As workplaces and schools closed by the COVID-19 pandemic reopen throughout Canada, many employees are still juggling work with caring for their children who are learning remotely.
Employers have a duty under Canadian laws to accommodate parents in certain circumstances, HR experts say, and some provinces have enacted additional protections tied to COVID-19. The federal government has also enacted a temporary benefit for parents who are able to work part time only.
Government officials said they will continue to support Canadians during the ongoing pandemic. The federal government announced in August 2020 that it will transition people receiving the soon-to-expire Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to more-flexible and more-generous employment insurance programs: the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB).
Under the CERB, which covers the period from March 15 to Oct. 3, Canadian residents who stop working because of COVID-19 can apply for temporary income support.
The CRCB, effective for one year beginning Sept. 27, will provide Can$500 (approximately US$381) a week for up to 26 weeks to eligible Canadians.
Human rights statutes in Canada prohibit discrimination against working parents based on family status. Nonbiological parents and those in parent-like roles are included in family status protection.
Experts say employers have a legal duty to accommodate parents when their caregiving responsibilities conflict with work duties, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer — such as financial cost or health and safety concerns. Employers can modify accommodations in response to changing circumstances. Before seeking accommodation from an employer, an employee should explore possible arrangements for child care during working hours.
Employees should check to see if accommodations are provided in the employer’s policies. If not, employees should communicate their needs to their manager or HR department.
Once a parent has established a need for accommodation, experts said, their options will depend on the circumstances of the family and the employer. These options may include:
- Working from home.
- Allowing employees to work flexible hours, such as working in the morning or evening.
- Reducing working hours temporarily from full time to three or four days a week.
- Modifying and reducing shift schedules based on when child care is available or when parents can divide work productivity among themselves.
- Taking paid leave, if that option is available.
If the employer and employee cannot find any other solution, the employee could consider an unpaid leave of absence.
In Ontario, employees may be entitled to job protection under infectious disease emergency leave if they need to care for a child for reasons related to COVID-19.
But such employees need to substantiate their need for accommodation with evidence and may not be entitled to the accommodation of their choice. For example, a parent asking to stay home to care for children may need to demonstrate that he or she unsuccessfully explored day care options.
Quebec’s Labor Standards Act states that an employee may be absent from work for 10 days each year to fulfill obligations related to the care, health or education of a child.
Alberta has issued a temporary regulation that entitles employees to unpaid leave to meet the employee’s family responsibilities with respect to COVID-19.
In British Columbia, an employee can take unpaid, job-protected leave related to COVID-19 under the Employment Standards Act. The temporary measure is in effect until the pandemic is declared over.