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FWO crack down on pregnancy discrimination continues

Continuing the campaign against the high prevalence of pregnancy/return to work discrimination, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced in a media release this week that it has taken up the fight against a Perth gourmet food distribution company.

Federal Court proceedings have been initiated by the FWO seeking penalties against the company and a director/part owner for contravention of workplace laws including the National Employment Standards (NES) and discrimination. Compensation to the employee for both economic and non-economic loss is also being sought.

The serious allegations by the FWO include:

· taking unwarranted performance-management action against the employee after she fell pregnant with her first child,

· denial of her lawful right to return to work after taking parental leave, and

· constructive dismissal when, after announcing her second pregnancy, she was given a letter of resignation prepared by the company (which she signed).

The FWO reminds employers in the media release that it is unlawful to dismiss an employee who is on parental leave because they are pregnant, or because of family and carers’ responsibilities. The FWO displays a list of actions taken by it in recent years where the FWO successfully secured penalties against a number of employers for contravening the pregnancy discrimination provisions of the Fair Work Act.

The Fair Work Act protects employees from discrimination by prohibiting adverse action related to pregnancy and parental responsibilities through a number of provisions, including a specific prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex, family or carers’ responsibilities and pregnancy. The NES contained in the Fair Work Act also provides certain specific rights for pregnant employees and new parents. Work Health and Safety issues can also arise. Issues can be complex and confusing, but the message from the FWO is clear – employers are expected to be aware of and comply with the various legal protections and guarantees applicable to pregnant employees and those returning to work after parental leave.

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