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(Cinders McLeod)
(Cinders McLeod)

NINE TO FIVE

Can my employer stop me from going to my mom’s chemo treatments? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I work for a union (not part of it, but as an administrative assistant). I have taken a few Mondays off, due to driving to and attending my mother’s chemotherapy appointments. I was told that I would have to take those days as vacation days. I requested that I would rather not get paid for these days but was told I had to. Is that the case? Also, after taking two Mondays off, our team received an e-mail saying that due to volume on Mondays, we were no longer allowed to take them off. Is that allowed as well?

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THE FIRST ANSWER

Greg Conner

Principal, Human Capital Dynamics, Victoria

I am still amazed by what happens in the workplace in this “enlightened” era. Employers have the right to run their businesses as they see fit, including determining hours of work, blackout periods for vacation or other forms of leave, and how such leave is treated. Having said that, under the circumstances, most employers would accommodate your request, without you having to resort to a call for help, or invoking your family status rights.

Family status is protected both federally and provincially, but unfortunately, each province treats the definition somewhat differently. In my definition, the parent-child relationship goes both ways, so if you are your mother’s primary caregiver, then during her time of need for your support, you need to be accommodated.

Before bringing up the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or your provincial human rights code, I would approach your manager and, if needed, go to human resources and ask for the accommodation for as long as your mother is going to chemotherapy. This definitely should be a case of your employer treating you like they would like to be treated under similar circumstances. That is my definition of good policy. If that doesn’t bring sense to the situation, I would suggest you go directly to your provincial human rights commission and lay out your situation.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

Every case for time off varies, depending on the circumstance. Organizations develop policies to ensure that employees can take time off in a way that doesn’t harm the business. With that in mind, your family situation is certainly one that opens up a conversation for accommodation.

As for your workplace saying you must use vacation time for those days off, why not do that? Many organizations have policies to ensure employees use accrued paid time off first, before taking any unpaid time off.

If your motivation to keep your paid vacation time is because you want to take a vacation later, book this off now so your employer understands what you have planned.

Here’s how I suggest you handle your situation:

1. Discuss with your manager your need to attend these appointments and let them know ahead of time when they are, if possible.This will establish a clear rationale for the time off and allow your employer to look for opportunities to accommodate your request. Perhaps they have “personal care days” for which you might qualify.

2. Establish a protocol for those days, such as how you will inform your manager, what tasks you can do in advance, and whether you can work from home for part of that day or make up the time later that week.

Regarding your employer’s insistence that no one can take Mondays off, that was likely triggered by a pattern of staff taking Mondays off and hurting the business. Your situation however, isn’t due to wanting an extra long weekend; it is due to a legitimate family need.

If your needs change and you need to take a longer period of time off to care for your mother, I suggest you explore family caregiver leave, which permits employees to take an unpaid leave of absence of up to eight weeks in order to provide care or support to a sick family member. You may also qualify for benefits through Service Canada, under the compassionate care benefits provision.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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