Labour Studies Index

Addressing Work-Family Conflict in Quebec: The Gap between Policy Discourse and Legal Response

Document type Article
Author Bernstein, Stephanie
Journal Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal
Volume 20
Date 2017
Pages 273-306

Abstract

In the twenty years since Quebec introduced its family policy in 1997, with the objective of supporting the parents of young children, the province has implemented a number of measures aimed at promoting work-life balance which are in many respects more generous than those elsewhere in Canada. However, while enhancing rights to maternity, parental and paternity leave upon the arrival of a child, Quebec has done little to address conflicts between work and family life after a parent's return to work, especially conflicts resulting from routine, daily obligations towards children, the elderly, or other family mem- bers. This paper examines the adequacy of existing legal mechanisms available to Quebec workers under human rights and employment standards legislation for reducing work-family conflict. In this regard, the author notes that 'family status" or 'family situation" has not been recognized as a prohibited ground of discrimination under Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and the province's courts have consistently resisted expanding the scope of the pro- hibited ground of "civil status" to include parental obligations in the employ- ment context. Furthermore, while the Labour Standards Act provides for various short- and long-term leaves of absence for family responsibilities, the legislation imposes restrictive conditions on entitlement, e.g. the obligation in question must generally be "extraordinary" in nature, and the employee must prove that she took steps to find an alternative solution before seeking leave. Overall, Quebec law has preserved management's prerogative to determine the organization and scheduling of work, maintaining a conception of the "ideal" or "normative" worker as one who has no family responsibilities. Ultimately, the author argues, meaningful reform must take aim at the crux of the matter - employees' ability to control their working time.