Understanding the duty to accommodate during an assessment process in the federal public service

Overview

Assessment accommodation refers to changes that are made to the assessment procedure, format or content of an assessment instrument. It is most often designed for persons with a disability, but can also be relevant for any other grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA).

Assessment accommodation is designed to remove obstacles that are presented by the method of testing, without modifying the nature or level of the qualification that is being evaluated. If you are an applicant or job seeker who is protected under any of the grounds of the CHRA, you can request accommodation during the staffing and assessment process.

There are several parties involved in determining assessment accommodation in the federal public service. As an applicant requesting accommodation, your role is to provide complete and up-to-date information regarding your need for accommodation. This may include professional documentation.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) provides expertise and services in the area of assessment accommodation. Accommodation consultants at the PSC's Personnel Psychology Centre (PPC) are available to make recommendations for accommodation for most types of testing in the public service. The PSC has published a Guide for Assessing Persons with Disabilities, which contains extensive information regarding your right to accommodation in the federal public service.

As a job seeker or applicant, you may have questions about requesting and receiving accommodation on a government test. Please see the FAQ section, which answers some of the most common concerns.

FAQs

What is AAE?

AAE is a bilingual acronym for “adaptation des évaluations / Assessment Accommodation.”

What is reasonable accommodation in the assessment process?

In the context of assessing persons with disabilities, accommodation is designed to ensure that each person is assessed according to their own personal characteristics, rather than presumed group characteristics. Specifically, accommodation provides individuals with an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications without being limited or unfairly restricted due to the effects of a disability, while respecting the core values of merit and non-partisanship, as well as the appointment values of fairness, access, transparency and representativeness.

Assessment accommodation refers to changes or modifications that are made to an assessment procedure, format or content. These are purposely designed to remove obstacles that are presented by an individual's disability, without modifying the nature or level of the qualification that is being assessed. This ensures the validity of the assessment results, which is essential to the fair treatment of every candidate and for selecting qualified personnel.

Ideally, assessment accommodation should modify the standard assessment administration process to the least extent possible, and should resemble as much as possible the accommodation that would be provided to perform related tasks on the job. These considerations help to ensure that the results obtained under modified assessment conditions are valid and comparable to those obtained under the assessment conditions originally intended, and on which norms and cut-off points are based. This is essential for selecting qualified employees.

Who can receive assessment accommodation?

The group that most frequently requests and receives assessment accommodation is persons with disabilities. The term “persons with disabilities” is defined in the Employment Equity Act as:

  • persons who have a long-term or recurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric or learning impairment and who
    1. consider themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment, or
    2. believe that an employer or potential employer is likely to consider them to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment,
  • and includes persons whose functional limitations owing to their impairment have been accommodated in their current job or workplace.

The term “persons with disabilities” is not limited to this definition. Accommodation can also be provided for temporary conditions, such as injuries, recuperation from surgery or specific requirements due to pregnancy or childbirth.

Assessment accommodation can also be provided for other groups protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Why do you need to know a diagnosis or the nature of the disability?

In most cases, a diagnosis is not necessary. Information about functional limitations is required because it provides concrete information regarding what could limit a person's ability to perform fairly on a test. It can happen, however, that knowing the diagnosis of the disability can help us understand the functional limitations. In some cases, such as for invisible disabilities or those that comprise complex and variable types of functional limitations, the diagnosis can clarify how and why a person is behaving or coping in a certain way. Good examples of such a disability where knowledge of a diagnosis would be helpful are multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy.

Making a request for accommodation

I am applying for a job in the federal government. How do I request accommodation on a test or interview?

Applicants of both internal and external selection processes are entitled to request accommodation at any point of the assessment process. As outlined in the Roles and responsibilities below, the applicant should make a request for accommodation directly to the organization in which they are applying for a job. The person to contact may vary depending on the organization, but it is usually the human resources (HR) advisor responsible for the hiring process, the hiring manager or, sometimes, an HR representative who specializes in diversity.

How do I make a request for accommodation on a second language test, such as the Test of Oral Proficiency?

The procedure for requesting accommodation on a PSC Second Language Evaluation (SLE) test is the same as for any other test. See previous question.

Can I call the PSC directly to make a request?

No. It is important that you contact the person responsible for hiring in the organization in which you applied for a job. Since the PSC does not provide accommodation recommendations for every test in the federal government, the organization may not need to request our services. Contacting the PSC directly may slow down the process.

What happens when an organization makes a request for accommodation on my behalf?

Step 1. Information gathering and review: When the PSC receives a request for accommodation from the hiring organization, we first determine whether you already have a file. If that is the case, we review the information in your file and let the HR advisor know whether we require further information. This review is usually done within 48 hours.

If you do not have a file, your HR advisor will ask you to provide information about your functional limitations, as well as other relevant information. You will be asked to fill out a questionnaire, and may be asked for professional documentation, depending on the type of functional limitation. The PSC may contact you directly, if necessary and appropriate. We may also ask the hiring organization to provide us with information on their test, as well as the job requirements. Once we receive all relevant information, it will be reviewed by an accommodation consultant.

Step 2. Determining accommodation: Once we have complete information, we will make recommendations for accommodation. This should be done within 10 business days, but time lines can vary depending on the complexity of the accommodation required. Once accommodation recommendations are complete, an AAE report is sent electronically to the HR advisor who made the request.

Step 3. Finalizing accommodation: Your HR advisor will forward the report to you for review, and you will be given a chance to either agree with the recommendations or make suggestions for changes and discuss them. Once the accommodation is finalized, the hiring organization will schedule your test and is responsible for implementing all recommendations. After the recommendations are finalized, a copy of all of the information you provided, along with the AAE report, is kept in a secure location at the PSC in accordance with the Privacy Act. The PSC will not share any information with any third party without your written consent.

Documentation

I have made a request for accommodation on a test, and the PPC has asked for “proof” from my doctor. Why do you need this information? Why would my doctor know more about my disability than I do?

In most cases, a candidate's description of their functional limitations will suffice. A professional report is useful in cases where the disability is not evident, subject to interpretation, varies over time or involves symptoms that vary in intensity or nature. In such cases, self-assessment is not as reliable, and limitations require standardized techniques of evaluation. It may be difficult for someone to evaluate the extent of their own disability compared to people who have a mild difficulty or a severe disability, for example.

A recent decision of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal states that

The medical practitioner's role in the accommodation process is ... to identify the employee's disability-related needs and restrictions. It is then up to the employer, who has the ultimate responsibility for accommodation in the workplace, to take that basic information and to determine whether and how the applicant's disability-related needs might be accommodated up to the point of undue hardship. Baber v. York Region District School Board OHRTD No. 206

Some disabilities can be subject to interpretation, even by the candidate. In that case, the rigorous assessment of a professional is required. A candidate cannot necessarily evaluate the extent of their own disability.

Canadian law has made it clear that both the employer and the person asking for accommodation have an equally important responsibility to make sure that all relevant information is received and considered. This includes information regarding the nature and extent of functional limitations. See Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Local 255 vs. Ontario (1997) O.J. No. 533; Baber v. York Region District School Board OHRTD No. 206.

I have a learning disability, and the PPC is asking for a Psycho-Educational Assessment Report. What is that, and how do I get one?

In order to determine detailed and precise accommodation measures for each individual, accommodation consultants require detailed and specific information about the functional limitations of a candidate. In the case of a learning disability, the PSC requires a Psycho-Educational Assessment Report (or Neuropsychological) that has been issued by a registered psychologist in good standing with the provincial college of psychologists.

You can obtain a psycho-educational assessment by contacting a registered psychologist who specialises in learning disabilities. Depending on where you live in Canada, there are several resources for locating a psychologist. Neuropsychological assessments can also be appropriate if their purpose is to lay out the complete cognitive profile of the candidate.

How do I find a psychologist?

To receive a referral to a psychologist, you can contact the Canadian Psychological Association or your family physician. Professional psychologists are regulated at the provincial level, so when requiring services, you can contact the appropriate provincial professional board or association. You can find a list of the provincial colleges and associations at

www.cpa.ca/public/whatisapsychologist/PTassociations, or view the list of links below:

No registry currently exists for the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon or Prince Edward Island.

Most professional organizations offer an on-line referral service. Key words might vary across provinces but, generally, for a learning disability, the following are appropriate for the relevant specialty:

  • Neuropsychological;
  • Psycho-educational;
  • Assessment;
  • Learning disabilities; and
  • Cognitive-behavioural orientation.

I provided a learning disability assessment report to the PPC, but it wasn't enough information. Why?

The report is out of date: If you had a psychological assessment before that age of 18, it might not be recent enough to provide accurate information about your functional limitations. Learning disabilities tend to become more stable with age. The abilities and skills of individuals change and develop into adulthood.

The report is not complete: Most of the time, the report should include all pages and information provided by the psychologist (except any non-relevant private information, which may be removed). Furthermore, you could be required to provide the following information:

  • A description of relevant medical, developmental, psychosocial, family, academic and employment history. Confidential information relating to personal history that the candidate doesn't want to disclose can be blacked out;
  • Appropriate standardized tests of overall cognitive ability, with all subtests and standard or percentile scores reported. The most commonly used test is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale III (WAIS-III);
  • Appropriate standardized tests of information processing (short- and long-term memory, auditory and visual processing, processing speed, motor ability, etc.) with standard or percentile scores reported (e.g. WAIS-III subtests or Wechsler Memory Scale);
  • Appropriate standardized tests of academic achievement in the areas of reading (decoding, comprehension, speed), writing (mechanics, expression, fluency) and math (calculation, applied problems, fluency), as well as oral language, if applicable. Commonly used tests include Woodcock-Johnson (WJ) Psychoeducational Assessment Battery-R, WJ-III Test of Achievement and Wechsler Individual Achievement Test;
  • A clinical summary that is based on the comprehensive evaluation, that rules out alternative explanations for any discrepancy and that clearly states the presence of a learning disability and how it affects the individual in assessment, work and learning situations, as applicable. If a diagnosis is not explicitly stated, this summary should highlight whether there are any statistically significant limitations; and
  • Recommendations with regard to appropriate accommodation in education and work and for exams, based on the individual's needs.

The psychological assessment was not done by a registered psychologist:

The PSC and most other organizations that provide accommodation require that professional documentation for learning disabilities be provided by a registered psychologist who specialises in neurological/psycho-educational assessment. These psychologists have the training and expertise necessary for the assessment of learning disabilities, and are in the best position to provide the information required to determine the most appropriate accommodation. Not all psychologists are qualified to provide psycho-educational or neurological assessment.

Why don't you apply recommendations listed in a report by the professional?

Assessment accommodation is determined by evaluating how a specific assessment tool can limit the fair assessment of specific competencies in a candidate who presents a disability; therefore, the organization has to have a good knowledge of how these three aspects interact: the limitations, the test and the job requirements (abilities assessed). They have to consider information on each of these variables to determine an accommodation. In the vast majority of cases, the report by a professional provides general recommendations. In a testing situation for staffing, all factors must be considered in order to ensure that the merit principle is being respected.

In addition, a recent decision of the Ontario Human Right Tribunal states that the medical practitioner's role is to identify the applicant's disability-related needs and restrictions, and that it is up to the employer to “take that basic information and determine whether and how the applicant's disability-related needs might be accommodated up to the point of undue hardship.” Baber v. York Region District School Board OHRTD No. 206 para 135.

Why is a professional report necessary when I can have documentation by a school or another source?

A professional report is useful in cases where the disability is not evident, is subject to interpretation, varies over time or involves symptoms that vary in intensity or nature. In such cases, self-assessment is not as reliable, and limitations require standardized techniques of evaluation. Although school documentation may include useful information, it focuses primarily on learning methods or tools and not assessment needs. It may not have taken a perspective broad enough to look at the full range of possibilities. Furthermore, an assessment made by a qualified psychologist ensures standardisation of training, competence and information provided.

Why do you ask specifically for a registered psychologist?

In most cases, a registered psychologist would be enough to provide sufficient and appropriate information. It does not mean that documentation is strictly restricted to this type of professional; other professionals registered with a recognized provincial board could be appropriate. This requirement ensures standards of professionalism in the assessment.

Why do you treat learning disabilities differently when it comes to documentation required?

Even if it may seem like we treat them differently, the difference does not reside in the disability category, but in the nature of the disability. Some disabilities can be subject to interpretation, even by the candidate, and so the rigorous assessment of a professional is required. This is the case of most learning or psychiatric disabilities, and that is why candidates who present such disabilities are more likely to be asked to provide documentation by a professional.

What happens to my documentation once it is sent to the PSC?

When the PSC receives your documentation, which can be in the form of a questionnaire, medical report or doctor's letter, it is put into a confidential file and reviewed by an accommodation consultant. Once the consultant determines that the information is complete, recommendations will be determined based on this information, as well as information provided by the hiring organization regarding the test and position for which you are applying. Your information is kept on file and may be used for any additional requests for accommodation. You don't need to resend us the same information for each request made. We will let you know when we require new or updated information.

I have a learning disability, but I can't afford an updated psycho-educational assessment report. Do I have to pay for this?

Accommodation is made in order to remove barriers to a fair treatment and assessment that a candidate could face when entering an appointment process. Therefore, if documentation is required to fully understand the candidate's functional limitations, the cost of this professional assessment in itself should not constitute such a barrier. Consequently, the hiring manager should cover the cost of the assessment report. It is stated in the “Guidance Series – Integrating Employment Equity in the Appointment Process” that

Costs of assessments and/or time to make appropriate accommodation must not create an additional barrier. The organization is responsible for costs related to assessments that are required, up to the point of undue hardship, in order to determine functional limitations caused by a disability, and accommodation to offset such functional limitations during the staffing process.

For information on this aspect, please refer to
www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/plcy-pltq/guides/equity-equite/guid-orie-eng.htm.

See 3.2.7 Assessment, the third “Did you know?” box.

Roles and responsibilities

Who is involved in determining assessment accommodation?

A number of parties are involved in the process of determining accommodation for persons with disabilities who undergo assessment in an appointment process. These parties include the accommodation consultants at the PPC, the PSC deputy head, the manager, the assessment board and the applicant. A detailed description of these roles and responsibilities is provided in the Guidelines for Assessing Persons with Disabilities.

Public Service Commission

What does the PSC do?

  • Provides multiple formats of its standardized tests, practice tests, background documents or any other document relevant to its tests; and
  • Determines assessment accommodation to be provided to applicants with disabilities when a PSC standardized test is used, and, when it occurs:
    • Obtains adequate information and documentation on which to base decisions about assessment accommodation,
    • Engages in discussion with qualified professionals with the consent of the applicant, if more information is required, and
    • Handles private information and documentation related to assessment accommodation in accordance with the Privacy Act.

Can the PSC provide recommendations for workplace accommodation?

The policy on accommodation, a joint policy by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and the PSC, explains the roles and responsibilities of all relevant parties regarding accommodation in the federal public service. The PSC's mandate is to enable departments and agencies to determine assessment accommodation and to protect the merit principle during the appointment process. TBS provides interpretation and guidance to departments and agencies with respect to the requirements for a workplace accommodation policy. Deputy heads are responsible for the implementation of this policy within their organizations.

Who are assessment accommodation consultants?

The PSC has consultants who provide information and advice on assessment accommodation. They are experts in that field, which crosses specializations in assessment, psychology or counselling, disabilities and adaptive technologies. Only these experts develop accommodation measures at the PSC. They recommend specific measures to be applied when candidates from designated groups undergo a PSC or organizational test. Only the PPC can establish assessment accommodation when a standardized PSC test (including SLE) is used, and all organizations must contact the PPC to make the necessary arrangements. PPC consultants can also recommend accommodation for organizational assessments, on a cost recovery basis. Departments and agencies are not required to contact the PPC when accommodation is needed on for an organization-specific assessment tool, but may choose to do so when accommodation is complex.

Candidate

I am applying for a job in the federal government and need accommodation. What are my responsibilities?

As an applicant, you have an essential role to play in the process of determining assessment accommodation. You have clear responsibilities in the following areas:

  • Communicating your need for assessment accommodation to the person in charge of the appointment process; and
  • Discussing your needs with those responsible for the assessment who are determining the accommodation. More specifically,
    • providing information on the nature and extent of your specific functional limitations (please see Standards for Professional Documentation) and
    • providing input on any past accommodation and their appropriateness.

Note that information on the nature and extent of functional limitations is essential to establish proper assessment accommodation. In a situation where a person is unwilling to share this essential information, it may not be possible to provide the most appropriate accommodation.

While it is essential and required to consult with applicants throughout the process of determining accommodation, the final decision on the accommodation to be provided in an assessment process rests with the manager and the assessment board. However, as PSC tests are standardized across the public service, only PSC representatives can determine accommodation measures for these tests.

Hiring organization

When I apply for a job with the federal government and ask for testing accommodation, what is the responsibility of the hiring organization?

Under the Public Service Employment Act, deputy heads to which the PSC has delegated its appointment authority have a number of responsibilities with respect to persons with disabilities. Deputy heads can delegate to managers their responsibilities for appointment processes. Managers must determine the qualifications required for the job to be staffed and issue a statement of merit criteria. They are also responsible for the assessment of applicants, to determine whether they meet the merit criteria.

The manager has a number of specific responsibilities related to the assessment of persons with disabilities:

  • To inform all applicants that they have a right to accommodation;
  • To determine the assessment tools to be used;
  • To inform applicants of the nature of the assessment tools that will be used (e.g. oral or written) so that they may judge whether they will need to request accommodation in the assessment process;
  • To determine the assessment accommodation to be provided for the fair assessment of every candidate;
  • To contact the PPC when assessment accommodation is requested for a PSC standardized test (see the section on the PSC above);
  • To document all requests for assessment accommodation, from the point of the initial request through to the conclusion of the assessment, including their rationale;
  • To obtain adequate information or documentation from applicants on their specific needs and functional limitations;
  • To engage in discussion with qualified professionals with the consent of the applicant, if more information is required;
  • To ensure that accommodation is implemented appropriately during the assessment; and
  • To handle private information and documentation related to the establishment of assessment accommodation in accordance with the Privacy Act.

Privacy of information

I am concerned about providing confidential information about my disability to my organization. What happens to this information once it is received?

All federal government organizations must collect and use information according to provisions of the Privacy Act. Any information collected for the purposes of determining assessment accommodation should be kept private and confidential and be used only for that purpose. For more information on how your information is kept private, you should contact the hiring organization directly.

At the PSC, information is collected in connection with the Personal Information Bank “Assessment Accommodation” (PSC-PCU 202 pending from TBS) and will be used by the PSC for the purpose of determining assessment accommodation for examinations, tests, interviews and other exercises that are part of the candidate evaluation for a staffing process in the Public Service of Canada. The information collected is protected in accordance with the Privacy Act and is subject to the provisions of the Act, including the right of the candidate to access the information provided. With the candidate's permission, the information collected may be retained by the PPC for use in future staffing exercises. If it is retained, it will be destroyed five years after the most recent use of the information. Only those employed by, or under contract to, the PPC who are directly involved in determining the candidate's assessment accommodation will have access to the information.

If I don't want the board to know the information or have access to my report, what can I do?

For workplace accommodation, you should talk to an HR representative. For the purpose of an assessment, it depends. When a PSC test is involved, it is possible to send us your documentation directly; we then recommend the accommodation to the organization without disclosing the information. However, for any organizational tests, or tests for which the organization is responsible, some information is necessary; this includes aspects such as the limitations, the test and the job requirements (abilities assessed). Assessment accommodation is determined by evaluating how a specific assessment tool can limit the fair assessment of specific competencies in a candidate who presents a disability; the organization must therefore have a good knowledge of how these aspects interact. They have to have complete information in order to determine accommodation. For now, the PSC does not have responsibility for determining accommodation on organizational tests and, therefore, cannot act as a third party. This is because the manager and the board have the necessary information about two of those three aspects: the competencies required and the tools used to assess them.

Contact us

For additional general information about accommodation, please contact us by telephone at 819-420-8690, or by e-mail at CFP.AE-AA.PSC@cfp-psc.gc.ca.