In Ontario, as a new parent, you are entitled to take unpaid time off work for up to 37 weeks to take care of your newborn child (i.e., parental leave). This right applies to both parents, and the employer is legally required to provide you with your old job at the end of the leave. The employer is also not permitted to retaliate, or punish you in any way, for taking the time off to spend with your family. Unfortunately employers often consciously violate these rights and returning employees frequently find that either they no longer have a job, or that the job responsibilities or pay have changed. Efforts to enforce one’s rights in this context often result in termination and a lot of employers are able to intimidate the employees into not pursuing their legal remedies.
The case of Mr. Demers highlights the frequency of such violation of rights, as well as the importance of bringing them to court in order to send a strong message to employers that such conduct will not be tolerated.
Mr. Demers was a retail kiosk manager for Wow! Mobile. He requested parental leave to help his wife take care of their infant daughter shortly after she was born, but was pressured not to take the leave by his manager, who informed him that this would seriously hurt his career with the company. About 7 months later, his daughter fell seriously ill and the employee took an emergency half–year leave to take care of her. At this time, the employee’s manager told the rest of the staff that the employee had resigned, and threatened to call security when Mr. Demers stopped by at the kiosk that he managed while on leave. The employee filed a human rights complaint, and was moved to a less convenient location after returning to work. The employer also encouraged all the other staff to keep records and report any of the employee’s behavior that could get him in trouble. Less than a month after restarting work, the employee was fired based on unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found that the employer’s conduct was both prolonged and hostile. The HRTO also found that the employer acted in retaliation for taking parental leave when terminating Mr. Demers without sufficient proof of the sexual harassment claims, and awarded him $62,000.00 in damages and lost wages.
Hopefully Mr. Demers’ case serves as an example to employers considering depriving employees of their legal rights.
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