A Snapshot of Women, Work and Family in Canada

Canada is home to more than 18 million women (9.8 million of whom are mothers), many of whom fulfill multiple responsibilities at home, at work and in the community. Over many generations, women in Canada have had diverse employment experiences that continue to evolve and change. These experiences have differed significantly from those of men, and there is a great deal of diversity in the experiences among women, which are impacted by a variety of factors including (but not limited to) cultural norms and expectations, family status, disability and a variety of demographic characteristics.

To explore the diverse and evolving work and family experiences of women in Canada, the Vanier Institute of the Family has created A Snapshot of Women, Work and Family in Canada. This publication is a companion piece to our Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada timeline, providing visually engaging data about the diverse work and family experiences of women across Canada.

Highlights include:

  • The share of all core working-aged women (25 to 54 years) who are in the labour force has increased significantly across generations, from 35% in 1964 to 82% in 2016.
  • Employment rates vary among different groups of core working-aged women, including those who are recently immigrated (53%), women reporting an Aboriginal identity (67%) and those living with a disability (52% to 56%, depending on the age subgroup).
  • On average, women without children earn 12% more per hour than those with children – a wage gap sometimes referred to as the “mommy tax.”
  • Nearly one-third (32%) of women aged 25 to 44 who were employed part-time in 2016 said that they were working part-time because they were caring for children.
  • 70% of mothers with children aged 5 and under were employed in 2015, compared with only 32% in 1976.
  • In 2013, 11% of all recent mothers inside Quebec and 36% in the rest of Canada, respectively, did not receive maternity and/or parental leave benefits – a difference attributed to the various EI eligibility regimes in the provinces.
  • 72% of all surveyed mothers in Canada report being satisfied with their work–life balance, but this rate falls to 63% for those who are also caregivers.
  • 75% of working mothers with a flexible work schedule report being satisfied with their work–life balance – a rate that falls to 69% for those without flexibility.

This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Download A Snapshot of Women, Work and Family in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Learn more about modern motherhood in Canada:


Published on May 9, 2017

Participants Wanted for Survey on Mobile Work

Many employees in Canada are “on the move” for work. Mobile workers may engage in long daily commutes, extended absences from home lasting weeks, months and even years, and many people travel to, from and within their jobs. These employment patterns have an impact on workers, their families, employers and the communities in which they live.

To understand this reality and how it affects households and communities, and influences and impacts Canadian prosperity, the Vanier Institute of the Family is collaborating with 40 researchers from 17 disciplines and 22 universities across Canada and around the world as part of the On the Move Partnership.

As part of this research initiative, a team of researchers is conducting a study of leading HR policies and practices used to manage mobile workers and balance concerns regarding employee productivity, family and well-being.

The On the Move Partnership is currently seeking survey participants. Do you have responsibility for mobile employees in your organization who need to spend extended time away from home to do their jobs? If so, your participation is invited.

There are two ways to take part:

  1. A confidential telephone interview (which will take less than one hour to complete). Please contact Kara Arnold arnoldk@mun.ca for this option.
  2. An anonymous online survey taking approximately 45–60 minutes to complete.

On the Move will create a report and a free webinar on the survey findings. Participants will have access to these resources as benchmarks for participating organizations as well as a source of ideas about what policies and practices work for these employees and their organizations. Participants can also enter a draw for a free registration to an online HR Social Media seminar.

Please email Kara Arnold for more information: arnoldk@mun.ca.

To learn more about the On the Move Partnership, visit the project page, or read the following resources:


The proposal for this research has been reviewed by the Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research and found to be in compliance with Memorial University’s ethics policy. If you have ethical concerns about the research, such as the way you have been treated or your rights as a participant, you may contact the Chairperson of the ICEHR at icehr@mun.ca or by telephone at 709-864-2861.

Vanier Institute and CHRC Host Roundtable on Workplace Diversity and Human Rights

On February 28, 2017, the Vanier Institute of the Family and the Canadian Human Rights Commission partnered to host the Canadian Work–Life Leadership Circle Roundtable on Workplace Diversity and Human Rights. This collaboration brought together Canadian leaders with an interest or involvement in work–life issues to enhance the ongoing conversation on work, life and family in Canada.

The roundtable included the following catalytic presentations and discussions:

  • Human Rights Perspectives and Workplace Impacts: The intersection of workplace policy and human rights moving forward (Marie-Claude Landry, Ad.E., Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission)
  • Diversity, Inclusion and Human Rights in the Workplace: The diversity of families and employees and their impact on workplace policy (Nicole Nussbaum, Staff Lawyer, Legal Aid Ontario)
  • Leading and Promising Practices: Workplace policy and practice, such as the duty to accommodate on the basis of family status, right to request flex and extending family-related leaves

“The concept of family is evolving every day, our workplaces should too,” said Marie-Claude Landry, Lawyer Emeritus (Ad.E.), member of the Bar and Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Workplace accommodation is about working differently, not less. Supporting employees to meet their family obligations means that everyone wins.”

“Human rights legislation, family law, labour law, employment law and immigration law all impact families and aren’t always in alignment,” said Vanier Institute of the Family CEO Nora Spinks. “The complexity and diversity of families is being taken into consideration with informal and formal workplace accommodations in order for employees to fulfill their multiple responsibilities at work and at home.”


Learn about work–life and work–family issues, and diversity in Canada with the following Vanier Institute resources:


Published on March 2, 2017

Circuits of Care: Mobility, Work and Managing Family Relationships

Dr. Sara Dorow and Shingirai Mandizadza, PhDc

Fort McMurray and the oil sands industry of northern Alberta have become a quintessential destination for long-distance labour commuters: workers who regularly travel from and to a distant home base on rotational work schedules, usually of a week or more, and who more often than not stay in work camps located near bitumen extraction and processing projects. They come from as far away as Halifax and Detroit to work at jobs ranging from safety coordination to pipe maintenance to camp catering. In 2015, the more than 100 work camps in the area had the capacity to house some 70,000 workers.((Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, “The Municipal Census 2015 Report” (2015), http://bit.ly/2h5ZukE.))

Such “mobile work” involves some fairly complex dynamics of support, as workers and their families care for each other at home and then across distances; as camp staff provide for the food, sleep and leisure needs of workers; and as camp staff and oil workers (both of whom are “mobile”) devise forms of self-care within and across all of these spaces. Interviews with more than 75 mobile workers in four work camps in the region have revealed a nexus of care involving relationships that are stretched out across the distances of the labour commute while simultaneously intensified on each end of the commute, at home and in camp.

Communication helps to ease emotional challenges of being away from family

How do workers manage familial networks while away from home on their work rotations? Staying connected through phone calls, texts or video chats is, of course, a key feature of the practices that help to sustain the worker and maintain family relations. First and foremost, these communications help to ease the emotional challenges of being in camp and away from family, and they contribute to making time in between shifts bearable. A camp housekeeper told us that she talked to her son and daughter every day “to try to stay sane,” while a trades worker from Eastern Canada used a more colourful description: trying not to go “shack wacky.”


Staying connected through phone calls, texts or video chats is … a key feature of the practices that help to sustain the worker and maintain family relations.


Communications were thus, in many ways, about managing the time away from home. Sometimes this involved counting down the rotation together. As one male camp cook put it, “What I do with my wife is, for instance,

[each day when we talk] we will count down the days till I’m coming back.” For some workers, schedules for making contact are followed rigorously, at the same time every day. A construction worker named Derek called his wife four times a day. And for Phyllis, a camp housekeeper, the fact that she could regularly call her husband and “see” her grandchildren made everything “all good.”

One young trades worker from Eastern Canada, when asked as he sat alone eating dinner if he would be interested in a short interview, glanced at his phone and said he wouldn’t have much time: this was the only window of time during the day – after his shift in Alberta and right before her bedtime in Newfoundland – when he and his girlfriend were both free to talk. Sure enough, two minutes later his phone rang.

Talk of time also included planning together how it would be spent when workers returned home on their days off. Tim, who talked about “pushing through” his seven days, said that when talking to friends and family on the phone, “We try to line up some stuff to do for that week off, so I’ll have something to look forward to when I go home.”

Communication facilitates remote parenting and alleviates “FOMO”

A second and related facet of long-distance communication is the quest to keep current on what is happening in the lives of family and friends far away, often driven by FOMO (fear of missing out).

One seasoned housekeeper pointed to the crucial rhythms of keeping information flowing with her adult children and grandchildren: “I might go two to three days without talking to them, you know, which is not a big deal. They know mom’s fine and everything else, but, I mean, after the third day, something’s gotta be new, you know? Like, the other day, they went for a bike ride, so they got to tell me everything about the bike ride they went on – my daughter and my granddaughter – so, she was just, you know, excited. Something new to tell me.”

For those with children, communicating across the distance served yet a third purpose: remote parenting. An ironworker in a joint custody arrangement described the series of activities across space and time that were enfolding around his teenage daughter’s tendency to skip school. A phone call from the school led to a phone conversation with his daughter, which paved the way for the conversation they would have face to face when he returned. With a mortgage, a truck, and a daughter and ex-wife to support, mobile work in the oil sands seemed his only option, and this, in turn, brought practical ways of stretching out and intensifying relations of care while away and at home.

“Too much” communication can be distracting

However, managing and maintaining one’s mental health and well-being in camp can also mean keeping long-distance family and social relations “in their place.” For a portion of these workers, and more commonly for men in the trades, family life was a distraction that needed to be held at bay if one was to stay in work mode. Sometimes it was the heartache of being too regularly reminded of distance from family that was distracting.((Christopher Jones and Chris Southcott, “Mobile Miners: Work, Home, and Hazards in the Yukon’s Mining Industry,” The Northern Review 41 (June 15, 2015) http://bit.ly/2hTXytu.))

Ricky, a day labourer from Eastern Canada who often stayed in camp for months on end, described how painfully bittersweet it was to watch families enjoying time together when he drove into the city of Fort McMurray on weekends. And for others, it was the headache of dealing with ongoing family matters at a distance that was distracting. Omar, a camp custodial worker, described how stressful things could be in his home and family life. Drawing his hands up alongside each side of his head to mimic blinders, Omar said that when he was on rotation, “It’s just about work.”

Community “back home” helps workers manage family responsibilities

Mobile workers sometimes dealt with the problem of distance through forms of reciprocity and exchange with friends, neighbours or extended family back home. For male long-distance commuters with families, these arrangements helped to ease concern about how family back home would cope while they were away for weeks at a time. One trades worker described how a male friend back home helped his wife with chores such as yard work during his two-week rotation; he then reciprocated by carrying out maintenance and home repairs for the friend after he returned home from rotation.


Mobile workers sometimes dealt with the problem of distance through forms of reciprocity and exchange with friends, neighbours or extended family back home.


In some instances, it was spatial rearrangements of care work back home that accommodated mobile work. Marco, a construction manager, relocated his young family to the Caribbean to take advantage of the favourable weather and the cheaper childcare. Together, these factors made life easier for his wife during his long absences and easier for him on his return home.

While there are not many women with young or school-age children participating in mobile work in the oil sands, it was often the care of grandparents and especially grandmothers that made mobile work a viable option. A housekeeper named Martha felt that being away for three weeks at a time from her two school-age children back in Nova Scotia was “worth it because I’m making more money here than back home.” It was also doable because her parents, who lived nearby, actually moved into her home with the children while she was away.

Flexible circuits of care help accommodate employee mobility

These circuits of care help us see that a big part of managing and surviving camp life is about maintaining long-distance familial and social networks. It’s these relationships of care and support that help oil sands workers to manage their multiple responsibilities.

Our research thus addresses some of the existing research on long-distance labour commuting and family in ways that we hope open up further inquiry. First, we start from the perspective of mobile workers while they are away from home. Second, we include both resource sector workers and service sector workers, thus broadening the gendered scope of analysis and complicating the normative imagery of mobile work (man on the move, wife and children back home). And finally, we do not assume that mobility has only or mostly negative impacts on care or family relations. Such arrangements can have both advantages and disadvantages for workers and their families((Mark Shrimpton and Keith J. Storey, The Effects of Offshore Employment in the Petroleum Industry: A Cross-National Perspective (Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Environmental Studies Program, 2001).)) and entail a mix of transformations and entrenchments of gender and family arrangements of care.((Brenda S. A. Yeoh and Kamalini Ramdas, “Gender, Migration, Mobility and Transnationalism,” Journal of Applied Statistics 21:10 (November 2014) http://bit.ly/2gk1DIa.))

A team of research assistants contributed to this project. We especially acknowledge and thank Marcella Cassiano (PhDc) for conducting many of the interviews in work camps.


About the On the Move Partnership

The On the Move Partnership is a research initiative that includes the Vanier Institute of the Family and 40 researchers from across Canada and around the world. This project is investigating how employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) affects households and communities, and how it influences and impacts prosperity across Canada. To learn more about the On the Move Partnership, visit our project page.


Dr. Sara Dorow is Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Alberta, where she teaches and conducts research in the areas of globalization, race and culture, gender and family, qualitative methods and the idea of community. She currently heads the Alberta team for the On the Move Partnership.  

Shingirai Mandizadza is a Sociology PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She currently works with Dr. Dorow in the On the Move Partnership on a project that explores the gendering of work-related mobility in the oil sands of northeast Alberta.

Published on January 10, 2017

Timeline: Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada

Over the past half century, fatherhood in Canada has undergone a significant evolution as men are increasingly sharing the “breadwinning” role, embracing caring responsibilities and integrating their responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities.

To explore these trends and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – fatherhood and family relationships, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Father’s Day 2016. Some highlights include:

  • More fathers are taking time off to care for their newborn children. More than one-quarter (27%) of all recent fathers in Canada reported in 2014 that they took (or intended to take) parental leave, up from only 3% in 2000.
  • The number of “stay-at-home” fathers is on the rise. Fathers accounted for approximately 11% of stay-at-home parents in 2014, up from only 1% in 1976.
  • Fathers of young children are absent from work more frequently for family-related reasons. Fathers of children under the age of 5 report missing an average 2.0 days of work in 2015 due to personal or family responsibilities, up from 1.2 days in 2009.
  • Fewer “lone fathers” are living in low income. In 2008, 7% of persons in lone-parent families headed by men lived in low income, down from 18% in 1976.
  • Fathers are increasingly helping with housework. Men who report performing household work devoted an average 184 minutes on these tasks in 2010, up from 171 minutes in 1998.
  • Fathers with flex are more satisfied with their work–life balance. More than eight in 10 (81%) full-time working fathers with children under age 18 who have a flexible schedule reported in 2012 being satisfied with their work–life balance, compared with 76% for those without a flexible schedule.
  • A growing number of children find it easier to talk to dad. In 2013–2014, 66% of 11-year-old girls and 75% of boys the same age say they find it easy to talk to their father about things that really bother them, up from 56% and 72%, respectively, two decades earlier.

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Father’s Day to Canada’s 8.6 million dads!

Download the Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada timeline.




See also:

Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada

Timeline: Fifty Years of Families in Canada

Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams

Modern Fathers Reshaping the Work–Family Relationship

Nathan Battams

Canada’s “family landscape” is constantly evolving, with social, economic, cultural and environmental forces shaping and redefining family roles and relationships. Fatherhood is no exception, and today’s increasingly diverse 8.6 million dads in Canada are now taking a much greater role in family life than in previous generations.((Caryn Pearson, “The Impact of Mental Health Problems on Family Members,” Health at a Glance (October 7, 2015), Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-624-X, http://bit.ly/1Lio1HL.)) Many are moving away from the “traditional” breadwinning father figure to embrace a more caring role and are assuming more household management responsibilities. In doing so, modern dads are renegotiating and reshaping the relationship between fatherhood and work.

Men are “breadwinning” less while more women are taking on more paid work

As the participation of mothers in the paid labour market increased over the past 50 years along with a rise in dual-earner families, the share of “breadwinning dads” has fallen significantly. According to Statistics Canada, in 1976, 36% of families in Canada with at least one child age 16 and under had two earners in the paid labour force. By 2014, this accounted for 69% of these families. Another Statistics Canada study found that, in the same period, the proportion of single-earner families with the father as the sole earner dropped from 51% to only 17%.

Some fathers in couple families are stepping out of the paid labour market altogether to become the lead or primary parent, more commonly known as “stay-at-home” dads, either on a temporary basis while taking care of young children or permanently. Approximately 1% of fathers in single-earner families reported being stay-at-home dads 40 years ago – a rate that has since risen to 11%.

Canada is not alone in this regard. Data from a 2015 report from Pew Research Center suggests a similar trend in the United States, with 7% of US dads with children in the household reporting in 2012 that they “do not work outside the home,” up from 4% in 1989. Among these fathers, the share who said they are staying home to care for family more than quadrupled in this period to 21% (up from 5% in 1989).

Family relationships benefit from dads increasing involvement at home

Alongside these trends, data from the General Social Survey on time use suggests that modern fathers are devoting more time to family. Men report spending more time with family, increasing from 360 minutes per day in 1986 to 379 minutes in 2010. The average number of days fathers of preschool children miss from work for personal or family responsibilities rose from 1.8 days throughout 1997 to 2.0 days in 2015. The gender gap in housework has also been found to have declined in recent generations, with men reporting spending more time on these tasks than 30 years ago.

While only 3% of recent fathers across Canada took time off to receive paid parental leave benefits in 2000, more than one-quarter (27%) reported their intention to do so in 2014. This rate is significantly higher in Quebec (78%), where paternity benefits are offered to new dads in addition to parental benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). Quebec is currently the only province to offer paternity benefits, although the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour recently expressed interest in setting aside time for dads by making paternity leave a part of the proposed changes to Canada’s parental benefits program.

Greater father involvement can have an impact on family life and family relationships. In a study comparing parental leave in Quebec with the rest of Canada, author Ankita Patnaik found a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the three-year period following a father’s use of paternity leave. According to her study, fathers who took leave remained more likely to do housework, while mothers were more likely to engage in paid work. Under QPIP, Quebec dads also spent an average half-hour more per day at the family home than those outside of Quebec.

With all this evolution under way across North America, it is perhaps no wonder that many people feel as though their fathers are more involved than in the past. The Pew report mentioned earlier also found that nearly half (46%) of surveyed American fathers say they personally spend more time with their children than their fathers spent with them. In Canada, a Today’s Parent poll found that three-quarters (75%) of surveyed men said that they are more involved with their children than their fathers had been with them.

Children may also be feeling the effect of greater father involvement. According to international HBSC surveys conducted by the World Health Organization in 1993–94 and 2013–14, a growing share of 11-year-old children say they “find it easy” to talk to their fathers about things that really bother them – from 56% to 66% among girls, and from 72% to 75% for boys.

Work–life balance on modern fathers’ minds

As most fathers today are still working while also taking on a greater role in the family home, work–life balance has naturally become a growing part of the discussion about modern fatherhood. Recent data from Statistics Canada shows that most fathers – nearly eight in 10 (78%) – report being satisfied with their work–life balance. Family is central to the “life” in the work–life equation: among parents who said that they were not satisfied, the main cited reason for their dissatisfaction was “not having enough time for family life.”

Through their work–life policies and practices, employers play a significant role in enhancing and supporting the work–life quality of fathers. The same Statistics Canada study found that the share of fathers who report being satisfied with their work–life balance was consistently higher among those who have a flexible schedule (81%, vs. 76% for those without), who can take advantage of a flexible work schedule without a negative impact on their career (83%, vs. 74% for those who cannot), who have the possibility of taking leave without pay to care for their children (79%, vs. 71% for those who do not), and for those who have the possibility of taking leave without pay to provide care to a spouse, partner or other family member (81%, vs. 72% for those who do not).

“The share of fathers who report being satisfied with their work–life balance is higher for those with flexible work environments and with the option to take unpaid leave to care for their children and families.”

What’s good for the family is good for the workplace

Flexibility and work–life balance satisfaction go hand in hand, which means organizations with flexible, family/father-friendly policies are more likely to attract and retain top talent who are (or plan to become) fathers. Conversely, those that do not practise flex may drive away and/or fail to attract dads – in fact, half (49%) of surveyed fathers in Canada said they would consider making a job change if a potential employer offered more family-friendly options than their current employer, according to a Harris/Decima poll.

Modern fathers aren’t caring more, they’re just providing care differently

While fathers have always cared for their families, today’s generation is becoming increasingly involved in family caring roles – a shift that brings with it benefits for family life and family relationships. While dads from previous generations provided their care through a greater emphasis on paid work and financial stability, today’s fathers are more directly involved in their children’s early years, are spending more time with family, and are seeking workplaces that support their evolving role in family life. By taking on these new roles, they are redefining what fatherhood means to families, workplaces and their communities.


Nathan Battams is responsible for publications and social media at the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Suggested Reading

Supporting Dads: Paternity Leave and Benefits in Canada by Sara MacNaull

Dads Play a Greater Role at Home: Family Life Benefits by Nathan Battams

Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams

Modern Fatherhood: Paternal Involvement and Family Relationships by Ian DeGeer, Humberto Carolo and Todd Minerson


Public Policy Brief – Flex: From a Privilege to a Right

Sara MacNaull

Working family members are multi-taskers, managing a variety of responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities. While family members demonstrate a great deal of adaptability in managing multiple roles, they benefit from workplaces that are respectful of their lives outside of work and responsive to their requests for flexibility and autonomy.

Workplace flexibility continues to be a topic of great interest to individuals, families, employers and policymakers. There are many approaches to creating flexible work environments, including modifications, adaptations and accommodations that impact when, where and how work gets done.

Workplace flexibility: A win-win-win strategy

Families are not the only ones who benefit from workplace flexibility as family members strive to effectively manage their multiple roles. Employers are embracing workplace flexibility as a key lever to attract and retain top talent in a competitive job market. Society benefits by having a stable workforce and an economy fuelled by organizations operating at peak performance.

Recently the Prime Minister of Canada identified workplace flexibility as a “top priority” in the mandate letter to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. In particular, the Minister was instructed to:

Work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to fulfill our commitments to provide more generous and flexible leave for caregivers and more flexible parental leave.

… and to

Amend the Canada Labour Code to allow workers to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers and consult with provinces and territories on the implementation of similar changes in provincially regulated sectors.

The proposed amendments to the Labour Code would mean that employees would be given the legal right to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers.

Currently, in Canada there is no formal, legal mechanism for employees to request flex, and supervisors/managers are not legally required to consider such requests – the response is at the discretion of the employer. The right to request flex is considered by some to be a privilege for employees, and depends on the supervisor/manager’s personal perspective. Responses to requests are shaped by the culture of their organization. Right-to-request-flex legislation would change this by formalizing and normalizing this process while ensuring that employers justify why they refuse to grant the request, should they need to do so.

The Vanier Institute recently studied workplace flexibility in a benchmarking initiative that included a survey of employers and HR professionals. This survey found that employers offering flex is no longer considered optional, and is in fact key to attracting and retaining top talent in today’s competitive labour market. Many participants in the study also said that flex is already a right in their organization, as opposed to an employee privilege.

Flex is already a right elsewhere

Countries such as Australia and the U.K., as well as parts of the U.S., have implemented the right to request flex in their respective employment/labour legislations and/or regulations. However, eligibility requirements vary and, depending on the jurisdiction, it may not be available to all employees.

In Australia, the right to request flexible work arrangements (FWAs) was introduced through the Fair Work Act 2009, which provides employees who meet the eligibility requirements the legal right to request flexible work. Eligible employees include those:

  • Who are parents or who have the responsibility to care for a child who is school-aged or younger
  • With a disability
  • Who are aged 55 years and up
  • Who are experiencing family violence or caring for someone who is experiencing family violence
  • Who have worked for the employer for at least one year (though long-term casual employees may also be eligible)

In the U.K., the right to request flex was extended to all employees in 2014. Previously, this right had been limited to parents and carers, similar to some of the eligibility requirements in Australia.

In the U.S., eligibility requirements vary depending on the legislation within a particular jurisdiction. For example, employees within the state of Vermont were granted the right to request flex in 2014, the same year in which both the city of San Francisco employees and all federal U.S. employees were granted such a right.

Right to request differs from right to flex

In Australia and the U.K., the employer must provide, in writing, specific reasons for refusing a request for flex. The refusal must be due to reasonable business grounds, such as extra costs to the employer; significant loss in productivity, quality or performance; resulting inability to meet customer demands; or inability to reorganize work among other staff members.

While details of the pending right to request flex legislation are not public as of publication date, measures to facilitate flexible work could provide families with further support as they strive to manage their various responsibilities, commitments and obligations. For families, this means that work–life quality may be improved by having the time and energy to care for others and care for oneself while remaining a productive and committed employee.


Alternative work arrangements (AWAs) are temporary arrangements that differ from the norm within an organization (i.e. standard “9-to-5” workdays) and are case-by-case “one-offs” tailored to an employee’s short-term needs. These arrangements focus on the employee’s time in the office. Examples may include a phased return from maternity or parental leave for a pre-defined period of time or an adjustment to start and end times during the recovery period following an illness or injury.

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) allow employees more flexibility and autonomy around when, where and how works gets done. FWAs help employees manage their multiple roles inside and outside the office. Though some employees may find it daunting to ask their supervisors for flex, as it may be perceived as an employee privilege, for many families it’s a necessity in order for them to manage the everyday needs of family. Examples of FWAs include remote work, compressed work weeks, job sharing and flex hours.

Customized work arrangements (CWAs) are individualized and personalized work arrangements that tailor when, where and how work gets done. Unlike AWAs and FWAs, these arrangements are fluid, extend over long periods or are modified as circumstances change. Employees are evaluated on output and productivity through a results-based approach, rather than a “clock-in/clock-out” approach focused on time spent physically present in the workplace. Examples include Mass Career CustomizationTM, for example, workload dial-up or dial-down, depending on an employee’s situation.


Sara MacNaull is Program Director at the Vanier Institute of the Family and is currently working toward earning the Work–Life Certified Professional designation.

This article can be downloaded in PDF format here.


See also:

Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada
Flex at Work Benchmarking Initiative
Family Caregiving in Canada: A Fact of Life and a Human Right
Caring Enough to Flex, Flexing Enough to Care

Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada

While mothers in Canada have always played a central role in family life, there’s no question that the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – motherhood have evolved over time.

A growing share of mothers are managing paid work and family responsibilities compared with previous generations, and the dynamic relationships between women, work and family continue to evolve. To explore these relationships through a broader lens, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Mother’s Day 2016 that explores some of the long-term trends over the past half century, including:

  • An increase in women’s participation in the paid labour force, which has grown from 40% in 1968 to 82% in 2014 for those aged 25 to 54
  • A growing share of “breadwinning” moms among single-earner couple families, which has steadily increased from 4% of earners in these families in 1976 to 21% in 2014
  • A significant drop in the low-income rate among single mothers, which has fallen from 54% in 1976 to 21% in 2008
  • A declining fertility rate, which stood at 3.94 women per children in 1959 during the peak of the baby boom, but has since dropped to 1.61 in 2011
  • A continually rising average age of first-time mothers, up from 24.3 years of age in 1974 to 28.5 in 2011
  • A greater amount of time mothers are spending with family, with women reporting 421 minutes (7 hours) per day with family in 2010, up from 403 minutes (6.7 hours) in 1986

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Mother’s Day to Canada’s 9.8 million moms!

Download the Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada timeline.



See also:

Timeline: 50 Years of Families in Canada

Families and Work in Canada, by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams

Supporting Dads: Paternity Leave and Benefits in Canada

Sara MacNaull

When a new baby joins the family, family members often shift their focus from their multiple responsibilities to care for their children. Those first few days, weeks and months are a special time for the new parents and a critical formative period for the baby. However, taking a leave from work, activities, school and volunteer commitments requires flexibility and creative planning between family members and their employers.

Dads embracing paternity leave – where it’s offered

During the 2015 federal election, the newly elected federal government committed to extending parental benefits from 12 to 18 months. More recently, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour stated that she is particularly interested in setting aside time for dads, by making paternity leave a part of the changes to parental leave through the Employment Insurance (EI) program. At present time, paternity benefits are only available to dads residing in Quebec.

In Quebec, paternity benefits were first introduced in 2006 through the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), which has encouraged fathers to take a leave from work to focus on caring for a newborn child. Under QPIP, which offers more parental and paternity benefits and a greater degree of flexibility, a growing share of fathers have taken leave, and the program currently has an overall participation rate of 86.6% for eligible fathers.

According to Statistics Canada, 27.1% of recent fathers claimed or intended to take parental leave in 2014. However, this number is greatly skewed by the differences between fathers in Quebec and those in the rest of Canada. For fathers in Quebec, 78.3% claimed or intended to claim parental leave (up from 27.8% in 2005 before QPIP was implemented), compared with 9.4% outside of Quebec.

Since fathers in Quebec have embraced parental and paternity leave, many families and policy makers in other provinces have been discussing the possibility of extending paternity benefits to dads across Canada. The exact details of the government’s commitments are in the planning stage, and families are wondering whether the new plans will take a similar form to those in Quebec.

In Quebec, eligible fathers have access to 3 weeks of benefits at 75% of average weekly insurable earnings or 5 weeks at 70% of average insurable weekly earnings, up to a yearly maximum of $71,500. Average weekly insurable earnings consist of an employee’s basic, regular pay before taxes, not including any bonuses, commissions or tips.

Research shows parental leave can have a significant impact on father involvement

In a recent study comparing parental leave in Quebec with the rest of Canada, author Ankita Patnaik found that when given the option, most men embrace paternity leave. She found that before QPIP, Quebec fathers took an average 2 weeks of leave. After the parental leave policy was reformed, the average Quebec father took the full five weeks available under the paternity leave program. Patnaik’s study also found that in Quebec, there was a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the 3-year period following parental leave. Fathers remained more likely to do housework, while mothers were more likely to engage in paid work.

In the rest of Canada, maternity and parental benefits are calculated at 55% of a parent’s average insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $50,800 as of January 1, 2016. Eligible fathers may access a portion of the parental benefits by sharing with their partner (either consecutively or concurrently), as benefits are not dad-specific. Parental leave consists of 35 weeks of benefits, which is available to eligible parents. The benefits can be taken by one parent exclusively or shared among both parents, in whatever combination makes sense for their family (e.g. 25 consecutive weeks for one parent and 10 consecutive weeks for the other).

Many employers also stepping up to support dads

From the employer’s point of view, the introduction of paternity benefits will likely mean that a growing share of new dads will take a leave following the birth or adoption of a child, and may be on leave for a longer period of time. Fathers may also chose to use accumulated vacation, take advantage of their organization’s paternity leave program or share parental benefits with their partners.

If paternity benefits are introduced, it may affect human resources policies with regards to leave and benefits. Some employers offer additional support to new parents in the form of top-up benefits – a predetermined percentage of the employee’s salary as a supplement to the 55% received by EI. Employers may offer employment to temporary staff to replace employees on leave and revise human resources policies to explicitly include “fathers.”

One of the organizations in Canada that has introduced support to new dads is multinational professional services firm Deloitte. They currently offer two options for new fathers: 3 weeks of paid time off at 100% of their salary or a 6-week top-up of their EI benefits to 100% of their salary. The Deloitte Dads Network is also planning a round table in 2016 to create a survival guide for use following the birth or adoption of a child – a time in which support from the employer and colleagues can be valuable and contribute to the success of the transition to and from leave.

Becoming a parent and bringing home a new baby is an unforgettable and life-changing event for any family. Planning for a leave and ensuring financial security requires an understanding of government benefits, employer top-ups and workplace policies and programs. This is an exciting and anxious time for any growing family. Eligible families who access benefits and supports ensure the new baby is surrounded by a parent’s love and attention from day one.


Sara MacNaull is the Program Director at the Vanier Institute of the Family and is currently working toward earning the Work–Life Certified Professional designation.


Suggested Reading

Dads Play a Greater Role at Home: Family Life Benefits

Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams

Modern Fatherhood: Paternal Involvement and Family Relationships by Ian DeGeer, Humberto Carolo and Todd Minerson


Human Rights Perspectives: Emerging Issues and Workplace Impacts

Marie-Claude Landry

Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission

The following was delivered by Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, at the Canadian Work–Life Leadership Circle Round Table on February 26, 2016. Hosted by the Vanier Institute of the Family and Alterna Savings, this event brought together employers and HR professionals and practitioners to engage in conversation about work–life quality, flex and intergenerational change in workplaces.


Good morning!

I have been looking forward to this discussion all week. Thank you so much for inviting us to participate.

As the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, I’m happy to be discussing work–life balance from a human rights perspective.

I think this discussion is incredibly important, and I hope it will contribute to a better future for our children.

I must tell you that I personally have lived and understand this issue – as an employer, a daughter, a mother, and a grandmother.

Today, many employees across Canada are struggling with how to meet both their work and family caregiving obligations.

Of course, accommodating family obligations poses very real challenges for employers, too.

But the truth is, being more flexible and more proactive about accommodating family obligations is one of the best decisions an employer can make.

And here’s why – I’m going to give you three reasons.

First: because the concept of family is evolving every day, our workplaces should too.

Second: because accommodation is about working differently, not less.

And finally: because supporting employees to meet their family obligations means that everyone wins.

Before I go on, I would like to tell you a bit more about the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

We are Canada’s human rights watchdog.

We operate independently from government.

We stand up for people who are experiencing discrimination in Canada.
… people who are not receiving a fair and equal chance
… people who are not being fully included.

As you know, the Canadian Human Rights Act includes “family status” as a ground
of discrimination.

Family status – or a ground like it – is included in almost all provincial human rights codes, including the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Recently, the courts have confirmed that caregiving is a protected right under “family status.”

This means that despite workplace policies or practices, an employer must accommodate employees who are providing necessary caregiving to their loved ones.

As I mentioned, the challenge for today’s employer is that the concept of family is more complex than ever.

This brings me to my first point: The concept of family is evolving every day.

Nearly 40 years ago, when the Canadian Human Rights Act was created, the socially accepted definition of family was very limited.

Today, much has changed.

The term “family” is no longer just a mom, a dad, a brother and a sister.

It is a mom and a mom, a dad and a dad, a grandparent and a child, a friend caring for a neighbour, and so on.

So what does this mean for employers?

It means that when it comes to family obligations, employers need to keep an open mind.

Employers should review and revise policies on leave and benefits to recognize that families come in many forms.

One example of emerging family diversity issues is the increasing recognition of transgender rights.

An important change to the Canadian Human Rights Act will hopefully happen soon. It will make the rights of transgender people in Canada explicit in federal human rights law.

This is coming. And in many provinces, it has already happened, including in Ontario, which already has protections on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.

Workplace policies need to be made more inclusive to support trans employees who are transitioning, and employees with trans partners or children.

There are many agencies, including Egale and the 519 in Ontario, who can assist workplaces to be more inclusive of trans employees and their families.

Some employers are concerned. They think that as the definition of “family” expands, it will mean more accommodation requests, more absences, and less productivity.

Not true.

This brings me to my second point: Accommodation is about working differently, not less.

Accommodating employees means trying to find ways for them to meet both work and family obligations in creative and flexible ways.

Our Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations provides some examples of various flex-work options.

It also explains that accommodation is a two-way street.

It’s about give-and-take.

Employers are not required to accommodate an employee’s every wish or preference to care for their family.

For example, leaving work to attend a child’s soccer game is, in most cases, a
personal choice.

But leaving work to bring an injured child to the hospital when no other caregiver is available is an obligation of the employee that must be accommodated.

The final solutions may not be ideal either. An employee who needs to leave early to care for a loved one may be required to make up the time.

Both the employer AND the employee need to work together to find a realistic solution that is good for both of them, and that works for everyone.

Of course, from a human rights perspective, there’s something even better than single accommodation solutions.

And that brings me to my final point today: When a workplace is inclusive and proactive about accommodating family obligations, everyone wins.

Studies show that workplaces that are open to flexible work arrangements have:
• lower rates of absenteeism,
• more loyalty among staff,
• higher morale and retention, and
• increased productivity.

A flexible workplace gives employees more options to balance their work and their family obligations.

This can actually reduce requests for accommodation.

So a flexible and inclusive workplace is better for the employee…
… which is better for productivity
… for the employer
… for the economy
… for society.

Consider this…

It was not long ago that taking a year of parental leave was not even an option.

Today, it is a given.

A change to our policies can create a culture shift in our workplaces, so that we can all work and care for loved ones.

It’s about being proactive.


… because the concept of family is evolving every day and so our workplace policies should too.

… because accommodation is about working differently, not less.

… because when we are proactive about accommodating the family obligations of our staff, everyone wins.

Thank you.

This article can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here.

This document can also be found on the Canadian Human Rights Commission website.