Affordable Help is on the Way for Working Parents

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
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What Ontario’s announced child-care program means for working moms, working dads, as well as their co-workers and their employers

Before and during the pandemic, many working parents have raised concerns with their employers, elected officials, and really anyone else who would listen about the challenges of finding affordable quality child care. Parents themselves are directly impacted by the lack of childcare options. Many working moms and dads (especially moms) are reducing hours of work, dropping out of the workforce altogether, or are working impossible and unsustainable schedules when there are no affordable, quality childcare options available.

Parents aren’t the only ones impacted. Employers who struggle to retain talent in this tight labour market see the impact on their workforce. Colleagues who may have to pick up pieces that are dropped are also feeling the impact. Governments at all levels have heard from those impacted and have started taking steps to address this.

Ontario’s new announcement on child-care funding

The Ontario Government recently announced a signed child-care agreement with the Federal Government. Reports indicate the new childcare program will cost over $13.2 billion over six years and result in child-care costs being reduced to an average of $10/day for working families while creating over 86,000 childcare spaces.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the purpose of the program as follows: “we know kids deserve the best start in life. Parents, especially moms, shouldn’t have to choose between family or a career.”

Other key supports and protections in place for working parents

The new childcare funding will likely help increase the participation of parents in the workplace. However, it is not the only program in place that is designed to do so. There are other programs and protections in place that working parents and their employers should take into consideration:

  • Limits on Working Hours, Overtime, and the Right to Disconnect;
  • Traditional and Expanded Parental Leave Programs; and
  • Family Status Protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Limits on working hours, overtime and the right to disconnect

While limits on permitted hours of work, rights to overtime compensation and newly discussed “rights to disconnect” from the workplace are not only applicable to working parents, many working parents will receive substantial benefits from these programs.

Both the Canada Labour Code and the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 have legislated limits on how many hours employees can be scheduled in a given week. This combined with rest period requirements and overtime pay is designed to give employees some balance between their work and personal lives. As many have raised concerns about the role technology is playing in blurring those lines, governments are increasingly looking at further enshrining these rest periods through rights to disconnect from workplace communication channels.

Working parents who may need to leave work at a certain time to pick up a child from school, wish to attend a child’s piano recital in the evening or even have quality downtime with their children on the weekend may find real value in these protections.

Traditional and expanded parental leave programs

As most Canadians know, there are also significant programs in place when starting a new family. The Employment Insurance program in Canada offers financial compensation to employees who are taking a break from work to recover from pregnancy or care for a new child. This combined with job-protected leaves of absence programs in employment standards legislation is powerful support for new families.

These programs were initially significantly shorter, but have recently been increased substantially. We previously provided a breakdown of how the Employment Insurance benefits combine with the job-protected leaves in this post.

Family status protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code

A final component of the current slate of benefits and programs for working parents that we are highlighting is the “family status” protections found in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The language in these two pieces of legislation is fairly similar and in essence, it means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of family status. Family status means being in a parent-child relationship or parent-child type relationship. Examples of the latter include any relationship of care such as an adult child providing eldercare to an older parent, a sister caring for an adult brother with a disability or a step-parent who is the primary caregiver to a young child. Many of these individuals face discrimination in the workplace based on stereotypes about their interests or capabilities during the hiring process, in consideration for promotions and at other sensitive junctures in the employment cycle.

Not only is discrimination based on stereotypes about working parents and other caregivers prohibited, but employers are also required to have processes in place to accommodate individuals with workplace modifications that are connected to their status as working parents or caregivers.

Workplace accommodations based on family status should take into consideration the key duties and responsibilities of the role and the specific needs of the individual. Some common examples of accommodation include the following:

  • Modifying an employee’s schedule so they can find appropriate childcare during working hours;
  • Giving employees the flexibility to work from home when their child is unwell; and
  • Providing employees with a job-protected leave of absence to care for a child or family member who is unwell.

Note that this list is not exhaustive. Employers have a duty to provide a fair accommodation process for employees to raise accommodation requests and have due consideration and fair implementation of those requests. This is a duty that relates both to the outcome and the process to achieve the outcome. We have previously discussed the topic as it impacted working parents earlier in the pandemic here and the Ontario Human Rights Commission has additional resources here.

Contact Peter A. McSherry in Guelph for advice on employment standards and the right to disconnect

If you are an employee concerned about your workplace rights or an employer concerned about your workplace policies, contact the offices of employment lawyer Peter A. McSherry.

We advise employees and employers on a wide range of workplace-related legal matters, including employment standards and issues involving allegations of overwork. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.