Human Rights Law and Pregnancy
Under human rights law, pregnancy is a protected ground of discrimination under sex/gender. This means that an employer cannot legally terminate an employee because they are pregnant. However, this does not mean that a pregnant employee cannot be terminated. An employer can legally terminate if the pregnancy in no way played a factor in the decision to terminate. If in any way the decision to terminate employment is tainted by an employee’s pregnancy, it is in violation of human rights law. In other words, the violation does not only occur if the pregnancy is the primary motive for termination; the pregnancy only needs to play a small part in the motivation to terminate for there to be a violation.
A practical example is an attendance policy resulting in adverse treatment of an employee that is pregnant. Suppose an employee exhausts all permitted leave time due to doctor appointments and illness related to the pregnancy. This employee is then terminated due to taking an unpermitted day off for which she had no banked time off. In this example, it would be unlikely that an employer would be able to establish that the sole basis for termination was a failure to attend work on that one instance; conversely, it is likely that the cumulative absences, which include time-off taken due to pregnancy, was at least a factor here. This would constitute a violation of human rights law.
Suppose, on the other hand, an employee was hired for a role requiring a significant skill set for a project facing a timely deadline. Shortly after hiring this employee, they reveal that they are going through a pregnancy. This employee also fails to live up to crucial performance standards and expectations required of this position. The employer eventually decides to terminate the employment contract. Under this scenario, it is more likely that the pregnancy did not contribute to a failure to display and execute needed skills and performance objectives of the job. Provided that there is no intersection between pregnancy and the reason for termination here, there would not be a violation of human rights law.