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Conciliations - pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination

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    Employment

    Apprentice had trouble returning to work (Sept 2014)

    An 18-year-old woman made a complaint of pregnancy discrimination when she encountered difficulties trying to return to her apprenticeship with a major retailer after having a baby.

    The woman couldn’t pin down her employer about the details of returning to her apprenticeship and was told informally that it had been given away. The matter was urgent as there was only a limited window for her to enrol back in TAFE and she could only do so if her employer advised TAFE that she was their apprentice.

    When the Board investigated the complaint, we were able to contact a human resources officer for the area who was keen to resolve the issue. It transpired that several of the managers in the store where the young woman had been working had been on leave and no-one had been fully informed about her situation.

    The complaint was resolved when it was arranged that the young woman’s enrolment at TAFE would be immediately confirmed and she would return to work part time, spending two days per week at work and one day at TAFE.

    Treated differently because she was pregnant (Sept 2014)

    A woman who worked in a remote office of a large company lodged a complaint of pregnancy discrimination when she felt that her co-worker in the office began to treat her differently after he found out that she was pregnant.

    The woman felt very uncomfortable as she thought her colleague wasn’t speaking to her and appeared to be changing her time sheets. The Board felt that it was necessary to resolve the issue as soon as possible, but it would have been difficult to arrange a conciliation conference quickly due to the location of the parties.

    When we rang the company’s CEO (who was based in another state), he said that he was going to that office the following week and could address the situation then if the complainant agreed. The Board contacted the complainant who agreed that this would be acceptable. We also made some suggestions to the CEO about the best way to approach the situation.

    The CEO discussed the matter with the complainant and her colleague. The colleague said that his behaviour related to other issues unrelated to the complainant or her pregnancy. The CEO emphasised that the colleague was not the woman’s supervisor and he was not responsible for the time sheets. The woman was satisfied by this discussion and the complaint was resolved.

    Felt pressured to resign

    The complainant was a young woman who worked as a cook for a club. She alleged that when she told her manager that she was pregnant, the manager said she had to decide between keeping her baby or keeping her job, and she felt she had no alternative but to resign.

    The employer said that the complainant had misconstrued the manager’s words, and the manager had merely been expressing concern about how she was going to cope as a single mother. They said this was in a context where the complainant had previously confided to the manager about her personal problems. They denied that she was in any way pressured to resign or to consider terminating her pregnancy.

    The complaint was settled when the employer agreed to amend its staff manual to include information about rights relating to pregnancy and maternity leave, and to pay the complainant $3,500.

    Singled out because of pregnancy

    A woman complained to the Board about pregnancy discrimination after she notified Workcover about safety concerns in the workplace and she was prevented from entering her worksite on the grounds that it was ‘too dangerous’ for her. She said that when a Workcover inspector asked a manager why she was sitting outside the workshop, he said that it was because she was pregnant. This was despite the fact that the safety issues were minor, and other workers were allowed to continue working. She also said that she was victimised when she complained to her employer that she had nothing to do.

    The complaint was resolved when the employer agreed to provide the employee with a written apology, a reference and an ex-gratia payment of $5,000.

    Moved to less satisfying position

    A woman security operative generally worked 12-hour shifts, but some time into her pregnancy her doctor advised that she should only work eight hours per day. Her employer agreed to change her shift to eight hours but said she could only do this in a different position.

    The woman said there was no reason that she could not work reduced hours in her normal position other than the employer’s policy. She said she therefore had to perform less satisfying and more menial duties for three months, and was only returned to her normal position after she complained to Human Resources. She became stressed as a result and lost the enjoyment of her job.

    The complaint was resolved when she accepted a payment of $3,000 in settlement.

    Reduced responsibilities 

    A woman worked for a company that ran a chain of shops. While she was pregnant, renovations began in the shop where she was working, and during this time the company only had a kiosk in this shopping centre. This meant that the woman would not have the same level of responsibility, so she requested a transfer to another shop where she could work at the same level. She alleged that  when she turned up for work at the new location, she was told there was no job for her there. She said that a new person was employed in her old position when the renovations were completed and she was forced to resign. The complaint was resolved at the Board when the employer agreed to pay the woman $6,000.

    Given light duties with less benefits

    A woman who was a housekeeping manager of a large hotel, informed her manager that she was the early stages of pregnancy. After she was hospitalised due to a pregnancy-related illness, her manager informed her that he was placing her on light duties, which she later discovered was on reception. Her salary was maintained, but she lost a number of entitlements such as parking and meal privileges, and another person was appointed to her position. She was greatly distressed by the hotel’s actions, left her job earlier than she had planned and was unable to find another position.

    At conciliation, the hotel admitted that they could have managed things more appropriately and the matter was settled for $8,000.

    Leave of absence denied

    Shortly after a woman began work as a legal secretary, she discovered she was pregnant and advised her employer. She complained to the Board that the employer refused her request to take three months leave of absence in order to give birth to her child and she was forced to resign. (She was not entitled to paid maternity leave because she would have been employed for under twelve months at the expected date of confinement.) The woman also alleged that a male employee’s request to take a leave of absence was granted. The complaint was resolved at the Board when the woman accepted $8,000, a statement of service, and a statement of regret in settlement of her complaint.

    Sacked while pregnant

    A young woman lodged a complaint of pregnancy discrimination against her ex-employer, who had sacked her while she was pregnant. The employer had not told the woman she was sacked because of her pregnancy, but there appeared to be no other reason to explain why she was chosen for dismissal above two other women who began working there at the same time. The employer had said that there was a downturn in business, but had apparently hired more staff soon after the woman was sacked. The complaint was resolved with a financial settlement.

    Terminated and traineeship not registered

    A 16-year-old shop assistant, who had been employed under a traineeship, told her employer she was pregnant. Her employment was terminated several months later, and she was told that this was because of work performance issues. She said that the issue of  work performance had never been raised with her before. Although she found other similar part-time work which she was able to undertake for the rest of her pregnancy, the traineeship had apparently not been registered, and she was not credited for the time she had worked in it. The complaint was settled by the employer providing the woman a payment of $4,000, an apology and a reference.

    Comments about physical appearance

    A woman complained that while she was pregnant her manager made numerous, continual, unwelcome comments to her about her size and physical appearance, and towards the end of her pregnancy he told jokes about babies in microwaves and blenders, despite her objections. She said that the distress of the harassment caused her to resign and go into early and complicated labour. The complaint was resolved when the employer agreed to pay the woman $15,000.

    Promotion

    A female shop assistant complained that an offer of promotion to store manager was retracted after she announced that she was pregnant. She also alleged that prior to going on maternity leave, her hours of work were gradually reduced.

    The employer denied that they had made a direct offer of promotion, but rather had sought her expression of interest for the position. They said that after considering the two potential applicants for the position, it was awarded to the other applicant because they felt that the complainant was focusing on her own retail business, which she ran part-time. With regard to the hours, they said it was common for sales to drop off seasonally.

    The complaint was resolved at the Board when the employer allowed the woman to nominate the amount of hours she wanted to work on her return from maternity leave. The woman also accepted a $1,000 ex-gratia payment.

    Made redundant while on maternity leave

    A woman complained that she was summoned to the workplace while she was in hospital giving birth, and when she eventually went there she was given a letter saying that she was being made redundant and a cheque. The company said this was a genuine redundancy caused by an internal restructure. She became depressed as a result of having no job to return to after her maternity leave. She and the company reached an agreement including a payment of $8,000 and a reference.

    Dismissed while on maternity leave

    A woman worked as a collections officer for a mortgage broker and was dismissed while she was on maternity leave. The employer maintained that the woman was not terminated because of her pregnancy but because she worked in the collections area, which was being closed down.

    The woman said that other workers had the opportunity to transfer into other parts of the business but she didn't because she was on maternity leave. The employer said she could not compare herself to those workers as she had a different skill set.

    The woman did not suffer any loss of wages because of the termination, as she found other work. However she alleged that she had suffered distress at the loss of her job and the need to search for a new one. She said that this had caused her and her family distress at a time when they should have been enjoying their baby. The complaint was settled when the woman accepted a payment of $4,000 to resolve her complaint.

    Told she must resign

    A woman advised her employer that she was pregnant and asked for six months leave without pay to give birth and look after her child. She alleged that her employer told her that because she had been employed for less than 12 months she would have to resign from her employment. The complaint was settled on the basis that the employer would grant the leave without pay and allow the woman to resume work when the leave was finished.

    Performance criticised only once pregnant

    A woman had worked as a receptionist for a health practitioner for a number of years. She alleged that when she told her employer she was pregnant, he suddenly became critical of her work performance. She went on stress leave and made a complaint of sex discrimination. The woman initially wanted to stay in her position as she felt she had done nothing wrong, but eventually decided that this was not viable. The complaint was resolved with the employer agreeing to provide her with a statement of performance and a payment of $5,000 for lost wages.

    Goods and services

    Not allowed to breastfeed

    A woman complained that she was told not to breastfeed her baby while visiting a government-run institution. When the Anti-Discrimination Board contacted the relevant department, they said that this was contrary to their policy and they would tell the relevant staff member that he or she had been wrong. They also undertook to provide further training to ensure that staff would implement their policy correctly. The complaint was settled as the woman was satisfied with this response.

    Education

    Needed arrangements for exam

    A woman complained that the university where she was studying would not make any accommodation for her to breastfeed her baby while sitting her exams. When she told the university authorities that she had made the complaint, they agreed to review their exam policy and incorporate special arrangements for breastfeeding.