A Victorian retail business has been fined the highest ever discrimination charge secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), after being found responsible for the unfair treatment of a pregnant employee.


Melbourne’s Federal Circuit Court heard that the employee suffered discrimination between December 2010 and April 2011. Upon notifying her employer she was pregnant, the shop assistant was ordered to take two weeks of unpaid leave, the FWO reported. The employee refused and suffered a reduction of her hours from an average of 26 to 10 per week, when she requested more hours she was told to look for work elsewhere.

The shop assistant was told by one of the company’s owner-managers, who is of Chinese origin, that it was a tradition that women in China do not work when they are pregnant therefore she did not want the pregnant employee working at the store.

Even after securing medical documentation, at the employer’s request, which proved she was fit for work, the company refused to let her work at her normal roster allocation which led to her eventually resigning in what was found to be a constructive dismissal.

The business, which operates a chain of discount stores across the state, was hit with a record $53,592 fine following workplace investigations conducted by the FWO. The company itself was fined $40,920 while its two owner-managers were fined $7,656 and $5,016.

Additionally, the company was ordered to pay the affected employee $7,197 for the “economic and non-economic loss” she suffered.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the decision made by the Court was a serious statement of intent. “It is the responsibility of employers to make sure they are aware of their obligations under workplace laws and that they treat workers fairly,” she said in a November 8 statement. “We want to increase awareness that discriminating against pregnant women is a serious breach of workplace laws and won’t be tolerated.”

This story follows the release of findings from the FWO earlier this month which revealed that pregnancy has overtaken disability to become the top workplace discrimination complaint in Australia.


Employers concerned about their obligations under anti-discrimination laws should seek advice concerning policies, procedures and training to ensure compliance and minimise risk. iHR Australia can conduct an audit of existing HR policies and also provides EEO, Anti-bullying, Harassment and Discrimination training for managers and employees.

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