Human Resources Interview on Family Status

November 4th, 2013 by Dan Stone

An interview with Flora Poon, B. Com., J.D., LL.B.

Flora_Poon72Flora Poon, a fifth year commercial litigation lawyer with DSF who also practises employment law, took part in the Devry Smith Frank Exclusive Human Resources Seminar Series this fall to speak on accommodation of family status in the workplace. Afterwards, she took the time to answer questions about about how to effectively handle employment law cases in particular family status claims

WHAT IS YOUR PRIMARY FOCUS AS A COMMERCIAL LITIGATION LAWYER IN YOUR EMPLOYMENT LAW CASES?
My primary focus is to ascertain what the client needs. Clients come to me with specific questions about how to get from point A to point B, and I try to assess their individual needs and determine how to get them there in the most cost-effective manner.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STRATEGIC THINKING WHEN IT COMES TO EMPLOYMENT LAW ?
The employment relationship is an important one. Most of our lives revolve around our family, friends and our jobs. We spend half of our time in our working environments. Commercial litigation is a very personal area of law because, whether we are acting for the employer or an employee, from their perspective, it is not just a job but is part of their lives. My strategy is to try and understand where each party is coming from, where they are trying to go, and how I can best facilitate that as counsel.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST FACTOR IN UNDERSTANDING YOUR CLIENTS’ EMPLOYMENT LAW NEEDS?
The main thing is to listen. Whether I act for an employer or an employee, I am dealing with individuals on all fronts. Employer representatives make decisions to allow/refuse accommodation and/or terminate an employment relationship. Employees push to alter their terms of employment to best accommodate their needs in other parts of their lives.

WHAT WERE THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS THAT YOU WERE ASKED ABOUT FAMILY STATUS AT TODAY’S SEMINAR?
The most common questions concerned the extent to which an employer needs to accommodate, and whether accommodation must be given beyond what would be deemed reasonable. In my presentation, I focused on communicating to employers that the duty to accommodate with respect to family status exists. The trends as set out in the courts are leaning towards greater accommodation. This is increasingly important as caregiving continues to expand beyond normal childcare duties to include eldercare. Employers need to address issues when they are raised and preferably have a procedural mechanism in place. If they ignore an employee’s request, they expose themselves to a claim for discrimination and/or constructive dismissal. That being said, there is no case law out there that requires an employer to pay employees if they don’t provide services. Both sides need to understand that the goal is to have open communication and to work together to establish a mutually beneficial employment relationship.


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