Perth-based Coco’s Restaurant has been taken to Court over allegations it discriminated against a pregnant casual waitress by cutting her shifts and saying she looked “disgusting”.
The fair work ombudsman (FWO) has commenced legal action against the restaurant in the Federal Circuit Court over the allegations.
FWO Sandra Parker said the alleged conduct is “particularly serious” and it will seek penalties of up to $63,000 for Coco’s Restaurant and $12,600 for the director.
It is alleged the restaurant reduced and cancelled some of the employee’s shifts in July and September last year after finding out she was pregnant.
In one case it is alleged the employee’s shift was cancelled on the same evening she was supposed to work, with references made to her pregnancy.
It is also alleged on one occasion the company’s director told a supervisor to send the waitress home because she looked “disgusting”.
Parker said in a statement on Thursday it’s unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy.
“It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that they are aware of their obligations under workplace laws, and that they treat workers fairly,” Parker said.
Workplace Law managing director Athena Koelmeyer says the FWO is becoming more active in pursuing discrimination cases.
“In the past, its certainly fallen to the employees themselves to try and bring a complaint,” she tells SmartCompany.
“The fact the FWO is picking these things up and running with them of their own volition is a game changer and should be noted by employers.”
Koelmeyer says casual workers are entitled to the same rights under discrimination law as part-time and full-time workers, and the Fair Work Act has introduced a range of new protections for pregnant workers.
“You could have a casual employee for one day and if they were visibly pregnant and you say ‘don’t come back’ … that’s still an act of discrimination,” she says.
Koelmeyer says the Fair Work Act is specific about parental leave, stipulating workers are entitled to take time off six to four weeks before their due date. If a worker wants to work within that six- to four-week timeframe, they need a note from their doctor.
In matters of on-the-job safety, employers are advised to negotiate with workers directly, however, Koelmeyer notes this certainly doesn’t extend to how a particular employee looks.
Workplace lawyer Peter Vitale agrees, telling SmartCompany employers are mistaken if they think nobody is watching.
“In terms of casuals, we’ve seen not just the Workpac case, but the inclusion of casual conversion rights in awards.
“Together with those developments, this is just another reminder casual employees have a lot more rights than employers understand,” Vitale says.
“Employers need to be aware that they are not simply dealing with employees that might not have the resources to deal with these things.”
SmartCompany contacted Coco’s for comment, but did not recieve a response prior to publication.