A patient rests in a room of he Pyongyang Maternity Hospital as foreign reporters visit on a government organised tour in Pyongyang, North Korea May 7, 2016. Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Austrend is facing penalties up to $54,000 per contravention for allegedly discriminating its employee during her pregnancy period. According to the employee, the company denied her lawful right to return to work after taking parental leave.

In early 2015, Austrend was informed by the employee that she intended to start a period of parental leave in mid-2015. However, Austrend allegedly raised performance issues against the employee for the first time. Subsequently, the company issued her a written warning. The performance management action was allegedly unwarranted and a form of adverse action taken against the employee due to her intention to exercise her right to a parental leave.

Two months after the employee received the written warning, the worker allegedly agreed to delay her maternity leave to help the company to cover staff shortage. The formal leave of the employee started a day before she gave birth to her first child.

However, in November 2015, while the employee was on parental leave, she was advised to return to her full-time duties in April 2016. But the company rejected her request to return to work with flexible working arrangements.

In March 2016, the employee advised the company that she was pregnant for the second time but she still intended to return to work in April 2016. The company allegedly told her that the unpaid leave would be extended until after the birth of her second child. The employee said that she had not requested an unpaid leave extension.

The employee said that she received an advice to return to work in April as originally agreed. She informed the company that she received the advice. Austrend allegedly denied the existence of any agreement that she returned to work in April.

The employee has faced allegations about performance issues and she was asked to get a medical certificate that she needed to present to return to work. Based on the allegations, the medical certificate was presented by the employee in July 2016. Then the company allegedly asked her to sign a Letter of Resignation prepared by the company's management. The employee signed the letter amounting her to a constructive dismissal.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that employees have a lawful right to work after the parental leave period. "Allegations that pregnant women are facing discrimination in the workplace are of grave-concern and it is important that all employers are aware of their obligations under the law," James said.

Under the Fair Work Act, employees discriminated due to pregnancy, marital status, age, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, religion, physical or mental disability, political opinion, social origin, national extraction and family or carer responsibilities is unlawful. Apart from the charges faced by the company, the ombudsman has charged the company's director and part-owner Denzil Godfrey Rao with penalties up to $10,000 per contravention.