A Perth child care centre has been fined over pregnancy discrimination in a case which the judge hopes will send a message to employers more generally – it is unlawful to terminate a woman’s employment because she is pregnant.
The fine of $13,200 was handed down to the Dinki Di Child Care Centre last week, after the Federal Court found the centre’s manager and part-owner Orieta O’Leary had, upon learning of the employee’s pregnancy, reduced her hours, misrepresented to her that she was not entitled to parental leave and pressured her into resigning.
O’Leary’s conduct, on behalf of the company, also breached workplace laws that make it unlawful to take action against any employee to prevent them from accessing a workplace right, such as an entitlement to leave.
Justice Michael Barker said the contraventions were serious, and that an appropriate message needs to be sent not only to the contraveners in this case, but also to employers at large. “It is unlawful to terminate a woman’s employment because she is pregnant,” he said.
O’Leary admitted the conduct amounted to a constructive dismissal of the employee, for reasons including that the employee was pregnant and had proposed to take unpaid parental leave.
Under the Fair Work Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees on the grounds of pregnancy, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.
Discriminatory behaviour can include dismissing an employee, threatening to dismiss an employee, denying training and promotion opportunities or refusing to employ, promote or train an employee.
Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said the penalty sends a message that failing to respect the rights of pregnant employees is a serious matter. “It is the responsibility of employers to make sure they are aware of their obligations under workplace laws and that they treat workers fairly,” Wilson said.
The case is the Fair Work Ombudsman’s fourth litigation related to pregnancy discrimination.
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