No bereavement leave for Hertz employee with stillborn child

Employee claims discrimination based on family status but Hertz says miscarriage doesn’t qualify for bereavement leave

A car rental employee in Vancouver who was denied bereavement leave for the funeral of his premature baby is taking his employer, Hertz Canada, before the human rights tribunal.

Ali Mahdi, an instant return representative who had worked at Hertz Canada since 1997, claims he told Hertz the baby was born alive then died. However, Hertz said he told it the baby died in a miscarriage.

In March 2007, Mahdi asked for an unpaid leave of absence to care for his two children because his wife was experiencing complications in her pregnancy. He was told to take the time off as vacation time instead, which he did.

When his wife lost the baby at 21 weeks of gestation, he asked for bereavement leave, but was told bereavement leave did not apply.

The company’s human resources department told Mahdi’s area manager that bereavement leave would only be available if the baby had been born alive then died. The company’s insurer does not provide benefits if the baby was not alive for 24 hours or longer, the HR contact also noted.

The three-day bereavement leave would have been available to Mahdi had his child been born alive before dying, Hertz said, but a miscarriage didn’t qualify. It tried to have the case dismissed because the company’s policy didn’t qualify as discrimination on the grounds of family status. The tribunal ruled against the company and allowed the complaint to proceed.

On another matter, the tribunal will also consider whether the company discriminates against Mahdi on religious grounds because it docks his pay for the time he took to pray.

As a practising Muslim, Mahdi prays five times a day, and depending on the season, he is sometimes at work for the afternoon and sunset prayers. He used to take his prayer breaks during his two 15-minute breaks and the half-hour meal break, but later wanted to take his prayer breaks separately from the three scheduled breaks.

The company accommodates this request by requiring Mahdi to punch out for the prayer breaks, which add up to four minutes a day. Hertz reduces his pay by 20 minutes a week.

In his discrimination complaint, Mahdi said employees who take smoke breaks, make personal phone calls or dash out to the convenience store nearby to buy food or magazines don’t have to punch in and out.

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