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Policy on preventing discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding

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Approved by the OHRC: September 19, 1996
Revised by the OHRC: May 26, 1999, October 9, 2001, 2008, 2014
Official release: October 29, 2014 
Available in various accessible formats


The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) is a law that provides for equal rights and opportunities and recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario. The Code makes it against the law to discriminate against someone or to harass them because of sex, which includes pregnancy and breastfeeding, in employment, housing, goods, services and facilities, contracts and membership in unions, trade or professional associations.

Child-bearing benefits society as a whole. Thus, women should not be disadvantaged because they are or have been pregnant. It is illegal to discriminate because a woman is pregnant, was pregnant or is trying to get pregnant. It is also illegal to discriminate because a woman has had an abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, is going through fertility treatments, experiences complications or has specific needs related to pregnancy, or has chosen to breastfeed or not breastfeed her child.

Discrimination based on pregnancy often intersects with discrimination based on other grounds. For example, there are unique and persistent stereotypes about pregnant women who are young, receiving social assistance, from racialized or Aboriginal communities and/or parenting on their own. People who are trans may have unique experiences of discrimination if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Employers, landlords, service providers and others must make the environment free from discrimination. Women who are pregnant have the right to be free from harassing comments and behaviour by co-workers, co-tenants, landlords, management, service providers, service users and others.

Organizations should design employment, housing and services inclusively from the outset so pregnant and breastfeeding women can take part equally.

Women have the right to accommodation for pregnancy-related needs. This means that an employer, landlord or service provider may have to change its policies, rules, requirements or practices to allow pregnant women equal opportunities. At work, depending on a woman’s needs, this could include more washroom breaks, a flexible schedule or changes in job duties during pregnancy. After a woman’s baby is born, an employer should accommodate any needs women have for breastfeeding or expressing milk for her child.

During an employment interview, it is illegal for an employer to ask if a woman is pregnant, has a family, or plans to have a family. It is also illegal to refuse to hire, fire, demote or lay a woman off because she is, was or may become pregnant. Women have an equal right to opportunities and promotions at work, even if they are taking a maternity leave.

There are other relevant pregnancy-related legislation and protections in Ontario. For example, pregnant women have rights and entitlements to pregnancy and parental leave under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act and employment insurance benefits under the federal Employment Insurance Act. A woman has the same right to the health and disability benefits given to other employees if she is unable to work for health reasons related to the pregnancy and childbirth.

In housing, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate by denying housing to a pregnant woman or a woman with a child. For example, a landlord cannot refuse to accept an application from a pregnant woman because they say the apartment is “not childproof.” Statements that a building is a “quiet building,” an “adult lifestyle” building, “not soundproof” or “geared to young professionals,” when combined with a refusal to rent to a pregnant woman, may show that discriminatory attitudes related to pregnancy played a role in the refusal.

The Code prohibits discrimination against women who are pregnant and breast-feeding in services, goods and facilities. This includes educational institutions, hospitals and health services, insurance providers,[1] public places like malls and parks, public transit, and stores and restaurants. This means that women who are pregnant, or who bring their babies to a restaurant or a theatre, cannot be denied service or access unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so.

This also means that women have the right to breastfeed undisturbed. Women should not be told that they cannot breastfeed their children because they are in a public area. Women should not be asked to “cover up,” or move to another area that is more “discreet.”

Employers, landlords and service providers must address any discrimination or harassment related to pregnancy that may arise within their organization. If organizations become aware of discrimination or harassment, either through a complaint or other means, they must respond appropriately. Organizations who fail to take steps to address discrimination or harassment or a complaint of discrimination may be found legally liable under the Code.

[1] The Code allows for an exception for certain types of insurance policies, under section 22. For more information, see the Services, goods and facilities section of this policy (section 9).


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