Right to part time work

I didn’t really notice this in all the excitement over the work choices legislation, but this case, from 2003 found that it was discriminatory to require a female employee to return to full time work after maternity leave.

The case was (among other things) about a woman who wanted to work part-time following her return from maternity leave. Notwithstanding that her direct supervisor thought that it could work, the senior management refused to even consider it.

Although that’s bad I find it a bit disturbing that the reason the case was won was not that there discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities, but that there was discrimination on the grounds that the plaintiff was female. Only a woman could need to work part time following her return from maternity leave:

…I need no evidence to establish that women per se are disadvantaged by a requirement that they work full-time. As I observed in Escobar v Rainbow Printing and as Commissioner Evatt found in Hickie v Hunt & Hunt women are more likely than men to require at least some periods of part-time work during their careers, and in particular a period of part-time work after maternity leave, in order to meet family responsibilities.

In other words, the imposition of the full-time requirement was held to have indirectly discriminated against Ms Mayer because of her sex, because the requirement has the effect of disadvantaging women, who are far more likely than men to require part-time work due to family responsibilities:

That is because only women get pregnant and because women bear the dominant responsibility for child-rearing, particularly in the period closely following the birth of a child and in the circumstances of Ms Mayer’s employment was not reasonable.

While it’s great that there’s some legality to help women get part time work while their children are small, I’m not sure I like getting it in a way which suggests that only women have the responsibility to look after small children.

Edited to add: thanks to JV for the link.

  3 comments for “Right to part time work

  1. August 19, 2006 at 8:13 am

    I almost gasped with joy when I read this. Then I remembered that you live in Australia, and I was sad again.

  2. August 20, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Sadly, landismom, after this case, the government made it easier to ignore case law about employment and write workplace agreements that reflect what the employer wants (many commentators describe it as moving towards a US style employment law). So this may have been the high water mark of recognising the need for part time work here in Australia. I hope not, but we’ll see how things pan out in the nex few years.

  3. JenniferV
    August 20, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    When I was trying to take advantage of these new provisions, I checked out the NSW Public Service Association website and discovered that “Work and Family” is a subset of “Women” as far as they are concerned. Men apparently don’t have work and family issues.

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