Working mothers – know your rights
A study by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that almost 50 per cent of mothers and pregnant women have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
They experienced discrimination or unfair treatment during pregnancy, parental leave or when they returned to work. The study found cases where maternity leave was denied, job contracts were torn up, careers were stunted, demotions and resignations were commonplace.
One woman was even advised by her boss to consider an abortion. Another was told to choose her baby or her job.
On top of that, 84 per cent of the women who experienced discrimination reported mental and physical stress and damage to their finances and career.
It didn’t matter whether the women were executives or worked on the factory floor. The study found discrimination was pervasive across all levels and to all social backgrounds. One in four fathers who took parental leave also reported discrimination.
It’s not only the men doing the discrimination. The study found female managers, many of them mothers themselves, were also behind a lot of the discrimination.
Discrimination in the workplace is against the law, and that includes pregnant women and parents. There are a myriad of state and federal laws covering this area, and if you are a victim of discrimination it is advisable to get legal advice on the best way to pursue restitution for your particular case.
It’s also important for employers to have in place an office management system designed to prevent discrimination and if they have an employee with a complaint to have an avenue to take that complaint. Nathan Luke, employment law specialist at Stacks Law Firm, said it would be wise for employers to get legal advice to ensure they have the best system in place. It can head off a problem before it grows and becomes so big that legal penalties and bad staff relations build up.
Don’t forget, the purpose of anti-discrimination laws is to have a happy and productive workplace as well as protect the rights of the worker. There’s also a sound economic reason. Victims of discrimination often withdraw from the workforce, therefore stop paying taxes and spending. The workforce participation rate of women is twelve per cent below that of men. If women’s participation rate could be increased by just six per cent it would add about $25 billion a year to Australia’s GDP.
Any employer resenting a staff member taking leave to have a baby should remember those babies will one day grow up and pay taxes that will support their old age pension.