Duty to Inquire Series | An Employers Rights and Responsibilities
In part two of our Duty to Inquire Series, we look at the employer’s Duty to Accommodate and Duty to Inquire. If you missed the introduction post to this series, click here [URL] to get caught up.
As employers, it is our responsibility to create an inclusive and supportive work environment for all our employees. In British Columbia, addiction and substance use disorders are recognized as disabilities under the B.C. Human Rights Code, entitling affected employees to specific protections and accommodations. However, it’s important to note that our duty to accommodate doesn’t solely depend on employees self-disclosing their disabilities. A critical aspect that demands our attention is the duty to inquire – a human rights concept that compels us to proactively address potential accommodation needs even when employees remain silent about their struggles.
The duty to accommodate arises when we, as employers, know or should reasonably know that an employee requires accommodation. This means that the burden doesn’t solely rest on the employees approaching us with their needs; instead, it’s also our responsibility to take proactive steps in understanding and supporting our team members.
A red flag that may trigger the duty to inquire is when an employee’s behavior significantly shifts from their usual patterns. For instance, if an employee with a history of perfect attendance suddenly starts showing up late or missing work altogether, it is essential to consider whether an underlying disability, such as a substance use disorder, could be influencing these changes.
However, approaching these conversations requires sensitivity and care. We should focus on addressing the problematic behavior while inquiring about the employee’s well-being, rather than making assumptions or accusations. Offering information about available support resources, such as an employee assistance plan, can demonstrate our commitment to their overall well-being.
Should the inquiry suggest a potential disability, like a substance use disorder, we must be prepared to seek additional information to assess the specific accommodation requirements. Ensuring that employees’ privacy rights are respected throughout this process is of utmost importance.
Beyond fulfilling our legal obligations, this approach can create a sense of trust and support, encouraging employees to come forward with their challenges and seek the assistance they may need.
This series is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.