A Federal Court ruling last week that upheld the notion that employers should try to accommodate the child-raising needs of employees is a welcome decision. It should by no means displace the right of management to exercise its own reasonable flexibility in scheduling, as circumstances change. But the demands created by having children are legitimate needs, too – not merely the result of a lifestyle choice.
Fiona Johnstone was a customs inspector for the Canada Border Services Agency at Pearson International Airport just outside Toronto. Before she gave birth to a child in 2004, she had a full-time job with irregular, unpredictable shifts. Her husband had a similar job at the CBSA, with rotating shifts, though with heavier responsibilities. Before she returned from maternity leave, she asked for “static” shifts, that is, for a schedule that would allow to plan for child-care arrangements that would include family members. The CBSA responded by offering her a part-time job with fixed shifts.
She then made a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which decided in her favour in 2010; the CBSA appealed to the Federal Court, which upheld the tribunal’s decision.
This was quite an extreme case in which management overreached, insisting on a constantly changing schedule. The vital, normal balancing of interests was lost.
Ms. Johnstone was found to have suffered discrimination on the grounds of family status, and so she had. To speak in more vernacular language, however, there is a great difference between personal choice, in such matters as the selection of a style of clothes, and family obligations, including the taking on of such obligations in the first place. This is a decision deeply rooted in common sense.