Family Status – What employees and employers need to know?

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Family Status – What employees and employers need to know?

The Canadian Human Rights Act along with the Alberta Human Rights Act both protect family status as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Family status, according to the Alberta Human Rights Act, is defined as being married or related to another person by blood, marriage or adoption.

Family Status and marital status are protected under the following areas:

  • statements, publications, notices, signs, symbols, emblems or other representations that are published, issued or displayed before the public
  • goods, services, accommodation or facilities customarily available to the public
  • tenancy
  • employment practices
  • employment applications or advertisements
  • membership in trade unions, employers’ organizations or occupational associations (Alberta Human Rights Commission, 2017)

An employee who can demonstrate they are discriminated against on the basis of family status, which could include caring for sick and aging parents or child care issues which affect their ability to work, have a right to ask their employer to accommodate them. The duty to accommodate is the employer’s responsibility to offer the employee options as long as the accommodations do not place any undue hardship on the employer. The employer is expected to bear some hardship. Undue hardship will vary in every situation.

Canada has had some high-profile cases in which employees have claimed their employer has unfairly treated them. These cases have revealed employers not only have a duty to accommodate but they are under an obligation to initiate a conversation with the employee about the accommodations they require (Pochini, 2014). Employers have an obligation to ensure their policies and processes align with the Human Rights Act of Canada and the Province in which they are located. Further, employers need to ensure they are consistently and fairly implementing the policies, rather than implementing them on a “who they know” or “who they like” basis.

Every employee has a duty to work out their own family care needs, searching out adequate child care or parent care. Attempts must be reasonable and practical. However, if an employee is facing a difficult situation, for example, both parents are shift workers, they have the right to approach their employer and ask for an accommodation. When this occurs, it is the employer’s responsibility to carefully consider the request and when necessary, implement accommodations to address the request where possible.

Alberta Human Rights Commission. (2017). Family status and marital status.

Pochini, K. (2014). What employers need to know about family status and human rights.

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