Parents' rights at work: Can your boss say no if you need to take your kid to the doctor?

If you ask for time off work to take your child to an important appointment, is it legal for your boss to say no? We asked a lawyer, and the answer might surprise you.
boss saying no to a woman at work who needs to bring her kid to the doctor

Photo: iStockphoto

Parents who work outside the home face a daunting juggling act, managing our careers and the responsibilities that come with having kids. We rely on our bosses to be understanding of the commitments we have as parents. But when that doesn’t happen, there are legal safeguards to ensure we are treated fairly.

As a human rights and employment lawyer—and a father of two—I’m proud to say Canadian law is becoming more responsive to parents’ needs. But I also know many parents aren’t aware of their rights.

For example: Did you know that if you asked your boss for some time off work to take your kid to a medical appointment, and he or she said no, it might have been against the law?

In most cases, your boss has to accommodate your child-care obligations and provide time off (if necessary) if:

1. The child is under your care and supervision;

2. You need accommodation because you have a legal responsibility to care for the child, and there is a serious issue you need to attend to (a doctor’s appointment, for example), not just a personal event (such as going to a science fair);

3. You have made reasonable attempts to find an alternative solution, but there is no other viable option (for example, no one else can take your son to the doctor or a babysitter is not available).

In addition to human rights protections, each province has employment standards legislation that protects parents. This legislation typically entitles parents to a period of leave to attend to “the care, health or education of a child in the employee’s care” (to quote the BC act, which allows for up to five days of unpaid leave per year).

That said, there are limits to this process. In most cases, your employer is only required to accommodate you until it faces “undue hardship”—essentially, until it’s no longer viable to do so without becoming a real and significant difficulty for the business. The good news is, it’s very difficult for a business to establish undue hardship, and the law sees through weak attempts to argue that arrangements are too difficult to provide.

Richard B. Johnson is a human rights and employment lawyer at Kent Employment Law in Vancouver.

Read more:
How to deal with being pregnant at work
10 things your daycare may not tell you
How to build a parenting village

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