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Back to work after baby – Business Chicks

By Alan J. McDonald


A recent study by La Trobe University has brought some startling statistics to light stressing that women need more support in the workplace to deal with the hectic juggling act of motherhood and career. McDonald Murholme lawyer Bianca Mazzarella weighs in discussing the legal rights protecting working mums from adverse action taken against them by their employers.

See below article for further details.

Back to work after baby

Getting back into the workplace after having a child? Fight discrimination and know your rights …

With the demands of a modern society, many women are facing the pressures of having to balance full-time work with a growing family. We are often the primary carers and our families rely on us for support, but when it comes to handling our rights in the workplace, we’re often met with ignorance and discrimination.

A recent study by La Trobe University has brought some startling statistics to light about how women need more support in the workplace to deal with the hectic juggling act of motherhood and career. The study shows that working mums don’t receive adequate support for maintaining a healthy mental state to deal with the pressures of raising a family while holding down regular employment. Those who work longer hours reported the worst mental health of all in the survey, alongside those who were financially or socially disadvantaged.

So how can women survive the transition back into the workplace as a mother?

For starters, employers need to show understanding, and not punish women for exercising their workplace rights, especially if they require a flexible working environment or if they choose to utilise any of their workplace entitlements. At the end of the day, these are your legal rights – the current provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 protect working mums from any adverse action being taken against them (in this case, ‘adverse action’ would be where an employee faces consequences from their employer for exercising their workplace rights).

But hands up if you know what these workplace rights are, or whether they even apply to you? Never fear – we’ve got the low-down so you can keep your head up … 

What payments can mothers receive while on maternity leave?

Working mums who are the primary caregivers to a newborn child or adopted child are entitled to receive 18 weeks’ pay, at the rate of the national minimum wage. (A primary caregiver is usually the mother, as they’re usually the ones that are classified to meet the child’s physical needs.) To be eligible, a working mother needs to have earned a taxable income of approximately $150,000 or less in the financial year before the birth or adoption of their child.

Working mothers can also receive entitlements like annual leave and long service leave, at the same time as receiving government payments. You can even receive payments from your employer if applicable under your contract (through an Award or Enterprise Bargaining Agreement).

Working mothers also have the right to take unpaid parental leave for approximately 12 months and return to the role they had prior to taking leave.

What are your rights as a working mother?

Working mums and dads who have returned to work after taking parental leave have the right to request a flexible working arrangement from their employer – it’s available to mothers who have worked for the same employer for a minimum of one year, including those employed on a casual basis.

This includes asking that certain days are worked from home, changing start and finish times to begin work earlier or later to accommodate their child’s needs and working part-time instead of full-time.

It’s always a good idea to request flexible working hours in writing and set out reasons for your request. An employer can refuse a request on reasonable business grounds, but should reply to you with the reasons within 21 days of receiving your request.

What do I do if adverse action is taken or I am discriminated against for having a child?

If an employer takes adverse action against you because you’ve tried to exercise a workplace right, such as your right to take parental leave (paid or unpaid), or requesting a flexible working arrangement, you may be able to make a claim under the Fair Work Act 2009. There are General Protections provisions under the Fair Work Act that protect working mums from being ‘let go’ or having their duties significantly altered if they’ve exercised a right like parental leave or asking for a flexible working arrangements.

Your employer is then responsible to satisfy that this wasn’t the reason for their adverse action against you. This is traditionally pretty difficult for the employer, because even if there were other reasons for their actions against you, your workplace right will likely be seen as one of their reasons and thus rejected.

If you’re discriminated against for pregnancy or breastfeeding, you can also make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

If you are a working mother who is being discriminated against because of your parental responsibilities, we recommend seeking legal advice. Bianca Mazzarella is a lawyer at McDonald Murholme.