The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched its first pregnancy discrimination case in the Federal Court in Sydney.
Facing court is Wongtas Pty Ltd, operator of a commercial printing business in Riverwood, NSW, and its two directors Ding Guo Wang and Xiao Yu Zhang.
When a 36-year-old Chinese-born mother of one informed the company last year that she was pregnant, she was allegedly told she might not be able to return to her position as an office/clerical worker and that a second person would be recruited for her to train.
The company subsequently hired another full-time office worker within days of the woman asking for sick leave because of complications with her pregnancy. About a week after returning to work, the woman was allegedly told her pregnancy had “caused inconvenience” for the company and as a consequence she needed to “accept” that a second employee had been engaged.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Statement of Claim alleges that the employer instructed the woman to perform packaging duties instead of office duties, a position which attracted a lower hourly rate of pay. The woman’s new work environment was also inferior in that it involved little or no client contact, was primarily manual labour, did not require use of English-speaking skills, was up to 20 degrees warmer than the office, necessitated her to stand 100 per cent of the time and often demanded overtime.
Court documents allege that when the woman inquired if she could resume her normal office duties, she was refused. It is further alleged that the woman was told she was not performing her job properly and if she declined to work as directed she would be “considered lazy and insolent”.
In addition, the woman was told again that her pregnancy had “caused a lot of inconvenience” for which she must “bear the consequences”. She was told by her employer that many women resigned when they became pregnant to “stay home in bed” and that she should consider leaving the company if she was not satisfied with her working arrangements.
Despite continuing to perform the lower-level packaging duties on a full-time basis, the woman subsequently received a written warning about her performance. It at this time that the woman contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges the woman told her employer she did not think she was being treated fairly and should be allowed to return to office duties.
Despite being offered a position in another store, the woman was later informed she should “appreciate having a job” and the company was very upset she had complained to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Within a month of that conversation, the woman received a letter advising her that her employment would end three days before Christmas on December 22.
The business closed for the Christmas-New Year break from December 23 until January 13, 2010, and when the woman attended the business to report for duty after the break, she was told that she was no longer an employee.
The woman has not worked since and according to Court documents, has suffered both economic and personal loss as a result of the alleged discrimination.
Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Leigh Johns says the Agency is seeking penalties against the company and its directors for alleged contraventions of workplace law and compensation for the former employee for her losses.
The Fair Work Ombudsman also announced today that it will conduct a national campaign aimed at helping women avoid pregnancy discrimination at work.
100,000 information packs will be sent to hospitals, GPs and other health service providers in metropolitan and regional areas throughout Australia. Pregnant women will receive the packs when they register with their preferred health professional after becoming pregnant.
The packs contain magazines and pamphlets detailing the workplace rights of pregnant women, what constitutes pregnancy discrimination, the harm pregnancy discrimination can cause and how the Fair Work Ombudsman can help women who experience it.
The Fair Work Ombudsman will also distribute thousands of maternity discrimination posters for display in the waiting rooms of GPs and hospitals in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and some regional centres.
“We want women to be aware of their rights so they can identify when they are being subjected to pregnancy discrimination and know they can turn to the Fair Work Ombudsman for help. Impending parenthood should be met with delight, not discrimination,” Mr Johns said.
For information more visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call 13 13 94.
Source: Fair Work Ombudsman