"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guardianhip - A Middle Ground

I am pleased to say that one of the things returning to the practice of law has done is open up a lot more options for how I can be of benefit to the disability community. There is one particular option in this regard that I would like to highlight today.

If you've been reading this blawg for very long, then you are no doubt quite familiar with the Nova Scotia Legal Guardianship Kit.

The great thing about the Kit is that it gives families who have decided that guardianship is the best choice for their loved one the opportunity to obtain that peace of mind without incurring the high costs traditionally involved with retaining a lawyer. And it gives me a very good feeling to know that that option has been opened up to families for whom finances might otherwise be a barrier.

However, I realize that many continue to struggle with taking that plunge into the legal world, with taking on the commitment of preparing their own documents and appearing in court on their own without the services of a lawyer. I am happy to say that there is now another option I can offer for families in such a position.

In addition to the "either/or" options of retaining a lawyer or bringing a guardianship application on your own, I can now offer you a third option. In fact, some families have already successfully taken advantage of this third option. It combines the very best of the previous options in that allows you to save a significant amount of money while still having the services of a lawyer in reserve, so to speak, to use only as and if you need them.

What I am talking about is purchasing the NS Legal Guardianship Kit, doing the costly time and labour-intensive work of preparing the documents yourself (with the assistance of the Kit) and then hiring me on what we call a "limited scope representation", meaning using (and paying for) my services only if and when you feel you need them.

For some families that has meant preparing the documents themselves, but then having me review them before they are filed so they can walk into court confident that they have provided all the information the court requires to understand why guardianship is in the best interests of their family member.

For others, it might mean having me appear in court upon their behalf after they have completed the required paperwork.

And then there are those that fear that they might run into a few questions or concerns along the way as they are preparing the documents and need someone to run such potential issues by.



The beauty of this option is that the possibilities of just how much legal assistance (and in what areas and combinations) a family might require to complement the NS Legal Guardianship Kit are practically endless. It truly is individualized service, individualized to the particular needs of your family.

Perhaps it's time to coin a new acronym. ILS - Individualized Legal Services.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

To Disclose or Not Disclose - Human Rights in the Workplace

I recently listened to an audiotape of a panel presentation entitled "Learning to Accommodate: A Step-By-Step Guide to Accommodating Employees with Learning and Intellectual Disabilities".

All in all, it was good and useful presentation - the Panel consisted of a former member of the CACL, a psychologist who specialized in learning disabilities, a law professor who specialized in labour and human rights issues and two lawyers - one who worked mostly for employers and one whom brought forward court cases on behalf of employees.

They did their best to represent all sides of the issue ... or should I say issues, given that it dealt with both employees with intellectual challenges and those with learning disabilities, two very different situations.

I have posted a couple of times on the issue of human rights in the workplace back in 2008 - 2009, but we haven't looked at the issue since. Before we go on, you might want to go back and read those old posts, just to give you a sense of how the human rights issue are dealt with in an employment context.

The one thing that struck me about this recent prensentation and that I wanted to share with you is the issue of whether an employee is obligated to disclose their disability to an employer, either in the hiring process or as a hired employee. I don't believe I touched on this issue back in 2008-2009 and that's too bad because it really is a very important dilemna that many employees and job-seekers face.

As we discussed previously, pursuant to both the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act, employers are obligated to "accommodate" an employee with a disability. You can read more of exactly what this duty of accommodation requires an employer to do (and not to) here.* But the question for us today is this: How can an employer be expected to accommodate an employee if it is kept in the dark as to the employee's disabilities?

Sure, some disabilities are obvious to the naked eye but many are invisible. And even in those situations where the disability (and accommodations required) are obvious, can we automatically assume that means that all of the employee's needs will always be completely obvious?

In the situation in this video, the employer's discriminaiton is pretty blatant. The woman is in a wheelchair. The drafting table and the material on the shelves are too high for her to reach. It isn't rocket science (or, at least, it shouldn't be). But what if a physically challenged employee is also dealing with other issues that are not so obvious, such as fatigue or depression that effect their employment needs?

The bottom line is this: How can an employer legitimately be expected (and legally required) to accommodate disabilities of which it is unaware?

An employer has a has a duty to investigate the availability of accommodation options only IF it knows or should know of the person's disability and the need for accommodation. If the employer is legitimately unaware of the disability, there simply is no duty to accommodate, although one might arise later IF the disability comes to the employer's attention.

The case law is replete with instances of failed human rights claims where the employer never disclosed any information that would lead the employer to think they had a disability; often, even in cases, where the employer noted difficulties and went out of its way to enquire what it could do or offer the employee to help them meet the demands of the job.

And, really, can we honestly say that it should be any other way? You simply can't be expected (or obligated) to accommodate a disability you are totally unaware of. That is only fair.

I do realize that for many individuals with disabilities the decision as to whether or not to disclose a disability (and the accommodations required) to an employer or potential employer is a very difficult one. There are many factors to consider.