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News News Working mums battle prejudice
PARENTS penalised for trying to juggle work and family led discrimination payouts last year, with bosses forced to hand out nearly $500,000.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission figures show five of the top 10 discrimination payouts last financial year were on the grounds of pregnancy or parental status.

They included a woman demoted when she returned from maternity leave, and a mum sacked for caring for her sick kids. The biggest payout saw a worker awarded $18,000 after her job was downgraded while she was on maternity leave. Manufacturing employers accounted for three of the top 10 payouts.

Discrimination complaints resolved at the commission last financial year resulted in total payouts of $455,923. VEOHR commissioner Helen Szoke said the figures showed a worrying trend. "Previous years' figures have shown disability, race and sex discrimination and sexual harassment complaints account for most of the top 10 agreed financial settlements, so this is a new trend we're seeing," Dr Szoke said.

"It's a worrying indication that with all the rhetoric of work-life balance and all the ads we see about valuing diversity, we've still got a long way to go. "But discrimination is bad for business - it's bad for the bottom line and it's bad for the culture of business."

Dr Szoke said the vast majority of complaints of parental discrimination were from women. Disability, sex discrimination and sexual harassment still account for most complaints.

Melbourne industrial advocate Gary Pinchen said he had noticed a huge jump in the number of pregnancy-related cases. "It's a spinoff of the WorkChoices legislation," Mr Pinchen said. "Companies think they can unfairly sack people." Victorian Workplace Rights Advocate Tony Lawrence said it was an area of real concern. "We have noticed a significant increase over the past six to nine months of complaints from women about difficulties they've experienced taking maternity leave, or on their return from maternity leave," Mr Lawrence said.

VECCI spokesman David Gregory said he would be surprised if workplace discrimination against parents was an emerging trend. "Employers are more sensitive these days to work and family issues," Mr Gregory said. "With the tight labour market, employers we deal with are doing all they can to attract and retain people with innovative arrangements."

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