Family First: Ontario Employment Law Protects Family Duties

Recently an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decision confirmed an employer’s responsibility to family status protection for employees. The decision included accommodation of an employee’s unexpected or sporadic absences to fulfill child care requirements and obligations.

The Legal Case and Ruling

The decision said employees also carried a responsibility to act ‘reasonably’ when they find themselves immersed in care-related family situations. However, it indicated that individual circumstances – such as the nature of the elder care or child care required, or the time needed away from work – would play a significant role in determining what is ‘reasonable’ for the situation.

The new case heard by the tribunal further clarified the scope of family status protection under the Code. It showed that an employee’s family status was undeniable even in situations where the employee does not actively take discernible or meaningful steps to balance employment requirements against family obligations.

In the case, Miraka v. A.C.D. Wholesale Meats Ltd., the tribunal heard that the employee had received permission from his employer to be absent from work to care for his children when his spouse became unexpectedly ill. The following day, the employee notified his employer he was still unable to return to work, as his spouse remained ill. When the employee finally returned to his place of employment on the third day, he was unable to remain due to injury. When the business owner learned of the employee’s accumulated three-day absence, the employee was immediately terminated.

Rather than bringing a civil claim for wrongful dismissal, or a complaint to the Ministry of Labour, the employee presented a discrimination complaint under the Code. The tribunal agreed. The employee was awarded $10,000 for damages to his feelings, self-respect, and dignity.

The employer argued that since the employee failed to take steps to make alternate child care arrangements for the first two days of his absence, his dismissal was not discriminatory and should not be protected under family status.

The tribunal dismissed the employer’s argument stating that while the employee could reasonably have requested help from extended family members, it wasn’t reasonable to expect him have an alternate child care provider “on call.”

And because the employer gave the employee permission to be absent the first day, he couldn’t argue that his absence the following days justified termination.

What This Means For Your Career

They say the best defense is a good offence. And when it comes to protection on the job, the adage rings true. If you have young children or elder family members that could require sudden care, your best course of action is to plan ahead. Connect with extended family to see if anyone might be able to step up in times of emergency or unexpected illness. And if reaching out to family is not an option, don’t stress, look around your community instead. Check with other parents of young children, and see if you have complementary schedules. Many times neighbourhood parents can work together to form a ‘babysitting network’ where four or five families cooperate to ensure everyone gets the backup they need. Looking into a child or senior day care facilities can also provide short-term options, depending on your immediate needs.

And don’t forget to talk to your employer. Keeping the lines of communication open is always the professional step to take. And depending on your work environment, alternative arrangements – such as working from home for a day or two – might be a suitable option.

If you are looking for additional career support or a new job opportunity in Ontario, contact the recruiting experts at Employment Professionals Canada. As the area’s leading recruiting expert, not only do we stay abreast to Ontario’s employment news (and how it impacts you), we can also help you find a great company to work for. Contact us today to learn more about our employment opportunities in the Niagara region.