According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 17% of female employees have experienced some form of discrimination while pregnant. By any measure, that statistic is alarmingly high. It is little surprise then that the Australian Human Rights Commission has announced a national inquiry into discrimination against pregnant women at work and women returning after parental leave.

For employers, well-planned parental leave provisions are an essential tool for ensuring employees’ legal rights are looked after, and they also play a key role in attracting and retaining employees with children or those intending to start a family.

If you are unsure about your organisation’s parental leave provision, take a look at the National Employment Standards (NES). They outline employee entitlements regarding paid and unpaid maternity leave.

Under the standards, employees (both permanent and long-term casual) who have served 12 months or more are entitled to take up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave. In addition, they have the right to request an additional 12 months of unpaid parental leave (subject to a few conditions under the Fair Work Act 2009). Please note that the Fair Work Amendment Act No. 73 2013 received Royal Assent on 28 June 2013. These amendments vary provisions relating to Special Maternity Leave, Concurrent Leave (increased to up to 8 weeks). While not parental leave, the flexible working arrangements under the Act have also been altered to include workers who are over 55 years of age and those experiencing or caring for a victim of family violence.

It is also important to understand return-to-work provisions. Employees must be guaranteed that they can return to the position they held before they took parental leave. If the position they held before their parental leave no longer exists, the employee can be transferred to an available position that is the closest match to their previous status and pay.

While considering parental leave provisions, you should also consider Dad and Partner Pay. On 1 January 2013, Dad and Partner Pay was introduced, entitling eligible working dads or partners to take up to two weeks of government-funded leave at the National Minimum Wage. Workers can claim Dad and Partner Pay at any time during the first 12 months from the child’s birth or adoption, as long as the dad or partner is on leave.

While the Commission’s inquiry into workplace discrimination is specific to pregnant women and those who are returning to work after parental leave, employers should be aware that legislation and guidelines in this area are not limited to expectant or new parents. Likewise, anti-discrimination practices must be applied at all stages of the employment relationship including recruitment, promotion and termination.

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