The Line Between “Reasonable Accommodations” & “Undue Hardship”

September 3rd, 2013 by Dan Stone

One of the pivotal issues surrounding employment law is the concept of “undue hardship.”  Under most jurisdictions in Canada, employers are required to accommodate employees unless doing so would result in “undue hardship” to the employer. But what exactly does “undue hardship” mean? The concept will vary in each case and depending on the circumstances and various factors which include: cost of the possible accommodation, employee morale and mobility, and the prospect of interference with other employee’s rights.

The Line Between “Reasonable Accommodations” & “Undue Hardship”In the recent case, Hamilton Health Sciences v. Ontario Nurses’ Association, Ms. Jennifer Pringle, a registered nurse, worked for her employer since 1984. She suffered various injuries and had been on long term disability (“LTD”) until she was advised by her insurer that her benefits expired and that she could return to work with some restrictions. The dispute arose at this time as Ms. Pringle sought to be compensated for her lost wages for the period between the expiry of her LTD benefits, where she had no or a reduced income, until she returned to her full time employment.

Ms. Pringle’s union asserted that her employer could and should have accommodated her by reassigning her to a position that was less physical and primarily administrative. Yet, the Arbitrator deemed the “bedside and emergency patient care requirements expected of a Team Leader constitute[d] essential duties of the job,” even though these duties only accounted for 5% of the overall job. Therefore, because she could not perform this role, the hospital would be required to schedule and pay an extra employee to cover that 5%. The Arbitrator found that this accommodation went beyond “reasonable accommodations” and into the realm of “undue hardship.”

Employers are not required to accommodate employees to the extent of hiring another employee specifically for assisting the disabled employee in performing their essential job duties.  This seems harsh to most employees, but provides a clear example of the line between a “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship.”

For a full link to the decision, click here

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