Pregnancy and parental discrimination at work

Pregnancy and parental discrimination at work

Pregnancy discrimination is when your employer treats you badly because of your pregnancy.

Parental discrimination is when your employer:

  • treats you badly because you need to look after your children
  • unreasonably insists on work conditions that you cannot comply with because of your children, such as working full-time hours.

If you experience pregnancy or parental discrimination then state and Commonwealth laws may be able to help you.

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When pregnancy and parental discrimination is against the law

Pregnancy and parental discrimination at work is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Fair Work Act 2009 and most state laws. For more information see Discrimination and victimisation.

A survey of new mums by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that one in two women experience workplace discrimination, either during their pregnancy, their maternity leave or on return to work. The majority of women who experience discrimination don’t make a complaint. They may be embarrassed or concerned about their professional reputation.

Common examples of pregnancy and parental discrimination at work

Examples of pregnancy and parental discrimination include being:

  • refused work because of your pregnancy
  • fired after telling your boss that you are pregnant
  • fired or made redundant while on parental leave
  • told that you can’t return to your old job after parental leave
  • told that you can’t work part time or on reduced hours to look after your children.

Whether an employer’s actions are found to be unlawful will depend on all the relevant circumstances. If you have experienced these common examples of pregnancy and parental discrimination at work (link to this new child page) and are unsure what to do, you should get help (link to this page) about your options.

Stephanie's story

I worked for my employer for years until I became pregnant. When I started suffering from morning sickness and my employer started discriminating against me I decided to take action.

It was a big decision to make a legal complaint while being pregnant. It’s been hard and tiring, but I got through it with support from my lawyer and I think it’s made me stronger.

My advice to other women is to stand up for themselves. You should get advice straight away. Don’t let things go just because it is hard at the start. It's worth it at the end.

Know your rights

It’s a good idea to find out about your rights so you are prepared when you talk to your employer about your pregnancy, maternity leave, return to work or request for flexible work arrangements.

The Australian Government Supporting Working Parents website has resources for both employees and employers to learn about their rights and obligations when pregnant, taking parental leave, and returning to work.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s website outlines your rights under Victorian law about:

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s website outlines your rights under Commonwealth discrimination laws.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website outlines your rights to:

What you can do if you have experienced discrimination

If you have experienced pregnancy and parental discrimination at work, you may be able to resolve the issue by negotiating directly with your employer after you’ve learnt more about your rights. This may result in a positive outcome as employers do not always realise or understand their conduct is unlawful discrimination.

But if you're like Stephanie and your issue can’t be resolved, you can make a complaint.

Complaints can be made to the Fair Work Commission, Australian Human Rights Commission or your state commission, such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. See Making a complaint about discrimination.

However, discrimination law is complex and it can be confusing knowing which option is the best one for you. If you complain to one place, sometimes you cannot change your mind later and complain elsewhere. So it is best to speak to speak to a lawyer and get help before lodging a complaint.

Get help

If you live in Victoria, find out how you can get help with discrimination, harassment and bullying.

If you live outside of Victoria, contact your union, local legal aid office, community legal centre or Women’s Legal Service for advice or an appropriate referral.