Most employers are already aware that they have a legal duty to
accommodate an employee's disability, up to the point of undue
hardship. With a number of recent Human Rights Tribunal decisions,
however, employers are quickly learning about their legal
obligation to accommodate employees on the ground of their
What does "Family Status" mean?
The Ontario Human RightsCode prohibits
discrimination on a variety of grounds, including "family
status". The Code defines "family status"
fairly narrowly as the "status of being in a parent and child
relationship"..... But the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has
given the term a very liberal interpretation... Over recent years,
the protection has been extended to relationships with
step-parents, same sex spousal-child relationships, foster parent
relationships and pregnancy. In a recent case, the Tribunal
extended the definition of "family status" even further
to provide Code protection to adult children caring for
their elderly or infirm parents.
What do you need to know?
As an employer, you need to know that employees are entitled to
be free from discrimination in the workplace on the ground of their
unique family status. This means that if a workplace rule or policy
is having an adverse impact on an employee because of their
child-care or elder-care obligations, there may be a duty to
accommodate that employee up to the point of undue hardship. This
would usually mean sitting down with that employee and engaging in
a meaningful discussion with the goal of determining their precise
needs. Once you understand the specific needs of the employee, you
must then determine whether you can reasonably meet those
needs...to the point of undue hardship.
Failure to accommodate an employee's family status can
result in awards of damages, without the necessity of proving any
actual monetary loss.
As the law continues to evolve in this area, prudent employers
will consult with their advisors to stay current with new
If you have any questions about this or any other employment or
human rights topic, please call or email us at any time.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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