Pregnancy: A right, not a privilege

When pregnancy arises in the workplace, it can be cause for alarm for some business owners. While they may be excited for their employee, they might start thinking about how the pregnancy will impact on their business.

It can be difficult to know how to manage this situation, and in particular, their obligations as an employer.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recently launched the Supporting Working Parents resources to help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to pregnancy in the workplace.

I welcome initiatives such as these that aim to improve the business environment for small businesses and I was pleased that my office was invited to be involved in the consultation process for the development of the resources.

Why do we need resources?

The need for the resources arose out of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2014 Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review Report into discrimination in the workplace relating to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.

The report found 50 per cent of mothers and a quarter of fathers reported experiencing workplace discrimination and a significant gap between the law and education and proper implementation.

To support this, the resources set out the rights and obligations under all relevant legislation and highlight best practice.

A pregnant woman having her blood pressure tested by a doctorPregnancy and small businesses

What we know about small businesses is that they want to comply with rules and regulations, but often they aren’t aware of what they are.

During the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Review, employers identified issues around lack of access to clear and easily accessible information and guidance on their rights and responsibilities.

SMEs are in a somewhat fortunate position in that, due to their size, they may have the opportunity to foster close relationships with employees that allow them to avoid uncertainty around pregnancy and return to work.

However, there can be challenges for small businesses around balancing the competing demands of the business with the needs of pregnant employees or employees returning to work, and finding and training new staff to cover parental leave.

How do I access the resources?

Employers and employees can find toolkits and quick guides to help manage pregnancy and support working parents at www.supportingworkingparents.gov.au.

Mark Brennan is the Australian small business commissioner.

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