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Guidance for Accommodating Employees with Family Status

accommodation diversity/equity/inclusion Sep 07, 2023
Guidance for Accommodating Employees with Family Status


Employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of fostering inclusive and accommodating workplaces. One key aspect of this inclusivity is acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges that employees face while juggling their professional and caregiving responsibilities. Challenges can arise from the need to provide care for children, aging parents, or relatives with disabilities.

Recognizing and addressing these challenges through appropriate workplace accommodations is not only beneficial for parents and caregivers but also advantageous for employers in terms of talent retention and productivity. Considering that virtually all employees, at some point in their lives, will either provide or receive care, accommodating family status needs sets a precedent for a workplace that values the well-being of its employees.


Challenges and Barriers for Caregivers in the Workplace

The demands of caregiving, such as attending to medical appointments, ensuring childcare arrangements, or managing family emergencies, can significantly impact parents' mental health and performance at work. The constant pressure to meet both professional and caregiving obligations can lead to undue stress, reduced productivity, and even the risk of burnout, ultimately affecting job satisfaction and overall well-being. According to a report from The Ohio State University, 66% of working parents meet the criteria for parental burnout, a term that means they are so exhausted by the pressure of caring for their children that they have nothing left to give.1 Without accommodations, some parents may not be able to meet their work obligations seamlessly.

Workplace policies, practices, and culture often present formidable barriers for parents. Absenteeism policies and leaves of absence, when lacking flexibility, can force parents into precarious situations where they must choose between work and the welfare of their family. Inflexible work hours, overtime expectations, and rigid travel requirements can further disadvantage workers. Work cultures that prioritize long hours or hours of work over quality of work may undervalue caregivers and perpetuate inequality in the workplace. Employers may erroneously assume that individuals with caregiving responsibilities, particularly women, are less inclined to take on challenging projects, pursue career advancements, or be committed to the organization. These misconceptions can hinder career opportunities for parents, contributing to workplace discrimination.


The Legal Guidelines for Accommodating Family Status

The legal guidelines for accommodating family status are primarily outlined in human rights legislation and related legal frameworks. These guidelines vary by jurisdiction but generally follow similar principles. In Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) provides relevant guidelines. Failure to accommodate family status needs can result in legal consequences, including human rights complaints.

The legal guidelines for accommodating family status are clear:

  1. Recognition of Family Status: The OHRC recognizes family status as a protected ground. It defines family status as "being in a parent and child relationship." This definition extends beyond biological or adoptive ties to encompass various caregiving relationships, including parents caring for children (including through adoption, fostering, and step-parenting), individuals caring for aging parents or relatives with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ families.
  2. Equal Treatment: Employers cannot discriminate against individuals based on family status in any aspect of employment. This includes refraining from making decisions on hiring, promotion, training, benefits, workplace conditions, or termination based on stereotypes or assumptions related to family status.
  3. Duty to Accommodate: Employers have a legal duty to accommodate employees with caregiving responsibilities until the point of undue hardship. This duty arises when a person's family status-related needs are known or should have been known. Accommodation includes making adjustments to workplace structures, policies, procedures, or culture to meet the caregiving needs of employees.
  4. Appropriate Accommodation: Accommodations should allow individuals with family status obligations to fully participate in the workplace. It’s a balance that considers the rights and needs of all parties involved. As such, the employer need not provide more than an individual requires to meet their actual needs. Conversely, accommodations must acknowledge the practical realities of good caregiving and must not place undue burden on the family. Every case is unique and must be considered individually when an accommodation request is made.
  5. Shared Responsibility: Accommodation is a shared responsibility. Employees should communicate their needs clearly and provide supporting information when necessary. Employers and unions should work together with the individual to find reasonable, tailored solutions.


Workplace Accommodations for Caregiving Needs

Creating a family-friendly workplace is not just a moral obligation; it's an investment in your organization's success. Parents may require accommodations to work successfully, allowing them the flexibility and support needed to fulfill both their professional and caregiving roles effectively. Here are some workplace accommodations endorsed by the OHRC that can make a significant difference:

  1. Flexible Work Hours: Implement core work hours during which all employees must be present and allow employees to choose flexible schedules within these parameters.
  2. Compressed Work Weeks: Offer the option for employees to work a standard number of hours in fewer days.
  3. Reduced Work Hours: Provide permanent or temporary access to reduced work hours, ensuring that employees working reduced hours receive equitable benefits and quality of work.
  4. Job Sharing: Allow two employees to share a single position and set of responsibilities, providing increased flexibility.
  5. Leaves of Absence: Beyond statutory leaves, offer extended or additional caregiving leaves for both short and long-term needs.
  6. Childcare and Eldercare Services: Provide resources, subsidies, or access to emergency care services.
  7. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Offer services like information and referrals, counseling, and other supports.
  8. Telework: Allow employees to work from home for at least part of their scheduled hours.  


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

At Gowan Consulting, we know the importance of creating workplaces that are inclusive, accommodating, and supportive of all employees, regardless of their physical or mental abilities. Our services can help employers promote a healthy, safe, and productive environment.

  • Make a referral for a third-party, objective accommodation assessment so our Occupational Therapists can help you understand your employees’ strengths and limitations and provide strategies for success.
  • Check out our training library to learn about out Complex Accommodation Training, CSA Work Disability Management Program, Inclusive Leadership Training, and more. We offer live workshops, certificate programs, and recorded webinars for employees and employers.
  • Set up a consultation with us to develop a customized session or program for your workplace needs. We can help with reviewing and updating your accommodation policies and procedures.
  • Looking for sustainable training and support for program development for your organization? Our membership program is for you!
  • For more on all we have to offer, contact us! We want to help make the difference in your healthy business.


Note that this site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical or legal advice. Please review the applicable laws and regulations in your region for more information.



[1] Pearson, Catherine. (2022, June 6). New Report Confirms Most Working Parents Are Burned Out. The New York Times.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission -