Are You Being (Fairly) Served? The Ministry's Duty to Accommodate


Zoë Macmillan

In British Columbia, the Human Rights Code ensures individuals are protected against discrimination in their day-to-day lives. The Code applies to businesses, agencies and service providers in BC.

Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently and poorly because of their personal characteristics. However, discrimination can also occur when everyone is treated equally, regardless of their abilities. To address this unfairness, the concept of the “duty to accommodate” exists. The duty to accommodate is a form of rights protection not contained in the Code, but developed through a series of legal decisions.

Accommodation attempts to eliminate policies and practices that adversely affect some people due to personal characteristics protected under the Code; characteristics such as disability, sex, religion, etc. Service providers, such as the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, are bound by this duty to accommodate. The law says that when a policy or practice has adverse consequences on an individual, service providers should reasonably accommodate that individual’s difference, provided they can do so without incurring undue hardship. A service provider may be excused from their obligation to accommodate only where it has a reasonable justification, made in good faith, for not accommodating an individual’s needs. 

In their “Individualized Case Management” policies and procedures, the Ministry both acknowledges and sets out their accommodation obligations. However, at TAPS we frequently see a disconnect between these policies and actual practices. Although relevant in all aspects of Ministry service delivery, we at TAPS notice an enormous need for accommodation during eligibility audits and investigations. Clients are asked to provide multiple bank statements, rental receipts, past employment details. Those with cognitive impairments or anxiety disorders experience disproportionate negative effects when faced with such requests. The manner in which information is requested, often with strict timelines and with the threat of benefits being withheld, is sufficient to cause debilitating mental and physical strain. Many individuals come to TAPS seeking assistance because they simply cannot cope with the process due to their disabilities. In such instances, advocates contact Ministry investigators to remind them of the Ministry’s duty to accommodate, and provide recommendations for doing so.

If you feel you are being adversely impacted by Ministry policies or practices, you can request accommodation. Some examples might include:

  • requesting all information in writing
  • asking for help obtaining documents
  • getting additional time to provide information
  • accessing an interpreter due to language and communication barriers
  • requesting a designated worker to meet your unique needs.

The Ministry is not obliged to adopt the specific accommodation you request. However, they must work with you to find the best solution that addresses your needs to the point of undue hardship. Failure to do so is grounds for complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.