to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #34 — BE A FAMILY-FRIENDLY WORKPLACE
A few years ago I was relaying the story of a CBC documentary in which some Eastern European women were getting sterilized and showing their medical documentation to employers in hopes of getting a job in a very bleak time. This was shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet system collapsed. Even though it was many years ago, I still remember how moved I was that these women felt this was their only real option for gaining employment and feeding themselves.
The person I was relaying this to said she heard from a woman in Toronto who had her "tubes tied" and would drop that into conversations of employment interviews in hopes of gaining an advantage. I don't mind saying that my jaw dropped open. I would never diminish the harm of Eastern European women, but I never, ever expected to hear anything like that in Canada.
That was an eye-opener for me. With my eyes wide open, I really started to notice what was happening to Canadian women when it came to pregnancy, raising children and employment. (Don't get me wrong, with my Mother and sister as guides from an early age, and my work in employment law, I knew quite a bit, but I started to notice even more.)
We want to think that we're family friendly in Canada, but for years I've been reading that women in child-bearing ages are constantly discriminated against because they might have children. Men and women who supervise often think about the candidates they are choosing and whether a pregnancy or child-rearing responsibilities will get in the way. I think it's fair to have those concerns, but they should dissipate with employers who give some thought ahead of time. People don't just have sex for fun, so we shouldn't be surprised when a woman says "I'm pregnant." Employers should be prepared and make sure they don't discriminate against women. When an employer discriminates against a woman based on pregnancy the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that this is discrimination based on sex or gender.
1) Some discrimination = all discrimination - of the equation. If part of your decision to discriminate against a woman due to pregnancy or potential pregnancy, your whole decision making process is tainted and it will be ruled as discrimination. If you want to disqualify a person based on merit, fine, but pregnancy should never form part of the decision-making process (and this is not a tool to strategize ways of getting around it).
2) Be prepared for pregnancies - instead of reacting. Many workplaces are caught off guard each and every time a woman says she's pregnant. Set in place procedures which anticipate what will take place when a woman becomes pregnant and eventually goes on maternity leave. To do otherwise is negligence.
3) Look for cost off-sets - and it won't take a big bite out of budget. If you need extra money for employees overlapping and training, then have this in the budget. If no one department should be penalized, then let the money come from a central budget (if you're big enough to have such a thing). If you've budgeted for pregnancy costs, then it won't be a burden, but just a cost of doing business.