Cognitive Demands Assessments – A Growing Field

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The Ontario Human Rights Code provides equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination which includes discrimination due to mental health disabilities and addictions.  In Ontario, employers have a duty to accommodate, meaning that they need to modify their work tasks and demands whenever reasonable to enable their employees to be successful at work with mental health disabilities.

The changes in mental health legislation in Ontario have caused an increased focus on the cognitive demands in the workplace.  More and more frequently employers are having to accommodate due to mental health disabilities, not just physical limitations. 

This shift in focus has also changed the way companies are documenting job demands.  Historically, they have completed Physical Demands Assessments (PDAs) which quantifies and documents the physical requirements of a job (mobility, gripping, strength, posture, etc.).  However, in recent years, many companies have been expanding on a PDA by adding in sections on cognitive demands in an attempt to address employee’s mental health as well as physical limitations.  These expanded documents are most frequently referred to as Job Demands Assessments (JDAs) and they include both a PDA and a Cognitive Demands Assessment (CDA). 

Cognitive demands of a job can be broken down into 2 categories to determine their level of requirement at work: cognitive resources and cognitive skills.  A cognitive resource is the ‘foundation’, or what an employee would need in order to execute the cognitive skills effectively.  The skills then are the items needed in order to carry out the work tasks.  The following chart provides some examples of both cognitive resources and skills.

The role of a CDA (or JDA) is to document both the resources and skills required in terms of frequency and/or complexity in an attempt to quantify or evaluate their presence in the employee’s job tasks.  For example, what job tasks or situations require a quick retrieval of information? What level of computer skills are required to perform the main job tasks?

As the number of mental health related issues in the workplace rises, the need for effective documentation will become even more important.  The employer will need some objective measurements to help when determining if there is a ‘match’ between the employee’s mental health abilities and the demands of the job.  A CDA will provide that objectivity and can be a valuable addition to the PDA program you may already have in place.

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