How to address unfair treatment

What to do if you’re treated unfairly at work

Do you believe you’ve been treated unfairly at work due to your pregnancy? A recent study by the Human Rights Commission found that 1 in 2 mothers experienced discrimination in the workplace.

If you experience discrimination or unfair treatment during your pregnancy, parental leave or return to work, FSU is here to support you.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when a person with a particular attribute (for example, pregnancy) is treated less favourably than a person who doesn’t have that attribute (someone who is not pregnant) would be treated in the same or similar circumstances. For example, it would be discrimination for a person who is pregnant to be denied access to training that others in the same role but who were not pregnant would receive.

It’s also discrimination when a rule or policy that’s the same for everyone has an unreasonable and unfair effect on people with a particular attribute. For example, it might be indirect discrimination if there is a blanket rule that says a particular role can only be performed full-time, as this would unfairly disadvantage those with carer’s responsibilities.*

What is unfair treatment?

Unfair treatment can relate to negative attitudes, or unfair pay, conditions and duties. It can also apply when appraisals, career opportunities, leave, working arrangements and dismissal are not approached in a fair and reasonable and way. Some examples of unfair treatment are listed below.

Negative attitudes:

  • You received inappropriate or negative comments because you requested or took leave to care for your child
  • You received inappropriate or negative comments about breastfeeding or expressing milk
  • You received inappropriate or negative comments about working part-time or flexible hours
  • You were viewed as a less committed employee

Pay, conditions and duties:

  • Your hours were changed against your wishes
  • Your duties or role were changed against your wishes
  • You didn’t receive a pay rise or bonus, or received less than your peers at work
  • Your position was replaced permanently by another employee
  • Your employer did not adequately backfill your position during your parental leave and this negatively impacted you

Performance assessments and career opportunities:

  • You were unfairly criticised about your performance at work
  • You failed to gain a promotion you felt you deserved
  • You were denied access to training that you would otherwise have received
  • You missed out on a performance appraisal

Job loss/dismissal:

  • You were treated so poorly that you felt you had to leave
  • You were threatened with or made redundant/dismissed
  • Your contract was not renewed


  • Your employer encouraged you to start or finish your parental leave earlier or later than you would have liked
  • You were denied leave that you were entitled to access

Flexible work:

  • Your requests for flexible hours or to work from home were denied unreasonably
  • Your requests for time off to cope with illness or other problems with your baby were denied unreasonably
  • You were given unsuitable work or workloads
  • You were given work at times that did not suit your family responsibilities

Protections from discrimination

You’re protected from discrimination based on your pregnancy and carer’s responsibilities by various laws including the Fair Work Act (2009), Sex Discrimination Act (1984) and your state or territory anti-discrimination legislation.

It’s unlawful to discriminate against you on the grounds of your:

  • Sex
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy or potential pregnancy
  • Family responsibilities
  • Breastfeeding

What to do if you experience discrimination

As soon as a problem arises, talk to your employer and try to resolve the issue. FSU can give you advice for the best way to approach your manager. However, if talking to your employer doesn’t resolve the issue, FSU can provide further support and representation.

Gather evidence and keep diary notes to support your claim. Be sure to keep copies of all correspondence on the matter.

Contact FSU

Speak up about discrimination. Contact FSU online or call our Member Rights Centre on 1300 366 378. We provide the support and assistance you need to raise the issue.


*Extract taken from AHRC Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review (2014) survey pp 50-51