Many employees across Canada struggle with their work and family obligations, especially when it comes to young children and elderly parents. Carrying out these responsibilities have become difficult. Especially due to the lack of social support for families, such as adequate childcare, elder care, and disability support.
Under human rights legislation, employers have a duty to accommodate an employee’s needs related to family status. This means that employers have an obligation to accommodate the employee.
In this guide, we’ll explain what family status discrimination is, the law surrounding it, and how to accommodate employees.
What is Family Status Discrimination in the Workplace?
In human rights legislation, family status is defined as being in a parent and child relationship. In an employment context, the employee can be the parent of a child or be the child of elderly parents.
Most cases of family status discrimination occur when an employer doesn’t accommodate a parent attempting to fulfil their childcare obligations.
Discrimination on family status has the effect of barring an individual from opportunities, benefits, or other advantages commonly enjoyed by other individuals in the workplace. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the needs of employees based on family status. If they don’t, they may face consequences of discrimination.
Some family status discrimination examples include:
- Not accommodating an employee’s request to care for their sick children.
- Denying an employee’s request to take time off to drive an elderly parent to their doctor’s appointment.
- Commenting or making jokes about having a family in the workplace.
The Law Regarding Family Status Discrimination
Family status discrimination in Canada is protected under human rights legislation.
Each province has their own established human rights legislation. For example, human rights protections for provincially regulated workplaces in Ontario are provided under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Other provinces include:
- Human Rights Code of British Columbia.
- Alberta Human Rights Act.
- The Human Rights Code of Manitoba.
- The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
- New Brunswick Human Rights Act.
- Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
- Newfoundland & Labrador Human Rights Act.
The Canadian Human Rights Act provides human rights protection from discrimination for federally regulated employees. Some examples of federally regulated workplaces are air transportation, television, and port services.
Employers that operate in multiple jurisdictions should be aware that the legal test for establishing family status discrimination may vary based on location.
Does the Employee Need to Secure Childcare First Before I Accommodate Them?
Depending on which jurisdiction you are operating in, the employee may be required to secure alternative childcare before requesting accommodation.
Discrimination based on family status varies between each jurisdiction. This means some employees must “self-accommodate” before requesting accommodation from their employer.
For federally regulated workplaces and workplaces in British Columbia, employees must take proactive steps to secure childcare arrangements in order to fulfill their obligations to their job. However, in other provinces such as Alberta and Ontario, employees are not required to do so.
As an employer, you must understand the requirements in different provinces especially if you operate in multiple jurisdictions. If you have company policies about accommodating childcare, it is important that you review them to ensure they are complaint.
What is Considered Childcare Obligations?
Provinces differ as to what is considered childcare for the purposes of accommodation under human rights legislation. For federally regulated workplaces and workplaces in British Columbia, there must be a legal responsibility and not a personal choice.
For example, parents cannot neglect children who are sick and require immediate medical attention. However, employers are not required to accommodate employees who make personal choices involving their children.
Personal choices may include:
- Family trips.
- Participation in extracurricular sports events.
- Volunteering events.
Request for accommodations under these reasons are considered parental choices. Meaning they are voluntary rather than parental obligations. No matter the request, you should assess each one on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the employee requires accommodation.
How Do I Accommodate Family Status?
When determining how to accommodate an employee based on family status, it is important to assess the request of whether there would be any adversarial disadvantage to the parent/child relationship.
An assessment of family status accommodation may include asking the following questions:
- Whether the child/parent is under the care and/or supervision of the individual.
- Whether the need is based on an essential or legal obligation which flows from the parent-child relationship.
- Whether the rule/requirement (e.g. the specific work hours or service requirement) creates real disadvantage to the parent-child relationship and the obligations which flow from it (i.e. it is not trivial, insubstantial, or merely a negative impact).
You should assess each request for family status accommodation on a case-by-case basis. When assessing each accommodation request, you may want to consider the following:
- Does the request for accommodation relate to an essential parental obligation, or is it a matter of personal preference?
- What sort of accommodation is the individual requesting?
- What is the duration of the accommodation the individual is seeking?
- Are other supports available to the individual to provide alternate care arrangements?
You should document each request in writing and any formal accommodations you and the employee agree upon.
Get Advice on Family Status Discrimination with BrightHR
You should treat each request for accommodation separately. Speak with the employee to find the accommodation that best fits their needs to avoid family status discrimination in the workplace.
If you need assistance with employees requesting accommodation under family status or need to update company policies, our BrightAdvice service allows you to receive quality advice on any employment issues you may have.