Congratulations, you’ve just welcomed a bundle of joy into your life! Now that you are preparing to go back to work, you may also be a bundle of nerves. It is certainly an adjustment, and some worry is to be expected.
One concern you should not have to contend with, however, is whether or not you will have a position when you come back. What should you know when returning to work from your pregnancy or parental leave?
- You Are Protected
- You Have Legal Options
- You Are Valued
There are two key pieces of legislation that protect you as you return to work:
The Employment Standards Act
Under the ESA, pregnant employees can take up to 17 weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave from work; birth mothers who take this leave can also take up to 61 weeks of unpaid parental leave. New parents (including birth mothers who do not take pregnancy leave) are entitled to up to 63 weeks of parental leave.
The most significant protection for those returning to work is the right to reinstatement. Simply, at the conclusion of your leave, you are to be reinstated to the position you most recently held, if it exists, or a comparable position if it does not.
Further, you will be reinstated at the rate of pay you most recently earned — or the rate you would be earning if you had worked throughout your leave.
What the ESA does not provide is any greater protection than that given to other employees. Say, for example, that your organization has lost a significant client/customer and it results in a downsizing of the workforce. You may be affected by this. However, the onus will be on your employer to establish that the decision to dismiss you is completely unrelated to your leave.
The ESA also includes the right to be free from penalty; that is, your employer cannot penalize or retaliate against you because you took leave.
The Ontario Human Rights Code
This law aims to give all people equal rights and opportunities without discrimination. One of the protected classes named in the Code is “Sex,” and pregnancy and breastfeeding fall under this legal umbrella.
It is prohibited, under the Code, for employers to “fire, demote, or lay you off because you were, are or may become pregnant.” Further, you have an equal right to opportunities and promotions whether you plan to become pregnant, are pregnant, or were pregnant.
Also note that when you return to work, your employer should also accommodate your needs in terms of breastfeeding and/or expressing milk.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Child-bearing benefits society as a whole. Thus, women should not be disadvantaged because they are or have been pregnant.” Most employers recognize that their workplaces benefit as well when women’s rights are fully protected — and they are eager to welcome you back as a valued contributor.
Again, most workplaces will have missed you, want you back on the team — and wouldn’t mind seeing a baby picture or two at break time. But if you experience discrimination, you do have legal options to pursue.
Discrimination can be quite obvious: for example, you return to work and your role has changed substantially. It’s not the same job, nor a comparable one. But it can be a lot more subtle too. Perhaps you are excluded from key meetings or are not being considered for promotions that, rightfully, you should be based on your experience and skill sets.
This is discriminatory, and you do have legal recourse. An experienced employment lawyer can advocate for you in a variety of settings, whether internally with your organization, in court, or in front of a human rights tribunal.
Equipping yourself with information on the protections available to you under the law is always important. At the same time, remember that most employers in Ontario are happy to have their new parents back.
They don’t want to lose talented members of their teams. Retaining proven performers is a smart business move, and it typically improves overall productivity and employee morale. You were a valued member of the team before your leave, during your leave, and, most likely, you will be after your leave.
Information is for the “just in case.” In all probability, you’ll be faced with many challenges when returning to work — from catching up with clients and reading files to wading through that inbox and needing an extra cup of coffee.
Substantial changes in your role, pay inequity, exclusion, or other forms of discrimination should not be among them. If they are, consult an employment lawyer to discuss your options.