For pregnant employees, the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on gender, which includes pregnancy and maternity leave. For employees who are parents, the Act prohibits discrimination based on family status, which includes childcare and other family responsibilities.
How does the Alberta Human Rights Act protect employees who are pregnant or parents?
What you need to know
- Parents include biological parents, adoptive parents, or other legal guardians.
- An employer cannot discriminate against an employee (or job candidate) because they are pregnant or could get pregnant.
- An employer cannot discriminate against an employee for taking maternity or parental leave.
- An employer cannot discriminate against an employee because of their family responsibilities, such as caring for a child.
- An employer has a duty to accommodate an employee’s needs based on gender and family status to the point of undue hardship.
- An employee or job candidate who has experienced discrimination can make a human rights complaint.
The protected ground of gender under the Act includes pregnancy. Denying or limiting employment opportunities because of pregnancy or the potential of getting pregnant goes against the Act.
Examples of discrimination related to pregnancy include:
- denying someone a job because they are of child-bearing age
- asking on a job application or in an interview if the candidate is pregnant or plans to have children
- limiting or withholding employment opportunities or training because of pregnancy
- not assigning an employee to a project because they are pregnant
- deducting time off work for using the washroom often
- terminating employment because the employee is pregnant or absent from work for health reasons due to the pregnancy
- not accommodating work restrictions due to pregnancy, such as heavy lifting
- denying sick leave benefits to a pregnant employee
- making offensive, inappropriate comments, or jokes towards a pregnant employee
- making assumptions about a pregnant employee’s ability to carry out their job duties
- making a pregnant employee take a leave of absence simply because they are pregnant
Employers have a duty to accommodate an employee’s pregnancy to the point of undue hardship. This may mean allowing the employee to take breaks more often, modify their work duties, or take a leave of absence. Read our Duty to accommodate at work page to learn more.
Maternity and parental leave
Only a pregnant person can take maternity leave. Any parent can take parental leave to care for their newborn or newly adopted child. Often, a pregnant person takes a maternity leave followed by a parental leave.
A common issue is how employers treat pregnant employees on maternity or parental leave versus employees on other sick leaves. Pregnancy is a valid health-related reason to be absent from work. This includes pre-delivery, childbirth, and recovery from childbirth. Employers must treat employees who cannot work due to a pregnancy the same as they would employees absent for other health reasons. For example, an employer with a health benefits plan cannot exclude employees on leave due to a pregnancy from accessing the plan if they allow other employees on a sick leave to access the plan.
However, the full maternity leave or parental leave is not necessarily a health-related leave. Parts of the maternity leave may be voluntary leave while periods with health issues related to the pregnancy can be health-related leaves. For example, a pregnant employee may experience pre-birth complications and start her maternity leave early. During this period of complications, the employee is on a health-related leave, not a voluntary leave. They should be treated the same as other employees on a sick leave.
An employer must also treat all employees on voluntary leaves the same. This includes the voluntary portion of a maternity or parental leave and other voluntary leaves such as a sabbatical.
There are other laws that apply to maternity and parental leaves. For example, employment standards laws set out who is eligible for maternity and parental leaves, and they prohibit an employer from terminating an employee while on leave. Employment insurance legislation sets out who can receive maternity and parental leave benefit payments. Read our Other helpful agencies page to learn more.
Family status is a protected ground under the Act. This means employers have a duty to accommodate situations where an employee’s family responsibilities interfere with them performing their work duties. This duty often arises where an employee’s caregiving responsibilities and legal obligations towards others, such as caring for children, are greater than usual. It does not apply to personal choices, such as extracurricular activities. An employer may not be able to accommodate an employee if accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship or if the job requirement is a bona fide occupational requirement.
There are other laws that apply to employees who have caregiving responsibilities. For example, Alberta’s Employment Standards Code describes several leaves available to employees, including compassionate care leave, critical illness of child leave, and long-term illness and injury leave. These are job-protected leaves, meaning an employer cannot terminate an employee while they are on leave. An employer does not have to pay an employee on leave, but the employee may qualify for Employment Insurance or other benefit payments. Contact Alberta’s Employment Standards to learn more.
Yes, but it depends on the situation.
The employer’s duty to accommodate only applies to the parent or caregiver’s legal responsibility to meet the child’s needs, not to personal choices such as attending dance class or soccer games. The employee and employer must work together to find reasonable accommodation. The employer must accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship. Employees cannot demand only one option for accommodation.
For example, an employee must work until 5 p.m. but their child’s daycare also closes at 5 p.m. The employee and employer must work together to find reasonable accommodation that does not cause the employer undue hardship. Perhaps the employee can adjust their workday to begin and end a half hour earlier. However, if no other employee can close the office, adjusting the employee’s hours may cause the employer undue hardship.
Employers who receive requests for accommodation from more than one employee may consider making a policy about family status accommodations. The policy can outline the employer’s approach and the limitations they may face.
An employer cannot fire or terminate an employee because they are pregnant. This is discrimination based on gender.
It is not discrimination for an employer to terminate a pregnant employee if they have a legitimate and non-pregnancy related reason. However, employment standards laws prohibit an employer from terminating an employee on a leave unless they meet certain conditions. Employment standards laws also set out rules employers must follow when terminating employees, including when to give notice or pay in lieu of notice (sometimes called severance pay). Contact Alberta’s Employment Standards to learn more.
An employer cannot fire or terminate an employee on maternity or parental leave because they are on leave. This is discrimination based on family status.
It is not discrimination for an employer to terminate an employee on maternity or parental leave if they have a legitimate and non-leave related reason. However, employment standards laws prohibit an employer from terminating an employee on leave unless they meet certain conditions. Employment standards laws also set out rules employers must follow when terminating employees, including when to give notice or pay in lieu of notice (sometimes called severance pay). Contact Alberta’s Employment Standards to learn more.
An employee’s pregnancy may prevent them from doing their job. Where possible, an employer should try to modify the workplace so the employee can work within their medical limitations.
For example, a pregnant store clerk may not have to carry heavy boxes from the stock room if someone else on staff can do this work. The clerk could take on more duties that are less physically demanding in exchange for not lifting boxes.
Sometimes a pregnant employee cannot do their job because their duties cannot be changed. In this case, the employer should treat the employee like any other employee who temporarily cannot carry out their duties. This might mean temporarily reassigning the employee or exploring leaves.
Can an employer force an employee to begin maternity leave early or prevent an employee from returning earlier than planned?
It is discrimination under the Act to force an employee to begin maternity leave early simply because they are pregnant, or to prevent the employee from returning earlier than planned.
An employer must provide the returning employee with the same or substantially the same work at the rate of pay they received before going on leave.
The Commission can only deal with human rights issues related to employees who are pregnant or parents. However, other laws cover who is eligible for maternity or parental leaves, Employment Insurance (EI) payments, and more. Read our Other helpful agencies page to learn more.
Yes. Parents who adopt children have the same rights and responsibilities under the Act as other parents. Employers cannot discriminate against adoptive parents who are eligible for or take parental leave. Employers also have a duty to accommodate adoptive parents’ childcare obligations.