Pregnancy Discrimination in Alberta Workplaces: A Guide

By: Bow River Law

Published: 2 November 2023

Pregnancy discrimination is a serious issue that can have devastating effects on pregnant individuals and their careers. In Alberta, Canada, there are legal protections in place to prevent discrimination based on pregnancy in the workplace. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of pregnancy discrimination in Alberta, including what it is, employer obligations, employee rights, and steps to take when facing discrimination.

This guide also covers some closely related forms of discrimination, including what we call maternity discrimination.

This guide is intended for information and discussion purposes and should not be considered legal advice.  This guide is directed primarily at non-lawyers.  Lawyers and those who are keen to learn more about the technical operation of pregnancy and maternity discrimination should do further research, including by reading summaries of relevant caselaw.

What Is Pregnancy Discrimination in Alberta?

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfavorably because of their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  This can manifest in various forms, such as refusal to hire, denial of promotions or pay raises, demotion, layoff, and even termination of employment. Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited under the Alberta Human Rights Act, which guarantees equal treatment and protection for several different groups of individuals with historical disadvantages and specific vulnerabilities, including pregnant employees.  Under the Act, Pregnancy discrimination is covered under discrimination on the basis of “gender”.

Maternity Discrimination overlaps with Pregnancy Discrimination and is closely related.  Under the Alberta Human Rights Act, Maternity Discrimination is not explicitly listed, but would be covered under the explicitly protected grounds of “Gender” or “Sex”.  Maternity Discrimination would relate more to an employee’s treatment while on maternity leave or after returning from leave.

Alberta has taken significant steps to address and prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The Alberta Human Rights Act is a crucial piece of legislation that protects individuals from discrimination based on various grounds, including pregnancy. This act ensures that pregnant employees are entitled to the same rights, benefits, and opportunities as their non-pregnant counterparts.

Under the Alberta Human Rights Act, employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. This means that if a pregnant employee requires adjustments to their work environment or schedule due to pregnancy-related conditions, the employer must make reasonable efforts to accommodate these needs. This could include providing additional breaks, modifying work duties, or allowing for flexible working hours.

Furthermore, the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits employers from asking questions about an individual’s pregnancy or plans to have children during the hiring process. This ensures that employers cannot discriminate against potential employees based on their reproductive choices or intentions. It promotes a fair and equal hiring process, where individuals are evaluated solely on their qualifications and abilities.

In addition to the legal protections provided by the Alberta Human Rights Act, there are also various resources available to pregnant employees who believe they have experienced discrimination. The Alberta Human Rights Commission is responsible for enforcing the Act and investigating complaints of discrimination. They provide guidance, support, and mediation services to individuals who believe their rights have been violated.

It is important for pregnant employees to be aware of their rights and to speak up if they believe they have been subjected to discrimination. By doing so, they can help create a workplace environment that is inclusive, supportive, and free from discrimination. Employers also have a responsibility to educate themselves about the rights of pregnant employees and to ensure they are providing a fair and equitable work environment for all.

Pregnancy Discrimination Maternity Leave Rights Calgary Alberta

Pregnancy Discrimination and Maternity Leave Rights

One key legal right related to pregnancy discrimination is the right to maternity leave. Under the Alberta Employment Standards Code and regulations, pregnant employees are entitled to take maternity leave of up to 16 weeks, and then parental leave for up to 62 weeks.  It is common for people to refer to the whole 78 potential weeks as the “maternity leave”, although technically only 16 weeks of that time is described in the Code as maternity leave.  The maximum total period was increased in recent years from the old maximum total of 52 weeks after Government of Canada increased the maximum Employment Insurance period for maternity to 78 weeks.  A portion of the maternity leave can be taken before or after the birth of the child, and it is not mandatory to take the full 78 total weeks. Employers are prohibited from penalizing or firing an employee for taking maternity leave, both under the Code for that specific 78 weeks, and more generally under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Maternity leave is an essential right that ensures the well-being of both the mother and the child. It allows expectant mothers to take the necessary time off work to prepare for the arrival of their newborn, to recover from childbirth, and to spend time with the child. During this period, women can focus on their physical and emotional health, bond with their baby, and establish a nurturing environment for their child’s early development.

Additionally, maternity leave allows new parents to adjust to the demands and responsibilities of parenthood. It provides an opportunity for fathers and other spouses to actively participate in the care of their newborns, fostering a sense of bonding and shared responsibility within the family. This shared parenting experience not only benefits the child’s development but also promotes gender equality and work-life balance.

Furthermore, maternity leave plays a crucial role in reducing pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. By guaranteeing job protection during the leave period, it ensures that pregnant employees do not face negative consequences for exercising their right to become parents. This protection helps to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment, where employees feel valued and respected regardless of their family status.

In conclusion, maternity leave is a fundamental right that protects pregnant employees from discrimination and ensures the well-being of both mothers and their children. It allows expectant parents to prepare for the arrival of their newborn, establish a strong bond, and adjust to the demands of parenthood. By providing job protection and fostering a supportive work environment, maternity leave plays a crucial role in promoting gender equality and work-life balance. It is a social responsibility that recognizes the importance of early childhood development and the overall well-being of families.

Pregnancy Discrimination Maternity Leave Employer Obligations Under Alberta Human Rights Act

Employer Obligations Under the Alberta Human Rights Act

Employers in Alberta have a legal obligation to prevent and address pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. This includes providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, such as modified work schedules or adjustments to job duties. Employers must also ensure that their policies and practices do not disadvantage pregnant employees or create a hostile work environment.

One of the key aspects of the Alberta Human Rights Act is the protection it provides to pregnant employees. The Act recognizes that pregnancy is a unique and special time in a woman’s life, and it aims to ensure that pregnant employees are treated fairly and with respect in the workplace.

When it comes to preventing pregnancy discrimination, employers must take proactive steps to create an inclusive and supportive work environment. This means providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, such as allowing them to take more frequent breaks, providing a comfortable seating arrangement, or modifying their work schedules to accommodate medical appointments or prenatal classes.  Employers are required to accommodate a disability or pregnancy to the point of “undue hardship”, which means that if a pregnant employee reasonably requires an accommodation, their employer will be required to provide it unless the financial or operational cost on the employer is very high.

Moreover, employers must ensure that their policies and practices do not disadvantage pregnant employees or create a hostile work environment. This includes reviewing and revising policies related to hiring, promotion, and termination to ensure that they do not discriminate against pregnant individuals, even if that discrimination is unintentional. Employers should also provide training to their managers and supervisors on how to prevent pregnancy discrimination and create a supportive workplace culture.

In addition to these obligations, employers should also be aware of the potential consequences of failing to comply with the Alberta Human Rights Act. If an employer is found to have discriminated against a pregnant employee, they may be required to pay compensation for the pain and suffering experienced by the employee and any financial losses suffered by the employee as a result of the discrimination.  Pain and suffering awards in discrimination cases can range anywhere from a few thousand to $50,000 or more in Alberta.  Employers may also be ordered to implement specific measures to prevent future discrimination and to provide training to their employees on the rights of pregnant individuals.

Overall, it is crucial for employers in Alberta to understand and fulfill their obligations under the Alberta Human Rights Act when it comes to pregnancy discrimination. By doing so, they not only ensure compliance with the law but also create a positive and inclusive work environment where all employees, including pregnant individuals, can thrive and contribute to the success of the organization.

Pregnancy Discrimination Maternity Leave Employee Obligations Under Alberta Human Rights Act

Employee Obligations Under the Alberta Human Rights Act

Employers have human rights obligations to pregnant employees, but pregnant employees also have obligations to their employers in the human rights accommodation process.  This is sometimes called the “accommodation two-way street”. 

If a pregnant employee asks for workplace accommodations, their employer might ask them to provide a Doctor’s note explaining their restrictions and abilities so the employer can provide an accommodation that reasonably meets the needs of the pregnant employee.  If the employee refuses to provide medical documentation substantiating the nature of the requested accommodation, an employer will often not be required to provide the accommodation. 

Supporting Employees During and After Pregnancy

Supporting employees during and after pregnancy is essential for maintaining a healthy and inclusive workplace. Employers can take various steps to provide support, including offering flexible work arrangements, providing access to lactation rooms and breastfeeding breaks, and implementing effective policies to prevent and address pregnancy discrimination.

Alberta Human Rights Act: Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination

The Alberta Human Rights Act provides pregnant employees with protection against pregnancy discrimination. Employers found guilty of discrimination can face serious consequences, including financial penalties and damage to their reputation. It is crucial for employers to understand and comply with the provisions of the Act to ensure a fair and inclusive work environment.

A pregnancy discrimination compliant must be brought by an employee under the Alberta Human Rights Act within one (1) year of when they were discriminated against.  This is a very strict deadline, so if you believe you have been discriminated against you need to speak to an employment lawyer as soon as possible, as far before the filing deadline as you can.

Workplace Scenarios: Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination

Understanding real-life workplace scenarios can help shed light on the different forms of pregnancy discrimination. Here are some examples of situations that might be considered pregnancy discrimination:

  • An employer fires a pregnant employee shortly after she is “showing” as pregnant.
  • An employer fires a pregnant employee shortly after she advises the employer she is pregnant.
  • A pregnant employee is passed over for a promotion in favor of a less qualified candidate.
  • An employer refuses to make accommodations for a pregnant employee’s medical appointments.
  • An employer fires a pregnant employee for missing some work due to pregnancy-related illness.
  • An employer insists that a pregnant employee do heavy lifting or other physically demanding tasks.
  • A pregnant employee is subjected to derogatory comments or jokes about her pregnancy.

Pregnancy Discrimination Cases: Lessons from Alberta

Pregnancy discrimination cases in Alberta have provided valuable lessons on the importance of recognizing and addressing this issue. These cases have highlighted the need for employers to have clear policies, provide training on pregnancy discrimination, and take proactive steps to prevent discrimination from occurring in the first place.

Pregnancy and Job Security: What Alberta Law Says

Job security is a valid concern for pregnant employees, as they may fear losing their jobs due to discrimination. However, Alberta law prohibits employers from terminating an employee solely on the grounds of pregnancy or in relation to taking maternity leave. Pregnant employees have the right to return to their jobs after their maternity leave, and any attempt by an employer to hinder this right is unlawful.

Seeking Legal Remedies: Steps to Take When Facing Pregnancy Discrimination

If you believe you have faced pregnancy discrimination in your workplace, it is important to take appropriate steps to protect your rights. Here are some key steps to consider:

  1. Gather evidence of discrimination by documenting all conversations, emails, texts and incidents related to your pregnancy.
  2. Go to your doctor and get a medical note indicating the workplace accommodations you need during your pregnancy.  If those needs change, go to the doctor and get an updated medical note.
  3. Consult with a pregnancy discrimination lawyer to understand your legal options, rights and obligations.
  4. Inform your employer or human resources department about the situation.
  5. File a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
  6. Consider pursuing a related legal claim for damages and compensation, such as a wrongful termination or constructive dismissal claim.

Other Employees Affected By Pregnancy and Maternity

Spouses or family members of a pregnant woman or woman on maternity can experience employment discrimination where the woman is part of the family unit they are responsible for.  For example, if an employee was refused some work accommodations to give them the ability to help out with a pregnant person in their immediate family unit who was experiencing illness or some other challenge related to pregnancy or maternity, that person might have a claim for discrimination the basis of family status.

Hiring a Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer Calgary Alberta

What to Consider when Hiring a Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer

When facing pregnancy discrimination, hiring the right lawyer is instrumental in ensuring your rights are protected. Here are a few factors to consider when hiring a pregnancy discrimination lawyer:

  • Experience and expertise in pregnancy discrimination cases.
  • Understanding of Alberta’s human rights laws.
  • Availability and responsiveness.

Resources for Pregnant Employees in Alberta

Pregnant employees in Alberta have access to various resources to help them understand their rights and seek support. These resources include:

Pregnancy discrimination in Alberta workplaces is a real and concerning issue. It is important for both employers and employees to be aware of their rights and obligations under the law. By promoting a culture of inclusion and understanding, we can work towards eliminating pregnancy discrimination and creating equal opportunities for all individuals in the workplace.

Contact our team of experienced workplace lawyers in Calgary to discuss your legal rights and obligations in the face of your pregnancy or maternity situation.