Mom’s job cut after maternity leave; what are your rights?

CALGARY – New mom Stephanie Zanin was on her last month of maternity leave when the company she’s worked with for the last two and a half years told her she wouldn’t be able to come back to work.

“There is no work available for you on any project as clients continue to downsize, suspend and/or terminate work,” wrote the director of human resources at Amec Foster Wheeler in an email to Zanin. “Since initially advising you of the situation on February 5, 2015 we have continued to search for a position for you and unfortunately, none is available.”

Zanin said she was due to go back to work March 9. Amec Foster Wheeler, a worldwide oil and gas company, told her it “cannot control which projects clients wish to wind down, suspend or terminate” when she emailed them to ask for clarity of her rights.

The Calgary mother says her young son has heart conditions that required open heart surgery last November, and continuous doctor appointments she still needs to attend. With one month’s notice that she no longer has a job, Zanin has been applying “non-stop” with no leads as of yet.

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She received her termination letter on Friday, and learned she would receive two weeks pay—which she says only covers half of her obligations. Her benefits coverage will end on March 20—a stressful situation for a mom with a critically ill child who says she’s still “behind” on costs from his surgery, which took place in Edmonton.

“I have no idea how I am going to pay rent next month or our multiple bills (car payment, student loans, etc.),” she said.

“I cannot risk my one-year-old with a heart condition having no place to live because we couldn’t make rent. My husband and I have had a terribly stressful year and the one thing I thought I didn’t have to worry about was looking for a job.”

When asked if efforts were made to find Zanin another position, what the reasons are for her job loss or any general explanation for job loss while on maternity leave, Amec Foster Wheeler said it “does not comment on personnel issues” in an email to Global News.

Public Affairs Officer Jay Fisher with the Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour department of the government of Alberta said the province’s Employment Standards Code “requires employers to provide mothers returning from maternity leave with the same position or work of a comparable nature when they return.”

Fisher said the only exception is if the employer suspends or discontinues the business.

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“A slowdown due to a decrease in work volume would generally be different than a suspension of the business altogether, in which case an employer would still be expected to provide a comparable position,” wrote Fisher in an email to Global News. “However, eliminating a whole division/section/component of a business, with wide layoffs of everyone involved, would generally constitute a suspension or discontinuation.”

Independent human resources consultant Wendy Giuffre said if the employer can prove the job has been eliminated, a termination can be issued as long as due severance is paid.

“Yes, an employer can do this,” said Giuffre. “Technically a person should be back at work before a termination is issued [but] some employers think they're being nicer not having them physically come back.”

“Sometimes I think employers see it as an easy way out. We have legislation to protect women who go off and have children who will grow up and be our next leaders, and ethically their jobs should be protected. I also feel for their employer—as a consultant I see the scrambling right now to find work for people who are there. People who are on maternity right now are out of sight out of mind so to speak.”

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For more information on pregnancy and maternity leave, you can visit the Alberta Human Rights Commission page or the Work Alberta Employment Standards fact sheet.

To file an Employment Standards complaint, you can call 1-877-427-3731 to discuss your case with an advisor.

With files from Jill Croteau