • Allow phone calls to doctors or others to gain necessary support during the workday
  • Provide awareness training for employees on mental illness

If the challenge is dealing with change:

  • Let your employer/supervisor know that you will feel anxious when a change is introduced
  • Ask to be informed in advance of changes, if possible, so that you can prepare yourself psychologically
  • Ask to maintain communication with a previous supervisor to ensure effective transition
  • Ask for regular meetings to discuss work-related problems with your supervisor

As a supervisor, you need to find out what it is that you do that is considered supportive to the employee and what it is that you do that may inadvertently make their symptoms worse.

An understanding of phrases or actions that should be avoided and processes or interactions that are helpful, can go a long way to increasing both your own comfort level and the success of the employee's return to productivity.

Last updated:
Page custodian: Human Resources Division