Work an 'issue' for family duties

CULTURAL change is needed to stop women being edged out of the workplace because of pregnancy or family responsibilities, Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks has said.

In a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission review on returning to work, Ms Banks said discrimination on family grounds continued in Tasmania despite state and federal legislation against pregnancy-based discrimination and requiring employers to provide flexible working arrangements.

Ms Banks said her office received five complaints alleging discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy last year, and 19 on the grounds of family responsibilities.

In one case, a woman who was berated for falling pregnant within the first 12 months of her employment, miscarried, and then fell pregnant again less than a year later was told "not again ... you promised," by her employer. Her position was terminated shortly after she returned from maternity leave.

Other complaints included a woman who was told not to apply for a job after a company looked her up on Facebook and learned she was pregnant, and a man who was threatened with demotion if he did not accept weekend shifts despite having told his employer he had weekend care of his children.

"This is symptomatic of a community where out-dated perceptions continue to be held and employers lack an understanding of their responsibilities," Ms Banks said.

Ms Banks said companies needed to develop written policies around maternity leave and returning to work.

Women's Legal Service managing solicitor Susan Fahey said loss of hours or employment because of pregnancy or family responsibilities was the most common employment issue dealt with by the office.

Ms Fahey said women with children or of child bearing age were often seen as a liability for business, particularly small businesses.

Launceston Chamber of Commerce and Industries executive officer Marie Tetlow said she was not aware of pregnancy- based discrimination as a problem in Northern Tasmania, and said the chamber offered free industrial relations advice to Tasmanian businesses.

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