Childbearing and Elderly Caring: How to respond to requests for family status accommodation

Jan 3, 2017

Because of changes in demographics and other reasons, employees are increasingly asking for changed work schedules or time off work to care for children and elderly parents.

Depending on the size of the business and the employee’s duties these requests can create real problems. As a result, employers often ask us whether a request for changed hours or time off work must be accommodated.

The legal landscape has been shifting in this area for a number of years. This blog discusses the applicable legislation and some recent case law.

Discrimination on the basis of family status.

Statute law

The Ontario Human Rights Code

Section 5 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) provides that a person has the right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of family status, which is defined as a parent child relationship. This includes a parent caring for a child (i.e child care) and a child caring for a parent. (ie. elder care). Section 11 of the Code provides, in part, that an employer must accommodate a request to change a job requirement, or qualification because of family status unless it results in undue hardship.

Case law

The Johnson test

Until a 2014 decision of the Federal Court of Appeal (the “Johnson Test”), there were at least three different legal tests that judges and adjudicators applied when deciding whether an employer had discriminated on the basis of family status and was required to accommodate a child care or elder care request. The Johnston Test provided that in order to establish discrimination, in the context of childcare, an employee must prove:

  1. The child is under his or her care and supervision;
  2. The childcare obligation at issue engages the individual’s legal responsibility for that child, as opposed to personal choice;
  3. The individual has made reasonable efforts to meet those childcare obligations through reasonable alternative solutions, and that no such alternative solution is reasonably accessible; and
  4. The impugned workplace rule interferes in a manner that is more than trivial or insubstantial with the fulfillment of the childcare obligation.

The Misetich test

A recent decision by an adjudicator under the Code refused to follow the Johnston Test which means the law in this area is yet again clear as mud.

In Misetich v Value Village, Value Village asked the employee to prove that she satisfied each of the requirements from the Johnston Test.

The adjudicator rejected the Johnston Test because she believes it imposed a higher burden on people claiming discrimination based on family status, compared to other grounds of discrimination. First, she believes it is improper to limit human rights protections to legal responsibilities. In this regard, she rejected the second requirement of the Johnston test. Second, she believes the test for whether discrimination exists should not consider accommodation issues. In this regard she stated: “Requiring an (employee) to self-accommodate as part of the discrimination test means the applicant bears the onus of finding a solution to the family/work conflict; it is only when he/she cannot that discrimination is established.” In this regard, she rejected the third requirement of the Johnston Test.

Application of Misetich test

Ms. Misetich had a physical disability. The employer proposed accommodating this disability by transferring her to another job with modified working hours which involved some evening work. She refused the transfer because she claimed she had to take care of her elderly mother.

The employer asked Ms. Misetich for information to substantiate her claim that she had eldercare responsibilities. The only information she provided was an assertion she had to prepare her mother’s evening meals. She also provided a doctor’s note which stated: “This is to confirm that Tonka Misetich cannot work outside her normal hours because she has to take care of her mother.”

The adjudicator concluded Ms. Misetich could have worked days, evenings and weekends and still provided meals for her mother. In addition, “The applicant was required to provide sufficient information to substantiate her eldercare responsibilities. She failed to do so.” Accordingly, she found that the modified shifts that Value Village proposed did not discriminate against Ms. Misetich on the basis of her family status.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Any request for a changed work schedule or time off work because of child care or elder care responsibilities should be taken very seriously.
  2. An employee cannot simply assert they need modified hours because of family status and provide no information to the employer.
  3. The law relating to accommodating an employee on the basis of family status is in a state of flux and so an employer should seek advice from an employment lawyer if an employee makes this kind of request.

For over 25 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

There are many ways to attack the termination clause in an employment contract. 

I am now surprised if employee counsel does not claim that their client’s  termination clause is not legally enforceable - usually because the termination clause does not allegedly comply with the Employment Standards Act.

This blog considers a case, McKercher v Stantec Architecture Ltd., 2019 SKQB 100, where an employee successfully attacked the termination clause in his contract because he did not explicitly agree to it after being promoted. 

The Facts

In 2006, Mr. McKercher commenced employment as a staff architect. The termination clause in his employment contract stated: 

Termination other than for cause will be with notice or pay in lieu of notice, based on your length of service. If the Employer terminates your employment for other than just cause you will receive the greater of:

  1. a)   Two weeks notice or pay in lieu of notice during the first two years of employment increasing by one week for each additional completed year of employment to a maximum of three months notice or pay in lieu of notice.

      or

  1. b)   The minimum notice of termination (or pay in lieu of notice) required by applicable statutes.

Eleven years later, when Mr. McKercher was employed as a Business Centre Sector Leader, his employment was terminated. The employer paid him the three months termination pay he was owed under his employment contract.

 

Another way to attack a termination clause: What is the changed substratum doctrine?

An Ontario judge in a 2012 case, MacGregor v National Home Services, 2012 ONSC 2042 (CanLII), described this legal doctrine as follows: "The changed substratum doctrine … provides that if an employee enters into an employment contract that specifies the notice period for a dismissal, the contractual notice period is not enforceable if over the course of employment, the important terms of the agreement concerning the employee’s responsibilities and status has significantly changed."

 

The rationale for this doctrine has been described by one judge, Schmidt v AMEC Earth & Environmental Ltd., 2004 BSCS 2012 (CanLII), as follows: "In my view, it was incumbent on the defendants to advise Mr. Schmidt that they intended to continue to rely upon the termination provision set out in the Agreement when substantial changes in his employment occurred. This would have allowed him to consider the matter and to negotiate for other terms. If the defendants wished to continue to rely on the termination provisions there ought to have been a ratification of the provisions as the nature of Mr. Schmidt’s employment changed."

 

Decision

The judge hearing this case relied on the following factors when deciding not to enforce the termination clause in the employment contract: ”...there is no evidence that (the employer) made it clear to the (employee) that the notice of termination provisions were intended to apply to the positions to which he was promoted. The employment agreement contains no express wording to this effect, nor does it contain any wording to support the inference of such an intent. Further, and in keeping with the analysis in Schmidt, the Court received no evidence that, as it promoted the plaintiff, SAL reasserted its understanding and expectation that the notice of termination limit would remain in effect.”

 

Lesson to be learned:

An employer should make it clear that the termination clause in an employment contract applies when an employee is promoted. This expression of this intent should be in writing and should be clear and unambiguous. I recommend that an organization’s employment be reviewed by an employment lawyer every year or two. If your employment contract does not address this issue then think about doing so the next time it is reviewed.

 

For 30 years, Doug MacLeod of   the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

 

k

Recent Posts

Toronto Office

702 - 2 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, ON M4W 3E2

Barrie Office

277 - 92 Caplan Avenue,
Barrie, ON L4N 9J2

Collingwood Office

220 - 1 First Street
Collingwood, ON
L9Y 1A1

Contact

Phone

+1 (888) 640-1728

Fax

(866) 883-8445

Email

[email protected]

Toronto Office

702 - 2 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON M4W 3E2

Barrie Office

277 - 92 Caplan Avenue, Barrie ON L4N 9J2

Collingwood Office

220 - 1 First Street, Collingwood, ON L9Y 1A1

Translate

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!