Law firm’s firing of employee on maternity leave panned by tribunal

Firm claimed employee’s email reminder to protect her job was insubordination

A Toronto law firm must pay a former employee nearly $9,000 for firing her while she was on maternity leave.

Kai Yorke Edwards joined the law firm Heydary Hamilton as a legal assistant in October 2008. Over the first few months, the firm documented some concerns about her job performance, including her willingness to perform urgent tasks that required staying late or working with others. Shortly into her tenure, she became pregnant, eventually going on maternity leave in September 2009.

While on leave, Edwards emailed the firm with a reminder that it was bound by law to keep her job waiting for her for a year. In June 2010, she received an email from the firm’s senior manager that terminated her employment. The firm stated the reasons for dismissal included her performance issues and her emailed reminder, which it considered insubordination.

The Ontario Labour Relations board found Edwards’ performance issues had not been raised with her and there was no indication the firm considered them serious enough for any discipline. It found she was terminated for taking a leave or her email reminder, both which weren’t acceptable reasons for dismissal under provincial employment standards legislation.

Heydary Hamilton was ordered to pay Edwards $8,812.14 for lost wages, the loss of her right to a job and pain and suffering. The board noted the amount wasn’t much and might have awarded more if Edwards had filed a cross-appeal.

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