When Haley Gentle returned from her maternity leave, she found herself facing some new challenges at work.
For one, she had to pump milk during her time at work for her infant, which she thought would be okay. She had a pump that was silent, hands free and so discreet that it could be used at her desk.
She had planned to pump twice – once during work and the other during her lunch break. However, her employer said that they would not allow this on the grounds of “what I do for you, I have to do for the others.”
When Haley tried to follow up for reasonable accommodations – even suggesting she take two 20 minute unpaid breaks in order to express – she was told she no longer worked at the company.
And that was how and why Haley lost her job. Apparently, this was just one of the many absurd reasons that being a parent can get you fired.
No daycare? No Job!
Lauren Martinez was a working mum who, like many other working parents, experienced considerable obstacles during the COVID-19 outbreak. Martinez had just returned to work after her maternity leave when the pandemic hit and caused her infant’s nursery to shut down while her daughter’s school shifted online.
Working around it, Martinez had to rely on her 14-year-old daughter to care for her infant son while attending online school. Martinez didn’t have a space to pump, so she was also trying to drive home during her lunch break to feed her infant.
But soon, Martinez realised that this temporary arrangement wasn’t going to work. Her older child fell ill, so Martinez decided the best way forward would be to request that her employer work remotely.
However, her employer denied saying that if she couldn’t arrange a daycare, she shouldn’t come in at all. And that was how Martinez was fired for being a mum.
Kristen Horine was a working mum who originally resisted taking a family leave under the FFCRA during the pandemic. However, she did decide to take the leave to spend time with her children, but when she tried to return to work, she and the other employees who had taken a family leave were told that they were fired because there wasn’t any more work.
Both Martinez and Horine filed lawsuits against their previous employers, alleging illegal termination.
But their stories prove that time and again, employers have found completely absurd reasons to fire parents.
More importantly, their narratives emphasise the difficulties of working parents and prove how easy it can be to fire them for being one.
Horaine and Martinez were amazing employees—available for work, focused, and on time. But once they had families, their employers felt they were now useless and could be easily removed.
This journey is the same for many parents who decide to start a family.
From excellent employee to easy scapegoat
Ahh, so you’re starting a family! Congratulations!
You’ve been an excellent employee, but now your boss is holding everything against you. Your efficiency is now seen as a way to get out of work quickly. Your request to leave on time is seen as prioritising family over work.
Just a heads-up, your new parental status may cost you your career. Employers worldwide have used bizarre reasons to penalise new parents, ranging from missing too many days of work to bonding with your newborn to not being as “committed” as your childless peers.
Which brings us to the next question: What do you do? Do you give up on your dream of being a parent just to keep your job? Or do you stand up for your rights and demand justice?
As a parent, how can I avoid being fired?
Employees with no kids are often more willing and able to work odd hours or stay late. They may request less time off because they don’t have the same type of commitments. Parents, on the other hand, have to juggle work and family commitments, daycare runs, sick days, doctor appointments, etc.
Given how incredibly efficient working parents have to be both at home and the workplace, you’d think employers would be falling over themselves to hire more of them. Sadly, that is just not how the majority of companies operate.
Whilst being a parent should in no way have an effect on your employment status, you may, unfortunately, find yourself asking “as a parent, how can I avoid being fired?”
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Communicate with your employer
Maintain open and honest communication about your parental responsibilities. If possible, try to start conversations about what your return to work may look like and what your expectations are before you go on parental leave. Starting the line of communication early on can sometimes mitigate any issues further down the track.
Inform your manager of any potential conflicts that could arise (such as your child being sent home from daycare) and discuss possible solutions. Again, try to do this in due time to provide some room for your employer to make any arrangements that may be necessary. In case of an emergency, inform your employer of the full extent of the situation and give an estimated time of your absence.
Know your rights
Familiarise yourself with the laws and regulations related to parental rights in Australia. Learning about employee rights, family laws, and any rules and regulations can help you advocate for yourself if necessary. More on this later.
Explore and take advantage of any parental leave policies, flexible work arrangements, or other benefits provided by your employer – which should be clearly outlined to you when you announce that you are expecting.
Plan and organise
Keep your time management skills top-notch – which, as a parent, you’ll be a pro at anyway!
Ensure you are ahead of your deadlines to give yourself some grace time between submissions and meetings to make room for any “emergency” situations. Stay proactive in informing your manager about any expected events or situations to keep your boss prepared if you need to run to your child’s school or doctor quickly.
Understand Australia’s laws for Working Parents
Workplace fairness legislation in Australia protects working parents’ rights, particularly those concerning family duties. The Fair Work Act of 2009 is the primary law addressing this issue.
To fulfil their parental duties, eligible employees can request flexible working arrangements such as part-time work, job sharing, or adjustments in working hours under the Fair Work Act. Employers must take these requests seriously and can only decline them on valid business grounds. It is prohibited to discriminate against or fire an employee based on their parenting status.
Working parents are further protected by the National Employment Standards (NES). This includes parental leave and the right to return to work following that parental leave. Employees are entitled to up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave, with the option of requesting an extra 12 months. Employees are entitled to be provided with acceptable alternative employment during maternity leave if their previous position is no longer available.
These rules are intended to promote fairness and equitable opportunity for working parents in Australia, ensuring they are not disadvantaged in the workplace due to their family duties.
Remember, it should never be about choosing between parenting and working. The battle shouldn’t be between your boss and your kids. The key is to find the right balance for parents that works best for them and their employers. After all, a happy employee is a productive employee.
Parents really do it all – so why don’t more employers recognise that when hiring?
How well does your employer support pregnancy and parenthood?
Why is it so hard to go back to work after having a baby?