Job accommodation case study

Position Background:

Paul works as a Trainer for a local high-tech company. His primary role is designing and delivering workshops; training courses; webinars and on-line learning.  He also has a range of associated administrative tasks, including for example, needs assessments; identifying annual company-wide education requirements; coordinating enrolment; booking and setting up the training room; working with equipment; carrying out evaluations, and ensuring continuous learning throughout the company.

Employee Profile:

Paul has been off work recovering from an acquired brain injury over the past five months.  On the advice of his doctor, he is now preparing to return to work.

He has contacted his employer to request job accommodation.

Note: This step should happen pre-return to work.  

Employer Profile: 

Sandra is the HR Manager and is the designated person responsible for handling requests for job accommodation.  She received the call from Paul and has asked him to complete the form which officially requests job accommodation.

Paul confirmed that he would bring the form in when they meet.

Sandra asked what a good time would be for him to come into the office to discuss his request.  An in-person meeting has been set up.

At the Meeting:

Paul arrived for the meeting feeling somewhat uncertain about how the process was going to proceed.

Sandra observes that Paul seems to be nervous.  She does her best to put him at ease.
“It’s nice to see you Paul, how have things been going?  We miss you around here”

As they begin to talk about how things have been going, Paul’s apprehension lessens and he tells Sandra that he has brought the Return to Work Accommodation Request Form with him.

He hands the form to Sandra.

Next Steps:  

Sandra thanks Paul for taking the time to complete the form.

She has taken a copy of the company Workplace Accommodation Policy and suggests that they review the policy and procedures.

The policy is reviewed in full.

KEY: This step will provide Sandra with an opportunity to:

  • Affirm the company’s commitment to providing reasonable accommodation
  • Advise Paul about his rights & responsibilities and establish any expectations
  • Hear from Paul and understand his main interests as related to the policy
  • Identify and document any future action items

KEY: This step will provide Paul with an opportunity to:

  • Ask any questions he may have about the provisions in the policy
  • Clarify the process
  • Learn about the employer and employee rights and responsibilities moving forward
  • Reassure him about his rights with respect to privacy and confidentiality, and the treatment of any medical information provided

Along with reviewing the Workplace Accommodation policy, are there other policies available to Paul that will support him with his return to work? For example:

  • Vacation Time
  • Sick Leave
  • Leave Sharing
  • Income Replacement through group benefits
  • A gradual return-to-work program
  • Job-sharing options
  • Employee Assistance Program

Are there any benefits available on a flexible and coordinated basis that will allow Paul to re-enter the workplace on a gradual basis, on reduced hours while at the same time allow him to receive a combination of his salary and group benefits on a temporary basis?  Additionally, are there any government and/or any other income replacement benefits available to Paul?

Outcome of Accommodation Policy Review:

  • Paul feels supported in the initial stage of the process and understands that this will be a shared responsibility.
  • Sandra has communicated critical information to Paul and has established a strong foundation to work from going forward.
  • Respect and trust are developed.

With the above ground-work, Sandra and Paul will next review the request for accommodation.

Sandra tells Paul that they will be taking a fifteen-minute break.


Before beginning the review, Sandra checks-in with Paul.  She asks him how he is doing and whether he would like to schedule a follow-up meeting for the review.

KEY: This step will allow some time for Paul to digest what has been discussed.  It will also provide him an opportunity to assess his energy level and his cognitive ability to continue on with the meeting.

Accommodation Request Review:

As the review of the Request for Accommodation proceeds, it’s agreed that both will take notes to ensure that any key points and/or follow-up action are tracked, with a date assigned, and whose responsibility it will be.

Together, they review the information contained in Paul’s request

Preliminary Action & Discussion:

When reviewing the form, Sandra also does so with a view to establishing:

  • If there is any information missing
  • If additional medical proof might be required
  • If a Vocational Assessment has been provided/or is needed
  • Other Stakeholders that may need to be involved in the process
  • On first review, if the accommodation request appears to be reasonable
  • If there are any red-flags/considerations that need to be noted/addressed
  • Other that may come up during the course of the discussion
  • Follow-up action items


Paul and Sandra identify any stakeholders that may need to be involved.  These individuals will be brought into the discussions following the preliminary meeting to review the request, and be part of the return to work plan.  They may include for example:

  • Paul’s Manager
  • Colleagues currently covering Paul’s job responsibilities
  • Union Representation – if applicable
  • Health & Safety Coordinator – if applicable
  • Medical documentation and/or other expert opinion
  • Vocational Rehabilitation provider
  • Other as may be required

Immediate Objectives/Details Required:  

  • When will Paul be returning to work?
  • Over what time-frame can a return to work plan be developed?
  • Is it necessary for Paul to be on-site to work through the plan and/or discuss any accommodation modifications?  Can this be handled through e-mails; conference call; other?
  • Review of Paul’s job duties. Will Paul be able to fulfill the duties of his role un-aided? If not, the extent to which an accommodation will be implemented.  Note: this may include umbrella modifications, for example noise reduction overall, as well as any task-specific modifications that may require support.  
  • How will any modifications be determined? Does the company have an EAP with a Vocational Rehabilitation provider? Where can Vocational Rehabilitation Assessment services be sourced?
  • What modifications may need to be made to Paul’s workload immediately? Take into account for example: energy levels; cognitive output and ability to multi-task; time management; working environment and conditions.
  • How will the hours of work be assessed and agreed to?
  • Would it be helpful for the Manager and Paul to have a separate meeting to discuss expectations around performance goals and if there may need to be any modifications to the employee/manager relationship.
  • Have a back-up plan developed to avoid any business interruption that may occur as a result of any unanticipated situations.  These will typically occur in the earlier stages of the return to work process, yet depending on the disability, can also move into the mid to long-term stages as well.
  • Set up a trial period to experiment, and assess progress; needs and requirements.
  • How often do we want to check-in to assess and monitor progress and make any adjustments to the accommodations as may be required?
  • What might some beneficial accommodations be for Paul?

Job accommodation process planning

Request for Job Accommodation

Important Considerations:

  • The employer should familiarize themselves with the Human Rights Legislation, Employment, and Accessibility Standards along with any other related laws that apply to their place of business and jurisdiction.
  • Health & Safety are of paramount concern.
  • Generally – the employee will request accommodation following a short or long-term disability based on the advice of a physician.  An employee can seek temporary accommodation that lasts a few weeks to allow them to ease back into normal duties. Or, if this is a permanent disability, the employee could request assignment to a different job, where reasonable.
  • The employer is entitled to receive sufficient notice to pursue accommodation assessment and in collaboration, set in place a proper return to work plan.
  • Keep the timing of the accommodation review in mind. Once the request has been received, it’s important to keep the process moving forward.
  • Be sure to maintain clear and accurate documentation through each step of the process including meeting dates; actions taken; dates agreed to; who will be involved; specific accommodation and any modifications provided; check-ins; concerns and solutions; assessment; progress and any adjustments where required. Overall, this will be a continuous process as the return to work unfolds.
  • Documentation is a key factor in the return to work plan. Not only will it provide key information about the steps and actions being agreed to, it will also provide valuable tracking information to ensure that the process is moving in the right direction.
  • Related to ABI and returning to work, ask the employee about the extent to which they would like to have the education and information provided to colleagues. When other staff members can support the employee with the return to work process, it will help them understand their colleague’s experiences and how the transition can be made smoother for them.
  • It’s not always apparent at first what needs the employee will have.  There may be a range of conditions that need to be addressed.  For example a brain injury could affect the way someone interacts with others; relationships may be challenged in the beginning as colleagues find their way; cognitive skills may be affected and/or how someone concentrates, learns, processes, and remembers things may be altered.
  • Remember that many job accommodations are inexpensive, or cost nothing at all.  Job accommodation can be based on flexible and creative solutions including for example, flexible work schedules, a gradual return to work; extra breaks; job training.  Some other examples may include:
    • Time off for medical appointments
    • Modified duties and responsibilities
    • Transfer to another position
    • Ergonomic assessment and modification of the work environment including larger or adapted screens; assistive devices, other as may be required.
  • Special consideration should be given to those staff members who are currently fulfilling the job.  As workload and schedules have changed within the department, so too have the day to day routines of those who have been assigned the work.
  • It’s important to meet with the Manager and these employees separately with Paul to advise that you are developing a return to work plan.  Their input and advice, along with the range of current projects and responsibilities being carried out will factor into the discussions.

Internal and External Colleagues & Other Staff-members:

Other groups to consider in the accommodation process are colleagues, other staff members and external clients.  While they may be participating and/or observing how the process unfolds, at the same time they may also be wondering:

  • What will this mean for me?
  • How will this affect me?
  • Is my workload going to increase?
  • Will my responsibilities increase?
  • Is it going to take longer to accomplish things now?
  • What’s it going to be like for our work relationship?
  • Will we be able to interact the same as before?
  • I’m a bit nervous, I’m not really sure what to expect
  • I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing
  • Who would I speak to if I’m having a problem with this?
  • Is there anything legal that I need to be aware of?
  • From my end, what can I do to make this a smooth transition?
  • Is there any information about brain injury that I can learn about beforehand?

It’s important to remember that workplace accommodation is for all. Yes, it’s for the employee returning to work. However the impacts of this can be far-reaching. Through open dialogue, and given that there are a range of shared interests throughout this process, any questions, concerns, or issues from colleagues and other staff members should be addressed.

It’s important to remind your employees about the company Workplace Accommodation Policy and as part of the return to work process, you will be discussing with the returning employee any options that may be available regarding training and education for others.

As the employer, you may wish to talk to your employee about hosting a lunch and learn series about Acquired Brain Injury. Individual staff members can also seek out supportive resources. Provincial and local brain injury associations are available across Canada and are ready to provide support, information, education, advocacy, and a variety of programs and services to those affected by an acquired brain injury. Connect with a brain injury association near you.

Encouraging yourself & others

When you are recovering from an acquired brain injury, energy levels can be low at certain times of the day. Because of this, you may need to prioritize your time and the activities that you engage in.

One important area to prioritize is making time for encouragement. Encouraging yourself and others is particularly valuable as you and others are navigating uncharted territory with your recovery and your plans to return to work. This step does not need to be time-consuming  or complicated. Be sure to carve out some time for this. Perhaps weekly you can make note of and acknowledge the things that have worked particularly well; something that generated a spark of anticipation or excitement; and/or a goal that you accomplished.

Just sit with your list and take a moment to encourage yourself. Did you go the extra mile with something that you thought you would not?  Make note of this. Think about others who have helped you this week. Take a moment to let them know how they helped you and the difference it made to you – be as specific as possible. By showing your appreciation to others, you are encouraging them to continue reaching out.  It also lets them know they are on the right track and it will encourage them to continue to provide assistance to support your efforts into the future.

As you are planning to return to work, it’s great that you can encourage yourself and others.  It’s a worthwhile endeavor, and the return on investment can be huge for all concerned! A brief phone call; a text; an e-mail; a written note or other ways to show your appreciation will go a long way.

So who can you encourage today?  

 Effective questions to move forward

There are a range of coaching models and techniques available today. Overall, the most effective are those that ask great questions. Effective questions can help to:

  • Get us thinking and reflecting
  • Help to clarify goals
  • Identify needs
  • Connect us to our strengths
  • Explore options
  • Provide a template for stakeholders to follow when working through a situation
  • Keep the dialogue/discussion on track
  • Focus on the possibilities, and much more

Whether in-person coaching, over the internet or phone, through self-reflection or partnering with a family member or friend, taking some time to reflect on the path forward can provide you with some clarity as you plan to return to work.

Following is a compilation of some questions that you can ask yourself and reflect on. You do not need to respond to all of these. Choose the ones that seem particularly applicable to you, and take some time to think about your answers. Should you want to, you can record your responses. This step can help you to track progress, develop accountability, and build your confidence overall.

Preparation and Identifying Strengths

  • In six months, if things were going exactly the way you want, what would you see?
  • What would be your next goal after you achieve your current one?
  • What would be the impact on you and others if you were able to return to work?
  • What is working well?  What has contributed to your success so far?
  • What might keep you from getting where you want to go?
  • What obstacles have you faced, what did you do, and what did you learn?
  • What obstacles do you expect to face?  How do you plan to approach them?
  • If a friend were in your shoes, what advice would you give them?
  • What is one step you could take right now that would indicate you were moving forward?

Goals and Options

  • Which is the most important thing you want to achieve?  Be specific
  • Why is this goal important to you?
  • What would achieving this feel like?
  • Which alternative ways might you achieve this?
  • What are the advantages and dis-advantages of each option?
  • Which is the best/most effective option?
  • How can you overcome any obstacles?
  • Is there anyone who can help you?
  • Which tasks need to be completed to achieve the goal?
  • What is your deadline?
  • When do you want to achieve each task?
  • What is the first step?
  • When can you complete this step?

Return to Work Planning

  • How would you describe the current reality?
  • What might be some concerns you may have?
  • Can you more fully describe your concerns?
  • What are a few options that you have in return to work planning?
  • If something is not working, what is a viable alternative?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages you see in this suggestion?
  • What will you commit to do by when?

Personal Reflection

  • Do I agree or disagree?
  • How could this be helpful?
  • How does this fit, contradict or extend what I already believe to be true?

Stakeholders Performance

  • How well did this conversation or meeting go?
  • What has the group done well to support the return to work process?
  • What could the group do better?
  • What are we not doing that we could be doing?
  • What actions are we going to take as a group next time that will improve our performance?

Forward Progress

  • How do you feel about your progress thus far?
  • What have you accomplished so far that you are most pleased with?
  • How would you describe the way you want your return to work to turn out?
  • What key things need to happen to achieve the objective?
  • What kind of support do you need to ensure success?

Return to work definitions

Human Rights Legislation: Individuals have the right to be treated fairly in workplaces free from discrimination, and our country has laws and programs to protect this right.  Human rights legislation exists in every province, territory and in the federal jurisdiction.

In general, both federal and provincial human rights law prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment.

Protected Ground: In general, Human Rights in Canada prohibit actions that discriminate against people based on a protected ground in a protected social area. Some examples of a protected ground include gender; citizenship; age; marital status; place of origin and disability.

Some examples of a protected social area include services; facilities; housing and employment.

Disability is a protected ground and employment is a protected social area. It’s important to note that grounds of discrimination vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction. The current human rights legislation for your location and the business you work in should be checked.

Disability: Defining disability is a complex, evolving matter. The term “disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions. A disability means any degree of physical disability or mental disability, regardless of cause or duration.  A basic definition of disability includes conditions that have developed over time, those that result from an accident, or have been present from birth.  It can be permanent, temporary or episodic, and includes physical, mental and learning disabilities.  Disability can steadily worsen, remain the same, or improve.  A disability can be visible or invisible.

Episodic Disability: Episodic disabilities are conditions that are characterized by periods of good health interrupted by periods of illness or disability. These periods may vary in severity, length and predictability from one person to another.
Episodic disabilities are periodic – the episodes of illness come and go – but because they are also unpredictable, they can often lead to intermittent work capacity and require additional planning with regard to employment.

Invisible Disability: Disabilities can come in many different forms.  An invisible disability is just as life-affecting as a visible one.  However they’re not as talked about and as easily understood. An invisible disability is a disability that is not immediately noticeable. They can include brain injuries, chronic pain, mental illness, gastro-intestinal disorders, and many more. Because they’re not obvious to spot, invisible disabilities may be overlooked and misunderstood. Unfortunately, this can lead to discrimination or exclusion of those with a non-visible disability.

Discrimination: Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group unequally and unfairly for reasons based on their actual or perceived association and/or belonging to a certain group or social category.  Discrimination restricts members of one group from opportunities or privileges that are available to another group, leading to the exclusion of the individual.

The practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have a disability.

Employment and Accessibility: Accessibility is about creating communities, workplaces and services that enable everyone to participate fully in society without barriers. The Government of Canada and many provinces and territories are currently working towards making Canada a more inclusive, barrier-free country.

Provinces including Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia have put laws and legislation in place that include standards and mandatory compliance dates and many provinces are planning to enact their own accessibility legislation in the up-coming years.
In recent years, most recently in May of 2019, disability-specific laws have been emerging to make it clearer what needs to be done to ensure that people with disabilities are not treated unfairly.

Job Accommodation and Duty to Accommodate: Job accommodation is a way of helping employees work more effectively by overcoming limitations caused by a disability.  Usually, accommodations are easy to implement, inexpensive, and demonstrate a commitment to a healthier, more equitable workplace.

Employers have a duty to accommodate employees with a disability, to the point of undue hardship.

Depending on the jurisdiction of your place of employment, the duty to accommodate will be regulated either by Federal, Provincial or Territorial legislation.

Employment Law : Employment law in Canada generally refers to the law governing the relationship of an individual employee to an employer. It is concerned mainly with wrongful dismissal, and it deals with minimum labour standards, human rights, occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation.

Most workers in Canada – about 90 percent – are protected by the employment laws of their province or territory. The other 10% of Canadian employees work in places that are federally regulated.   If so, your employment is governed by the Canada Labour Code.

Labour Law:Labour Law is the law of unionized collective bargaining relationships.

Employment Standards: Hours of work, minimum wages, sick days, vacation and severance provisions as well as many more, are covered by Employment Standards. These are the minimum standards established by law that define and guarantee rights in the workplace.

Federally regulated businesses are governed by Federal Labour Standards while other businesses are governed by provincial and territorial standards.

Employment Contract: An employment contract is a written legal document that sets out binding terms and conditions of an employment relationship between an employee and an employer.

Workplace Policies : A workplace policy is a formal policy which is instituted by the management or owners of a business. Workplace policies should be clearly written up in employee handbooks, a personnel manual or by providing notices.

An employee may be required to sign a document indicating that they have received and read through the policy and that they understand and accept it.
A set of policies are principles, rules, and guidelines formulated and adopted by an organization to reach its long-term goals and typically is a published document and/or is in some other format that is widely accessible.

Policies and procedures are designed to influence and determine all major decisions and actions, and all activities take place within the boundaries set by them.

Procedures are the specific methods employed to express policies in action in day-to-day operations of the organization.

Human rights & employment standards in Canada

As a Canadian, your human rights are protected by federal, provincial and territorial laws.

Human rights describe how we instinctively expect to be treated as persons.  Human rights define what we are all entitled to – a life of equality, dignity, respect, and a life free from discrimination. You do not have to earn your human rights. You are born with them. They are the same for every person.  Nobody can give them to you. But they can be taken away.” Canadian Human Rights Commission

Human rights laws are in place to protect against discrimination in protected areas such as gender, citizenship, age, place of origin and disability, as well as protections in services, facilities housing and employment.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Canada, the following are some examples of discriminatory acts that could be accepted as a discrimination complaint.

  • If you go to a federally regulated organization and you are denied goods, services, facilities or accommodation.
  • If you are provided with goods, services, facilities or accommodation in a way that treats you differently and adversely.
  • If you are refused employment or you are fired from your job or are being treated unfairly in the workplace in a discriminatory fashion.
  • If the company or organization is following policies or practices that deprive people of employment opportunities.
  • If you are a woman and are being paid differently when you are doing work of the same value.
  • If you have been the victim of retaliation because you have filed a complaint with the Commission or because you have helped someone else file a complaint.
  • If you have been the victim of harassment.

It must be noted that not every situation where you think you have been treated unfairly is considered a human rights violation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission has a detailed Frequently Asked Question page, which can be helpful in determining what would fall under a human rights violation and the process for lodging a complaint.

Provincial and territorial human rights

Provincial and territorial human rights laws share many similarities with the Canadian Human Rights Act and apply many of the same principles. They protect people from discrimination in areas such as restaurants, stores, schools, housing and most workplaces. If you are not working in or accessing services from the federal government, First Nations governments or private companies that are regulated by the federal government, these laws will apply.

Use this template for tracking advocacy calls.

The following list of provincial and territorial human rights contacts can give you more information for your region: