Pregnancy discrimination and returning to work


Pregnancy discrimination and returning to work – we have your back

Pregnancy discrimination is a pervasive issue in Australian workplaces - including in the health sector. All workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, particularly during this important time of life. In this article, Hanna Schutz, ASMOF Industrial Officer tells us about her personal experience returning to work after maternity leave and lets our DiT members know their key rights.

My experience

In 2019 I returned to work at the Doctors’ Union after nine months of maternity leave.

Returning to work after maternity leave was probably one of the most vulnerable times of my life. Placing my daughter in care and returning to work (while still sleep deprived) was daunting.I worried about her getting sick often and how I would manage as my partner was regularly away for work. On the other hand, I was happy to get part of my old identity back! I was very lucky in that I work for a progressive employer that supported my return to work and allowed me to transition back into the workplace.

It is a sad reality that many women have the absolute opposite experience. Particularly in the private sector where women are regularly turfed out under the guise of restructuring.

If you’re planning parenthood or currently on parental leave, it is vitally important that you know your rights- knowledge is power. I have compiled a list of FAQs often asked by our members below, which I hope will be helpful for you.

Before I talk about specific rights, I wanted to acknowledge a big question that I have been asked directly from our members. How can we change this situation for the better? Gender discrimination is at the forefront of the work we do. ASMOF as an organisation is incredibly passionate about championing women’s rights and improving gender equality. We have assisted many members access maternity leave, extend their contracts, be rotated to a safer/closer locations of work. Yet, there is still much more work to do. There are a number of areas of the Award and Policy we would like to see changed such as the length of paid parental leave and automatic contract renewal. We also need to encourage men to take parental leave and exercise their rights at work to parental leave and flexible work and one of the best ways to do that is to increase paid parental leave. It is also really important that women doctors join our ranks and get active to champion these causes.

I hope you find these FAQs useful. If you’re about to go on maternity or parental leave and need some more tailored advice, please get in touch with us.

Remember – you’ve got this and your union has your back!



During pregnancy

1. What rights exist during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, you have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of your pregnancy.

You have the right to work in a safe job whilst pregnant.

2. I would like to start maternity leave early as I have been unwell. What are my rights?

If, because of an illness associated with your pregnancy you can’t continue to work, you canuse any available paid leave (sick, annual and/or long service leave) or to take sick leave without pay. This leave ceases nine weeks prior to the expected date of birth when the employee then commences maternity leave with the normal provisions applying.

3. I am pregnant and my fixed term contract has not been renewed. Do I have any rights?

ASMOF strongly advocates for members to ensure that their training contracts are not compromised through the taking of maternity, adoption or parental leave. ASMOF will advocate to ensure that the length of the contract, for example, should be extended to cover the period of the leave taken, with approval from the relevant College also not being unreasonably withheld. If you are on a fixed term contract, we encourage you to contact us as early as possible to discuss your situation and commence negotiations if needed.

Maternity leave

4. What rights do I have while on maternity leave?

As the primary carer, you have the right to 14 weeks paid maternity leave which can be taken at full or half pay. You are entitled to a further period of unpaid maternity leave of not more than 12 months after the actual date of birth (this can be extended)

To be eligible you must have met the requirements of 40 weeks continuous service prior to the expected date of birth.

You have the right to be consulted in relation to any changes to your position.

You have a right to return to your previous ongoing position. In circumstances of a redundancy, you are entitled to be placed in a position nearest in status and salary to that of her former position and to which the employee is capable or qualified.

5. My fixed term contract expires during paid parental leave. Do I still get paid the 14 weeks?

Yes. JMOs are entitled to the full 14 weeks paid maternity leave regardless of their contract ending if they have met the requisite 40 weeks of service. For example if your contract ends 4 weeks into taking your maternity leave JMOs should still be paid the full entitlement.

6. I am considering extending my maternity leave. Can I do this?

Yes. Under the Award, an employee entitled to maternity, adoption or parental leave may request the employer to allow the employee:

  • to extend the period of simultaneous maternity, adoption or parental leave use up to a maximum of eight weeks;
  • to extend the period of unpaid maternity, adoption or extended parental leave for a further continuous period of leave not exceeding 12 months;

Returning to work

7. Do I have any rights to request flexible work arrangements such as reducing to part time hours when returning to work?

Yes. An employee can request to return from a period of maternity, adoption or parental leave on a part time basis until the child reaches school age; to assist the employee in reconciling work and parental responsibilities. The employer can only refuse the request on certain grounds. It is also important to discuss the impact on your training with your College.

8. I am still breastfeeding, how will I handle this?

A full-time employee or a part-time employee working more than four hours per day is entitled to a maximum of two paid lactation breaks of up to 30 minutes each per day or per shift. You must also be able to access a private space you feel comfortable in to express. Suitable facilities should be provided to store the expressed milk.