The British Columbia Court of Appeal recently held that household chores performed as children and teenagers are not compensable unless they are exploitative or manifestly detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the child or teenager.
In McDonald Estate, four siblings grew up on a family dairy farm, performing farming chores from an early age through their teenage years. As part of their estate plan, the siblings’ parents transferred their shares in the farming corporation to one of the siblings, leaving preferred shares amounting to about 10% of the farm’s value to the other three siblings. These three siblings commenced an action for unjust enrichment relating to the work they had performed on the farm growing up.
At trial, the plaintiffs’ claims for damages for unjust enrichment succeeded in relation to the unpaid work they had performed as teenagers. They were awarded damages of $350,000 each. The defendants appealed.
On appeal, the parties accepted that the work performed by the plaintiffs during their teenage years conferred a benefit on the defendants and a corresponding deprivation to the plaintiffs. However, in considering whether there was a juristic reason for the enrichment, the Court found that societal norms of family life included expectations that family members assist one another. The Court stated that the performance of chores by children in a family, even in a farming family where the childhood efforts could be considered extraordinary as measured against the majority of Canadian households, were not so beyond societal norms as to attract compensation. The Court stated that the performance of chores by children is generally viewed positively in Canadian society as it fosters a sense of responsibility and family, allowing children to gain valuable work experience in an environment that is not overly competitive or taxing and allowing children to learn and experience the importance of doing tasks for others without expecting monetary compensation. As a matter of public policy, chores performed by children in a family setting would not attract damages under the doctrine of unjust enrichment, unless they were exploitative or manifestly detrimental to the children’s health or wellbeing.