What does it mean to discriminate on the basis of family status? The topic has been written about extensively on Slaw. However, the law has still been hard to interpret. Thankfully, the Ontario Court of Appeal has recently provided some clarity on the subject when it recently upheld a decision that found discrimination on the basis of family status after a work schedule was changed and interfered with an employee’s childcare arrangements.
In that decision, the employer demoted an employee who had returned a week earlier from maternity leave, reducing her hours and pay. When the employee objected, the employer scheduled her more work hours which conflicted with the employee’s childcare schedule. The employer then fired the employee, alleging cause. The trial judge held that the employee was unjustly dismissed, the employer had engaged in reprisals, and that the employer had discriminated on the basis of family status, including intentionally scheduling shifts that would cause the employee difficulty in making day care arrangements. The Court of Appeal upheld these findings, as well as the award of $20,000 of compensatory damages for discrimination, which they found to be on the high end but reasonable in light of the facts.
In light of this decision, employers should be particularly careful not to take actions that could be interpreted as discrimination based on family status, or else they may face costly awards against them. While this was found to be a case of intentional discrimination, the courts also have the power to award damages for discrimination without finding intent on the part of the employer.