Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gender and compassionate care leave in Alberta

I ran across an interesting article entitled "Accommodating the sandwich generation: Who’s taking care of the caregivers” in a Spring 2015 University of Alberta alumni mag. (I’ll add a link when I can find one.) The gist was that a significant proportion of workers are engaged in providing care not only to their immediate families (often spouse and children) but also to aging parents and friends.

I don’t know that this is any sort of revelation about the pressures of social reproduction. The article then goes on fawn over former Tory MLA Matt Jeneroux who advanced a change providing eight weeks of job-protected leave in Alberta’s Employment Standards Code to (more or less) mirror the 6 weeks of EI benefits available to workers taking care of gravely ill or dying loved ones.

Interestingly, the federal budget just extended these EI benefits from 6 weeks to 26 weeks, effective January 1, 2016. Amending the Employment Standards Code to mirror EI benefits (much like it does for parental benefits) should be a fairly non-controversial task for the Notley government and one that will likely disproportionately benefit women (who perform the majority of care work in our society).

Something else the Notley government may wish to look at is personal emergency leave (or family responsibility leave). Basically, this is a period of paid annual leave (in Ontario, it is 10 days) to allow workers to address personal or family medical emergencies, such as becoming ill or having to care for ill children.

Presently, Alberta has no clear rules around sick time. The Human Rights Code appears to require employers to accommodate personal illness. But, if an employer doesn’t, an employee’s remedy is through a very long and risky human rights complaint. 

According to the Human Rights Commission website, an employer is not required to accommodate a worker’s request to stay home to care for sick children. So, in theory, an employer could sack a worker for staying home with a sick kid. (This may well be changing as the jurisprudence around "family status” is in flux.)

Legislating clear rules around personal medical emergencies in the Employment Standards Code would clarify workers’ rights and employer’s obligations and also gain workers a faster pathway to remedy. Again, this would likely disproportionately benefit female workers.

-- Bob Barnetson

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