Work & career
Becoming a parent will have an impact on all parts of your life, including your work.
Because pregnancy, and how it will affect you physically, is unpredictable, it is difficult know in advance how your pregnancy will affect your work. You may feel tired or unwell at times or you may develop health issues that make it hard to do your job. On the other hand – you may feel perfectly fine! Negotiating leave and other work issues relating to your pregnancy can be difficult. In this section we give you information about your rights and things you may need to consider.
On this page:
- Discrimination in the workplace
- Occupational health and safety
- Leave for antenatal visits
- When to stop work
- Returning to work
Discrimination in the workplace
Australia has a number of laws that protect pregnant women from discrimination in the work place. There is a Federal Sex Discrimination Act (1984) and each state has its own equal opportunity or anti-discrimination laws. There are also occupational health and safety (OH&S) laws and since 2009 in Victoria (later for some other states) the National Employment Standards provide for parenting leave and protection for pregnant women at work.
There are a number of ways that employers might behave, which may be considered discriminatory. Including:
- refusing a contract because you are pregnant or might become pregnant
- not allowing the use of sick leave for antenatal visits
- refusing to make reasonable adjustments to your working arrangements or your physical environment to cater to the fact that you are pregnant.
Many women continue to feel powerless even with the weight of the law behind them. The threat of losing your job or not being able to get another job, or the threat of being treated badly at work is sometimes enough to make women stay silent about their rights.
If you feel you have been discriminated against, it may be helpful to speak with someone at the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Occupational health and safety
The general rule for employers is to provide a safe workplace for all workers. In some work environments however, pregnant and potentially pregnant employees are exposed to particular risks not faced by other workers. OH&S laws might not be specific about pregnancy, but employers have a general 'duty of care' to pregnant and potentially pregnant employees. Some things that employers could do include:
- Containment or removal of hazardous substances, such as chemicals, metals, gases or biological hazards that may make a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, or her child sick.
- Exempting pregnant women from doing high risk physical activity, such as heavy lifting, the constant use of stairs or long periods on ladders.
- Providing adequate seating for pregnant employees.
- Allowing for regular toilet breaks.
- Ensuring pregnant women are not outside for long periods on hot days.
- Providing alternative duties where tasks involve high lead exposure.
Leave for antenatal visits
During your pregnancy you will need to see a doctor or midwife at regular intervals to check that all is well. You can expect 7 to 12 appointments during your pregnancy. Visits become more frequent as the pregnancy progresses or if complications arise. In the last month of pregnancy, appointments are typically every second week. You may also need to attend for other investigations such as an ultrasound. Unless your health care provider offers after-hours appointments, you may have to attend during work time. You are entitled to leave for your antenatal appointments under your normal sick leave entitlements. If your employer does not allow you to attend your appointments this may be considered discrimination under the sex discrimination laws.
When you are planning your pregnancy it might be a good idea to talk with your employer about what arrangements can be made.
Contact the Australian Human Rights Commission if you are unable to negotiate reasonable arrangements with your employer.
When to stop work
When you stop work is up to you and how your pregnancy progresses. Some women will work all the way through their pregnancy, while others may finish work several months before their due date. You may also make plans to finish at a certain time only to find that you need to leave earlier due to complications or a medical condition. If possible give yourself some time before your baby is born so that you are not too tired when the baby arrives. Once you are pregnant and you know your due date, you can give your employer an estimated date for when you would like to finish
Returning to work
When you return to work after your baby is born up to you and will probably depend on your financial situation. It will also be influenced by how you feel about childcare versus being a stay-at-home parent, as well as you and your partner’s work arrangements. Parental leave payments are available through the Department of Human Services for up to 18 weeks. Important things to know include:
- You are generally eligible if you are the primary carer and your individual taxable income is less than $150,000 per year.
- A parental leave payment is also available for dads or partners (same sex couples included) for two weeks after the baby is born.
For more information visit the Department of Human Services.
All employees in Australia, who have been with their employer for 12 months or more, can take unpaid parental leave for up to 12 months.
- A couple can take up to 24 months between them (12 months each).
- Parents have to take most of their unpaid leave separately. Up to eight weeks can be taken together.
- An employee can request a further 12 months leave and the employer must have a very good reason to refuse the request.
- Some employees also offer longer periods of unpaid maternity leave, which can be very helpful if you have an alternative income.
You may also be able to negotiate coming back to work part-time or taking on different duties altogether. If you have been working for your employer for 12 months or more they must negotiate flexible working arrangements with you. This might include a job share arrangement, split shifts, working less hours or working part time hours.
Ideally you will discuss all of this with your employer before you go on maternity leave.
For more information visit the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Employers must be notified (in writing) of your pregnancy and be given a medical certificate confirming the pregnancy.
The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.