Pregnancy tops discrimination in the workplace

by Cameron Edmond06 Nov 2013

Women complained more to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) of poor treatment due to pregnancy in 2012/2013 than ever before, making it the majority of complaints and coming in over the previous main complaint of discrimination on the grounds of disability.

Of the 235 complaints made to the FWO, 28% of these were from pregnant women.

The other top complaints came from people with disabilities (21%) and those who had family or carer responsibilities (11%).

“Sadly, it’s not a surprise,” Ged Kearney, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, told News Ltd. “It really is astounding, the number of women who contact us.” The ACTU have fielded complaints via a pregnancy discrimination hotline.

Former acting FWO Leigh Johns previously outlined four key manifestations of pregnancy discrimination:

  • Failing to let an employee take parental leave.
  • Declining to keep a job open.
  • Demotion during pregnancy or on return from parental leave.
  • Refusal to promote an employee because they are pregnant.

Employees have the right to return to their previous job when they return to work after parental leave. If an employer’s organisation changes while an employee is on parental leave, they must consult with the employee while they are on leave.

While employees are entitled to parental leave, they must notify their employer at least 10 weeks before they plan to leave. They must also confirm the dates four weeks before the leave starts. Generally, pregnant women start parental leave six weeks before their due date, meaning they must give notice in writing at 24 weeks.

The news comes about shortly after The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review began in late October – urging men, women and community organisations aware of discrimination against pregnant women to submit online. Those wishing to submit can do so here.


  • by JCW 6/11/2013 1:35:37 PM

    Personally, I do not believe that refusal to promote a pregnant woman amounts to discrimination. Promotions usually entail added responsibility which someone on an extended period of leave would be unable to fulfil. It is difficult to promote someone to a supervisory position, for example, when that person will not be around to supervise and one has to get someone else to fill the role anyway. There could also be duty of care issues involved - some roles are simply not safe or advisable for a pregnant woman to perform. We should also consider that some demotions and/or promotion refusals were simply because of performance issues, and pregnancy and/or parental leave just happened to coincide. While it is important to have checks and balances in place to prevent discrimination and to deal with it if and when it does occur, we need to be careful that we don't create the situation where employers are unable or unwilling to performance manage employees of any minority demographic for fear of being accused of discrimination.

  • by Anonymous 6/11/2013 1:50:40 PM

    In all fairness, why would an employer consider a currently pregnant person for a promotion?
    I can understand upon their return if the position is still open, however how can you promote someone who will exit the business for 1-2 years?

  • by Ella 6/11/2013 2:24:18 PM

    JCW - I read your comment and I completely disagree. From your viewpoint, women either need to choose a promotion or their baby - basically. How would humans exist if all women chose the former. Promotions should be based on performance and pregnancy should not have anything to do with it. In a case where a female is promoted and then she learns she is pregnant, you would find a replacement for her for the time she is on maternity leave. Why should the case be different for females who learn they are pregnant before the promotion?

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