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What the duty to accommodate means for your business

The ruling in the 2014 case Attorney General v. Johnstone kicked off a national debate over reasonable accommodation for employees with childcare obligations. Fiona Johnstone was working at the Canada Border Services Agency when they refused to grant her request for a work schedule that would allow her to provide adequate childcare to her two young children. The case resulted in significant changes to Canadian labour laws and employers across the country now have a legal duty to accommodate the familial obligations of working parents. Keep reading to find out more. 

When does the duty to accommodate apply?
The following four criteria can help an employer determine if they are legally obligated to accommodate a working parent’s request for special consideration: 

  1. The employee has a child under their care. 
  2. The employee is the legal guardian of the child and is responsible for the child’s care and well-being.  
  3. The employee has taken steps to find alternative solutions for their childcare needs but has been unsuccessful.
  4. There is a workplace policy in effect that significantly undermines the employee’s ability to balance their family and professional obligations. 

How do I accommodate working parents?
How family is legally defined varies from province to province but the question of discrimination against working families is being addressed on a national level. The federal government recommends that employers take the following steps to ensure that they are accommodating working parents in accordance with provincial labour laws:

  1. Acknowledge the need for accommodation.
  2. Gather more information about the employee’s specific needs.
  3. Come to a mutually agreeable decision.
  4. Take the necessary steps to implement your decision.
  5. Keep records of all of your accommodation efforts and follow up with the employee to determine if your undertakings were satisfactory to both parties. 
  6. Re-evaluate when necessary. 

Claims of discrimination filed against your business can have disastrous results on your productivity, your reputation in the community and your bottom line. A thorough understanding of current labour laws can help you to maintain a positive work environment and build lasting professional relationships with your valued employees.

Understanding your responsibilities
Employment laws protecting working families and parents state that all employers have the duty to accommodate their employees, but the law isn’t entirely clear on what exactly that means or how to do it.

If you need help understanding the law or have questions about your responsibilities as an employer, an experienced employment lawyer can help. Donnell Law Group serves clients all over Southern Ontario including York, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Bradford, Barrie and Keswick. Call us at 1-888-307-9991 to consult with an employment lawyer today.


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