With Mother’s Day still fresh in our minds, we thought it was time to look at a very important topic – mothers (and parents) in the workplace.
Balancing work and family responsibility can be challenging at the best of times.
And despite legal protections and rights, many working mums and dads still face discrimination and challenges in the workplace due to their parental responsibilities.
This got us wondering, what particular challenges do working parents face in the workplace? And how can we help to address these issues?
Discrimination in the workplace
Despite legal protections being in place, many Australians encounter workplace discrimination due to being parents (or expecting parents).
A 2014 study found that among working parents in Australia, a staggering 50% of mothers (and 27% of fathers) had experienced some form of discrimination.
Workplace Fairness explains that “employers may discriminate based on family responsibilities when they deny employment or promotions, harass, pay less, or otherwise take negative employment action against an employee because of the employee’s family responsibilities”.
Some examples of discrimination include:
- Firing employees because they are pregnant or will take maternity leave
- Failing to promote pregnant women or women with young children/ giving promotions to women without children or fathers instead of more qualified women with children
- Giving parents work schedules that they cannot meet for childcare reasons while giving nonparents flexible schedules
- Fabricating work infractions or performance deficiencies to justify dismissal of employees with family responsibilities
- Promoting single men over engaged or married women for fear that they will become pregnant
For working parents in Australia, discrimination most commonly occurs when requesting and taking parental leave and upon returning to work.
More specifically, the most prevalent forms of discrimination relate to negative attitudes towards breastfeeding, having flexible work requests denied, facing dismissal (or the threat of dismissal), reductions in salary and missing out on promotions or professional development opportunities.
These types of discrimination pose a major concern, not only in terms of career progression and opportunities, but also regarding the mental and physical health of working parents, as well as their financial stability and security.
Rights and protections
While these types of discrimination undoubtedly occur in the workplace, there are legal protections in place for employees who are pregnant or have family responsibilities – e.g. the Fair Work Act states that employers cannot take ‘adverse action’ against an employee due to them being pregnant.
The Fair Work Act “makes discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy, and family and carer’s responsibilities unlawful, subject to certain exceptions, and protects employees who have workplace rights, like the right to take unpaid parental leave.”
Additionally, there are a range of federal and state/territory anti-discrimination laws which make it “unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on various grounds including …pregnancy, potential pregnancy, breastfeeding and family responsibilities.”
Employees also have the right to request flexible working arrangements if they have worked for the same employer for at least one year and are not employed on a casual basis.
Addressing the problem
So… as an employer, it is important you, your managers and your workforce understand the business’ responsibilities in relation to working parents so they don’t experience discrimination in your workplace.
If an employee believes they are being discriminated against because of pregnancy and/or family responsibilities, there are a number of avenues they can pursue to ensure it is dealt with. The first course of action should be that your employee clearly understand discriminatory behaviour in your workplace is not acceptable and feel comfortable in bringing that matter to the attention of management should they believe it has occurred.
At the same time and whilst your employee may believe it is discriminatory behaviour, it may be reasonable management action. Your management team and your workforce needs to understand the difference between reasonable management action and discriminatory behaviour.
If an employee says they are being discriminated against, make sure you take the correct action in addressing the matter – i.e. investigate all of the circumstances and confirm the outcome of that investigation with the employee. If it is reasonable management action, explain to the employee why that is the case. If it is discriminatory behaviour by an employee or group of employees, make sure those people understand that such behaviour is not acceptable in your workplace and implement any disciplinary action that may be required.
If you do not manage discrimination complaints, your business could very well end up with a complaint against it with the relevant commission.
As most employers are working parents themselves, there should be a level of understanding of the pressures and responsibilities facing working parents and avoid falling into patterns where working mums and dads in your workplace are overlooked, singled out or dismissed due to their family responsibilities.
Having an open dialogue with employees about their concerns and expectations, ensuring your workplace has family-friendly work practices in place, and embracing flexible work arrangements are great places to start.
While it can sometimes take work to adapt, we have a legal (and moral) obligation to not discriminate against working parents.
Akyra’s key takeaway
- Discrimination against working parents remains a major concern in the Australian workplace
- Working parents have legal rights and protections, and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and family responsibilities is unlawful
- Employers need to be aware of their obligations and the rights of employees on these issues – and ensure that they are meeting these obligations
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
Akyra can help your business to assist and support all your questions and concerns related to working parents and discrimination in the workplace. Please contact Akyra on 07 3204 8830 or book a free 30-minute consultation for an obligation-free conversation.
Disclaimer – Reliance on Content
The material distributed is general information only. The information supplied is not intended to be legal or other professional advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or professional advice in relation to your specific situation.
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https://parentsandcarersatwork.com/stand-up-australia-our-working-mums-and-dads-deserve-better-1-in-2-mothers-and-1-in-4-fathers-experience-discrimination-in-the-workplace/, https://www.workplacefairness.org/family-responsibilities-discrimination, https://www.fairwork.gov.au/find-help-for/parents-and-families, https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/pregnancy-discrimination-what-to-do/10378212, https://www.fairwork.gov.au/leave/maternity-and-parental-leave