Federal Court of Appeal Rules Employers Must Accommodate Childcare Obligations

  • May 28, 2014
  • BakerLaw
  • Comments Off on Federal Court of Appeal Rules Employers Must Accommodate Childcare Obligations

Toronto, ON, May 27, 2014 — In a unanimous decision, the Federal Court of Appeal found that it is discriminatory for employers to refuse to accommodate employees with bona fide childcare obligations.  The Court upheld the decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which ruled that Canadian National Railway (CN) discriminated against Denise Seeley by failing to accommodate her family obligations.

Ms. Seeley worked as a conductor for CN, with two young daughters. CN told her to leave her family home and transfer to Vancouver for an indefinite period under circumstances which precluded her from arranging daycare.  When she declined to report, she was terminated.  CN took the position that it had no obligation to accommodate Ms. Seeley, given its views that her childcare obligations amounted to personal choices that were not protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

In upholding the decision of the Tribunal, the Court of Appeal rejected a narrow approach to family status accommodation.  The Court explained the basis for its reasoning in a companion case, Johnstone:

… without reasonable accommodation for parents’ childcare obligations, many parents will be impeded from fully participating in the work force so as to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have. The broad and liberal interpretation of human rights legislation requires an approach that favours a broad participation and inclusion in employment opportunities for those parents who wish or need to pursue such opportunities.

Employers are required to assess requests for family status accommodation on a case-by-case basis.

Ms. Seeley was represented by David Baker and Meryl Zisman Gary of bakerlaw at the Federal Court of Appeal.  A copy of the decision in Ms. Seeley’s case can be found at Canadian National Railway Company v. Seeley (link). A copy of the decision in the companion case is available at Johnstone v. Canada (Attorney General) (link).

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