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.

Anonymous commented on 08-May-2016 05:27 PM
"My friend is about to go on maternity leave. She has been told by her line manager that her duties will be shared by her and one other team member.
Now that all sounds fine, until you know that my friend has duties other people want. She has been working in a specialist area for many years, has accrued experience and knowledge, and has done her 'time' within the department. But when sh'e on maternity leave others try to take her duties and upon her return give her other duties.
Back to current events. My friend says, "Ok, but when I'm back from mat leave i'll be returning to my duties.'
Apparently not!
'You'll have to discuss that with the new boss....."
Is it legal/ethical to permanently reassign someone's position whilst they are are mat-leave?
Anonymous commented on 13-Nov-2016 08:29 PM
"So recently I have been looking into Working rights for pregnant woman. I work in a 24/7 establishment and have been working for the company for he past 3 years.
I had struggled with work in the beginning of my pregnancy and didn't find out until I was already 2 months. I tried to complete night shifts but found I couldn't do it anymore after a couple of months. Eventually I told my manager I couldn't do night shifts. His countenance toward me. I had a discussion with him to let him know I was unable to do night shifts, he said that it is my right as a casual to do so and to fill out an availability form. So I did do that, believing he was okay with it. He then said to me that my availability may affect my hours and so I thought....fair enough. But even though I had filled out my availability form in October from then until now, I am being scheduled night shifts averaging 3 per fortnight which means, I have to unavailable all night shifts affecting my work history record and finding I have so many shifts in a row yet I tried to provide an availability schedule that was more realistic to what I could handle.

I also spoke to him about not being able to do certain jobs as a cleaner....for example mopping any stairs or sweeping and his reply was "fair enough" but then I asked about being placed in areas that required less toilets to be cleaned because it was a bit hard on my back and I'm talking being in 1 area that requires over 20 toilets cleaned as opposed to 13 toilets to be cleaned.
If I can be placed in an area that doesn't require any toilets to be cleaned, I ask if I could be moved to those areas. His response to me when putting that issue forward was, "I guess that put into question whether you are able to fulfill the role"
After he said this, I was certain that to a degree I have no support as a pregnant person.
This caused me to really look into Health Work and Safety and Workplace rights for pregnant woman. We have had 3 pregnant woman in the workplace and I am the 4th in the past year and a half and none have any idea that they have or had workplace rights as pregnant woman.
They do not accommodate nor show absolutely no duty of care. Our job is difficult and requires walking almost the entire shift.
Depending on the supervisor, the duty of care varies but isn't consistent.

We are not encouraged to sit when we need to, we are denied the ability to take snacks or any kind of food to eat though our breaks can be up to 3.5 hours from our start time and normally we snack every 3 hours but we are on the floor. Some supervisors don't care and place us in areas that were so big that we would have to detail an entire floor by ourselves. There were even times where I was placed in areas where I had to detail smoking areas. Both times I had to go home because the smoke made me sick and therefore I lost hours which I needed.

I am at a loss of what I should do.

It feels like indirect discrimination and have just discovered that a colleague of mine who has been with the company for more than 4 or 5 years has just returned from paternity leave and applied for the full time supervisor role alongside another Male who had been with the company for just over 2 years was promoted above her. His reason was, "He needed someone with his qualities"
She has not only been loyal but also favored by team members and had been part time supervisor for more than 3 years as opposed to the male being only part time supervisor less than 1 year in the role.

I'm investigating further into how these pregnant woman have been treated and whether they knew their rights as pregnant woman.

Any suggestions? Am I wrong in my thinking?

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