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“Since I told work I’m pregnant I’ve been treated differently”

Many people feel as though they are treated differently at work when they are pregnant. It could be that your colleagues are getting used to the change, you are being more sensitive, or it could be that there is a genuine case of discrimination at play. Career expert Shannon Lyndon-Lugg looks at how to spot workplace discrimination and what to do about it.

At 12 weeks pregnant, Sarah excitedly shared her news to work colleagues about being pregnant, and at 16 weeks along she had started to show. Her peers were booked into a training program, and her boss told her that she didn’t need to attend because she’d be going on parental leave soon. Sarah felt really uncomfortable about the decision. The training was something she believed would add to her skill set, and something she could use before and after her leave. 

Depending on the circumstances, this could be discrimination because Sarah was treated differently to her colleagues—quite possibly because she was pregnant.

The Fair Work Commission has a useful website with information to help navigate these (and many other) circumstances. They tell us that discrimination occurs in the workplace when an employer takes “adverse action” against an employee because of a “protected attribute.”

Put simply, ‘protected attributes’ are elements that are legally protected, including but not limited to marital status, family or carer responsibilities, breastfeeding and pregnancy.

‘Adverse action’ is a fancy term which includes doing, or threatening to do, any of the following: 

  • firing an employee
  • injuring the employee, eg. not giving an employee access to legal entitlements such as leave
  • changing an employee’s job to their disadvantage
  • treating an employee differently to others

So what can you do if you think you may have been discriminated against?

You have some choices about how to address possible discrimination issues. 

The first suggestion is to try talking to your employer. It could be a simple misunderstanding that can be resolved relatively easily. You could talk to your boss, or your HR team if you have one. 

If you’ve already tried that, or don’t feel like that is an option, Fair Work is available to help. You could also try your local union, even if you’re not currently a member. The Australian Human Rights Commission is also available to help resolve discrimination issues in the workplace.

It’s important to note that if you’ve lost your job, you should contact the Fair Work Commission as a matter of urgency because you have 21 days from the day you were fired to lodge a claim.

Written by Shannon Lyndon-Lugg. Shannon is a mother of two lovely children and the Head of Career Solutions at Career Ahead. With expertise in human resources, talent, leadership development, diversity and performance, Shannon works with individuals and companies to support career transitions and grow talent.

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