Issues for Action: Family Accommodation and Carework
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Mobile work creates a range of challenges in the realm of family relations and care. Some of these are due to distance and time apart. Others can be traced to the relative silence within workplace and employment policies on new or intensified family needs arising from the realities of mobile work.
The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on family status, which is defined in the Act as the status of being related to another person by blood, marriage or adoption. All provinces and territories also prescribe human rights protections based on “family status” (or “civil status” in Quebec). This means that employers are required to reasonably accommodate the needs of employees based on their family or marital status.
One main area of accommodation involves caregiving responsibilities. Statistics Canada has found that at least one in four Canadians is providing care to family and/or close friends, and that the burden of care is unequal by generation and gender.
Accommodation for family and care in the context of mobile work is a growing area of concern. Conditions of employment that involve or require mobility – whether travel away from home for extended periods, a long daily commute, or regular mobility-while-working – can prevent workers from carrying out care responsibilities and/or put undue burden on others to perform those responsibilities in their absence.
Conditions of employment can also put undue hardship on the worker by depriving them of crucial social supports, contributing to the fragility or breakdown of family relations, or forcing impossible choices between work and family. Maintaining family status while mobile can also be a hurdle, for example in the case of couples where both individuals are mobile but on opposite schedules, or for temporary foreign workers whose faraway children age out of immigration eligibility while they wait for permanent residency.
There exists little direct legislative attention to accommodating family and care for mobile workers, let alone coordination of care and support across provincial boundaries.
- Family Status and Accommodation in Alberta: https://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/publications/bulletins_sheets_booklets/sheets/protected_grounds/Pages/family_and_marital_status.aspx
- A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations (Canadian Human Rights Commission) https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/a_guide_to_balancing_work.pdf
- Impacts of Mobile Work on Families in BC: https://www.unbc.ca/sites/default/files/assets/community_development_institute/research/111114_ldlc_final_summary_report.pdf
- Right to family accompaniment or reunification for migrants: http://ccrweb.ca/en/family-reunification and http://ccrweb.ca/en/protecting-rights-migrant-workers-canada
- Increase requirements for employers to accommodate the caregiving responsibilities and needs of employees who are absent from family and home for extended periods due to work. These include, for example, more flexibility in rotational scheduling, recognition that women continue to bear the larger care burden in families, and supports that accommodate the needs of family care and family milestones while a worker is absent.
- Improve coordination of family services (including counseling) for mobile workers within and across provincial lines. These should include robust online information and support services, paid in part by employers with high numbers of non-resident employees. Military Family Resource Centres provide one model for such systemic support.
- Require that employers accommodate regular and private family communication from remote locations – e.g. strong internet connections wherever possible.
- Revise foreign worker programs to accommodate family accompaniment for all categories of workers, and/or to ease and expedite family reunification for foreign workers. Ensure that foreign workers can support their own families by having pathways for changing and bridging employment.