October 23, 2013

Natalie recently posted an article on the Huffington Post Blog discussing the current issue of accommodating child and elder care.

Having both parents at work is the norm, which means that childcare obligations must be balanced, often precariously, with workplace duties. At the same time, our population is aging and people often end up having to look after their elderly parents. Effectively, those in the workforce are stuck in the middle, caring for the generations before and after them — the “Sandwich Generation”.

Can the “Sandwich Generation” manage this delicate balancing act? Yes, as long as the workplace co-operates. But just how far do employers have to go to accommodate “lifestyle” decisions to have children and obligations to care for elderly parents?

As the Sandwich Generation phenomenon continues, employers need to be mindful of the fact that by law, child and elder care obligations of its employees may be protected. At the same time, employees must understand that not all child or elder care is protected, and they do not have the right to impose their preferred terms of employment simply because they are responsible for looking after a child or an aging parent.

Employees cannot simply demand a different shift because they have a child, nor can they take time off of work just because their parents are getting older. They will have to produce compelling evidence of a legitimate need, such as the evidence of Mrs. Johnstone that there were no other viable childcare options. But, employers should never dismiss such requests for accommodation out of hand as occurred in the Johnstone case. Rather, they should consider the legitimacy of the request and, if appropriate, the potential for accommodation. An employer that can produce documentation of bona fide efforts to consider reasonable accommodation will be in a much stronger position to defend a discrimination claim.

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