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Can my boss fire me or reduce my hours because I’m pregnant?

Pregnant women can sometimes find themselves discriminated against in the workplace. An employer may view pregnancy as a prelude to absenteeism or reduced productivity, or they dread the potential hassle of finding a maternity leave replacement. As a result, pregnant women are sometimes fired from their jobs or given reduced hours, responsibilities, or wages to induce them to quit.

Pregnancy is a protected ground in the federal Human Rights Act, as well as each province’s respective act, meaning you cannot be discriminated against because you’re expecting. If an employer terminates you due to your pregnancy, you have grounds to file a human rights complaint.

Instead of termination, some employers may try “constructive dismissal,” which means changing the terms of your employment without your permission with an aim to make you quit. This would include reduced hours or salary, as happened at a B.C. sports bar in 2013.

After buying Maverick’s Sports Lounge in 2013, the new owner reduced the shifts for off-peak times. While all staff had their hours reduced, a pregnant server saw hers drastically cut, going from four shifts per week to just one.

Other employees heard the owner make unflattering remarks about her, including referring to her as a “pregnant bitch” and saying she was bad for the image of the bar. 

After a month with no shifts, the server considered herself constructively dismissed and sued the bar for lost wages and emotional damages.

The human rights tribunal ruled the reduction of her shifts was “drastic” and “arbitrary” and were meant to make her quit. Because not being pregnant was not a job requirement, he was guilty of sex discrimination. The server won $9,500 in damages plus interest.

Constructive dismissal can include other actions besides reducing hours or pay. It can also involve a demotion, reduction or elimination of benefits or bonuses, transfer to another job you’re not qualified for, or transfer to a different location that is significantly farther from your current one. Basically, it means making you uncomfortable or unhappy enough to quit. However, you don’t actually have to quit your job in order to file a complaint over constructive dismissal.

If this has happened to you, as a result of pregnancy or another form of discrimination, you may have grounds for a human rights complaint. Check your provincial or territorial human rights code and get more information from your local human rights commission to determine if you have a case.

Read more:

Canadian Human Rights Act: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/h-6/fulltext.html

Canadian Human Rights Commission: What is discrimination? http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/eng/content/what-discrimination