The University has a legal duty to provide accommodations to members with disabilities – whether chronic, episodic, or temporary – to reduce or eliminate barriers faced in the workplace. This duty arises from their obligations under the BC Human Rights Code and applies to all faculty, regardless of their employment status.

Accommodations are different from short term medical leaves, but can also include such leaves, either at a full time or part time basis. If you need less than 6 months away from work and do not require a gradual return to work or any further modifications of your duties, you can follow the process set out in Policy HR4, which is available here:

Accessing an accommodation should be a simple process, but it can take time. If you would like assistance, a member of our Professional Labour Relations Staff (Membership Services Officers or ‘MSOs’) can help walk you through the steps and advocate for your rights to a fair and reasonable modification of your work and/or the services, tools, and technologies you may need. Please contact us at [email protected] to be put in touch with one of our MSOs.

Requesting an accommodation

Some accommodations are simple and can be handled directly by your Department Head. These might include a short-term medical leave, changes to your teaching schedule, or allowance to attend meetings virtually. Other accommodations, particularly those that involve a change to your workload or the provision of University resources, are managed by the Stay At Work/Return to Work Office (SAW/RTW) on the Vancouver Campus (website available here: or the Workplace Reintegration and Accommodation Program (WRAP) on the Okanagan Campus (website available here:

Both the SAW/RTW offices and the WRAP program are housed in Human Resources. Their role is to collect and assess medical information from physicians and other medical professionals and develop accommodation plans for the University in collaboration with you and the FA (if you have asked for representation). The Case Managers at SAW/RTW and WRAP will consult with the appropriate supervisor, whether it is your Head, Director, or Dean, as they develop the accommodation plan, but will only release information you provide on a need-to-know basis.

The Steps

It is difficult to capture the accommodation process in simple steps, as it will be somewhat different for every individual depending on the type of disability and the context of that individual’s work life. However, in general, you can expect the following:

  1. Decide whether you would like to ask your Head or Director directly for an accommodation (you will have to provide medical information to them) or whether you would prefer to use the services of SAW/RTW or WRAP.
  2. Contact your Head, SAW/RTW, or WRAP to make an initial request for accommodation. If you are working with SAW/RTW or WRAP you will be contacted by a Case Manager who will ask you questions about how your disability impacts your tasks and any recommendations you have already discussed with your doctor. They should not ask for a diagnosis or your symptoms, which are considered private. You do not need to disclose this information to the University in the vast majority of cases.
  3. Visit your doctor. Your Case Manager or Head will provide you with a form to be filled out by your doctor. In most cases, this form will ask the following:
    1. The nature of the illness, condition, or injury (i.e. whether it is physical, psychological, neurological, etc.) You are not required to provide a diagnosis.
    2. A prognosis for improvement or recovery
    3. Whether you are participating in treatment (not what the treatment is)
    4. If medical leave is recommended, at what percentage (e.g. if you can perform 50% of your normal duties, you would be on medical leave for the remaining 50%) and for how long.
    5. A list of your restrictions and limitations (this will often come in the form of a checklist)

In some cases, the University will require additional or more invasive information to properly accommodate members with complex medical conditions. The law sets a baseline for the excepted level of disclosure but permits employers to seek additional details when reasonably necessary to understand and implement an accommodation. If you are uncertain about the questions on a medical request form, please contact the Faculty Association for advice and/or assistance.

  1. Return your medical form to the University. The Faculty Association recommends that you get a copy of the medical note from your doctor rather than having them send it directly to the University. It is very important that you are aware of the information being relied upon to make these critical decisions. If you are working with the Faculty Association, your MSO will need a copy of the medical as well.
  2. Meet with your Case Manager/Head and FA representative (if applicable) to discuss the appropriate accommodation plan. The University has an obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation. Sometimes this means you will not receive everything that you request, but we will work with UBC to put measures in place that address the barriers you face. The accommodation will be codified in an official Accommodation Plan that will be shared with you, the FA, Faculty Relations/Human Resources and your Head. The Plan will only disclose information that is necessary to instruct individuals on what modifications are required.
  3. Work according to your plan. If your disability is:

    a. Short term: You may only require one accommodation plan. This will end when you are ready to return to work on a non-accommodated basis.

    b. Permanent and stable: You will receive one accommodation plan. This plan will typically be assessed annually to ensure that it is still suitable. Adjustments will be made as necessary.

    c. Fluctuating, improving or episodic/unstable: You will likely require more than one accommodation plan over the course of your disability. The length of each accommodation plan will be based on your needs as your disability changes and the recommended schedule of reassessment provided by your doctor. In general, accommodations are managed on a term-by-term basis or annually. Before the end of each accommodation plan you will meet with your Case Manager/Head and the FA (if applicable) to review a medical update and assess your needs.

If at any time during your Accommodation Plan your health changes and/or you require different accommodations, you should advise your Case Manager and the FA (if applicable). The University will likely ask for updated medical information so that modifications can be made.

Types of Accommodations

All accommodations are tailored to the specific needs of the faculty member. What works for one individual may not work for another, and what works now may be unnecessary next term. Your needs will be assessed based on the medical information provided by your doctor. Creativity is key here. However, it is possible to identify some broad types of accommodations to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Changes to class scheduling
  • Modifications to duties/workload assignments
  • Co-teaching or back-up teaching support
  • TA/RA support
  • Part-time work
  • Graduated return to work
  • Telecommunication or other assistive technologies
  • Equipment (e.g. remote door openers, rolling briefcases, stand-up desks)

Accessibility Shuttle
UBC Vancouver offers a shuttle service for faculty, staff, students, residents, and visitors across the pedestrian accessible areas of campus. This service must be booked in advance and is limited to 3 one-way rides per day. More information is available here:

Accessible Parking
Accessible parking is available in all UBC’s parkades for faculty with a provincial SPARC pass. For more information on obtaining a pass see here:

Faculty also have access to a “special needs permit”, which will allow you to park for a reduced rate. To apply for a permit, please contact the Centre for Workplace Accessibility (link here:

Responsibility to Participate

All accommodations require the participation and cooperation of the employee requesting assistance. This means that faculty members have an obligation to provide medical information in a timely fashion, respond to requests for information, meet with your Case Manager or Head when required, and conform to accommodation plans that are developed. Employees also have the responsibility to engage in all reasonable treatments to manage or resolve their disability.

The Limits of Accommodation

As noted above the legal standard is a reasonable accommodation, not necessarily the best or optimal one. An employer also only has to accommodate an employee to the point of undue hardship.

A reasonable accommodation does the following:

  • Addresses the barriers experienced by an employee as a result of a disability. Removal of the barrier is optimal, but when not achievable without causing undue hardship (more on that below) it is sufficient to reduce the barrier to the greatest extent possible.
  • Respects the dignity of the employee. Neither the accommodation process, nor the accommodation should further stigmatize or prejudice the individual.
  • Is based on medical evidence and the specific needs of the individual, not a pre-determined response to a certain disability.
  • Is possible within the operational requirements of the University and does not pose undue administrative or financial costs.
  • Does not pose a threat to public or individual safety.
  • Does not unduly impact co-workers or the policies, practices, and processes of Administrative Units.

The point of undue hardship is the only legal standard by which an employer can refuse to accommodate an employee. It is a high bar, especially for an institution as large as UBC. At its core, the concept refers to the point at which the necessary accommodations would impose too great a burden on the employer and thereby affect the proper functioning of the workplace. When considering whether this point has been met, arbitrators look at a range of factors including, but not limited to:

  • The steps taken by the employer to accommodate the employee
  • The impact of the accommodation on legitimate job-related purposes or the functioning of the Collective Agreement
  • The financial cost of the accommodation
  • Impact on the morale of other employees
  • Interchangeability of the work force and facilities
  • Size of the employer’s operation
  • Cooperation of employee in the accommodation process

Graduated Return to Work (GRTW)

If you have taken time off work to manage or recover from an illness, condition or injury, your doctor may recommend that you re-enter the workplace gradually. This time is often called “work hardening”. It is meant to provide you with the opportunity to gently prepare your body and mind for the rigours of work life. It is also a period in which you can test your stamina and resilience and determine whether there are any remaining limitations to your full participation in the workplace.

The rate at which you return will be determined by the medical information and what is possible in your Department. You should not be asked to return faster than is medically advisable.

Two examples of a GRTW are:
Term 1 – 33% of all duties
Term 2 – 50% of all duties
Term 3 – 100% full duties

Term 1 – 40%, research only
Term 2 – 60%, research and half teaching load
Term 3 – 100% full duties


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a disability?

A disability is any physical, cognitive, or psychological illness, injury or condition that impacts an individual’s ability to perform their duties in the workplace. All disabilities must be substantiated by medical documentation.

What is the purpose of the Duty to Accommodate?
How long can I be accommodated?
Do I always have to supply medical documentation?
Who pays for the medical form?
What kind of information do I need to provide?
What are restrictions and limitations?
How will my accommodation impact my reviews for promotion and tenure and merit and PSA?
How can I get more involved in supporting disabled faculty at UBC?