Returning to work: parents entitlements, protections & strategies

So what are your rights at work, and how can you stand up for yourself if you’re facing discrimination? Erica Hatfield  provides practical ideas to empower pregnant mums (and dads) on what to do if they’re facing discrimination at work.

Part 3: Returning to work: entitlements, protections & strategies

Returning to work can be a very disruptive and emotional time for many parents and families as everyone adapts to yet another change in routine.

Thankfully, there are a range of entitlements and protections available for employees during this phase, including the right to return to your pre-parental leave role, entitlement to redeployment or redundancy when that role no longer exists, employer obligations to consult about significant changes to your job, breastfeeding at work and requesting flexible work arrangements. For more information, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Some common challenges:

  • Many parents seek to return to work on flexible arrangements, but not all employers will agree to all requests. Remember, this is a negotiation, and ideally, everyone is working towards the best option all around.
  • Many parents seek to return to their pre-parental leave role, but unfortunately, some may find it has been permanently backfilled by someone else (remember you are still entitled to your old job even if someone else replaced you) or that it has significantly changed. Generally what I find is that the pay and job title remain the same, but the scope/responsibilities have been downgraded.


  • When negotiating a flexible work arrangement, consider the situation holistically. Work with your manager to identify all the needs and potential variables on both sides, then discuss and agree on the best option for everyone.
  • I also recommend regular 1:1 meetings during your initial weeks back to update each other on how things are going from both perspectives and enable prompt adjustments to arrangements if required.
  • Keep in mind there will likely be an initial adjustment period.
  • If your role has changed and you’re unhappy, ask your manager for a meeting to discuss the changes. Try to remain calm and keep an open mind, and seek to understand the reasons. Then, share how you’re feeling and what you’re hoping for in terms of future career development.
  • Ask your manager for their support to create a learning plan that will help you achieve your career goals.

Speak up and know your rights.

Unfortunately, according to the stats, workplace discrimination is highly prevalent during the vulnerable time of transitioning through pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.

To address it we need to know our workplace rights and have some strategies to proactively manage situations so we can hopefully avoid the HR/legal route.

I also believe it’s important to share our stories and speak up about unfair treatment of ourselves and others (when we can or feel safe to do so).

Sharing experiences helps raise issues, challenge biases, and let people know they’re not alone. It also lets them know unfairness will not be accepted—at least not by everyone.

However, I also recognise there can be costs for speaking up, more so for some than others.

But what’s the alternative?

Silence means accepting the status quo – the costs of which may ultimately prove greater than speaking up. Therefore, I encourage you to raise your voice and share your story—you can do so here.

And read the stories from other parents on my LinkedIn.

Hopefully, with more voices, we will reach a tipping point whereby equity and inclusion for working parents becomes the new norm, rather than the exception.

Erica Hatfield is a parent, career coach, and psychologist. Hummingbird Careers