May 8, 2014 3:41 pm
Updated: May 8, 2014 6:57 pm

Court says employers must try to accommodate parents child-care obligations

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Watch Above: The Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision that says Canadian employers must try to accommodate parents balancing work with child-care obligations. Angie Seth reports.

TORONTO – Parents working outside the home scored a huge victory after the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision that says
Canadian employers must try to accommodate parents balancing work with child-care obligations.

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In a landmark decision released late last week, the court dismissed an appeal by Ottawa against a 2010 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision against Canada Border Services Agency.

The human rights complaint was filed by Fiona Johnston in 2004 when she, along with her husband, were working for the CBSA at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

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At the time, Johnstone and her husband both worked full-time, irregular shifts at Pearson Airport, making it impossible to find child care. The only fixed shifts available were part-time, which meant Johnstone would lose pay and pension benefits. She accepted part-time work and filed a complaint.

Andrew Zabrovsky, a lawyer with Hicks Morley, says the decision provides “clarity” on the issue for employers in terms of what family needs should be accommodated.

“For at least a decade there has been a lot of disagreement in terms of what family status means,” he said. “And now we both know what family status means and what will need to be proven by a claimant to show their rights have been violated under human rights legislation.”

Zabrovsky says employers will now have to be accommodating to a parents legal obligation to provide child care “they can’t meet because of some conflict with their work life.”

Zabrovsky adds that employers will not have to accommodate things like taking time off work to take a child to extra-curricular activities.

Ottawa is now reviewing whether to take this to the Supreme Court of Canada on the basis that child-care responsibilities are the result of personal choice and should not impose a “duty to accomodate.”

Mark Weber, President of the Customs and Immigration Union in Toronto, says the decision will make things simpler for employers.

“If you want to get the best people, you want to be an employer of choice. And I think employers making this the standard will do that for them,” he said.

Weber says that as a union representative he often sees the difficult choice people face when it comes to choosing between work and family life, and isn’t surprised the complaint was filed.

The appeal court upheld the tribunal’s order to Canada Border Services to pay Johnstone for lost wages and benefits from 2005 until August 2007, and $20,000 in special damages.

*With files from Angiela Seth

© 2014 Shaw Media

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