Jessica Maciel didn't give much thought to telling her boss she was pregnant. She assumed the news would be greeted predictably, with some warm words of congratulation, perhaps even a hug.
Instead, the owner of the salon where Ms. Maciel was working as a receptionist told her she was fired. It was her first shift.
“I was speechless,” the 20-year-old mother says.
Last week, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered the salon to pay Ms. Maciel more than $35,000 in general damages, lost wages and benefits.
Deciding when to inform bosses of a pregnancy is still a difficult issue for many women. Some may worry that employers will take the news as a sign that a woman is not serious about her career, while others may fear they will lose their jobs.
With that in mind, it's wise for women to think strategically about when to disclose a pregnancy to employers, experts say.
“It's just not really a good strategy for women to reveal that [they are pregnant]any sooner than they have to,” says Jennifer Berdahl, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. “It's better [to disclose]once you have the job secure than to do it in an interview.”
Disclosing a pregnancy during a job interview may mean being passed over for employment. It is also much more difficult to prove a woman was discriminated against at the interview stage, since other factors could explain a boss's decision not to hire a particular candidate.
Ms. Maciel was four months pregnant when she was hired at the salon.
“There is no requirement under the Human Rights Code to let an employer know [that you're pregnant]at any particular time if you're being hired,” says Kate Sellar, a lawyer at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre in Toronto, who represented Ms. Maciel.
Of course, many women still fear how revealing they are pregnant will go over at work.
The legal support centre receives about 40 calls a week from pregnant women worried they may lose their jobs or be told not to return to work after their maternity leave.
On top of those concerns are fears that the news will change the way managers and bosses perceive pregnant employees.
“They're also worried that they're not going to be respected or seen in the same light any more, like you're not truly dedicated to your work,” Prof. Berdahl says..
Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books , suggests women wait at least until the end of the first trimester, about 13 weeks, to disclose their pregnancies to their employers, since by then they are past the greatest risk of miscarriage.
Timing is all-important, she says.
“If you have a performance review coming up and you're worried that somebody in the organization might want to be less than wonderful about your future, you'd rather have that behind you so that you never have to second-guess whether the lukewarm comments were because you're pregnant,” she says.
Employers are prohibited from taking any reprisals against an employee who takes a parental leave of absence, and employees have the right to be reinstated to the position they most recently held prior to the leave, or a comparable position, says Trevor Lawson, a Toronto-based labour and employment lawyer. That said, pregnancy discrimination is still rife in the Canadian workplace.
“It is still a live issue,” Mr. Lawson says.
Being strategic about when to disclose a pregnancy is crucial, but some women showing telltale signs, whether morning sickness or the beginnings of a baby bump, should make sure they're the ones getting the word out rather than letting the rumour mill take over.
“The last thing you want is for your boss to find out from somebody else, because then it seems like you were keeping secrets,” Ms. Douglas says.