Inquiry Into Pregnant Women At Work
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?
Employment law specialist Kym Luke of Stacks 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 work.
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.