Federal Court sides with new mother who claimed right to set working conditions

The CBSA intercepted packages containing illegal weapons being sent to a Corner Brook man.

A recent ruling by the Federal Court may have opened the door for Canadian workers to craft their own hours and conditions, regardless of how they would affect their employers.

The Canadian Press reports the Federal Court has ruled that employers are required to accommodate reasonable childcare-related requests from employees, siding with a previous Human Rights Tribunal decision.

The ruling specifically says that the need for childcare accommodation must stem from a genuine need, not simply the product of a lifestyle choice. But what that means remains undefined, suggesting more employees are likely to take their bosses to court with the hope of tipping the scale of their work-life balance.

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The ruling stems from a human rights case launched by Fiona Johnstone, a woman who was working shift work at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport when she had her first child.

Johnstone and her husband both worked irregular shifts for the Canadian Border Services Agency. When their child was born in 2003, she requested set working hours and was denied the accommodation. She was offered stable, part-time work instead and later an adjusted schedule that still did not suit her fancy.

She took the case to the Human Rights Tribunal, which sided with her. This week, the Federal Court agreed.

So, what does that mean for you? Stuart Rudner, employment law specialist, told CP the wording of the ruling leaves the result intentionally murky.

He said:

The courts and tribunals want to maintain discretion to look at every individual case. But the most important factor in determining undue hardship is probably going to be cost. A large company with more significant financial resources will probably be expected to be more flexible than a small business.

The onus will remain on the employee to prove they have tried and failed to organize their obligations before seeking accommodation from their employer.

Rudner says the law could also relate to those who care for aged or ailing family members, suggesting more cases will be brought forward in the future.

There is little doubt that our work lives and home lives are clashing more than ever these days, and one would like to think that an employer would offer to help their workers wherever possible.

But that doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted that work will bow down when family commitments come calling.

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The National Post's Matt Gurney has a similar take on the matter, saying that as a new parent he understands Johnstone's situation:

But even a reasonable request should not, if denied, automatically morph into claims of a rights violation, rectifiable only by the power of the law. The CBSA’s refusal to play nice was a good reason for Ms. Johnstone to go looking for work with a more reasonable employer. It was not a good reason to stretch yet further the definition of what constitutes a human right in Canada.

The CBSA tried to accommodate Johnstone’s request, but their focus was rightfully on keeping her a valuable employee and not a burden.

Johnstone had options, and was given options. She could have found a new job; her husband could have found a new job. She could have found something that worked for everyone.

She apparently also had the option of filing a human rights complaint against her employer.

And now, so does everybody else.