Under the Fair Work Act, to discriminate someone who is pregnant is illegal. But in most workplaces, this discrimination happens often. Both workers and employers must be aware of their rights and obligations under the legislation.
Kym Luke, Employment Law Specialist of Stacks/The Law Firm receives a lot of complaints related to discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. There are complaints from pregnant women whose employers keep giving them works that will require them lifting of heavy things or will require them to stand for long periods of time. There are separate cases of women who returned to office after using their maternity leaves but was shocked to know that they were demoted or that their job was gone without getting prior notice from their employers. Even on the early stage of applying for a job position, there are women who felt discriminated from their rights when they were suddenly disqualified to apply just because they answered “yes” or “maybe” when asked if they plan to start a family soon.
Law Specialist Luke is very active as a human rights lawyer, fighting for women who were discriminated in the workplace just because they were pregnant, new mothers, or just planning to be a mother. She believes that it is important for employers to get a proper legal advice on their obligations and duties under the Fair Work Act to avoid penalties as much as $51,000 for a corporation, and $10,200 for an individual.
Now, the government has tasked The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to research the depth of workplace discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers returning to work. The AHRC will meet with the employers, unions, government bodies, women's groups relevant community and health organizations and with the affected women having no one to represent them. Afterward, they will give their research report by May 2014.
Unions reported that there are some employers in the retail industry that refused to give pregnant women extra toilet breaks needed. One pregnant woman wet her pants when she was not allowed to leave the cash register. Another pregnant woman had to keep pushing trolleys carrying 400 kilos of flour when the company refused to transfer her to lighter duties.
Hence, the Fair Work Act suggested new laws in the workplace that will push every employer to transfer pregnant women into “safe” job positions within the risk period, regardless of the employee’s tenure. If in case there is no safe job available for the employee, she will be entitled to unpaid “no safe” job leaves. However, if the employee has at least 12 months of service in the company, she is entitled to paid leaves.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said that working while pregnant is a right, not a privilege. For some industry leaders, these new laws will definitely make employers to think twice before hiring women of child bearing age.