NSW laws changed for pregnant employees

by HRD09 Mar 2018

NSW Parliament has repealed a law that allowed employers to dismiss or refuse to hire women who knew they were pregnant when applying for a job.

Women facing sex discrimination in the private sector can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

However, the Commonwealth Act does not apply to NSW public sector agencies. These amendments close that loophole and improve the protection of women who are seeking employment, or who are currently employed, in the public sector.

The reform brings NSW in line with other states and territories as well as Commonwealth law.

Attorney General Mark Speakman and Minister for Women Tanya Davies welcomed the passage of the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which removes the relevant sub-sections from the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

“In this day and age, it’s unacceptable that a woman could be overlooked for a role or dismissed from a new position once it becomes apparent that she is pregnant,” said Speakman.

“These amendments will ensure fair access to employment, which is good for the NSW economy and vital to ensuring gender equality.”

Moreover, the senior HR manager at Employsure Jess Van Der Walt said that this was very significant change for women in the workforce.

“We already know that women often face barriers for employment, so it is a relief that the NSW Government has moved to remove these clauses,” said Van Der Walt.

“It is about time. It’s totally unacceptable that a woman could be overlooked for a role or dismissed from a new position once it becomes apparent she is pregnant.”

Van Der Walt said the changes are fundamental to the independence of women.

"Fair access to employment is vital for the social and financial independence of women," she said.

Provide training for your managers on how to recognise discrimination if it takes place within their team, and how to suitably handle a situation to prevent it from reoccurring, change starts at the top.

Kingsford Legal Centre Director Associate Professor Anna Cody added that women, including pregnant women, make a valuable contribution to the workforce and should not face discrimination at work on the basis of pregnancy.

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) contained exemptions that allowed employers to not hire or dismiss women if they were pregnant at the time they applied, interviewed or were hired for a job.

“These exemptions permitted discrimination against pregnant women, were outdated, and the NSW Attorney-General deserves praise for removing them,” said Dr Cody.

“These amendments are a positive step to meet our obligations under international human rights law to promote equality and non-discrimination, bringing NSW anti-discrimination law in line with the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and laws in other states and territories.”

Dr Cody added that sadly, pregnancy and family responsibilities discrimination remains prevalent in Australia, with one in two mothers experiencing discrimination at work during pregnancy, parental leave or return to work.

“Community legal centres provide valuable assistance to people and communities across NSW at times when they need it most,” she said.

“This is particularly true when people are facing economic hardship or discrimination.”

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