What if your candidate is 6 months pregnant?

What if your candidate is 6 months pregnant?

What if your candidate is 6 months pregnant?

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.
     
6 Comments
  • Jay Fuller 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.
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  • Logic Rules 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!!
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  • W Ettinger 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!
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