Does Pregnancy Discrimination Still Exist?

Does Pregnancy Discrimination Still ExistIn Australia, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) National Review of Supporting Working Parents, nearly 49% of mothers expressed they had been discriminated in the workplace either during pregnancy or after they have returned to work. That’s one out of every two mothers. Of these, 84% also reported that their career had suffered and they had to deal with mental and physical stress as a result of the discrimination.

Such discrimination against women is not unique to Australia and is in fact affecting the lives of women all over the world. In England,

  • Around 54,000 new mothers are being forced out of their jobs each year;
  • 10% are discouraged by their employer from attending antenatal appointments;
  • 9% said that they were treated worse by their employer on their return to work than they were before pregnancy;
  • More than one in 20 (7%) said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice;
  • When mothers were allowed to work flexibly, around half reported negative consequences such as receiving fewer opportunities at work or feeling that their opinion was less valued; and
  • The impact on younger mothers – those under 25 years old – is greater in many areas, with around 6% experiencing dismissal compared with 1% across all age groups.

So what’s being done about it?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 in the US, the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in Australia and many other Acts around the world, have protective laws in place to prevent unfair treatment of women based on pregnancy. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace still exists or worse, victims are not speaking up about it.

In a video addressing the findings of the AHRC Report, Melanie Schlieger, the manager of Victoria Legal Aid’s equality law program, says: “Ninety-one per cent of women make no formal complaint of any kind. The AHRC report found 110,000 women experience discrimination each year and just one in 10 seek advice.”

So what is it that’s preventing women from speaking up about pregnancy discrimination? The three possible reasons are:

  1. They aren’t aware of the laws on pregnancy discrimination.
  2. They feel filing a suit on their employer is tantamount to career suicide.
  3. They feel they don’t have the evidence to back the case.

While these are valid concerns, choosing to keep silent about facing discrimination is certainly not the solution.

If you feel that you can’t speak up in the office, find other channels that will provide that support. Forums such as the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign is one example. Their campaign works towards receiving complaints, then exposing the injustice all the while keeping the case anonymous.

It may also be good to talk to a good lawyer who is familiar with local laws. This will give you a better idea of where you stand and what recourse you can explore. If you’re planning to get pregnant and are worried about what you might face in the workplace, it may be wise to equip yourself with learning everything there is to know about pregnancy discrimination. A good read is the book You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace, written by Tom Spiggle, who is a lawyer specialising in fighting issues on pregnancy discrimination.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to speaking up against pregnancy discrimination, reading about women like Joeli Brearly could provide you insights. Joeli is the woman behind the Pregnant Then Screwed forum, and had also experienced pregnancy discrimination firsthand. Jamie Cole and Peggy Young are other women who also fought against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Learn the laws that are in place that protects your rights. Support a friend who has been on the receiving end of pregnancy discrimination; and if you are affected – speak up. The most important thing you can do for yourself and for the other women out there who might be in the same shoes as you is to improve the situation by speaking up.


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One thought on “Does Pregnancy Discrimination Still Exist?

  1. My word it does! My step daughter was retrenched from her long held position whilst she was on maternity leave with her second child. They replaced her with a young man. This company also advised her prior to having a family, when she asked for a promotion, why do you want a promotion your will be having a family soon. She has had her family now and is trying to return to the workforce. After having her family she returned to work but recently lost this part-time job because her little ones picked up a cold from day care, then she caught the same cold. When she came back to work, she was advised the business could not manage on this basis and they would need to let her go. That she is probably better waiting until her children are older.

    She has recently gone for other part-time positions – one of her work referees are from her long term employment and she has been advised that when people ring for a reference, included in their dialogue is – she has a young family. She believe this prevents her from obtaining employment.

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