My Employer Is Treating Me Negatively Because I Am Pregnant – Now What?

In British Columbia, the Employment Standards Act, R.S.B.C., c. 113 (the “ESA”) provides significant employment rights for pregnant women. Under the ESA pregnant women have the right to take an unpaid leave of absence (up to 17 consecutive weeks) regardless of their length of employment. An employer must not because of a woman’s pregnancy terminate her employment or change a condition of her employment without her written consent. As soon as the maternity leave ends, the employer must place the employee in the position they held before taking maternity leave or in a comparable position. Therefore, employees who find changes have been implemented to their jobs or who find their position has been eliminated upon their return from maternity leave may make a complaint against an employer at the Employment Standards Branch.

An employee may also be able to file a complaint for discrimination with the BC Human Rights Tribunal if an employee is fired, laid off, denied opportunities or experiences other negative treatment because they are pregnant or taking maternity leave. Although the Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C., c. 210 (the “Code”) does not specifically enumerate pregnancy as a prohibited ground of discrimination, the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd., 1989 CanLII 96 made it clear that, “discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination.” To succeed in a claim for discrimination an employee will need to establish:

  • The employee was pregnant;
  • The employee suffered some adverse treatment in the workplace; and
  • The employee’s pregnancy was a factor in the adverse treatment she received.

The employee’s pregnancy needs only to be one factor in the adverse treatment; it does not need to be the only, or event the primary factor, for an employee’s complaint for discrimination to be established.

If you are an employee experiencing any negative treatment from your employer because of your pregnancy you should consult with an employment lawyer to better understand your rights.

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