A survey has found women experience discrimination at all stages of motherhood.

A survey has found women experience discrimination at all stages of motherhood.

Half of all Australian working mothers say they have experienced discrimination by employers, a groundbreaking report has found.

In a survey of 2000 women on parental leave – the first of its kind in Australia – the Australian Human Rights Commission found workplace discrimination was prevalent at all stages of motherhood – during pregnancy, parental leave or return to work.

One in four mothers said they were discriminated against during pregnancy, almost a third experienced discrimination when they requested or took parental leave and more than a third experienced it when they returned to work.

The discrimination ranged from negative attitudes and comments from managers or co-workers to changes in pay or conditions, being threatened with redundancy or dismissal and a loss of career opportunities.

“The major conclusion we can draw from this data is that discrimination has a cost – to women, their families, to business and to the Australian economy and society as a whole,” Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said.

Melanie Schleiger, manager of Victoria Legal Aid’s Equality Law Program, said its pregnancy discrimination clients were from industries ‘‘across the board’’, including professionals on high incomes, hairdressers, factory and retail workers.

Employers were legally obliged to accommodate women during and after their pregnancy but such obligations were either not explicit or women had to complain to enforce penalties, she said.

‘‘A woman doesn’t necessarily want to pursue a case to hearing when they’ve got a new baby or they’re about to give birth,’’ Ms Schleiger said.

When Tricia, not her real name, told her manager she was pregnant he said he was ‘‘very disappointed’’ and asked why she had not mentioned it during her recent interview for the job.

About two weeks later, after a short stint in hospital, she returned to work as a casual sales assistant at the store in regional Victoria and was told she was no longer required.

The biggest impact of this discrimination on women was on their mental health. About 70per cent  said it increased their level of stress and they lost self-esteem and confidence. One in five mothers said it had affected their physical health.