to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #15 — BE A FAMILY-FRIENDLY WORKPLACE

From a legal perspective, things have certainly changed when it comes to “family status” found in Canadian human rights legislation. Unfortunately, the need for protection for both men and women who have children (in particular) has not.

 

In this very educated and progressive country of Canada, women still face discrimination based on gender…for the mere fact that they have children or in the future they may have children (regardless of their own personal choice or circumstance). Hence, sex discrimination in Canada covers pregnancy as well. Some provinces & territories include “pregnancy” as a separate protected ground, however, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, pregnancy protection is included in sex/gender protection.

 

That was established many years ago, but more recently many courts in this country have been giving more importance to “family status” protection. Most governments (perhaps all??) have argued that when family status was included in their human rights legislation, it was meant to protect employees and applicants from an employer saying “sorry, but you have kids, so I’m not going to hire or promote you.”

 

Now let’s be clear, an employer would have to be dumb as a bag of hammers to actually say that out loud, but they may be thinking it. If it can be shown that a job or opportunity was deprived due to a person’s family, then that could be a pretty good case to show discrimination. But in recent years a number of courts have moved beyond that limited understanding and have given protection to those with child care responsibilities.

 

In special and somewhat rare circumstances, when parents can’t get child care to match the hours of their job (perhaps rotating shift work and no other options), courts have ruled that the employer must make an accommodation. Perhaps they have to create a separate work schedule or prevent an employee from being transferred.

 

This interpretation isn’t the same across the country, but more often than not, it’s moving in that direction. And to be clear, parents have to show they have gone to great lengths to work out their child care issues before asking for an accommodation. As well, family status doesn’t just apply to a child or child care responsibilities. Perhaps you are responsible for an aging parent or sibling with a disability. As long as it involves family responsibilities and special circumstances which conflict with an employee’s work schedule, there may be a need to make a workplace accommodation. Each case will be different, so for supervisors, best to ask questions, seek advice and see if an accommodation can be made.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

Be open minded about family needs – because it’s required. It’s hard to run a workplace when you have to take into consideration the personal needs of employees. However, most people can plan their personal lives and their work lives very well…or well enough and don’t need special changes. Give real consideration for the few who need support and you’ll likely have a very loyal employee.

 

Address concerns of other employees – or you may have grumblings. When an accommodation is made for one employee, sometimes other employees resent it. After all, they didn’t get an accommodation and perhaps they could have asked, but they weren’t aware it was an option. At the first sign of any grumblings, talk to employees and explain the situation. Let employees know accommodations are like an insurance policy – it’s there, even if they don’t need it…yet.

 

Be open to other protections – and look for common sense solutions. In the same way that most Canadian governments and employers didn’t see “family status” being interpreted more broadly, be prepared that there may be other protections not-yet anticipated. But no supervisor has to wait for a court ruling – if you get a request for some accommodation and you can do it, and your workplace supports it, then go for it.

This is TIP #15 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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