Does my employer have to accommodate my child care schedule?

People frequently call us because their employers refuse to work with their family schedules.  Often, employers change an employee from one schedule, which worked out fine for the employee, to one that makes it hard for the employee to pick up kids from school, arrange for child care, or otherwise interferes with an employee’s personal and familial schedule.  Employees want to know- does my employer have to accommodate my schedule when it comes to child care or other family scheduling needs?

Generally speaking, employers can require their employees to work whatever schedule they want.  There are, of course, some limitations to this.  Certain industries set maximum hours guidelines for safety reasons, such as trucking and health care.  There are limits to when and how often a minor can work. There are also rules about how employers must pay employees for time worked.  Beyond that, there are only a few other limitations on when an employer can schedule an employee.

One of the most common reasons an employer may be prohibited from assigning an employee to work certain hours is if the employee has a disability that affects when they can work.  For certain disabilities, limiting the amount of hours or even the time of day an employee works may be considered a “reasonable accommodation” that an employer would be required to make.  Another reason an employer may not be allowed to require an employee to work a certain schedule could be religious accommodation.  Although the standard for religious accommodation is lower than for a disability, there is still a duty to accommodate a bona fide religious reason for adjusting a work schedule when reasonably possible.

Requests to accommodate child care schedules or for other family matters do not fall under disability or religious accommodation requirements, and there is no additional specific requirement to honor such scheduling requests.  Does this mean an employer can completely ignore your family-related scheduling request?  Not exactly.

While an employer has no specific obligation to work around scheduling requests arising out of parenting or familial obligations, there are some situations where requiring an employee to work a schedule that conflicts with their family life would be illegal.  One example is if the employer does so on a discriminatory basis.  It is illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, height, weight, or military membership.  That means that it would be illegal to let all the employees of one race have schedules that work with their child care needs and not do the same for all the employee of another race.  Of course, the employee would have to show that the difference in scheduling treatment is BECAUSE OF race and not something else (such as having drastically different jobs or seniority).  It is also illegal to retaliate against an employee for engaging in a “protected activity,” such as making a complaint of discrimination or unpaid overtime.  It would be illegal retaliation to change an employee to a schedule that you know is a hardship for them BECAUSE they made a protected complaint.

Finally, Michigan prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status.  While this does not specifically mean that an employer is required to honor scheduling requests based on child care or other family obligations, it does mean that an employer cannot treat an employee worse than other employees due to an employee having children or their marital status.  If an employer generally honors scheduling requests for other reasons (such as second jobs, hobbies, or vacations) and does not honor similar scheduling requests when the reason is related to the employee’s familial status, that could be considered illegal discrimination based on an employee’s familial status.

If you have questions about familial status discrimination or any other employment law issue, call Gold Star Law today.