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Too many women experience pregnancy discrimination

It’s supposed to be an exciting and joyful time in a person’s life, but when it comes to the workplace, too many women still experience discrimination after getting pregnant.

It is against the law for employers to discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, potential pregnancy, family responsibilities and breastfeeding.

Even so, many new mums, and mums-to-be, report being treated unfairly at work, whether it’s having their role changed, their hours reduced, or even losing their job.

The law

The Sex Discrimination Act protects workers from pregnancy and return to work discrimination.

In addition, provisions in the Fair Work Act relating to parental leave protect all employees in Australia.

Workers are also protected by various state and territory anti-discrimination legislation.

What is pregnancy and return to work discrimination?

Discrimination happens when an employee is treated less favourably than another employee, or is somehow disadvantaged, because of pregnancy, potential pregnancy, breastfeeding or family responsibilities.

Examples can include:

  • Firing or refusing to hire women based on their pregnancy
  • Failing to allow parental leave
  • Refusing to promote an employee who is pregnant
  • Refusing to create a flexible working arrangement on return to work, such as refusal of part-time work
  • Changing a worker’s role to their disadvantage while they are on maternity leave
  • Sacking a worker who falls pregnant during probationary periods

Maternity and paternity leave

Employees are entitled to parental leave when a child is born or adopted.  

Parental leave entitlements include:

  • maternity leave
  • paternity and partner leave
  • adoption leave
  • a right to return to old job

What is parental leave?

Parental leave is leave that can be taken when:

  • an employee gives birth
  • an employee’s spouse or partner gives birth
  • an employee adopts a child under 16 years of age

Employees are entitled to 12 months of unpaid leave.  They can also request an additional 12 months of leave.

Who is eligible for parental leave?

All employees in Australia are entitled to parental leave.

Employees are able to take parental leave if they:

  • have worked for their employer for at least 12 months
  • have or will have responsibility for the care of a child

If you are a casual employee, you will need to have been working for your employer on a regular basis for as least 12 months, and have a reasonable expectation of continuing work with the employer – had it not been for the birth or adoption of a child.

What if you are having another child?

Employers who have taken parental leave don’t have to work for another 12 months to be eligible for another period of leave with that same employer.

However, if they have started working for a new employer, they will need to work with that employer for at least 12 months before they can take parental leave.

Flexible working arrangements

Flexibility in the workplace allows workers to make arrangements about working conditions that suit them.  

This helps employees maintain their work/life balance, and can also help employers improve productivity and efficiency in their business.

As long as employees are still receiving their minimum entitlements, employers and employees can negotiate flexible working arrangements.

For example, changing start and finish times to allow a worker to start later or finish earlier so they can attend to their family responsibilities.

How we can help

If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, our team of Australian workplace lawyers and industrial advocates at Discrimination Claims can help.

We can take action on your behalf and represent you in the Human Rights Commission or any other relevant court or tribunal.

We are specialists at negotiating large compensation payments for those who have been subjected to unlawful discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination.

IMPORTANT:  If you have been dismissed from employment because of pregnancy, you only have 21 days from the date of your dismissal to lodge a claim, so don’t delay!

Read more about pregnancy discrimination

>>  Sacked for getting pregnant still too common

>>  ‘She looks disgusting’ – restaurant in court over pregnancy discrimination

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LAST UPDATED: January 2023

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