"One pregnant woman was denied toilet breaks until she wet herself at the cash register."

One in two Aussie mums has experienced discrimination at work.

Welcoming a new baby into the world should be an exhilarating, beautiful, deeply personal experience.

But according to a groundbreaking new report, for many working mums pregnancy marks a time of belittlement, humiliation and dismissal.

The survey of 2,000 women by the Australian Human Rights Commission has found that 49 per cent of Australian mothers have experienced discrimination at work during pregnancy, during parental leave or on return to work.

That’s one in two working mothers in Australia.

One. In. Two.

The deeply disturbing findings don’t stop there, either: the study found that the vast majority of these women (84 per cent) experienced negative impacts on their mental health — such as stress and lack of confidence — as well as on their physical health, families, finances and career opportunities.

The report revealed that almost one in five working mums lost their job before or after having a baby.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said women had shared horrifying personal stories of their experiences with her, including details of nervous breakdowns and even stress-related miscarriages.

“One pregnant woman was denied toilet breaks until she wet herself at the cash register where she was working,” Commissioner Broderick said in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.

“In one horrifying account, we met a woman who was told she would only be able to keep her job if she had a termination,” she said.

“It was not uncommon to find that women were made to breastfeed or express milk in a toilet.”

She added that women reported they “felt they had no choice but to change their entire careers” as a result of the discrimination.

Indeed, the report revealed that almost one-third (32 per cent) of all mothers who were discriminated against went to look for another job or resigned — while almost one in five working mums (18 per cent) lost their job before or after having a baby.

The minister assisting the prime minister for women, Senator Michaelia Cash, said, “Such discrimination is unacceptable.”


Senator Cash said the current government’s paid parental leave policy — providing six months leave for women at replacement wages — would help transform workplace attitudes, The Australian reports.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

But Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters said she partially blames the current government for a lack of action on the issue.

“With… female representation in Parliament labelled a ‘side issue’, statistics on women in the workforce being weakened and Senator Brandis saying Australians have the right to be bigots, I think we’ve all got reason to be worried,” she said.

She referred to Tony Abbott’s speech on International Women’s day last month that “if you look at our country and the deal that it gives to women, it is obviously pretty good”.

“If people want to work different hours or work from home so they are able to care for their child, then the law should allow it, provided it doesn’t unduly impact on their employer,” Waters said.

“We need to not only expand access to affordable childcare but also deliver a legally enforceable right to flexible working arrangements,” she said.

In response to the study’s finding that a mere eight per cent of women who “took action” in response to discrimination made a formal complaint to their workplace, Waters called for a fundamental change to the “culture that says discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy … should be tolerated”.

“We need to change the culture that says discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy… should be tolerated.”

“I really encourage all women, especially expectant and new mothers, to speak out against discrimination. Together, we can turn it around and make all our workplaces safer and fairer.”

The pregnancy discrimination report was commissioned by the Attorney-General’s Department in June, 2013, when Julia Gillard’s Labor government was still in power.

What were your experiences at work when you were pregnant, or when you returned to work after having a child?