OHRT takes stand against penalizing employees who take parental leave

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal makes it clear in a recent case that employers cannot penalize employees for taking parental leave, says Toronto civil litigator, Maija Pluto, tells Advocate Daily.

“This case sends a loud and clear message to employers that penalizing employees for taking or wanting to take parental leave amounts to discrimination and will attract significant damage awards,” explains Pluto, an associate with Gaertner Baron Professional Corporation.

In Demers v. MatchTransact Inc., 2017 HRTO 98 (CanLII), the tribunal awarded more than $62,000 to the male applicant, who was employed as a kiosk manager at WOW! Mobile, which sells mobile devices in malls throughout Canada.

In December 2014, the applicant first requested a parental leave of eight months after the birth of his daughter. The tribunal found that the applicant’s district manager discouraged him from taking the leave, saying it would be a bad career move, and offering incentives to remain working.

According to the decision, the applicant felt compelled to keep working and did forgo the leave. Five months later, however, his infant daughter developed health complications and he decided to take an urgent parental leave. Shortly after the applicant returned to work, he was fired based on allegations of harassment, details of which the tribunal found “murky.”

The tribunal determined that penalizing an employee for wanting to take — or actually taking — a parental leave constitutes discrimination on the basis of family status.

“In light of recent studies demonstrating that in 2016, more than a third of employees felt that taking parental leave would ‘jeopardize their position’ at work, Demers is a welcome decision that sends a clear message that punishing employees, male or female, for taking or wanting to take parental leave will not be tolerated in Ontario,” Pluto tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The tribunal awarded the applicant $5,000 for the injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect for the discrimination on the basis of family status that initially led to the filing of the application, and awarded an additional $25,000 for the post-application reprisal, including the termination of his employment.

The applicant was also compensated $32,850 for lost wages.

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