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Policy on discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding

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Approved by the Commission: December 17, 2008
Revised by the Commission: 1999, 2001, 2008 
Available in various formats: electronic, audio tape, large print

Executive Summary

Child-bearing benefits society as a whole. International covenants recognize the social significance of motherhood, and require state parties, including Canada, to protect maternity as a social function. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the importance of child-bearing and stated that the financial and social burdens associated with having children should not rest entirely on women.

While women have made significant strides towards gender equality in many areas, discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding continues to be a common occurrence, particularly in the workplace. Since only women have the capacity to become pregnant, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Discrimination Because of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding contains the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s interpretation of the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code relating to pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The Policy examines the different ways in which women experience discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Discrimination may take place in employment, in housing accommodation, or in the receipt of services, goods and facilities. Discriminatory behaviour may be rooted in negative attitudes and stereotypes. It may be direct, or it may be subtle. It may be systemic or institutional. It may arise out of a failure to accommodate the needs of a woman relating to pregnancy or breastfeeding. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may also experience harassment and poisoned environments where they work, live or where they receive services.

Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy often intersects with discrimination based on other grounds. The Policy discusses ways in which a woman’s experience of discrimination based on pregnancy may differ based on other aspects of her identity. For example, there are unique and persistent stereotypes about pregnant women who are young, in receipt of social assistance, racialized and/or parenting on their own.

Employers, housing providers and service providers have a duty to accommodate, to the point of undue hardship, the needs of women during pregnancy, or when they are breastfeeding. For example, an employer may be required to provide a flexible work schedule to accommodate medical appointments or breastfeeding needs.

The Policy sets out the respective responsibilities of those involved in the accommodation process. For example, a pregnant or breastfeeding employee with accommodation needs has a responsibility to clearly inform her employer of her need for accommodation and of the accommodation required, preferably in writing. Once the employer is aware of what accommodation is required, the employer has a duty to take the necessary steps to accommodate the special needs and circumstances of the pregnant employee, up to the point of undue hardship, in a timely manner.

In addition to examining the protections under the Code, the Policy looks at other relevant pregnancy-related legislation and protections. For example, pregnant women have rights and entitlements under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act and the federal Employment Insurance Act.


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