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THE QUESTION

I have been working as an administrator at the same company for 10 years. Two years ago, my son was born and I went on maternity leave for 12 months. Recently I was informed that I am not considered eligible for my company’s 10-year service award because of my maternity leave – it will be delayed by a year. I’d like to express to HR that I think discounting time spent on maternity leaves (or other types of leaves like medical leaves) is discriminatory and perpetuates the stereotype that those who take leaves are somehow less committed to their careers. How should I broach this subject with my employer?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Laura M. Muir, director of human resources, Polaris Transportation Group, Mississauga

In this day and age, where diversity and inclusion initiatives are all around us, there are still antiquated policies. Employees who take a leave of absence, regardless of the reason, should be recognized as part of the team and their benefits should continue to accrue. In this case, by discounting your length of service, you are made to feel like that special moment in your life did not matter to a company to whom you have devoted many years.

Open communication is crucial and HR should be a safe haven where employees are free to take their issues without fear of retaliation. When you decide to address the matter, I would strongly suggest being calm and clearly articulating your thoughts and feelings. If your efforts do not yield the results you hope for, you can ask if there are plans to have these policies amended, thus paving the way for others in the future.

Employers need to realize that employees are more productive and engaged when they are heard and appreciated. What would this really cost? A small token? A day off? These nominal deeds set the tone for a company’s culture. Recognizing a devoted employee will also encourage others and will lead to lower attrition. We are in a climate where candidates are interviewing companies, not vice-versa, and in order to attract and retain talent, companies need to entertain changes.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Jocelyn Chang, founder and CEO, Imagine Better Solutions, Vancouver

You can definitely raise your concerns with HR, especially if you feel strongly about it. You can do this by indicating what your core concern is, how you feel about it, and why you feel this way.

Consider phrasing your perspective as: “I was disappointed to see that my maternity leave set me back from receiving the 10-year service award. It feels as though the company’s recognition program doesn’t take into account the needs of families and parents. For 10 years, I demonstrated loyalty, commitment and had every intention to return to work while I was on leave. Now that I have returned, I am continuing my productivity to achieve the company’s goals just as before. I’d like the company to know that I am and was committed throughout my leave, and as such hope that the company can reconsider granting me the 10-year service award for my commitment.”

Keep in mind that it is very likely that your employer’s “service award program” is defined to be solely based on active employment, meaning a status in which you are actively working for your employer and completing duties within your job description. Typically maternity leaves are deemed as inactive employment, meaning you are still employed but may not actually be working. If the award was for “employment” instead of “service,” then you may have more grounds to push back on their decision to delay your recognition.

As an example to help you better understand service awards in general, the Canadian Police Exemplary Service Medal, which honours 20 years of exemplary service by officers, requires active and full-time service for 20 years. This means that if an officer is seriously injured and requires a few years to rehabilitate while they work part-time in a desk job – this period is not considered full-time active duty, so these years may not apply toward the 20 years of service for the medal.

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