A guide for parents in Canada

Do you work a non-standard schedule?

As parents know, standard child care operating hours usually don’t meet the needs of parents who work early morning, evenings, overnight shifts, rotating and split shifts, casual/on-call jobs, weekends, other irregular shifts or the child care needs of seasonal workers. Most regulated child care, especially centres, operate on a “standard” work day basis - roughly 8:00 am to 6 pm.

Experience and research show that Canada’s traditional child care funding arrangements made it financially difficult or impossible for child care services to meet out-of-the-ordinary parent schedules. 

Today the public funding situation for child care is in the process of changing, as the federal government and provinces/territories have committed to the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) plan to make child care affordable, accessible, high quality, inclusive and flexible. See Who's responsible? for details about the policy changes.

Non-standard work and child care in Canada: A challenge for parents, policy makers, and child care provision, a report funded by the federal government and published by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit in 2021, provides detailed information about child care policy and programmes for non-standard workers across Canada. The executive summary is available in EN and FR.

But although provinces and territories have committed to improve the availability of non-standard hours child care, regulated child care options for parents who work non-standard hours remain very limited in all regions of Canada. 

A 2021 report on non-standard hours child care, written before changes under CWELCC began, found  the following:

  • The need for non-standard hours child care has been identified in all regions of Canada.
  • There are very few non-standard hours options anywhere in Canada, especially outside “slightly” non-standard hours.  
  •  “Non-standard” hours include a wide variety of child care possibilities – from slightly extended hours (from as early as 6:00 AM or until 8:00 PM) to late night, full overnights, weekends and “on demand”.  
  • The approach to non-standard hours child care is very variable by province and territory. 
  • Provision of non-standard child care is extremely costly for the service provider both in dollars and in human resources.  

Why is non-standard hours child care so scarce?

For analysis of the challenges faced by non-standard hours child care services, and policy solutions, see Developing non-standard hours child care  (Childcare Resource and Research Unit, 2022).

Some provincial/ territorial governments have experimented with options or provided special funding to facilitate non-standard hours child care, while some service providers have developed programs on their own. But non-standard hours child care is especially costly to provide and operate. Research and analysis show that public funding and public policy are needed to ensure that more adequate options for parents are in place.

Options for parents working shift work or non-standard hours

Identifying non-standard child care in your province/territory

  • Among regulated child care possibilities, both centres and regulated family child care may be able to accommodate non-standard hours.
  • A limited number of workplaces with many non-standard workers such as hospitals facilitate or provide extended hours child care. These may allow some use by families in the surrounding community. If these exist in your community, it may be useful to contact them.
  • A provincial government may help with extra support for extended hours care. 

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Does an employer have a duty to accommodate shift-working parents?

A decision at the Human Rights Tribunal is relevant to the issue of parents working non-standard hours. With little or no access to appropriate child care options, in 2004, a shift-working parent with three young children requested that her employer, the Canada Border Services Agency, provide her with a stable shift to accommodate her family situation.

Fiona Johnstone’s human rights case won at the Human Rights Tribunal. Her employer, the Government of Canada, appealed the ruling but in February 2013, the federal appeals court ruled that the employer had discriminated against her on the basis of her family status. The court found that Johnstone was unfairly denied a full-time stable shift, stating that accommodating family obligations should be considered a legitimate need by the employer. Other human rights rulings have had the same result: employers have a duty to accommodate family status, along with religion and other considerations.

A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations: Collaborative Approaches for a Supportive and Well-performing Workplace, a booklet prepared by the Canadian Human Rights Commission is a good resource for parents about employers’ responsibilities to accommodate family status.