Family status is a tricky prohibited ground of discrimination. Although it’s common to all human rights legislation across Canada (albeit sometimes under different names), the definition of family status, and what constitutes discrimination on that basis, is a murky problem without a clear solution. For one thing, does family status only mean the status of having a family? If so, who is considered a family? If not, what else does it cover?
Courts in many Canadian jurisdictions have interpreted family status to cover not only the fact of having a family, but also the essential duties and responsibilities that having a family implies. In particular, the responsibilities of the parent–child relationship have been deemed to fall under the protections of family status.
It’s these responsibilities that play the biggest role in workplace accommodation cases involving family status. Courts have long recognized that parents have serious responsibilities to care for their children, and that workplaces are responsible for accommodating those duties. Where family status becomes less clear is whether those same protections apply in the reverse. If an employee requests an accommodation to look after their parent, instead of their child, what are your responsibilities? Do children owe the same duty of care to elderly parents as parents owe to their young children?
Well, maybe. This is an unsettled and contentious part of the law, as eldercare accommodations are still rare in the legal literature, and even some questions relating to childcare accommodations remain unresolved.
Your employees have complex webs of obligations, and working for you is only one of them. Being the kind of employer that recognizes these obligations and makes reasonable efforts to help employees meet them will demonstrate the respect you have for your employees, the trust you have in them, and the value you see in them, and help you retain them for years to come.
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