By now we have all seen the Youtube videos of people attending meetings dressed in suits up top and shorts on bottom, cats and dogs interrupting meetings, and kids melting down during an AGM presentation. Yes, these are the work hazards of 2020 when our homes became our offices. For many, this method of working is not choice. In many circumstances it is a matter of need given child and family care obligations that have arisen in the pandemic.
Under the Alberta Human Rights Act employers have a legal duty to accommodate employees based on family status. Employer policies that have a discriminatory effect or create an adverse impact for employees in need of accommodation based on family status, if challenged, will create legal liability for employers.
Many employers are now recalling workers from their home duties back to the office. In doing so, employers must be mindful of each employee’s needs on the home front. If an employee requests to work from home based on the need to care for a child whose school has been closed or family members who have become sick and need to quarantine, the employer’s duty to accommodate the request may be triggered. In general, an employer has a duty to accommodate family status under the Alberta Human Rights Act up to the point of undue hardship on the employer. Whether an employer reaches the point of undue hardship must be assessed on a case by case basis having regard to factors such as cost, workplace disruption, health and safety concerns, and other related issues.
Not all family status accommodation requests trigger the employer’s duty to accommodate, therefore requests must be assessed on a case by case basis. As well, where the duty is triggered, an employee is not entitled to the exact accommodation requested. Accommodation is a two-way street so the employer and employee must work together to craft reasonable accommodation measures.
Working from home for many employers is an easy accommodation measure. However, for many others, given the nature of the work to be performed, having employees work from home may create undue hardship or may simply be impossible. In such instances, employers need to think about assisting their employees by using vacation time, other leaves outlined in the Employment Standards Code as well as the specific unpaid leave for Alberta employees created by Ministerial Order in reaction to the Covid 19 pandemic. Refusing to grant these leaves will create significant risk for employers by breach of the Employment Standards Code and potentially the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Mishandling family status accommodation requests can create significant risk for you as an employer. Willis Law is here to assist your company in avoiding these legal pitfalls.