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Sylvan Lake woman laid off during maternity leave loses legal case

Raina Varty has lost her two-year legal battle against the company that laid her off
Sylvan Lake resident Raina Varty is hoping to find justice after being terminated from her job while on maternity leave. (photo courtesy Raina Varty)

Sylvan Lake resident Raina Varty has recently learned that in Alberta while on maternity leave having your job protected is not always the case.

Two years ago, two weeks before Varty was expecting to return to her position as the HR Administrator for a mid-sized Alberta company, she was told she was being terminated.

“This devastated me, and here’s how they did it: first, to avoid terminating during leave, they inserted the return date I gave to Payroll in my Record of Employment. This is a subtle but significant distinction that makes it being given notice of termination during leave. And that is perfectly legal,” Varty said.

“Next, they used a “without cause” termination. This law is: that employers can terminate employees without cause at any time, for any legal reason. All employers must do is provide reasonable notice of dismissal or pay in lieu of notice.”

When working for the company Varty’s primary duty was full-time recruitment.

“During my tenure, I implemented a system that simplified and automated the hiring process. I also completed major projects.”

Before going on leave, Varty was worried about her position, but her HR Director said there would be nothing to worry about.

“I confided in the HR Director that I was scared to lose my job. Her response was, ‘The only legal way is if your job is abolished… but your duties are necessary to the operation of this business. So don’t worry,’” Varty said.

So, the transition was smooth when she left to go on maternity leave. Varty trained her temporary replacement and wrote down the procedures for every aspect of her position.

“By the time I left, I had substantially reduced the workload of the position. Further, I answered questions while on leave. I did all of that to ensure the company was set up for success during my one-year absence,” she said.

Upon being terminated, Varty spoke to E.I., Employment Standards, and the Human Rights Commission about what had happened.

“I spoke to four lawyers who agreed I had a case. They explained the employer knew they were breaking the law but that I couldn’t afford to fight it,” Varty said.

However, the fourth lawyer Varty spoke to took her case on contingency.

“He filed the human rights complaint on my behalf and since the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is years behind, he sent a letter of demand for 4 months’ severance because of my inability to continue E.I., general damages, and overtime compensation.

For Varty, it has been a two-year legal battle. A legal battle she was surprised to lose.

“With a two per cent chance of going to court, we held firm on my last offer. Surprisingly, it went to court over a $4,000 difference. Bafflingly, we lost. Then, the judge approved double costs and awarded the company $9318.06. Several lawyers have found errors in the judgment, however, the cost to appeal was too steep,” Varty said.

The AHRC will conduct its investigation next, but Varty does not feel optimistic about the possibility of justice.

“The year’s human rights judgments and civil battles take mean nothing to companies that make millions a year. For humans who need to pay bills to live, those years waiting for justice take an emotional, physical, and financial toll,” she said.

Wanting a change, Varty has begun an advocacy campaign that has been gaining momentum.

The platform includes two things, to separate job-protected leave E.I. from the general bank and to enforce stricter penalties for employers who break employment standards.

Varty started a GoFundMe campaign on March 7 and has raised nearly $3,000 of the over $22,000 needed to help with costs.

“If enough of us demand that job-protected leave should be job-protected leave, I believe we can change some laws,” Varty said.

Individuals interested in learning more or donating to the GoFundMe can find more information via

Sarah Baker

About the Author: Sarah Baker

I joined Black Press in March 2023 and am looking forward to sharing stories about the local communities.
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