Don’t quit without knowing your rights

Dear mothers:

We know you are tired, and during this unending pandemic you have been taking on more challenges, workload, and obstacles than ever before. As an employment lawyer, I have received an increasing number of inquiries from burnt-out mothers looking to quit or seek alternate options as their health and wellness declines trying to balance an unbearable burden of responsibilities.

We are now almost two years into the pandemic, the Omicron wave has hit and schools have advised parents to prepare for home learning. Many women are again starting to ask, should I quit my job?

As an employment lawyer, my first response is, do not quit.  

I encourage my clients to always consider what leaves are available in their particular circumstances. Taking a leave will provide time, space, and recovery before making any big life decisions (such as quitting). Below is a list of potential options that may be available.

Accommodation Requests:  Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employees are protected from discrimination based on “family status” which is the status of being in a parent/child relationship.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have taken on increased responsibilities including teaching and childcare as a result of school shutdowns or children being unable to attend work due to experiencing certain symptoms (i.e., your child has a cold so they cannot attend school or daycare, etc.).

You are allowed to request job accommodations based on family status, and such accommodation requests may include flexible hours, part-time work, or unpaid time off.

An employer is not required to provide you with your preferred accommodation; however, many employers may provide flexibility during this difficult time, so you might start by working with your employer to find a mutually agreeable approach. If your employer does not wish to give part-time work or a flexible schedule you can still request unpaid time off for childcare reasons (including IDEL as outlined below).

When making accommodation requests, it is useful to provide specific information and timelines if such are available. You can change and update the information when required.

Unpaid Infectious Disease Emergency Leave:  The government has enacted some specific pandemic protections, including the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (“IDEL”).

In this case, if you are required to take time off to take care of your children due to COVID-related shutdowns you are entitled to take unpaid time off as protected leave under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.  Even though the leave is unpaid some financial supports may be available. Employees who take unpaid IDEL may also be entitled to either employment insurance benefits or other federal government financial supports, such as the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.

Sick Leave:  You may consider taking a sick leave if you are experiencing medical concerns which could include mental health issues (like depression and anxiety).  In this case, you should see your doctor and request a doctor’s note for a medical leave.

If you have a medical issue, employers are required to provide you with a job-protected leave under the Human Rights Code. To qualify for this time off, you must provide updated medical information along the way.

Employers are not legally required to pay you when you are on medical leave; however, some organizations may have paid sick days as well as short-term disability leave and long-term disability leave options.

Understand what options may be available under the terms of your employment. Where an employer does not have these paid sick benefits you can apply for Employment Insurance “Sickness Benefits” (for up to 15-weeks).  

The federal government has a number of COVID related benefits including the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit all of which are listed HERE for you to review.

In any case, sick leave provides a protected leave of absence, with several potential options for some form of compensation either through an employer-paid program or government Employment Insurance benefits. In the case of burnout, sick leave may give you some time and space to recover and take time off, to place yourself in the best position to make the right decision for yourself in the long run.

Vacation:  If you feel you might only require a short break and you have accrued vacation, talk to your employer about taking some vacation time for your mental health. Some larger organizations may also have paid personal and/or sick days you can add on. One benefit of this option is that your time off will be paid, unlike some of the other options presented above.

In summary, there are many protected job leaves available for mothers that require time off. Before quitting, you should certainly canvass all of the above options, as a protected leave will allow the time and space for you to make the right decision for you and your family.  

My advice is always, do not quit before we talk about the other options available to you.  There are many protected leaves available, along with some potential income supplements to allow you time and space to make the right decision for yourself. Further, if you quit you won’t be entitled to Employment Insurance benefits.  It is always good to seek legal advice before making any big decision or to strategize on the best options given your particular case.

About the author:

Deborah Hudson is an experienced labour and employment lawyer based in Toronto, Canada who provides solutions-focused, timely, and highly specialized legal advice. She advises clients about matters occurring at all stages of the employment relationship, including:

- Reviewing/drafting employment contracts and termination packages
- Drafting/ interpreting employment-related policies and procedures
- Advising on accommodation and human rights matters, including maternity leave and parental leave rights.

Moms at Work members receive a discounted, flat-rate fee of $200 plus HST for a 45-minute initial consultation.

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Allison Venditti

Career Coach, HR Expert, salary negotiation whisperer, pay transparency and equity advocate. Founder of My Parental Leave and Moms at Work, Canada's largest organization committed to helping women earn more money, land better jobs and build community. Allison was named The Globe and Mail Report on Business Top 50 Changemakers 2022, is a regular speaker and media expert with over 100 interviews in 2021.

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