Proposed Changes to the AODA Customer Service Standard

Last year, proposed changes to the Customer Service Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”), were made available for public comment. A finalized version of these proposed changes has now been released. The purpose of many of the changes is to streamline the Customer Service Standard with the Integrated Accessibility Standard (which includes the Information and Communication Standard, the Employment Standard, the Transportation Standard and the Design of Public Spaces Standard).  We have summarized some of the notable changes below.

Definition of Obligated Organizations:

We were curious why there were different definitions of obligated organizations under the Customer Service Standard and the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. For our clients, this has been most pertinent in relation to the thresholds for large and small employers. Depending on the number of employees and nature (public or private) of an organization, the requirements and timelines under the AODA will differ.

Under the Customer Service Standard, private sector employers with under 20 employees are subject to lesser requirements. Most notably, these employers do not need to prepare their policies in writing and do not need to file an Accessibility Report. Under the Integrated Accessibility Standard, the threshold for a small organization is under 50 employees, and this applies to both the public sector and the private sector.  Small organizations under the Integrated Accessibility Regulation are also subject to different timelines and in some instances lesser requirements.

The proposed changes seek to adopt the definitions in the Integrated Accessibility Standard, which means that the threshold for a small organization under the Customer Service Standard would be one with under 50 employees. In our view, harmonizing the definitions of various obligated organizations between the two Accessibility Regulations makes sense, as it provides consistency between the two regulations.

Service Animals

The proposed changes seek to clarify the service animal provisions of the Customer Service Standard. Currently, an animal is considered a “service animal” where it is readily apparent that the animal is used by a person for reasons related to his or her disability. If it is not readily apparent, the person may be required to provide a letter from a physician or a nurse confirming that the animal is required for reasons related to disability.

The final proposed changes provide that an animal would be considered a service animal if:

  • The person provides third party certification that their service animal has been trained to provide assistance that relates to that person’s disability; or
  • It is readily identifiable that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to their disability; or
  • The person provides documentation from a regulated health professional confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to their disability.

This broadens the scope of the definition to allow a person to provide evidence in the form of a third party certificate pertaining to the animal’s training. It also provides that the animal may be considered a service animal if it is readily identifiable (instead of readily apparent), which seems to be a subtle change. Finally, it allows a person with a disability to provide proof in the form of documentation (which could be a letter or other documentation like a form), not only from a nurse or physician, but from any “regulated health professional”.

Support Persons

Currently under the Customer Service Standard, an organization may require a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person where it is necessary to protect the health and safety of the person with a disability or others on the premises. The final proposed changes seek to clarify when an organization may require a support person for health and safety reasons. It adds the requirement to consult with the person with a disability, and that a support person can only be required where it is the only means of allowing the person to be on the premises while fulfilling the organization’s health and safety obligations.  These more stringent requirements have been added to avoid organizations acting on assumptions about when a person with a disability may need a support person.

Training for Staff

The Customer Service Standard requires that organizations ensure that training has been provided to all persons who deal with members of the public or other third parties on the organization’s behalf (which includes employees, volunteers and contractors), and all persons who participate in the development of the organization’s policies. This means that employees and volunteers who do not deal with members of the public or other third parties do not need to be trained. The final proposed changes will require all employees and volunteers to be trained, regardless whether they deal with customers or other third parties.

What employers should know

These changes have not yet been implemented. However, if the Customer Service Standard is amended, employers will need to revisit their AODA policies to ensure that they are compliant. This will likely require organizations to revise their Customer Service policies and to train employees on the changes. Most importantly, employers will need to ensure that all employees and volunteers receive the Customer Service training, not just those who have contact with customers.

At the 2015 Ontario employment law conference, employment lawyer Jessica Young will provide you with an in depth look at these proposed changes to the AODA Customer Service Standard and other important AODA compliance considerations.  The session includes tips on:

  • The requirements that apply to the Employment Standard,
  • The requirements that apply to the Design of Public Spaces Standard, and
  • Future reporting obligations.

This blog was first published on First Reference Talks.

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