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Job Rights and Pregnancy

Sandra works one day a week for a local accountant to supplement the family's farm income. She would like more hours, but hasn't asked her employer because she assumes no more work is available.

While Sandra is on maternity leave, her employer decides to make Sandra's job half time and offers that position to her temporary replacement. When Sandra returns to work at the conclusion of her maternity leave she is told she is no longer needed at the office.

Can employers legally do this?

Sandra's employer clearly discriminated against her by firing her. Employers cannot terminate someone because she is on pregnancy or maternity leave, even if they like the replacement worker better.

If Sandra wanted the half-time job and if it was reasonably possible to hold it open until her return to work, her employer may also have discriminated against her by failing to offer her this opportunity. Employers must consider the impact of business decisions on women who are temporarily absent from the workplace because of pregnancy.

Pregnancy discrimination is illegal under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

Sometimes this discrimination is deliberate. For example, some employers may terminate women because they think pregnant employees don't suit the 'image' of the job. Some employers refuse to hire women who are planning to have children.

It is probably more common, however, for pregnancy discrimination to be unintentional. This can happen when a general rule or practice happens to affect pregnant employees more negatively than others. For instance, a company may require everyone to work shifts, but a pregnant woman may be unable to do this. When such indirect discrimination occurs, employers have a duty to make reasonable efforts to accommodate pregnant employees.

Employers must investigate whether accommodation is possible, but are not required to provide it if it would cause them undue hardship. If all workers must do heavy lifting, for example, it may be impossible to find light duties for a pregnant employee. Quite often, though, it is possible to change someone's working conditions on a temporary basis.

Accommodation includes any leaves of absences needed because of pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness or childbirth. It can also include time off for doctors' appointments, temporary job modifications or transfers, part-time work, special equipment, and many other temporary adjustments. An Ontario police department, for example, provided maternity uniforms for its pregnant officers.

For more information contact the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in Regina at (306)787-2530 or 1-800-667-8577. In Saskatoon at (306)933-5952 or 1-800-667-9249, or by e-mail at shrc@justice.gov.sk.ca