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Congratulations Australian workplaces! You are most discriminating against pregnant women.


Last week the Fair Work Ombudsman revealed that pregnancy discrimination is now the number one complaint against Australian employers. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s figures indicated that for the first time there are more complaints relating to pregnancy than mental or physical disability.

Lucy Carter of The World Today reported “…of the 235 complaints to the ombudsman, 28 per cent were from pregnant women and 21 per cent were from people with a physical or mental disability. 

Around 11 per cent felt their family or carer responsibilities resulted in them being treated differently.

The commission investigated 76 matters, took three to court and executed enforceable orders in another three.”

If anyone was in any doubt about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace these figures tell a different story. Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner says that “Pregnancy discrimination is alive and well in Australian workplaces.”

Both pregnancy and family or carer’s responsibilities fall under the Fair Work Act 2009categories of discrimination. 

This may include;

  • Someone applying for a job 
  • To a new employee who hasn’t even started work, or
  • To someone at any time during their employment. 

So called ‘adverse action’ may include;

  • Firing an employee
  • Not giving an employee legal entitlements such as pay or leave
  • Changing an employee’s job to their disadvantage
  • Treating an employee differently than others
  • Not hiring someone
  • Offering a potential employee different (and unfair) terms and conditions for the job, compared to other employees.

Examples cited by the Fair Work Ombudsman include;

  • Being rejected from a job during the hiring process
  • Being offered a lower wage or less leave than other employees in the same role with the same experience
  • Being verbally or physically abused by an employer or co-worker
  • Being isolated or left out by co-workers or managers
  • Being paid less than others doing the same job and who have the same experience
  • Being given more unpleasant or difficult duties than others in the same role
  • Not being given proper equipment or facilities
  • Having limited or no opportunities for promotion, transfer or training.

The reality of the work place is these examples cited by the Fair Work Ombudsman do occur and are increasingly occurring or being reported. However there are other more subtle forms of behaviour changes women experience at work when they declare their pregnancy. These are just as real to the women involved but very difficult to prove or disprove. Often they are based on the values or beliefs of managers or cultures in companies.

Some examples include;

  • Not considering an employee for a promotion because she is pregnant or on maternity leave or has children
  • An expectation of a certain amount of hours to be worked that are not conducive to caring for families
  • Excluding an employee from company events because they are pregnant or on maternity leave or have children
  • Making assumptions about employees returning to work after maternity leave
  • Expectations that every employee will confirm to the same work schedule and practices whilst pregnant and returning to work after maternity leave

Yes these are subtle but still real for many women in Australian workplaces today. They may not fall under the definition of ‘adverse actions’ but they make up the experience of many employees who are pregnant, on maternity leave or who have family commitments. It is beyond time for Australian companies to address both obvious and subtle discriminatory behaviours and attitudes, which equate to “…a deep-seated bias against women with children in the workforce.” Ged Kearney, ACTU President. 

mums@work 3 Dec 2013
By: Celeste Kirby-Brown,
Director of Sales. Marketing and Relationships. Ezypay, mums@work Contributor
Image: The Guardian