Despite the increased awareness of discrimination based on grounds such as gender and disability, the New Brunswick human rights commission says pregnant women still face it in the workplace.
In a statement released to recognize International Women’s Day, which is being recognized on March 8, commission chair Gordon L. Porter said women’s rights in New Brunswick have improved since the
Human Rights Act
was amended in the 1970s. Before the amendments, employers could refuse to hire women or fire them if they got married.
However, in 2006-07, the commission received 17 sexual harassment complaints and 37 complaints of sex discrimination. Most of the discrimination complaints were from women and 15 were related to pregnancy.
“While these numbers may appear small, we know that many women don’t complain,” Porter said. “In every instance these situations have a major impact on the lives of the individuals who lost their job or suffer because they are not accommodated because of pregnancy.”
Porter referred to a recent complaint of three pregnant women working for the same employer who were denied sick leave for pregnancy-related illnesses and modification of their duties. The complaints were settled with an apology from the employer, who was asked to develop a policy and train staff on human rights relating to pregnancy.
Porter said discriminating against pregnant women not only is against the law, but can lead to a loss of skill and add retraining and recruitment costs. He also pointed out the
Human Rights Act
requires pregnant women to be accommodated to the point of undue hardship, which can include maternity leave, a lighter workload or sick leave for pregnancy-related illness.
The commission has a guideline, adopted in 2004, to help employers and employees understand the rights and obligations under the act. It is available online at http://www.gnb.ca/hrc-cdp/e/Guideline-on-Pregnancy-Discrimination.pdf.
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