Victoria Legal Aid

Pregnancy and parental discrimination at work

It is against the law for your employer to treat you badly because you are pregnant or have parental responsibilities.

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 do because of your children, such as working full-time hours.

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

When pregnancy and parental discrimination is against the law

Pregnancy and parental discrimination at work is against the law. For more information see Discrimination and victimisation.

A survey of new mums by the Australian Human Rights CommissionExternal Link found that one in two women experience workplace discrimination, either during their pregnancy, their maternity leave or on return to work. Most 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.

If you have experienced these common examples of pregnancy and parental discrimination at work and are unsure what to do, you should see Other support for discrimination to learn 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 websiteExternal Link 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 outlines your rights under Victorian law about:

The Australian Human Rights Commission outlines your rights under Commonwealth discrimination lawsExternal Link .

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 actions are against the law.

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. It is best to speak to a lawyer and get help before lodging a complaint.

Other Support

If you live in Victoria, find out how you can get other support for discrimination, harassment and bullying.

If you live outside of Victoria, contact your unionExternal Link , local legal aid officeExternal Link , community legal centreExternal Link or Women’s Legal ServiceExternal Link for advice or an appropriate referral.

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 19 May 2022

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