Returning to your job after having a baby is difficult enough without your employer putting unlawful barriers in your way.
This week, The Federal Circuit Court ruled in favour of a female director who was denied flexible working hours following her return from maternity leave, and later made redundant. Her employer, Roy Morgan Research Ltd, has been fined $52,000, as reported in Workplace Express.
The court found that Roy Morgan had taken a form of adverse action against the director. That is, the court found that the decision to make the woman's position redundant, and the further decision not to offer her redeployment, was made because she had requested flexible working hours.
"Adverse action" is a form of discrimination, whereby an employee receives detrimental treatment because they have exercised a workplace right. It comes down to this: your employer is not allowed to punish you for using your workplace rights.
The court recognised that taking parental leave to care for a child was a “fundamental entitlement” and that no-one should be subjected to prejudice or disadvantage for exercising that right in the workplace.
"I am satisfied that prevailing community standards demand recognition of the fundamental entitlement of an employee to take (parental) leave to care for their child or children, safe in the knowledge that their employment and future will not be prejudiced because they have exercised their right to take (parental) leave, including to request flexible working arrangements," Judge Jones said.
Judge Jones further stated that the decision would act as a significant deterrent to prevent other organisations from behaving similarly.
Fines handed out by the courts only go so far
Unfortunately, pregnancy and parental leave discrimination are common. Low-paid women are particularly disadvantaged, as they have less access to the courts utilised in the Roy Morgan case.
Too often, working-class women are forced by their precarious circumstances (and indeed, precarious employment) to put up with discrimination and other gendered workplace issues.
To combat discrimination across our whole society, we must campaign together in our workplaces and communities. We must organise by speaking together about our experiences, and sharing information about our legal rights. (Organising a WRAW Chat in your workplace or community is a great place to start!)
Union women have a feminist agenda to stamp out discrimination. Even if you're the only woman in your workplace, you can be part of that collective agenda - share your experiences here!
Women working in union can make all our workplaces safe and supportive for us, and for our families.