Although often a time of excitement and anticipation, pregnancy can also bring with it an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. While we sympathize with any questions you may have about sleep training, nutrition, or discipline, we will leave these topics to the experts. What we can give you is some information and reassurance about your employment rights and obligations before, during, and after your pregnancy.
In British Columbia, both employment standards and human rights legislation afford a number of protections to pregnant employees. If you are currently working and are (or plan to become) pregnant, here are six key things to keep in mind:
1. You are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks of unpaid leave, consisting of 17 weeks of pregnancy leave and 35 weeks of parental leave. A birth mother who has not taken pregnancy leave is entitled to take up to 37 weeks of unpaid leave. The 52 week maximum can be extended for special circumstances, and the Employment Standards Act (the ESA) has rules for start and end dates.
2. You can take pregnancy and parental leave regardless of how long you have been employed.
3. You are legally required to ask your employer for leave in writing. However, the courts and the Employment Standards Tribunal have clearly stated that if you fail to do so, you will still be entitled to take leave.
4. Your employer is prohibited from firing you because you are pregnant or take pregnancy or parental leave.
5. Under the ESA, as soon as your leave ends, your employer must place you in the position you held before you went on leave, or in a comparable position, unless the employer’s operations have been suspended or discontinued. (Note that some employees working in British Columbia are not subject to the ESA; if you are uncertain whether the Act applies to you, consult the Employment Standards Branch or an employment law lawyer.)
6. The courts in British Columbia have ruled that if you are dismissed before you go on leave, your notice period will be delayed until your leave ends, such that you will be entitled to receive notice or pay in lieu of that notice in addition to any compensation you receive during your leave.
As the BC Supreme Court has explained, the philosophy behind maternity leave is that women who are pregnant are entitled to a leave of absence from their jobs in order to accommodate childbirth, and they are entitled to the assurance that their job tenure is secure during the period of their absence. If you have any questions or concerns about how your employer is dealing with the news that you are pregnant, we encourage you to contact an employment lawyer to learn more about your legal rights.
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