Pregnant women in workforce face more discrimination

The discrimination of pregnant women working has increased according to a report from Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman

For the first time in Australia, workplace discrimination against pregnant women has overtaken that against people with a disability.

In the past year alone, the Fair Work Ombudsman investigated 235 complaints of workplace discrimination. The most common involved pregnancy, making up 28% of all complaints – 7% higher than 2010-2011 levels. By contrast, 21% of discrimination complaints were based on physical or mental disability, down from 25%.

From July 2009 to July 2013 the ombudsman began investigations into 692 discrimination complaints – 133 of which related to pregnancy discrimination. The highest number occurred in 2010-2011 with 47 complaints.

“In a small number of discrimination cases where the breaches are very serious or deliberate – or where the employer refuses to co-operate and take action to resolve the matter – the Fair Work Ombudsman can initiate litigation action in the courts,” a spokesman told Guardian Australia.

At least five of these have led to court imposed penalties or are still before the courts.

Former owner-operators of one Sydney business were ordered to pay a fine of more than $20,000 plus $2,207 compensation to an employee who was demoted and mistreated after she told them she was pregnant.

The employee, a Chinese woman in her 30s who had lived in Australia for seven years, told her bosses that she was pregnant and that she planned to take time off around the time of the birth. She was informed that her job may not be open for her on her return.

In August 2009, the woman suffered a miscarriage and took sick leave. When she returned to work she was demoted to a job involving primarily manual labour. After she complained and asked for her previous position to be reinstated, the woman was told “many employees resign when they fall pregnant and then stay at home in bed”, according to an ombudsman report.

“Demoting and creating an unpleasant work environment for an employee because they are pregnant is a blatant breach of workplace law and must be discouraged,” said Fair Work ombudsman Nicholas Wilson.

“Any employer who is not sure of how they can accommodate their business needs around a staff member’s pregnancy is encouraged to discuss this with us.”

The data, released in the department’s annual report also revealed that the ombudsman has “achieved court ordered penalties of more than $1.6m in 45 decided matters,” in 2012-13.

More than 65% of the 26,574 complaints received were resolved through dispute resolution services, the report said.