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Pregnancy rights in the workplace

A pregnant woman at work. Stock photo by Getty Images

If you’re pregnant or thinking about having a child, you’ve probably got concerns about how it will affect your career.

Pregnancy can present a career obstacle in workplaces since some employers are averse to hiring, promoting or just continuing to employ a woman who may need time off for medical appointments and could take months off for paid maternity leave.

The corporate “mommy track” sees diminished opportunities for women and leads some to leave the workforce. However, you have parental rights that govern your treatment at work, both before and after you give birth.

Keeping your job

Generally, you can’t be fired or demoted due to breastfeeding or planned/actual pregnancy. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked at the job. It also shouldn’t affect any other aspects of your employment such as leave, vacation, benefits, length of service or seniority.

If pregnancy interferes with your job

Speaking of accommodation, your employer must make reasonable efforts to accommodate you if your pregnancy interferes with your ability to do your job. This could include limiting any physically-demanding duties, providing a quiet space for breastfeeding, and allowing you to attend medical appointments.

However, employers have rights too. They must try to accommodate as long as it doesn’t cause “undue hardship,” which can mean compromises to health, safety or costs.

Employers and employees must work together to arrive at reasonable accommodation for mothers.

Maternity leave

Your employer can’t tell you when to take maternity leave. You can work right up until your due date, if you’re physically able and your employer can accommodate you.

Laws across Canada

Laws differ according to province or territory, but there are generally the same across Canada. The provincial and federal human rights codes forbid discrimination based on family status or gender, which includes pregnancy.

Unfortunately, many women still experience discrimination based on their pregnancy and lawsuits and human rights complaints remain common.

If you feel you’ve experienced discrimination resulting from your pregnancy, you can file a complaint with your governing human rights commission.

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