E-Reviews

Franchise Review

May 2011

Legislation

Making Ontario More Accessible:  Customer Service Standards in force in 2012 

As of January 1, 2012, franchisors and franchisees with employees in Ontario must comply with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the Customer Service Standards) issued under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the AODA).

Requirements

The Customer Service Standards will impose a new duty upon organizations to provide accessible customer service to customers with disabilities. In particular, those franchisors and franchisees to which the Customer Service Standards apply will be required to:

  • Establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity;
  • Provide training to all people (i.e., employees, agents, volunteers or otherwise) who interact with the public or other third parties on the organization’s behalf, as well as to those who participate in developing the organization’s policies and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to members of the public or other third parties.
  • Allow persons with disabilities who use personal assistive devices, service animals (to the extent permitted by law) or support persons, to enter areas that are open to the public or that are open to other third parties where the organization is providing goods or services;
  • Notify the public regarding temporary planned or unexpected disruptions to facilities or services that persons with disabilities use to access the organization’s goods or services;
  • Establish a feedback process on how the organization provides goods or services to persons with disabilities and disclose how the organization will respond to the feedback;
  • If the franchisor or franchisee has more than 20 employees, there is an additional requirement to maintain documents containing the general policies, feedback processes and training materials developed pursuant to the above requirements, provide such documents to any person upon request, and file accessibility compliance reports through the Service Ontario website. 

The AODA allows for enforcement of the Customer Service standards through inspections, compliance orders and administrative penalties of up to $100,000 per day for corporations found in contravention of the legislation.  Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against must go to the Human Rights Commission as there is currently no process for filing individual complaints under the AODA.

Next Steps

Franchisors and franchisees to which the Customer Service Standards apply must review the Standards and develop a compliance strategy in advance of January 1, 2012. Suggestions include reviewing consumer-facing material and customer communication methods to ensure that they take into account potential customer disabilities (i.e., written materials should be available in Braille or by audio) and redesigning web sites if necessary to ensure accessibility for the visually impaired. While franchisors who are not subject to the legislation could leave compliance issues up to their franchisees in Ontario, such franchisors should nonetheless consider assisting with a compliance program for all franchisees in the province to help ensure compliance and to ensure a consistent customer service experience. Such standards will apply not only to the franchisees in the course of their dealing with their customers, but also to the franchisor in the course of its dealing with its customers, which may also include franchisees.

Useful guidance materials have been developed by various stakeholders, including policy and procedures templates and a franchise compliance manual created by the Canadian Franchise Association, and an online module to facilitate staff training designed by the Retail Council of Canada.

For more information and suggestions for what to include in a compliance strategy, please contact Osler’s Franchise & Distribution Group.