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Pregnancy

Pregnancy discrimination is treating women unfairly because they are or may become pregnant.

Halimee v Santarelli T/A Seaside Salon [2014] SAEOT 6

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A recent decision of the SA Equal Opportunity Tribunal serves as a timely reminder to employers of the costs of pregnancy discrimination.

Ms Halimee was an apprentice hairdresser employed by Ms Santarelli at the Seaside Salon. Her employment at the salon was terminated some 3 months after Ms Halimee informed her employer that she was pregnant. Ms Halimee claimed that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her pregnancy, in particular:

Back from maternity leave to a dead-end, backwater job

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Christine worked as a rehabilitation coordinator for a domiciliary care service. About to return from maternity leave, she contacted her manager about returning part time, which was agreed to before she went on leave. But she was now told by her manager that she could not work part time if she stayed in her previous role; instead, she would be moved to a part time ‘Service Coordinator’ role in a part time capacity. Christine saw this is as a backwards step, limiting her career development opportunities and becoming de-skilled.

Outcome: 
As a result of conciliation, the service looked again and found a position in a centre closer to where Christine lived. They also agreed to build her management and leadership skills in her part time position, and give her the right to return to her former position when she was able to work full time.

Refused maternity leave for second pregnancy

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Eleni worked for a business consultant. She went on maternity leave but, before she was due to return, she told her employers that she was pregnant again and would only be returning to work for ten weeks. She requested an extension to her maternity leave, but didn't get a response from them straight away. She emailed seven more times asking what was happening, and each time she was told that the manager was waiting on a response from HR.

Outcome: 
During conciliation, the complaint was settled when the company agreed to give Eleni a positive statement of service, and pay her $9,750 for general damages for hurt feelings.

Sacked for being pregnant and unmarried

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Denise was eleven weeks pregnant when she started working for a religious organisation. Two weeks later, she told the organisation that she was pregnant. Her manager asked whether she had set a wedding date, because she was unmarried. When she said she hadn't, she was told that she should have a wedding date because it didn't look good working for a church organisation and not being married. Her employment was terminated.

Outcome: 
When the organisation was contacted after Denise made a complaint to the Commission, they said that they would offer her an apology and a job reference. She was satisfied with this response, and the complaint was concluded.

Manager stripped of responsibilities after returning from maternity leave

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Deborah worked for a building company as a manager for several years before falling pregnant. She took maternity leave, but upon returning to work was told that her position had changed. All management responsibilities had been removed from her job description. Deborah felt that this was unfair, and spoke to her manager about it. She was told not to take it personally but her priorities had changed.

Outcome: 
Following initiation of the complaint, Deborah's employer entered into discussions with her. They negotiated a new job description for her, which Deborah accepted.

Cafe worker's shifts stop after telling her boss she was pregnant

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Kimberley worked in a suburban café.  She was suddenly not given any more shifts after she advised Arthur, the café owner, that she was pregnant.

In response to her complaint of pregnancy discrimination, Arthur told the Commission that no further casual work was offered to Kimberley due to her unsatisfactory work performance.

Outcome: 
Following conciliation, Arthur provided her with an apology in writing and agreed to implement policies in relation to pregnant workers, and paid Kimberley $2,000.

Casual employee dismissed two days after notifying she was pregnant

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May was a casual employee at a metropolitan health food shop.  She told her manager, Zhen, that she was pregnant, and within two days she was dismissed.  May told Zhen that she couldn't dismiss her because she was pregnant, but she said that the reason for her dismissal was that they couldn't afford to keep employing her.  However, four weeks later the shop employed another casual staff member.

Outcome: 
At conciliation, Zhen agreed to provide May with a work reference.

Pregnant? "You might not have a job"

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Inge worked in a regional newspaper office.  Soon after finding out that she was pregnant, she suffered morning sickness so asked her supervisor, Royce, to end her shift two hours early.  Royce allowed this, but shortly afterwards the Acting General Manager, Barry, requested a meeting with Inge.  He told her that another casual would be employed in production, and there could be no guarantee of getting her job back after maternity leave.  Barry told her, "The paper needs someone more reliable, who can work all day.

Outcome: 
Through early negotiations, and without the need for a conciliation conference, a settlement was reached. The company gave Inge $1,500 for loss of income, and a verbal apology.

Livestock manager has job taken away after falling pregnant

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Jane was working as a livestock manager in a medium-sized country livestock business.  On discovering she was pregnant, her doctor recommended light duties for four weeks and to avoid administering medication to livestock.  She told her employer, Keith, and provided a doctor's certificate.

Outcome: 
At conciliation, Keith agreed to pay Jane $2,800 for loss of income and allow Jane to return to work after signing her clarified job description.

Can I ask applicants if they are married or intending to have children?

Questions asked should be relevant to the job. Discrimination on the grounds of marital status, pregnancy and caring responsibilities is unlawful. Questions such as these may leave you open to complaints of discrimination.

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