Paige got a job as a director of people and culture with a hospitality company. This was a human resources position paying $ 80,000 a year, plus benefits. Unfortunately, 4.5 months after she started, she was terminated without just cause at the age of 28.
What the employer didn’t know was that Paige was five months pregnant at that time and just about to start showing up.
Over the next four months, Paige applied to 36 different positions without success. After the birth of her baby, she applied for another 75 positions and still had no luck.
Paige sued for wrongful dismissal, claiming that the employer did not provide her sufficient notice or pay in lieu of notice.
Usually after 4.5 months in such a position, the notice period will probably be one month, maybe a few weeks more.
The judge decided that Paige’s pregnancy was a factor to be considered in deciding the appropriate notice period. It has long been held that a person who was terminated and has a disability would face increased difficulty finding new employment based on the nature of that disability. Of course, the judge was not saying that being pregnant was a disability, but the circumstances were analogous. The courts have recognized that pregnancy makes re-employment more difficult. It is a common sense observation.
The judge awarded Paige five months’ notice of pay in lieu, which is slightly extraordinary given her short tenure. The employer appealed, but without success. It is argued that extending the notice period because of the pregnancy assumes that prospective employers will hesitate to hire a pregnant employee and terminate the employer unfairly. In this case, they didn’t even know Paige was pregnant, but ended up having to pay an extraordinary severance package because of the perceived discriminatory attitudes of potential employers.
To be fair, the employer had a point. On the one hand, Paige was left in a very bad situation where finding a new job for a four-month period or less would clearly be a challenge. Employers generally do not advertise to fill a position if they do not really need someone in the position for the foreseeable future. No one will ever admit it, but landing a job offer in such circumstances would be rare. It is not just. It is not fair. It is discriminatory. But it would be foolish to deny the reality. On the other hand, in Paige’s situation the employer will end up paying the price for this societal inequity and the often deplorable way we undervalue parenting.
Paige was showing and didn’t have a choice about her pregnancy. It should be noted, however, that people have no obligation whatsoever to disclose a pregnancy while they are applying for or interviewing for a job. It is nobody’s business and irrelevant to the individual that can make a contribution to the company over a long career.
But everything is nuanced. A lot of people don’t want to start a long-term relationship with an employer by announcing two or three months after their start date that they will soon be off for up to 18 months. Although we can empathize with that sentiment, I think it would be better for everyone if it just became universally accepted that there are no circumstances in which a person should feel obliged to discuss or disclose a pregnancy to a prospective employer. Good employers keep their eyes on the long-term contributions of someone, rather than the logistics of accommodating a leave.
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