Eldercare accommodation requests on the rise


Jessica Koper

Employers should prepare themselves for a spike in accommodation requests from employees with elderly family members due to Canada’s aging population, Windsor employment lawyer Jessica Koper tells

Employers have a duty to accommodate under the Ontario’s Human Rights Code (HRC), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of family status, and Koper, associate with Shibley Righton LLP, explains that family status requests traditionally tended to relate to the care of children. However, that is changing.

“Given today’s society and the growing elderly population, there are now many more individuals who are responsible for caring for their elderly parents than there used to be,” she says.

“And that number will only grow,” Koper adds.

Indeed, Statistics Canada reports that Canada’s over-65 population grew from around eight per cent of the total in 1971 to 14 per cent in 2010. By 2036, that proportion is expected to hit 25 per cent and include more than three million people aged 80 years or older.

Koper says employees should approach their employers to discuss the possibility of accommodation when they suspect their workplace requirements may conflict with their duties at home.

“Employers will take these situations on a case-by-case basis, but it is a good idea to try to find reasonable common ground, or a solution as to how the employee can be accommodated, before formally requesting a change in the workplace environment,” she says. “There is no blanket rule or policy that applies to every person.”

If they do want to pursue the matter formally, Koper says employees should be prepared to hand over information that they may have expected to remain private.

“There is a line of cases in Ontario that suggest employers have the right to request a certain amount of information, depending on the situation, as proof that there actually is a caregiving obligation that is in conflict with workplace responsibilities,” she says. “That’s where communication with the employer is very important because it does require the employee to share personal information.

“They have to be able to explain the specific situation they are faced with, and you can’t do that without letting your employer know a little more about your personal life,” Koper adds.

According to Koper, most employers are already familiar with their duties under the HRC and should respond to requests for accommodation involving eldercare in the same way they would to any other situation. Often, she says scheduling is at the heart of the matter.

“Most employee requests relate to an inability to do shift work or to work certain hours in the evening,” Koper says. “We have also seen an increase in requests for employees to split work days or take time off during the day in order to take care of someone or bring them to medical appointments.”

Koper says employers are within their rights to refuse accommodation requests that would cause them undue hardship.

“If the scheduling changes would infringe on the employer’s ability to operate the business, it may be unfeasible for it to be made,” she says.

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