In British Columbia, working women are routinely denied disability benefits during pregnancy or maternity leave. LEAF took one of the first BC challenges to stop this lingering form of sex discrimination in employment.
LEAF filed a human rights complaint for Barbara Godwin, a hospital worker in the Lower Mainland. Ms. Godwin’s situation is typical. Her employee disability benefit plan excludes women on maternity leave. Like most B.C. women, Ms. Godwin had to live on Unemployment Insurance benefits-always lower than employee disability benefits-when she was unable to work during her maternity leave.
LEAF’s position was that pregnancy, childbirth and recovery are legitimate medical reasons for absence from work. Excluding women from disability benefits because their inability to work is related to pregnancy is sex discrimination.
The B.C. Human Rights Act outlaws pregnancy discrimination in hiring and firing, but allows employers to discriminate when it comes to “employee insurance plans”.
Late in 1992, Ms. Godwin accepted an offer to settle from her employer. While the settlement fully compensated Ms. Godwin for her losses, unfortunately the discriminatory provision in the Act remains. LEAF continues to support law reform in BC’s employment legislation.