Small employers, big duties

Case involving pregnant police officer shows smaller firms have the same obligations to accommodate employees as larger ones
By Lauren Sukerman
|Canadian Employment Law Today

When an employee has a legitimate special need, such as a disability or something protected under human rights legislation, the employer has a duty to accommodate that employee within its workplace. That fact is well settled in law. The employer’s duty to accommodate continues to the point of undue hardship.

However, what is not so well settled in law is the meaning of undue hardship. In practice the concept is determined on a case-by-case basis with reference to the nature, capacity and financial means of the employer. But what is clear, as demonstrated by a recent decision out of Nova Scotia, is that small employers have the same duty as large firms when it comes to accommodating staff.

That case involved a small town police service that refused to accommodate a pregnant officer. Pregnancy falls under human rights legislation when a woman faces adverse treatment in her employment as a result of her pregnancy.