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Married to the idea of family status

Should there be accommodation for employees who are getting married?

By Jeffrey R. Smith 

Work-life balance is becoming a big priority for employers and employees, particularly for the newer generation of workers and employers who want to attract and retain top talent. Governments are getting into the act as well, passing laws to provide more forms of job-protected leave employees can take.

For example, Ontario has recently added to the number of personal leaves employees can take without worrying about losing their jobs. In addition to leaves such as personal emergency leave and family caregiver leave, there is now family medical leave, critically-ill child care leave, organ donor leave, reservist leave and crime-related child death or disappearance leave. With the exception of organ donor and reservist leave, most of these deal with family responsibilities, particularly child care.

In conjunction with more personal leave, the family status of employees is also being looked after by changes in the law with regards to human rights. Family status is now a protected ground under most human rights legislation and courts and arbitrators are recognizing that employers have a duty to accommodate family status.

Like many of the legislated personal leaves of absence, family status accommodation focuses largely on taking care of a child or other family member who requires supervision. But should other family-related obligations deserve a leave of absence, such as marriage? The definition of family status has been expanding in the jurisprudence, so is there room to expand it some more?

Getting married can be one of the most life-changing events someone can make and it can involve a lot of preparation. Even if the wedding itself isn’t a big event, there is paperwork to be filled out and adjustments to be made to benefits, insurance, finances and perhaps living arrangements. And if the wedding is a big event, there is a lot going on that requires an employee’s attention — particularly in the days leading up to the big day.

So is it out of the realm of reason to think an employee getting married warrants a few days of leave so get things in order or adjust to their new life as a spouse? Many employees use vacation days or personal days to take time off around a wedding, but should they have to if they don’t have to do the same to care for a seriously ill relative or attend to a personal emergency?

Even if providing job-protected leave isn’t appropriate to be passed into law, it could be something that might be a good idea for employers to provide for employees. It could not only be an attractive incentive in recruiting and retention, but when you look at it, how productive is a typical employee if she’s working a few days before her wedding? Odds are, she might be a little distracted.

Leading up to a wedding, there can be many things an employee needs to look after and many appointments to attend. Would it be reasonable to consider a flexible work schedule around some of these appointments as accommodation of family status? After all, marriage is often the ground-floor beginning of a family. 

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Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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