It finally happened. A court of law has ruled that caring for your children is more important than prime time TV. Earlier this week a Canadian federal court upheld a human rights tribunal’s finding that employers have an obligation to try to accommodate employee needs as they pertain to childcare. That means if your boss can reasonably let you work the day shift so you can drop your kid at daycare, then she has to.
(UPDATE: From the Globe and Mail article linked to above, “The ruling also leaves the onus on employees to prove that they have made reasonable efforts to sort out their family obligations before requesting help from their employers, Rudner said.” This isn’t about every parent trumping every non-parent. It is designed to protect those who would otherwise be forced to leave their job.)
Before I go any further, let me fully disclose my biases. Not only am I a parent, I am also a night owl. I worked shift work in the Telus Mobility call centre for a brief stint before I had kids and I could not for the life of me understand why young, childless people made such a fuss about working until 9pm. You know that means you don’t have to be in until noon, right? And you get to skip rush hour altogether? And you can still meet friends for a drink or whatever? I just didn’t get it. I still don’t.
But I don’t have to get it to understand why it might seem unfair for one employee who does the exact same job as another to get first dibs on shifts just because she has a kid. I mean, imagine if I had to start coming in at 8am! INJUSTICE! It seems unfair, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right.
It’s common decency, for one thing. I once worked lunches as a server with a woman who had to pick her daughter up from school at 3:30. This meant that I always had to put in the grunt hours between 3:00 and 5:00 when you clean and prep and make next to no tips and she never did. Not once did it ever even occur to me (or to anyone else) to complain. She had to leave at 3:00 just like I could only work two shifts a week because I was in school and the owner had to yell at everyone because he was an asshole. It’s life. You deal with it.
Having children may be a choice, but taking care of them is not. Juggling work and childcare is hard enough for working parents on a typical schedule. (Sick days and PA days and doctor’s appointments and school breaks all have to be covered somehow.) But how would a single parent even go about finding child care to cover shift work? Daycares have set hours and round-the-clock nanny care is absurdly expensive. A parent’s need to work around child care limitations does trump someone else’s desire for a 9 to 5 lifestyle.
Okay, I lied. It’s not a choice. I mean, even if I employ my power of hypothetical thought to its utmost and imagine that I could have opted to ignore my own biological imperative to procreate — even if I, personally, could have chosen otherwise — somebody has to have the children. Reproduction is necessary for our political, economic and cultural continuation. Who is going to write all the TV shows when you get old if people stop having children?! God, think about it. (Oh yeah, there’s that social security problem too. That would have been smart to bring up.)
One more thing. What is the primary factor holding women back from equal footing in the workforce? Motherhood, that’s what. This is not to say there aren’t other factors (like blatant sexism in the tech industry, for example), but this is the biggest. Women take more time off from their career when their children are young, they work shorter hours and they choose less demanding career paths so they can be there for their families. For some women this is a choice they want to make. For many others, this is a choice they have to make.
So bravo, Canadian federal court! Bravo Justice Mandamin! This is a huge step forward for Canadian families and an even bigger one for women everywhere.