Employment law recognizes that the employment relationship must be flexible enough to weather the challenges of an employee’s life.
For example, the Ontario Employment Standard Act allows for a number of job-protected leaves through which an employee can have time to manage such things as illness of oneself or family members, loss of a loved one, and pregnancy (just to name a few).
In addition to these recognized leaves, the Ontario Human Rights Code mandates that employers accommodate the needs of employees as they relate to Code-protected grounds such as disability and family status up to the point of undue hardship.
An important topic
In recent years, there has been renewed discussion on the extent to which employees need to be accommodated when they have obligations outside of work.
Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the area of family status accommodation as new parents request accommodation to tend to childcare obligations and adults request accommodation to take care of elderly parents.
The cases have recognized that certain obligations (as well as restrictions and disabilities) ought to be accommodated, whether by way of modified hours or duties or some other arrangement with the employer.
In other words, the employer cannot turn a blind eye to requests for accommodation, but instead must consider the request, determine whether it relates to a legitimate need, and canvass potential accommodation options.
Employees have certain burdens when requesting accommodations.
The first involves understanding that accommodation must relate to a need rather than a preference. So for example, requesting to sit during shifts because one prefers to rest during downtime may not be a need warranting accommodation whereas requesting to sit during shifts due to a disability may very well be a legitimate need.
Similarly, leaving work early to beat the commute is not a need requiring accommodation – whereas leaving early to tend to a sick parent may be.
Where you are convinced as an employee that you have a legitimate need requiring accommodation, you should be prepared to answer certain threshold questions about your request (i.e. how it is a need and not a preference; whether other assistive methods short of accommodation are available; and how long you require the accommodation).
You should also be prepared to provide relevant documentation (i.e. medical verification if seeking accommodation for a disability) and to update these documents on a regular basis.
Finally, it is important to be flexible in the accommodation process and open to options that, while not your first choice, will nevertheless adequately accommodate your needs.
Recognizing that accommodation is a two-way street, and keeping the lines of communication open with your employer during this process will allow you and your employer to navigate an otherwise challenging time in the employment relationship.
If you have questions or concerns regarding accommodation and your rights under provincial human rights legislation, you can log on to your provincial Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Tribunal websites for more information (i.e. in Ontario: www.ohrc.on.ca and www.hrto.ca). For specific questions, please consult with an employment lawyer.
Disclaimer: This article is for general discussion purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.