How to combat obstacles in the workplace - Women's Agenda

Senior Associate Andrew Jewell contributed an article to Women’s Agenda about common issues women experience in the workplace.

How to combat obstacles in the workplace

Everyone expects to be treated fairly in the workplace based on experience, qualifications and merit, regardless of gender. Unfortunately this is not always the case, especially for women.

When someone is experiencing difficulty with fair treatment at work there are numerous options (legal and non-legal) available to employees, even when they feel like they are fighting a better resourced and more powerful opponent.

The following situations are the most common examples of unfair treatment of women in the workplace and some tips on how to start addressing them.

Unlawful termination and discrimination due to maternity leave

The joy of starting or adding to your family can be greatly impacted if you do not receive adequate support from your workplace and if your employer doesn’t follow its legal obligations.

You might be discriminated by your employer because you are pregnant. This discrimination might even be masked as a concern for your safety.

You might experience discrimination upon your return from maternity leave. Your role might have changed, your employer may refuse to accommodate your family responsibilities, or you might discover that your employment ceases under the guise of a redundancy.

Your legal options

It is unlawful to terminate a female worker’s employment because of pregnancy or maternity leave.

Should this occur there may be a basis for a discrimination claim, with the objective of being reinstated or obtaining compensation. Legislative protection exists at both State and Commonwealth level under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Furthermore, an employee cannot be overlooked for promotion because she is on maternity leave. If the employee would have been considered for a promotion were they not on maternity leave, they may have been discriminated against on the basis of gender or parental status and can make a claim under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic).

Matters can be complicated where redundancy is involved and there are circumstances where a redundancy during maternity leave is genuine (such as a department is abolished or client lost). If you feel targeted or singled out there may the basis to commence proceedings.

Personality conflicts

You might be bullied at work because you have a personality conflict with a fellow employee or a manager. Personality conflicts can arise in many different scenarios, including because of your work ethic, your personality and characteristics, or because you are an established employee and your colleagues or manager want to change the way things are done.

These conflicts can arise because managers want to make their mark on the way that work is performed, and often do not have a problem with treating existing employees poorly to ensure that their own agenda is achieved. This might even be because you are not a ‘yes’ employee who agrees with every direction of your manager without considering its merits.

Bullying may include micro-management of your position or team, and nit-picking of minor tasks which you perform daily. It may also extend to focusing on alleged minor misconduct, which may be trumped up to seem much worse than it is.

These issues can be gender-based in circumstances where male managers do not appreciate a strong or ambitious female employee.

You do not have to suffer with being treated adversely in your workplace, and there are protections available to you to ensure that you enjoy your work and your job.

What can I do?

It is important that if you are being bullied or harassed that you make a complaint in accordance with your employer’s grievance procedures. These procedures are commonly found in your employment policy, code of conduct, Enterprise Bargaining Agreement or by inquiring of your human resources department as to the process that you need to undertake.

Your legal options

If you continue to be bullied and harassed after you have gone through your employer’s grievance procedures, you may wish to consider lodging a complaint with the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Commission will investigate a complaint of discrimination because of a protected attribute under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic).

Section 6 lists these attributes including race, sex and political beliefs, with subsection (c) giving protection against employment activity. You may also find protection under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

If you make an internal or external complaint you will have protection under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) and Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) from victimisation for doing so. In these circumstances you should seek advice and assess your legal options as a whole.


Reference: “How to combat obstacles in the workplace”, Women’s Agenda, 6th October 2015