Ridout Barron


Family status discrimination a real concern for employees

Even in 2017, discrimination in the workplace is still a major problem in Canada. Most Calgary residents probably think of discrimination in its most obvious forms: gender, sexuality and race. However, other forms of discrimination exist and are now being talked about far more freely than they have been in the past. One such form of discrimination is so-called "family status" discrimination, in which an employee can face censure as a result of obligations stemming from caring for ailing family members.

The legal precedent for family status discrimination comes from the Misetich decision, in which a woman was fired from her job after refusing an alternative work schedule that would interfere with her ability to care for her elderly mother. The woman was unable to produce legal documentation proving her obligation to her mother, which was the impetus for her termination. While the case was ultimately dismissed, it did lead to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to call into question the standards by which family status discrimination was judged.

It was determined eventually that family status discrimination should be held to the same standard as other forms of discrimination in the workplace, and should not require additional documentation in order for it to be acted upon. Most specifically, the Tribunal stated that it should not be mandatory for an employee to have to self-accommodate (that is to say, provide one's own solution to a scheduling problem) in cases where the worker is taking care of a dependent family member. This decision has changed the way the courts look at family status discrimination.

Most Calgary residents have obligations that extend beyond the workplace. It is against the spirit of discrimination law to penalize employees for those obligations, particularly when they involve taking care of family. Thankfully, there is a wealth of support for any individual who feels he or she has been discriminated against in the workplace in order to escalate the complaint to a higher authority.

Source: mondaq.com, "Yet Another Turn In The Saga Of Family Status Discrimination", Gavin Marshall, Jan. 13, 2017

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Ridout Barron
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