New mother who didn’t like her work hours should have found a new job, not a human rights case | Full Comment | National Post
Good news for all the new parents out there: You’re all your own bosses, now.
This surprising news comes courtesy of the Federal Court, which ruled last week that refusing to accommodate a parent’s schedule constitutes discrimination on the basis of family status. The case in question was the appeal of a 2010 Canadian Human Rights Commission ruling, which found that a new parent had the right to work her preferred shift, not the one assigned to her by her employer.
The new parent was customs officer Fiona Johnstone, who worked at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on a rotating shift. Ms. Johnstone, after returning from maternity leave following the birth of her child in 2004, requested that management assign her a full-time, thrice-weekly 12-hour shift, to accommodate her childcare arrangements. Management, citing pre-existing policy, refused.
Instead they let her work three days a week at 10 hours, and a fourth day for four hours. Ms. Johnstone took it, but she also took her case to the rights commission.
She won, the ruling was appealed, and now, she’s won again, this time at the Federal Court. She will be paid the money she lost out due to the hours she lost due to the unaccommodating schedule, and an additional $20,000 in compensation.
The human rights tribunal had originally ruled, and the court eventually agreed, that employers are obligated to accommodate family status, because having children isn’t a lifestyle choice. But of course it is. We have the right to become parents. But we don’t have the right to drag our employer, and our fellow employees along for the ride. After all, someone else must now cover the shift that Ms. Johnstone won’t.
Ms. Johnstone may not have intended to get pregnant — I have no idea. But this is not a case of a navigationally challenged stork dropping a baby at her house without any prior warning, or Ms. Johnstone’s consent. The ultimate decision to start a family was hers. Having a child brings enormous responsibilities onto new parents, but we must not delude ourselves into thinking that these new responsibilities are confined exclusively to the baby.
Even exhausted new parents have responsibilities outside of the home. If one wishes to make their newborn their only priority, that’s fine. Quit your job and devote yourself, full-time, to the baby. But if you choose to continue to interact with the broader world, you do so on its terms.
Ms. Johnstone’s original request was entirely fair, and employers should do their best to help new parents cope with the stress and exhaustion of welcoming a new child. But not every employer will be able, or inclined, to be helpful. And one genuine right every Canadian does have is the right to quit and seek out a better boss.