What if you go on maternity leave only to be told your job is
gone or you are demoted when you return to work?
What if you are pregnant and your employer keeps giving you work
that requires heavy lifting or standing for long periods?
What if you apply for a position and are asked if you plan to
start a family soon but when you say "yes" or
"maybe" you suddenly find you are ruled out of the
Employment law specialist Kym Luke of Stacks/The Law Firm hears
that sort of story all too frequently, and is constantly fighting
cases for women who were discriminated against in the workplace
because they were pregnant, new mothers, or even just planning to
have a baby.
"It is illegal under the Fair Work Act to discriminate
against someone who is pregnant, but it happens all too often. Both
worker and employer should know their rights and obligations under
the legislation," she said.
"It is important employers get proper legal advice on their
obligations and duties under the Fair Work Act as penalties can be
severe - up to $51,000 for a corporation and $10,200 for an
individual," Kym Luke said.
Now the government has given The Australian Human Rights
Commission the task of researching the depth of workplace
discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers returning to
It comes as new workplace laws are planned for the Fair Work Act
that will force employers to transfer all pregnant women to a
'safe job' position for the risk period, no matter how long
they have worked for the company. If there is no 'safe job'
available the employee will be entitled to unpaid 'no safe
job' leave - but this is to be paid leave if the employee has
12 months' service.
The moves come after unions reported some employers in the
retail industry were refusing to give pregnant women the extra
toilet breaks they need. One pregnant woman wet her pants when she
wasn't 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.
"Working while pregnant is a right, not a privilege,"
said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
Industry leaders have warned the new rules would make employers
think twice before hiring women of child bearing age.
The inquiry will hold meetings with employers, unions,
government bodies, women's groups relevant community and health
organisations and affected women not otherwise represented.
The Commission will report on the research in May 2014.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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