What is discrimination based on family status?

What is Family Status Discrimination?

Many individuals face the difficult challenge of managing their work and family obligations, especially when caring for children or elderly parents. Unfortunately, family status discrimination, including insufficient childcare, elder care, and disability support, has made it increasingly tough to handle these significant responsibilities.

Equal Treatment in the Workplace Under Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code protects individuals in a parent-child relationship, granting them the right to equal treatment in the workplace. Employers cannot discriminate against these individuals in hiring, promotions, training, benefits, workplace conditions, or termination simply because they are caring for their child or parent.

Avoiding Stereotypes About Caregivers

Employers must not base their decisions on stereotypes about caregivers, such as assuming that they may be less competent, lack ambition, or are not committed to their job due to their caregiving responsibilities.

Decisions in relation to your employees should never be affected by stereotypes about caregivers, such as that person who provides care for either their child or parent may be less competent, lack ambition or are not committed to their job. 

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Duty to Accommodate Family Status Needs

Just like other protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have an obligation to accommodate employees’ needs related to family status. When workplace policies or procedures disadvantage those caring for family members, employers must make arrangements to accommodate these employees.

As with other Code grounds, employers have a duty to accommodate needs related to family status. In situations where the structure, policies, or procedures of the workplace exclude or disadvantage people who are caring for a family member, employers have an obligation to make arrangements to accommodate the employee. 

Examples of such accommodations are:

  • providing the employee with flexible hours
  • allowing the employee to take a leave of absence to take care of his family member, be this their child or parents
  • providing access to alternative work arrangements

By accommodating the employee, the employers promote an inclusive workplace which is beneficial for both the employee and employer. 

Section 10(1) of the Human Rights Code defines family status as the following:

“family status” means the status of being in a parent and child relationship;

This applies not only to the fact of being a parent or a child, but also to the caregiving role between parents and children, and between adult children and their aging parents. It can also include close bonds between non-biological parents and children with similar relationships of care, responsibility and commitment, such as stepchildren, adoption, or an extended family member (uncle, aunt, grandparent) who has formed an especially close parenting relationship with a child.

When does an employer have to accommodate an employee’s family obligations? There are several tests put in place to determine if an employer is required to accommodate an employee based on their family status. The Federal Court of Appeal, in Canada (Attorney General) v. Johnstone, 2014 FCA 110, outlined the test as follows:

‘(i) that a child is under his or her care and supervision; 

(ii) that the childcare obligation at issue engages the individual’s legal responsibility for that child, as opposed to a personal choice;

(iii) that he or she has made reasonable efforts to meet those childcare obligations through reasonable alternative solutions, that no such alternative solution is reasonably accessible, and

(iv) that the impugned workplace rule interferes in a manner that is more than trivial or insubstantial with the fulfillment of the childcare obligation.”

  • The first factor requires the employee to demonstrate that a child is actually under their care and supervision. In situations where the employee cares for their elderly parent, they will have to demonstrate the care they provide to their parent. 
  • The second factor requires demonstrating that the employee is legally required to care for that individual, i.e. that it is not a personal choice. In situations where you care for your child, you can demonstrate that they have not reached the age to care for themselves. When the care is for a parent, it must be demonstrated that they are unable to care for themselves while you are performing your duties at work. 
  • The third factor requires the employee to demonstrate that they have made efforts to find an alternative solution and no other solution is either accessible or reasonable. 
  • The final factor requires the employee to demonstrate that rules in the workplace interfere with their childcare/caregiving obligations. 

Types of Family Status Discrimination

Discrimination based on family status can take different forms, such as negative attitudes, stereotypes, and biases, subtle discrimination, and harassment. Employers should be aware of these types of discrimination and ensure a fair and inclusive work environment.

  • Negative Attitudes, Stereotypes, and Bias
    In some circumstances, discrimination may be intentional, where either an individual or organization treats the individual differently due to their family status, this can occur due to stereotypes that unfortunately exist. 
  • Subtle Discrimination
    Discrimination isn’t always straightforward, an example of subtle discrimination is when a woman comes back from maternity leave, there is a job opening for a higher position which she is qualified for, so she applies, only to be discouraged by her employer as it is insinuated that this job requires someone who is truly committed and able to work overtime. 
  • Harassment
    Every employee has the right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer, or by another employee. An example of harassment at the workplace due to family status could be when a woman is pregnant, and her manager makes a negative comment as to how pregnant women are less efficient. 


Balancing a career and family responsibilities can be challenging, but no one should face discrimination because of it. Employees who are caring for their children or elderly parents should discuss accommodations with their employers. If the employer is unwilling to accommodate or discriminates based on family status, seeking advice from an employment and human rights lawyer can help explore available options and protect their rights.


Whether you are an employer or an employee needing assistance with addressing or preventing discrimination in the workplace due to your family status our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers at Achkar Law can help.

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we will be happy to assist.

Facing Discrimination Based on Family Status? Speak with a Human Rights Lawyer

Discrimination based on family status is a serious issue that can affect your work-life balance and overall well-being. At Achkar Law, our human rights lawyers are dedicated to protecting your rights and ensuring fair treatment in the workplace. If you’re experiencing discrimination due to your family status, our team can provide the legal support and guidance you need to address these issues and seek justice.

Further Reading

How To Request Accommodation At Work

What Happens If A Workplace Accommodation Is Insufficient For An Employee’s Disability?

Age Discrimination In The Workplace In Canada

Can Working Parents Be Dismissed for Staying at Home?