The following message was issued by Randy Dickinson, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, in recognition of International Women's Day:
Today (March 8) is International Women's Day. It was first recognized by the United Nations in 1975. On this day, Canada will join the rest of the world in recognizing the huge contribution that women have made to this country and the world.
Women in New Brunswick had to fight hard for the freedoms they now enjoy today and perhaps take for granted. The suffragette movement began in the mid-19th century, but it was not until 1919 that New Brunswick women were allowed to vote, and not until 1961 that they got the right to be paid the same as men for the same work.
Other forms of sex discrimination were only prohibited by means of an amendment to the Human Rights Act in 1971. At the time, there was no protection against sexual harassment; that came about as a result of court and tribunal decisions in the early 1980s. The Human Rights Act was amended in 1992 to prohibit pregnancy discrimination as a form of sex discrimination.
While the commission receives much fewer complaints of sex discrimination and sexual harassment than in the past, sex discrimination complaints still represented about 12 per cent of its caseload in 2012-13. Most of the complaints filed by women concerned pregnancy.
Employers need to recognize that discriminating against a pregnant woman is not only illegal; it can also affect their bottom line. If they dismiss a pregnant employee, they lose the employee's skills and incur additional retraining and recruitment costs. The same thing happens if a pregnant employee resigns because her employer does not accommodate her need for pregnancy-related sick leave.
Employers should be aware that in some cases the Human Rights Act provides more extensive protections for pregnant employees than the Employment Standards Act. Under the Human Rights Act, pregnant women have a right to be free from discrimination and harassment and to be accommodated, provided doing so does not cause undue hardship to the employer. Depending on the situation, accommodation may involve maternity leave, light work or sick leave for pregnancy-related illness.
The commission has published Guideline on Pregnancy Discrimination to help employers and employees understand their rights and obligations under the Human Rights Act.
As we observe International Women's Day, I invite New Brunswickers to celebrate the work of those who have furthered women's equality and to recognize the challenges that remain. I urge employers to become familiar with the rights of pregnant employees and to implement them in their workplace.