Legislative Compliance

The Duty to Accommodate Family Status and How To Support Working Parents

August 22, 2023

Workers in Canada continue to adapt to the new normal arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. But some have transitioned easier than others. Since the pandemic and a rapid evolution in how we work, parents continue struggling to balance their caregiving obligations with fulfilling their obligations to their employers. Working parents often also face barriers in accessing, obtaining, and maintaining employment. Accommodations exist to remove barriers people face and create equal opportunity and access to services and support. As an employer, you have a duty to accommodate family status and to create equitable workplaces for all employees. We’ll cover some of the ways you can do this below.

Step 1: Find the appropriate definition of family status

The definition of family status is commonly “being in a parent and child relationship” or a parent and child “type” relationship. This is often based upon care, responsibility, and commitment, such as adoption, fostering, and step-parenting. Depending on your jurisdiction, the definition of family status may also include caring for an ageing parent or relatives with disabilities. Contact Live HR Advice to make sure you understand the definition in your jurisdiction.

Step 2: Know the challenges parents face

Employees who have caregiving obligations are often wrongly considered to be less competent, committed, or ambitious than others. These employees may be passed over for hiring, promotions, learning opportunities, and recognitions. Mothers in particular experience disadvantages at work known as the motherhood penalty. While gender stereotypes often perpetuate inequitable treatment, all employees may be adversely affected in the workplace because of their caregiving obligations.

Step 3: Understand your duty to accommodate family status

Family status is a protected characteristic under human rights legislation. This means that employers cannot discriminate in the hiring, promoting, training, workplace conditions, or terminating of an employee because they are caring for a family member. Where personal circumstances surrounding caregiving obligations conflict with workplace rules, changes, or conditions, employers have a legal duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.

Your duty to accommodate family status has two components:

  • The procedural duty to accommodate (the process itself); and
  • The substantive duty to accommodate (the measures implemented to meet the employee’s needs).

Failure to fulfil either component can lead to liability for you.

Step 4: Create an accommodation plan

Review any workplace policies, procedures, structures, or cultural elements that exclude or disadvantage persons with caregiving obligations. Employers have a duty to consider any changes required in order to accommodate those caregiving obligations.

Together with the employee who requires accommodation, determine what options may help the most, such as:

The accommodation process is a collaborative responsibility. Know what information you need to fulfil accommodation requests, and review and modify the plan as necessary to best support the worker.

Handing an accommodation request may vary by jurisdiction, and it requires specific considerations. Download our free Guide to Family Status Accommodations to learn what policies to implement, when an accommodation has been triggered, how to handle refused or denied accommodations, and more. For one-on-one support, contact one of our experts today.

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