Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review

"Our Review included an Australia-wide national consultation process and a national prevalence survey, which Australia is one of the few countries to have undertaken and it provides indisputable evidence that pregnancy/return to work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost - not just to women, working parents and their families - but also to workplaces and the national economy."

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick

In 2014 The Australian Human Rights Commission undertook a National Review titled Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review into the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination in relation to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave.

The aim of the National Review was to:

  • provide national benchmark data and analysis on the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination at work related to pregnancy, parental leave, or on return to work after parental leave
  • engage stakeholders (including government, industry and employer groups, unions and workers) to understand perspectives and experiences, and consider the prevalence data and its implications
  • identify leading practices and strategies for employers supporting pregnant employees and men and women returning from parental leave
  • provide recommendations for future actions to address the forms of discrimination identified through the project.

Submissions

A number of AWL's State and Territory Women Lawyer Associations lodged submissions as part of the National Review.

National Survey

As part of the National Review, the Australian Human Rights Commission contracted Roy Morgan Research to conduct a National Survey to measure the prevalence of discrimination in the workplace related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work following parental leave.

The survey collected quantitative data reflecting the experiences of pregnancy/return to work discrimination by working mothers and the experiences of discrimination experienced by fathers and partners who had taken time off to care for their child.

The findings of the National Prevalence Survey revealed that:

  • 49% (one in two) mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to wor
  • 27% (over a quarter) of fathers and partners surveyed reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace related to parental leave and return to work

Final Report

The Commission released its final report on 25 July 2014 which identified leading practices and strategies for employers supporting pregnant employees and those returning from parental leave in addition to providing recommendations for future actions to address discrimination identified through the Review.

Key Findings

Executive Summary and Recommendations

Discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost not just to women, working parents and their families but also to workplaces and the national economy.

Despite their best intentions employers face difficulties managing business pressures when employees are pregnant, on parental leave or returning to work on flexible arrangements.

There are common challenges faced by employees and employers including a clear understanding of each others legal rights and obligations in addition to a limited pool of affordable early childhood education and care services.

Key Recommendations

The National Review’s recommendations identify key strategies and actions for addressing a) the high prevalence of discrimination b) strengthening the adequacy of existing laws, policies, procedures and practices c)  promoting leading approaches and d) identifying focus areas for further monitoring, evaluation and research.

These include:

  1. Understanding rights and obligations
  2. Dismantling harmful stereotypes, practices and behaviours about pregnant women and working parents
  3. Setting strong standards and improving implementation
  4. Undertaking ongoing monitoring, evaluation and research

Key Outcomes

Clear, comprehensive and consistent information needs to be developed and disseminated to address the gap that exists between the law and its proper implementation.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has funded the Australian Human Rights Commission to develop resources for employers and employees on obligations, rights and entitlements in relation to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work in the workplace to increase  their understanding of their individual rights and obligations and how they should be applied in the workplace.

Key Resources

Supporting working parents: Pregnancy and return to work National review report 2014

Prevalence Data -National review on discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work 2014

Resources for Supporting Working Parents Project

Resources for Supporting Working Parents Factsheet