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The Ontario Human Rights Code protects employees on the ground of family status – that is, being in a parent-child relationship.

McDonald v. Mid-Huron Roofing

In McDonald v. Mid-Huron Roofing[i], a 2009 decision of the Tribunal, the Applicant worked for a small company with a handful of employees. The Applicant’s wife was pregnant and the applicant ended up taking several days off of work to attend his wife’s medical appointments relating to her pregnancy.

The Applicant’s wife suffered from complications from her pregnancy and was admitted to the hospital. The Applicant informed his supervisor that he needed to take some time off work to be with his wife. The birth was premature and shortly thereafter the Applicant’s wife again suffered complications, losing consciousness and being transported to the emergency by ambulance. The discovered his wife was taken to the hospital while at work and he informed his employer he would return in twenty minutes and left.

The Applicant attempted to find a babysitter to attend to his new baby so that he could return to work, but ultimately was unable to. When he did not return to work after the promised twenty minutes, his employment was terminated.

Even though the employer did not disapprove of employees with families, the Tribunal held that discrimination occurs even in situations where all employees are treated the same; however that treatment impacts one employee differently because he or she has special circumstances. The Applicant had provided his employer with the necessary information, that he had to care for his newborn son (family status), and from that point forward the employer had a duty to accommodate the Applicant short of undue hardship.

The employer argued that it would have suffered undue hardship, suggesting that the Applicant’s absences were impacting other employees’ morale and efficiency declined as the employer was already short-staffed. The Tribunal noted that the absences were inconvenient to the employer but were not sufficient to prove undue hardship. The Tribunal made it clear that morale is not an appropriate consideration in assessing undue hardship. The Tribunal awarded lost wages to the Applicant and $20,000.00 in general damages for pain, suffering and harm to the Applicant’s dignity.

CONCLUSION

Employees are entitled to accommodation when emergency situations arise in relation to their children. The parent-child relationship is also triggered when an employee cares for an elderly parent. Employees are not entitled to claim family status every time a family situation arises however. Tribunal jurisprudence makes it clear that employees must try to deal with family issues in a manner that does not impact their workplace obligations prior to requesting accommodation. Not every family issue will fall under the ground of family status.

END NOTES


[i] 2009 HRTO 1306

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