Rise in complaints on pregnancy discrimination | WISE Workplace

Employers can expect an increase in the number of complaints about discrimination against pregnant employees as women become more aware of their rights. The Fair Work Ombudsman has recently launched a national campaign to inform women of their rights at work when pregnant and when returning to work after having a child. The campaign is in response to an increasing number of pregnancy discrimination complaints the Ombudsman receives each year.

The Anti discrimination agency also initiated its first legal proceedings on pregnancy discrimination this month against the NSW Riverwood based printing company Wongtas Pty Ltd. The company faces fines of up to $33,000 per breach and the two directors face individual fines of up to $6600 per breach. It is alleged that a female employee, after informing her employer that she was pregnant, was moved into a lower paid job that required her to stand all day. The woman received a written warning regarding her poor performance and was ultimately sacked only a few days before Christmas.

Federal Government statistics show that most discrimination against pregnant women occurs in employment. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s national campaign is aimed at helping women avoid pregnancy discrimination at work. About 100,000 information packs are being sent to hospitals, GPs and other health service providers in metropolitan and regional areas throughout Australia. Pregnant women will receive the packs when they register with their preferred health professional after becoming pregnant. The packs contain magazines and pamphlets detailing the workplace rights of pregnant women, what constitutes pregnancy discrimination, the harm pregnancy discrimination can cause and how the Fair Work Ombudsman can help women who experience it. 

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Leigh Johns says the Agency received more than 70 pregnancy discrimination complaints last financial year. Women should be aware of their rights so they can identify when they are being subjected to pregnancy discrimination. Generally, if you’ve been working regularly for 12 months with the same employer, you have the right to take maternity leave and then return to your job. Pregnancy discrimination by employers can include:

  • Failing to let an employee take parental leave
  • Declining to keep a job open
  • Demotion during pregnancy or on return from parental leave
  • Denying training because an employee is pregnant, or
  • Refusing to promote an employee because they are pregnant.

Also, it is illegal for an employer not hire you because they think you might become pregnant or dismiss or retrench you because you are pregnant.

Employers should also take adequate measures to prevent other employees from harassing pregnant colleagues. Organisations are liable for the unlawful actions of their employees unless they can show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.

It is vital for employers to understand their obligations and responsibilities under the employment laws and regulations. Employers must understand maternity leave, its provisions and the obligations imposed upon employers for the resumption of staff following pregnancy leave. They must treat pregnant employees the same way as they treat all their other employees – whether permanent, full-time, part-time or casual. Organisations must ensure they provide a working environment, plus services, free from pregnancy discrimination.

Employers should seek expert assistance in drafting policy or in developing staff training programs dealing with pregnancy discrimination. Management and staff should also respond professionally and promptly to any complaints of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.