pregnancy_rightsFinding out you’re pregnant is a hugely exciting time in any woman’s life, but it can also raise a number of issues around working and employment.
Although there are many laws which protect the status of a pregnant worker, many women and employers are ignorant of the legal obligations upon them and many women find that they are discriminated against because of their pregnancy.
Any newly pregnant woman should take some time to educate herself about her rights to protect both herself and her unborn baby.


It is illegal under Australian law to sack a worker because she is pregnant. Most employers are well aware of this fact but some will try to find other reasons to get rid of a pregnant worker.
This is also illegal, and if a pregnant worker feels that she is being forced out of the workplace by a manager or business owner, this should be brought up with the Human Resources department in a larger company, or with the governmental bodies responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination legislation, which are Fair Work Australia or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Informing Your Boss

Pregnant women do not have to tell their boss that they are pregnant until they are ready to do so. Many women prefer to keep their pregnancy to themselves until they are safely through the first trimester, and some even longer.
Legally, you are under no obligation to tell your boss about your pregnancy until 10 weeks before your baby is due, so at 30 weeks gestation. The decision about when to share the news is a highly personal one, and there is no “right” time. It is also illegal for an employer to directly ask an employee whether she is pregnant, unless the job she is doing has health and safety implications.

Health and Safety

In the vast majority of cases, a pregnant worker will be able to carry on doing exactly the same job as she was doing before. There are however some occupations which mean that an employer should be informed of the pregnancy as soon as possible so that they can switch the employee’s duties.
Jobs which should be avoided by pregnant women include working with pesticides, heavy manual lifting, jobs involving exposure to radiation or excessively stressful work. If you are working in one of these sorts of jobs, your employer has to move you to another job, on the same salary, which eliminates the risk factors.
In most big companies, this is not a huge issue. If there is no alternative employment available, then the pregnant woman is entitled to paid leave for the duration of the pregnancy, or until another suitable position becomes vacant in the company.

Antenatal Leave

Any pregnancy involves many appointments with the family doctor, midwife or hospital to check on both the mother’s health and the development of the baby. Most employers are happy to allow a pregnant worker to use her annual leave entitlement to take time off to attend these appointments, if they can only be scheduled for during working hours.
It is good practice for the employee to give as much notice as she can of when she will be away to enable the employer to plan. If the employee does not want to use up her annual leave, or if the amount of time she needs to take off is in excess of her entitlement, she can apply for special maternity leave.
This has to be arranged through a doctor, who will give the employee a certificate stating how much time she needs to have away from work. However, the number of days of special maternity leave taken while pregnant is deducted from the leave allowed after the baby is born. Many employers have policies on antenatal leave which are better than the statutory minimum, so any pregnant employee is advised to check with her HR department.

Parental Leave

In total, mothers are allowed 52 weeks of leave when they have a baby. 18 weeks of this may be paid if the mother qualifies, but the rest is unpaid. Mothers can choose when they return to work, but have to give 4 weeks’ notice in writing to their employer. Employers have to give the mother her old job back, or if this is not possible, to offer her something of similar responsibility and status, on the same salary.


Although the law is clear in its stance against discrimination, some employers do still try to sack a woman because she is pregnant, or refuse to change her to more appropriate duties.
What can you do if you find yourself in this situation? The first port of call should be a company’s Human Resources department. Ask to see their policies on maternity leave and pregnant workers, and if the company is not adhering to the policies, let them know. It may be that individual managers are simply not aware of your rights, or their responsibilities.
If the discrimination runs deeper than this, there are other avenues to explore. Women who are members of a trade union should contact their local representative for help and support and the union will help you fight your corner with the employer.
For women not in a union, the first port of call should be the Australian Human Rights Commission who can mediate between employee and employer, and in serious cases, give a woman advice about taking legal action for discrimination against her employer.