National Human Rights and Accommodation Conference

Day 1 – Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Headlines in Human Rights: Major caselaw and legislative update
In this session, seasoned experts will review the most important legal developments of the past year and flag significant litigation and legislative reform on the horizon. Topics to be addressed include major remedial awards from human rights tribunals, the latest cases on the extent of the duty to accommodate and undue hardship, and the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on adverse-effect discrimination in pension plans. Final selection of topics will take place in the weeks leading up to the conference, ensuring coverage of the latest and most important developments.

Under the Influence: An update on substance use and impairment in the workplace
Impairment caused by substances including alcohol, cannabis, prescription medications, and illicit drugs is one of the most significant challenges faced by employers and unions in attempting to balance the responsibility to provide a safe workplace against the duty to accommodate workers with substance use disorders. While the duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship is not in question, the caselaw regarding how it is to be carried out in practice continues to evolve, with workplace parties often struggling to correctly apply the general principles to their own situations. In this panel, leading advocates and a subject matter expert will examine the lessons learned from the latest decisions of courts, arbitrators, and human rights tribunals involving the accommodation of substance use disorders.

Day 2 – Thursday, May 20, 2021
Walking the Talk: Combatting systemic racism through everyday allyship
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exposed long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in health, the death of George Floyd in police custody ignited worldwide anti-racism protests and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. These events have generated widespread awareness of systemic racism and its effects, especially with respect to Black and Indigenous communities, and anti-racist initiatives have consequently garnered unprecedented levels of public support. While leaders work to dismantle systemic racism within their organizations, many individuals outside of leadership roles have felt unsure about what they can do to contribute on a personal level. In this session, experts will explore concrete steps that individuals can take to become allies in combatting systemic racism and advancing racial equity both within and beyond the workplace.

This Changes Everything: Accommodation in the wake of COVID-19
Rules put in place to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 have required many workplaces to institute alternative work arrangements — such as work from home — that have created new and different accommodation needs for employees with family care obligations or disabilities. As workers begin returning to the office, new workplace rules and practices related to COVID-19 and vaccination may trigger even more novel requests for accommodation related to disability, family status, religion, creed, or political belief. In this session, leading human rights lawyers will provide an update on how adjudicators and workplace parties themselves have resolved current and emerging COVID-related accommodation disputes so far. Final selection of cases to be discussed will take place a few weeks before the conference to ensure that we capture the latest developments.

Workshops – Tuesday, May 25, 2021 & Thursday, May 27, 2021
Day One and Two – Mental Health Disabilities at Work: A practical guide for employers and unions
The human and economic toll of mental health disorders is staggering. American studies suggest that nearly one in two people will meet the criteria for a mental health disorder in their lifetime. In any given year, one in five Canadian adults will develop a serious mental health problem, and mental health problems are rated as one of the top three drivers of both short- and long-term disability claims by more than 80 percent of Canadian employers. Early evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation much worse; one recently published study found that since the onset of the pandemic, the percentage of Canadians reporting extremely high anxiety quadrupled, and nearly twice as many Canadians reported being depressed.

Managers, supervisors, union representatives, and other labour relations professionals will leave this session prepared to promote mental well-being in the workplace, support employees who are mentally unwell, and fulfill the legal obligation to accommodate employees experiencing mental health problems.