Horrible bosses: Women denied parental leave

by |

Submissions to an Australian federal government review of paid parental leave have suggested that pregnant women are being fired to prevent them from accessing the federally funded scheme, the Herald Sun reported.

The 18-week scheme only applies once women have held their job for an entire year, but a submission from Victoria Legal Aid showed that women are sometimes fired just a week before they qualify.

JobWatch, the Victorian workers’ legal centre, have received about 6000 complaints regarding pregnancy discrimination in the past decade, with the number doubling in the last 10 years. And the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEO&HRC) has received 272 pregnancy-related employment discrimination complaints since 2007-08, the Herald Sun revealed.

The situation in New Zealand appears to be less dramatic, with only 84 complaints regarding pregnancy-related employment discrimination made to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) since 2010. "Annually the Commission receives about 1400 formal complaints a year across all grounds and areas of discrimination. So the figures of pregnancy related work discrimination complaints are not high, but they are a persistent source of complaint," a spokesperson for the HRC said.

According to the HRC, an employer cannot treat an employee less favourably because she is pregnant nor can an employer impose a workplace practice on all staff that disadvantages pregnant employees. In addition, employers may not ask job candidates if they are pregnant or whether they plan to get pregnant in the future.

Examples of pregnancy-related employment discrimination include:


  • Refusing employment or promotion to, or dismissing or making redundant an employee because she is pregnant
  • Subjecting a pregnant employee to derogatory or insulting remarks that have a negative impact on her
  • Excluded a pregnant employee from training because she is pregnant
  • Transferring an employee to another job because of her pregnancy (unless there are valid medial or safety reasons for this)
  • Demoting an employee because of her pregnancy, or cancelling her continuity of service


Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie, CE of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, described working with pregnant employees and instituting a parental leave policy as vital. "We have case studies of businesses that have wonderful parental leave polices and it results in the business retaining a valued employee when they come back from maternity leave," she said.

"I often hear about new mothers who find it too difficult to juggle bubs and work so end up resigning.  What a loss for any organisation," she added. Simple measures, such as providing a laptop for teleworking, could faciliate a new mother's transition back to work.

Employees who think that they may be experiencing such discrimination should call the HRC's free and confidential Infoline service 0800 496 877 or, with reference to paid parental leave matters, sould contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.



HRD Forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions