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Pregnancy: the top discrimination complaint in Australia

12 November 2013

Pregnancy has surpassed disability as the top workplace discrimination issue in Australia, as reported by News Limited.

In the wake of the Australian Human Rights Commission beginning its Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review late last month, it was revealed that an increasing number of women are complaining about discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.

Figures released by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) showed that of the 235 complaints made to the agency during 2012-13, more than a quarter - 28 per cent - were made by pregnant women.

They were followed by people with disabilities, who made up 21 per cent of complaints, and those with family or carer responsibilities, at 11 per cent.

News Ltd reported that the FWO investigated 76 cases, taking three to court while an additional three resulted in enforceable orders.

Ged Kearney, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), expressed her concern at the increasing numbers of pregnant women who were complaining of discrimination.

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"Sadly, it's not a surprise," she said, as quoted by News Ltd on 4 November, "It really is astounding, the number of women who contact us."

At one point, the ACTU pregnancy discrimination hotline received around 500 calls during a single 24-hour period, according to News Ltd.

In an online article in Human Capital magazine, Fair Work Commissioner Leigh Johns stated that there are four manifestations of pregnancy discrimination. These are;

  • failing to let an employee take parental leave;
  • refusing to leave a job open while on leave;
  • demotion during pregnancy; and
  • refusal to promote an employee on the grounds of pregnancy.

It is of concern that many organisations may be unaware of their responsibilities in this area and could be exposing themselves to significant risk.

It is imperative that organisations ensure their policies and procedures covering this area are up to date and compliant, engaging external HR support services may be necessary to facilitate this.

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