Pregnancy discrimination rife in Australian workplaces

pregnant woman working

pregnant woman working Having a baby is a joyful time of life – but for many parents, it can make work life miserable.

A new report has found almost half of mums experience workplace discrimination during pregnancy, while on parental leave or after returning to work. And 27 per cent of their partners experience discrimination when it comes to taking parental leave or returning to work.

The report of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review says discrimination comes in many forms, from negative attitudes and comments from colleagues and managers, to fewer training and career advancement opportunities, reduced pay and conditions, and even redundancy or job loss.

And the cost of discrimination is high, affecting the physical and mental health of mums, their career and job opportunities, financial situations and families. It also leads to higher absenteeism, lower productivity, higher staff turnover, higher recruitment and training costs and reputation damage for companies, the review finds.

It says pregnancy is still often seen as a privilege, not a right, in many businesses. And employers say even with the best intentions, they find it difficult to manage business pressures when employees are pregnant, on maternity leave or return to work on flexible arrangements. Many employers and staff are also unaware of their rights, the report says.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who released the report today, says little has changed in Australian workplaces in the 15 years since the nation’s first inquiry into pregnancy discrimination. “It provides indisputable evidence that pregnancy and return-to-work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost – not just to women, working parents and their families, but also to workplaces and the national economy,” she says.

“The existence of these forms of workplace discrimination is also limiting women’s participation in paid work as well as the productivity of businesses and other organisations. Addressing it is not only a human rights imperative, but also an organisational priority.”

Among the report’s recommendations are that laws be tightened to:

  • ensure employers “reasonably accommodate” the needs of workers who are pregnant or parents;
  • ensure employers try to accommodate requests for flexible working arrangements;
  • allow employees to use existing personal or carer leave entitlements to attend prenatal and IVF appointments; and
  • ensure women are allowed to take breaks from work to breastfeed or express.

“While there are a few areas where the laws can be strengthened, our recommendations are directed towards a much better implementation of legal obligations through greater provision of information about employee rights and employer obligations,” Ms Broderick says.

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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