The Australian Human Rights Commission is an independent group set up by the federal government. It ensures that the legislation governing anti-discrimination in Australia is carried out and if there is an infringement of the law, they will investigate.
The specific legislations which relate to pregnancy discrimination are included in the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.
Key aspects of this act include:
- Promoting equality between men and women.
- Eliminating any discrimination between individuals on the basis of their sex/gender, marital status, pregnancy or family responsibilities.
- The elimination of sexual harassment through an individuals work and in the provision of goods and services and accommodation.
Check the Australian Human Rights Commission for more details.
Also check the Industrial Relations Act 1996 which provides information on parental leave entitlements.
What is pregnancy discrimination?
- Pregnancy discrimination is when a woman is denied equal opportunity for employment advancement and promotion on the grounds of her being pregnant.
- When the same rights are not afforded to her as her non-pregnant colleagues, she is being discriminated against.
- When the conditions of her employment are changed, she is demoted, retrenched or her employer does not include her in opportunities for job education training, she is also being discriminated against.
- If a woman is not employed because her potential employer suspects she may be pregnant, or has the potential to become pregnant, this too is a form of discrimination. Proving this can be very difficult though.
- If however because of her pregnancy, a woman is genuinely unable to complete the terms of her employment or her pregnancy prevents her from executing her usual duties, pregnancy discrimination does not apply.
- If your usual job exposes you or your unborn baby to potential risks while you are pregnant, you will need to speak with your employer. Finding a safe working alternative or going on lighter duties will be important. Women in the chemical, dental, heavy lifting or radiation industry will need to seek alternatives during their pregnancy.
How will I know if I’m being discriminated against?
If you suspect you are being treated unfairly as a result of being pregnant, you have the right to question why. If you suspect it is because of your pregnancy, rather than your work performance, there are formal means you can pursue.
Many pregnant women feel anxious that by raising their concerns, they could potentially make their situation worse. But it is worth remembering that you are protected by Commonwealth Law and employers have certain conditions under which they must comply to ensure they are abiding by the law.
What can I do If I’m experiencing pregnancy discrimination?
- Check the Australian Human Rights Commission to become familiar with your rights. If you would like to discuss your concerns ring: The Complaint information Line at The Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419.
- Downloadable information is also available on the website.
- In addition to federal legislation, each state can differ slightly in terms of offering additional protection during pregnancy. Individual workplace agreements must comply with the federal laws but may also offer extra rights.
- Contact your union and speak with an official who is familiar with the legislation and your protective rights. Occasionally mediation is necessary so that there is a clear understanding of the rights and responsibilities from both parties. If this is not successful, there are guidelines and processes which can be evoked if necessary.
What about my appointments?
If you need to attend ante-natal appointments in the course of your working day, you should be covered for this time in your usual health maintenance/sick time off. A sick certificate may be necessary or perhaps not. If you can work out a flexible arrangement with your individual employer regarding making up time or taking time off in lieu, this is preferable.
What’s the best way to prevent any problems?
Aim to keep an open and honest line of communication open with your employer. If you do not wish to tell them you are pregnant or exactly when your due date is, this is reasonable. Though there will come a time in your pregnancy that, in all fairness to your employer, you will need to advise them. This should include information regarding when you will be taking leave and when and if, you expect to return. If you are not sure of this yourself, let them know you will inform them when you are.
Your job may need to be filled and a suitable replacement found. You may need to be involved in handing over certain tasks and mentoring a new staff member into the workplace.
Managing human resources and staffing, by nature, can be a time and labour intensive process and it will assist your employer to know how to plan around your leave.