Previously printed in the LexisNexis Labour Notes
Family status discrimination, and the related obligation to
accommodate family status, continues its trajectory of growth in
the landscape of workplace legal relationships. Employers diminish
the importance of employee obligations to family, especially
children, at their peril.
Take the example of Partridge v. Botony Dental
Corporation, 2015 ONCA 836 of December 3, 2015. What appeared
to be a run-of-the-mill wrongful dismissal case, with the employer
alleging just cause for the removal of confidential business
information, took on an aspect of human rights discrimination in
circumstances where the employer changed scheduling requirements
without consideration of the employee's child care
Partridge was the office manager at a dental office. She had
seven years of service with the employer. When she returned from
her second maternity leave, she was demoted to dental hygienist,
despite her protest that the action ran contrary to Botony's
employment standards obligations. The dismissal came a short week
after her return from the leave, but not before the employer added
a work schedule that conflicted with the new mother's
obligations to care for her child, including pick-ups and drop-offs
for the purpose of child care. Partridge testified at trial that
the emergency arrangements she made during that period of time (for
the week before she was fired) were unsustainable because they
relied on the kindness and temporary availability of relatives.
A judgment at trial awarded 12 months of damages to the office
manager, even though she was 36 years old and had readily found
temporary employment. The trial judge also awarded $20,000 damages
for breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which
expressly permits a court in that province to award monetary
compensation for a human rights breach.
The take-away from this and other similar cases which have
focused on family status discrimination is clear. In the modern
workplace, the need to accommodate family obligations is becoming
more and more concrete as obligations and rights in specific
situations are delineated by adjudicators in various venues,
including courts with jurisdiction to hear and decide cases of
alleged human rights discrimination. Employers have no choice
but to consider the impact of work on family obligations, and
ignore the expanding scope of family status at their peril.
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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