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The COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the lines between work and family more than ever before, making accommodation on the grounds of family status particularly relevant. For example, if you require flexibility in your work schedule because you are caring for children at home without support, you may be entitled to accommodation based on family status. This blog will discuss a worker’s right to family status accommodation and the impact of recent Ontario case law on this topic.

Human Rights Tribunal Confirms Need to Accommodate Family Needs 

Family status is a protected ground under the Human Rights Code (the “Code”). This means that you may be entitled to request that your employer accommodate your caregiving obligations. In the past, family status accommodation requests have had to meet a high standard in comparison to other accommodation requests. Specifically, an employee would be required to prove that there was a legal obligation and that they had exhausted every alternative before the accommodation request was considered.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) in a recent case clarified the obligations of an employer and employee when considering family status accommodations.

The applicant in this case had requested a modified schedule to care for his children and elderly relatives while his spouse was working. The employer allowed the accommodation.

A year later, a new manager was hired, and they implemented a policy forbidding any employee from leaving their shift early. The new manager did not permit the applicant to continue with his previous schedule despite the applicant explaining the reason for his schedule. Eventually, the applicant had to leave his shift to ensure that his children and elderly relatives were not left alone. Following this, the applicant was suspended without pay.

The applicant and his wife made significant efforts to change her shift to allow him to abide by the new policy. However, it was not a viable solution at the time. Following his return to work, his employment was terminated in the lunchroom in front of others.

The Tribunal found that the respondent did not meet their obligations under the duty to accommodate and therefore the termination of his employment was discriminatory based on family status.

What does this mean for employees?

Your employer has a duty to accommodate your needs related to family status unless the only available accommodation would place undue stress and hardship on the employer or result in a safety concern.

As an employee, you also have an obligation to make efforts to work with your employer to find a solution. You can request certain accommodations; however, you are not entitled to receive the exact accommodation that you request. Accommodation is meant to be a collaborative solution between employer and employee.

For example, if your childcare obligations require you to pick up your children at 3 PM, your ideal accommodation may be that your employer allows you to work from home from 3 PM-5 PM. Your employer may state that they cannot accommodate working from home, however, they can allow you to come in early on the days that you have to leave early to make up the time.

You may have to work with your employer to meet in the middle or accept their offer of accommodation if it is reasonable.

If you have concerns about balancing your family status obligations and work requirements, we encourage you to reach out to us to discuss your options. Please contact Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, at 416-214-5111 or here.

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