What is pregnancy discrimination at work?
Pregnancy discrimination is exactly what it sounds like: any discrimination you’re facing at work because you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Even though it’s against the law to do this, many people still experience it.
Although pregnancy itself is not a disability, sometimes people experience medical issues or have other needs that might be considered a disability. These can happen before, during or after pregnancy, or while you are trying to become pregnant. Some examples are gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure), being on bed rest, or mastitis (breast infection) while breastfeeding.
What are my rights?
Ontario law protects you against discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, family status and other grounds. The law says you have a right to equal treatment in the workplace without discrimination even if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Pregnancy causes a number of changes in a person’s body. This may mean you need some accommodations that let you modify the type of work you do, so you can still do your job. For example, if you have a job that requires you to stand all day, a modification might be to allow you to sit down periodically.
Your employer has an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for you in order for you to continue working. There are very few reasons why an employer wouldn’t be able to do this. Some examples would be if doing so causes health and safety risks to others at your workplace, or if making an accommodation would cost so much money that the business couldn’t stay open.
You and your employer should work together to make sure you can get the accommodations you need in order to continue working. Have a conversation with your boss to tell them what types of modifications you may need because of your pregnancy or because you are trying to become pregnant. If you have a doctor’s note or other document from a professional, your boss may find this helpful in understanding your needs. Giving your boss information helps them make decisions on how to help you.
Even though you may suggest – and prefer – certain types of modifications, your employer only has a duty to give reasonable accommodations. This means your accommodations may not be exactly what you wanted, but still allow you to participate meaningfully in your workplace.
If your employer refuses to accommodate you, they are discriminating against you.
Do these rights apply only when I am pregnant?
No. You still have rights even in the following situations:
- planning to become pregnant or undergoing fertility treatments
- medical complications because of pregnancy or that might be impacted by pregnancy
- miscarriage, still birth, and abortions, and any complications that may follow as a result
- adoption and surrogate pregnancy
- childbirth, parental leave and breastfeeding
What does discrimination look like?
Discrimination can happen when you announce your pregnancy, shortly afterwards, or when your pregnancy becomes visible to others. It can also happen if you tell your employer you are planning to become pregnant.
Some forms of pregnancy-related discrimination are more obvious: being fired, having a job offer withdrawn, or being told in an interview you aren’t eligible for the job, are all forms of discrimination.
Some forms of discrimination are less obvious, and might include:
- your hours are reduced or you are no longer scheduled
- you are removed from your current position, are demoted, or transferred
- your work is being increasingly criticized or micromanaged
- you are told you are taking too much time away from work because of appointments or being sick
- you are forced to take leave or you are fired while you are on leave
- your employer refuses to modify your work or accommodate you because they think it will be too hard on them
- you are experiencing harassment from your employer or coworkers
- your employer refuses to provide you with training needed to do your job
What should I do?
Experiencing pregnancy-related workplace discrimination can be hurtful and stressful. You may be unsure of what to do next.
Contact us today to find out how we can help. Our lawyers specialize in employment and human rights law and we have extensive experience representing employees who have faced pregnancy-related discrimination. We will assess your case and, if you retain us, we will assist you in pursuing all available damages and other legal remedies. Contact us today to find out how we can help you move forward.