What if your candidate is 6 months pregnant?

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The appointment of a female CEO to the embattled Yahoo was enough to cause a stir. Just like in Canada, only a small percentage of listed companies globally have a female leader in the top job. Add to the mix the news that 37-year old Marissa Mayer was six months pregnant when she got the top job, and it was nothing short of an all-in media frenzy.

The whirlwind of commentary which followed the announcement was in itself evidence that employment and pregnancy is a red-hot issue. For one management expert, it’s a situation which needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but ultimately employers cannot discriminate against someone who is pregnant. “Obviously Yahoo realised the situation they were in, and thought ‘well, the costs and benefits of [this hire] are likely to outweigh the negatives’, and they’ve made that decision that in the long-term it’s going to be better for them to have that key person,” Associate Professor Peter Holland from Monash University told HRM.

According to Holland, in making a hiring decision about a pregnant candidate, the principle question is the same as it would be for anyone else. It’s about taking on someone who has the right skills and experience. “[A candidate] might be asking for 20 weeks off in two months’ time, but you may have them for five, six or even 10 years – and if you think they’re the right person for your company, are you looking at the short-term implications rather than the long-term return?” Holland said.

It seems the danger of discrimination lies in the slippery slope of making judgment calls and arbitrarily deciding on a candidate’s availability. For example, a candidate may be observed having a cigarette outside before their interview and this may lead to assumptions about health, propensity to take sick leave, and taking extra breaks.

According to a 2012 factsheet compiled by the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding sex discrimination, the Sex Discrimination Act makes it against the law to treat candidates unfairly because of a person’s sex, marital status, family responsibilities, because they are pregnant or might become pregnant, or because they are breastfeeding. All stages of employment are protected, including recruitment, staff selection, workplace terms and conditions and dismissal.

Some tips for avoiding pregnancy discrimination in recruitment:

  • Identify the essential requirements of the job and ask all applicants about their capacity to fulfil these. Consider whether any reasonable workplace adjustments can be made so an applicant can meet the requirements.
  • Ask applicants about their skills and abilities. Avoid assumptions about what pregnant women can and cannot do, or their ongoing commitment to the job.
  • Do not ask an applicant questions about pregnancy unless there is a clear non-discriminatory reason to do so.
  • Select the person best suited to the job.
  • When in doubt, seek legal advice.
  • Jay Fuller on 2013-01-31 11:43:02 AM

    This issue is not about gender discrimination (pregnancy) but the fact that most employers would not choose to hire someone in a full-time, permanent role knowing full well that in a few months that individual will likely take a year off and the employers hands are tied in replacing that individual because their job is legally protected. The employer is forced to hire a temporary replacement and invest all the time and money in training twice for the same position within the same year.

  • Logic Rules on 2013-01-31 11:51:42 AM

    She was hired as a CEO for petes sake! I somehow don't think she will be taking the year off!!

  • W Ettinger on 2013-01-31 1:03:11 PM

    Actually it is a gender discrimination issue because of thinking like Jay Fuller just described. Did you know that (at least in Canada) men are now entitled to parental leave, as well as people considering adoption as a family option, and not just the pregnant mother? Do you ask all men if they are planning on having children anytime soon and taking advantage of the parental leave provisions available to them? Perhaps you should not hire anyone within child bearing years (meaning any man over the age of puberty is out indefintitely)to make sure that they won't take any parental leave. Only women over the age of 45 who can prove that they've gone through menopause? Come on people, 21st century thinking would be a good start to figuring out how to balance work and family responsibilities at all levels of the organization!

  • MB on 2013-01-31 1:18:11 PM

    That's exactly the point that the article is trying to make Jay Fuller. It's that mind-set is not looking at long-term gain but rather short-term implications. That...and it is gender discrimination, men do not face this same issue but feel free to give it whatever spin you think people will buy.

  • Tom from Burnaby BC on 2013-01-31 2:25:09 PM

    People read to much into things and that is how you get yourself in trouble.

    If the male or female has skill knowledge and ability to do the job you hire them.

    If you look for excuses not to hire a good candidate then problems can arise.

    Don't forgett that males can go on parental/maternal duties leave also.

    My friend has been on leave 3 times. The work got done and with his guidance from time to time.

    Hey there are ways around everything in the workplace to get the job done,

    that is what we focus on.

  • GZ on 2013-02-02 11:35:52 AM

    Mr. Fuller, it is 2013 NOT 1963. As stated by many of the writers before me, perhaps her spouse will take parental leave or she has a nanny or mother who lives with her.
    Would you say the same thing if it were a male candidate, whose spouse was receiving cancer treatment. That you can hide until the person is hired. Unfortunately for female candidates, there is not much we can do to hide the fact that we are pregnant NOR should we have to.
    Candidates are responsible mature individuals who, particularly for that level of position, will make arrangements to minimize or eliminate impacts on their new role.

    I hope for your company's sake, you are not in a decision making position with respect to hirning and promotions. If you are, your company has overlooked or lost some excellent talent.

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