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Get the Facts - Fact Sheet 9

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Get the Facts - Know your rights

Get the Facts kit

Indigenous Women and Pregnancy Discrimination

FACT SHEET 9: Returning to Work

When you return to work after parental leave, you have
the right to return to the same job you had before you
went on leave. If you changed your job during your
pregnancy for a reason related to your health and safety
during pregnancy, you have the right to return to your
original job. It is against the law for your employer to
refuse to let you return to your job.

If there has been a change in your workplace during the
time you were away and your job no longer exists, you
have the right to be given another job that is as close as
possible in pay and status to the one you held before.

Many women find that when they return to work with a
new baby they like to work part time or reduce their
hours. Any reduction in hours has to be something that
you decide. It is against the law for your employer to
force you to reduce your hours when you return to

Example: Maria returned to work in a medical
centre after taking maternity leave with her
second baby. When she came back her employer
told her that he had decided that she should work
only 10am till 3pm each day instead of full time
because she would need to spend time with
her baby. Making this decision without
Maria's agreement could amount to unlawful

Working Part Time
Some awards and agreements have special
arrangements for part time work but mostly it is
something decided between you and your employer. Some awards provide the right for employees to request
part time work on their return to work from parental
leave and before their children are at school. Under
these awards, your employer has a duty not to
unreasonably refuse such a request.

If there is nothing in your award or agreement, you
should discuss what you would like to do with your
employer and write it down if you agree. In some States
and Territories this can be done through making a
formal part time work agreement, but writing a letter
that you and your employer both sign usually works just
as well.

If you agree to return to work under different
arrangements from those you worked previously, make
sure that you write down

  • how many hours a day you will be working
  • what days you will be working
  • what start and finish times you will have
  • whether you will be permanent part time or casual (that is no longer a permanent employee)
  • how long the agreement is for and
  • when you can/must return to your full time job.

It is important to write down and keep a copy of part
time work arrangements, because often women find
that they are in disagreement with their employer about
whether they are a full time or part time worker, and the
employer may refuse to let you return to full time work
later on. This might not seem important when you have
a little baby, but when your child is older women often
want and need to return to full time work.

It may be discriminatory for you to be unreasonably
refused access to part time work if you need part time
work to care for your children or other family members.
If you are refused part time work when you return
from maternity leave you should consider getting
some advice from a union, legal service or
anti-discrimination agency like the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Other flexible work arrangements
There are other ways you might like to change your
work arrangements when you come back to work after
having a baby. These are called flexible work practices
and include such things as jobsharing, working from
home, flexible start and finish times, flexible rosters,
taking your baby to work or variable working hours

Like part time work, it is very important with flexible
work arrangements to come to an agreement with your
employer and write down what the arrangement is,
how long it will last for, and when (or if) you will go
back to your normal job.

Depending on where you live, childcare can be
expensive and hard to get. It can be much easier if you
live in a community close to family who can help out,
but that isn't possible for everyone. It is important to
think about childcare while you are pregnant to make
sure that you can access childcare when you return to

Without childcare, it will make it very hard for you to
return to work, unless you have family or other support.
Sometimes you might be able to work from home or
take your baby to work, but just remember that this is
unlikely to work for very long because you will
probably find it hard to do your paid work and look
after your baby at the same time.

If you need childcare at a childcare centre or family day
care (which is where someone will look after your baby
in their own home) you should contact the Australian
Department of Family and Community Services Child
Care Access Hotline on 1800 670 305 who will be able
to give you details of the childcare and family day care
available in your area.

Family responsibilities
Anti-discrimination laws make it unlawful for you to be
sacked because you have responsibilities to care for
your children or another close family member. This
means that you cannot lose your job if you have to take
time off work to look after your children or a sick,
elderly or disabled family member. Some cases that
have gone to court in recent years have also found that
being sacked because you can only work part time
while you are caring for family members is against the
law. If you have been sacked or forced to leave your
employment for this reason you should seek help as
quickly as possible and may be able to have your
employment reinstated or be compensated for losing
your job.

Example: Liz works in a hotel bar. A few months
after she returned to work after having her second
baby, Liz's father became very ill with lung
cancer. She approached her boss about having
some time off work to take her dad to the hospital
for treatment and to help look after him while he
was sick. Her employer said she had already had
too much time off work, that his business couldn't
manage without reliable employees and he
couldn't keep her on any longer. This is likely to
be unlawful discrimination.