What should I do if my employee wants to change their work schedule to take care of a family member?

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of family status.  Under the Code, “family status” is defined as “being in a parent and child relationship.”  Employees may request work accommodations (for example, a change in their work schedule) when aspects of work are adversely impacting their childcare or parental care obligations.  An employer has a duty to accommodate on the basis of family status if an aspect of the job (such hours of work, rules, policies, practices, etc.) negatively impacts the responsibilities stemming from the parent/child relationship and/or the employee’s work (for example, a parent needs to drop off their child at school at 9:00am, but is required to be at work by 8:30am).

While there is a duty to accommodate, an employee is not entitled to the “perfect” accommodation (or the accommodation they desire the most), rather they are entitled to reasonable accommodation. As such, while an employee may request an accommodation such as working remotely on the days they need to drop their child off at school, they are not necessarily entitled to that exact accommodation if the issue can be addressed in a different way (for example, rather than the employee working from home on those days, they are allowed to start their workday later on days they need to drop their child off at school).  Further, an employer only has to accommodate to the point of undue hardship (e.g., the cost of the accommodation is substantial enough to affect the viability of the business).