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Pregnancy and work: women’s rights and entitlements

When you’re working through pregnancy, you’ll need to discuss and possibly negotiate work and leave arrangements with your employer. It’s a good idea to know your rights and responsibilities in relation to pregnancy and work, and to plan ahead.

Pregnancy and work: your rights

If you’re employed in Australia, the law protects you against discrimination.

According to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Fair Work Act 2009 and other state and territory laws, you can’t be treated unfairly because you’re pregnant. For example, you can’t be dismissed (‘sacked’), made to work fewer hours, given less important work or overlooked for promotion or training.

If you’re applying for a job, it’s also unlawful for an employer to ask you if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant and to treat you unfavourably because of what you say.

Your access to parental leave and flexible working arrangements depends on how long you’ve been in your job and your work conditions and arrangements – for example, whether you’re permanently or casually employed. The best way to find out is to ask someone in Human Resources at your workplace.

Finding out more about your rights
You can find out more about your pregnancy, leave and work rights by visiting:

It’s also worth checking whether you can get Parental Leave Pay.

Telling your employer about your pregnancy

Before you tell your employer about your pregnancy, it’s a good idea to look into the leave and work arrangements you’re entitled to, according to the law and also within your organisation, as well as your responsibilities as an employee. This can help you feel prepared for a first discussion with your employer.

The law says you must tell your employer that you plan to take parental leave at least 10 weeks before your last work day. You must tell your employer your planned leave and return dates in writing. You must also confirm your plans (and any changes) at least four weeks before your leave starts.

Many women find that 34-36 weeks of pregnancy is an ideal time to start parental leave. So if you want to start parental leave at 36 weeks, you would need to tell your employer about your plans by the time you’re 26 weeks pregnant.

Your parental leave can start up to six weeks before your due date, or earlier if your employer agrees. If you plan to work within six weeks of your due date, your employer can ask you to provide a medical certificate to say that it’s safe for you to do so.

The way you tell your employer about your pregnancy is up to you.

You could set up a meeting with your immediate manager to share your news. If you have a Human Resources manager, you might like to meet with this person first.

In these meetings, you can:

  • give your manager your estimated due date
  • talk about the approximate date you might start your parental leave 
  • talk about how you’ll tell others in your team and workplace about your pregnancy.

After these first meetings, you’ll need to have follow-up meetings to talk about your ‘stay in touch’ preferences while you’re on parental leave, and your return to work arrangements.

Sometimes these conversations can be difficult. Your manager’s experience with and understanding of this process, as well as your workplace culture, can influence how easily this goes for you. 

Pregnancy and work environment

Your employer is responsible for creating a safe workplace for you during your pregnancy. It’s a good idea to talk with your manager about your job description and whether your work responsibilities and tasks might need to change during your pregnancy.

Many expectant mothers can keep doing the same things at work in the same way. But some women might need to change parts of their work or stop doing certain things to stay safe at work.

If your job isn’t safe while you’re pregnant, you have a right to a different job. If one doesn’t exist, you might be entitled to no safe job leave.

For example, you might need to change your:

  • job duties
  • hours of work 
  • use of work equipment
  • travel arrangements 
  • work environment.

Things might need to change if your work involves:

  • lifting heavy things
  • climbing a lot of stairs
  • working in hot environments
  • working with animals
  • using pesticides, cleaning agents or other chemicals
  • working in inappropriate facilities, like places that have no toilets nearby.

If you feel your workplace is unsafe during your pregnancy, you can take the following steps:

  1. Tell your manager.
  2. Explain your concerns.
  3. Seek qualified advice from your doctor or work health and safety officer.
  4. Get a medical certificate from your doctor with recommendations on any health-related concerns that your employer should address. 
  5. Ask to move to a safe job or to get no safe job leave.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has more information about your entitlements as a pregnant employee.

Read more about working while pregnant, including tips for managing pregnancy symptoms and planning your return to work.

Pregnancy and casual work

If you’ve been working as a casual worker on regular shifts for the same employer for 12 months or more and would reasonably expect to go on doing so, you can get up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave.

This means that you have the right to return to your old job after your parental leave. You might also be eligible for Parental Leave Pay.

If you’re a pregnant casual worker, you might also like to think about the following:

  • Casual workers are protected from discrimination just as permanent workers are. For example, employers aren’t allowed to sack you or cut your hours just because you’re pregnant.
  • Casuals also have the same rights to a safe workplace. Safe job rights apply to casuals eligible for unpaid parental leave.
  • While you’re pregnant, you’re entitled to the same minimum shift lengths you had before you were pregnant. 
  • Many employees now have a right to be consulted if their employer wants to change their regular shifts or hours. This includes regular casuals.

Time off work during pregnancy

In most cases, you have the same leave entitlements during pregnancy as you had before pregnancy. These entitlements include sick leave, annual leave and long service leave.

You can use sick leave during your pregnancy regardless of whether your sickness is related to your pregnancy. The usual sick leave conditions still apply. 

Some awards, agreements or workplace policies allow you to use sick leave to attend prenatal medical appointments. Speak to someone in Human Resources at your workplace or to your employer about whether your employment conditions let you do this.

If you use all your sick leave and are still sick and need to take time off, you might be able to take unpaid leave. You shouldn’t be dismissed because you’re sick and need to take leave during your pregnancy.

There is also special maternity leave. This is unpaid leave a woman who’s eligible for parental leave can take if she can’t work because she has a pregnancy-related illness or if the pregnancy ends within 28 weeks of the expected birth date – for example, because of a miscarriage.

To take special maternity leave, you need to give your employer notice as soon as possible. This can be after the leave has started. You also need to give your employer an approximate length of time you think you’ll be away from work.

The special maternity leave doesn’t affect your 12-month unpaid parental leave, but your employer is allowed to ask for a medical certificate as evidence.

When planning your return to work, you’ll need to check your employment contract and find out what your rights are. Talk with your employer about return to work options and about staying in touch with your workplace during your leave. For more information, visit Fair Work Ombudsman – When on parental leave or Fair Work Ombudsman – Returning to work from parental leave.

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Last updated or reviewed
11-05-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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