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Pregnant woman who felt isolated and humiliated by male boss awarded €16,500

The woman worked at the accountancy firm from 2006 to 2018.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock.com

AN ACCOUNTANT WHO felt isolated, unjustifiably criticised and humiliated by her male boss while pregnant has been awarded €16,500 for her unfair dismissal.

In the case, the woman – who had already suffered two miscarriages and as a result her pregnancy was deemed high risk – said when seven months pregnant on March 12th 2018 she felt threatened by her boss/employer.

In ordering the accountancy firm to pay the woman €16,500 for her successful unfair dismissal claim, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Gaye Cunningham stated that the evidence shows that a serious altercation occurred on March 12th 2018 when the complainant was seven months pregnant at the time. 

Ms Cunningham stated: “I accept the Complainant’s evidence that she was in serious distress and in some fear as a result of the Respondent’s behaviour.”

Ms Cunningham found that the employer had a duty of care towards a 7-month pregnant employee “and in that context I find the Respondent acted in an unreasonable manner towards the Complainant”.

Upsetting allegations

In the March 12th incident, the woman – who worked as a Senior Accountant and de facto Office Manager for the accountancy firm from 2006 to 2018 – said that she was shouted at by her boss and felt threatened by him.

She stated that there were a number of upsetting allegations made by her boss and complaints about her work. 

He told her that she was now nothing more than an employee going forward as opposed to being the manager. 

The worker stated that there was a serious altercation then when she left the room and her boss followed her up the stairs and put his face close to hers and she believed he might hit her. 

In response to the allegations concerning the March 12th 2018 incident at the WRC, the woman’s employer rejected entirely any suggestion that he was intimidating or abusive to the complainant and in fact the opposite is the case. 

The worker then left the office in the afternoon and went to her doctor who certified her as unfit for work until her maternity leave commenced in April 2018.   

The woman gave birth to a baby boy in May 2018.

She stated that she received no contact from her employer and that her job was advertised in July 2018.   

She stated that her health was adversely affected by the work situation and she notified her employer of her intention to resign, effective from the end of her maternity leave.

In an email confirming her resignation in August 2018 the woman set out  the reasons for her decision including her boss’s/employer’s behaviour towards her in the months leading up to her maternity leave and the severe verbal abuse directed at her on February 13th, March 7th and March 12th 2018. 

The woman also advised him that she “had been ignored, isolated, unjustifiably criticised and humiliated by him in the months prior to her maternity leave”. 

She further stated that she had had an excessive workload which her employer had done nothing to alleviate, and that all of the issues had an impact on her health at a time when she should have been happy given the birth of her baby. 

Compensation

In response, the firm told the WRC that the worker had made serious personal allegations against the principal of the company and “these very serious allegations are strenuously denied”.     

He stated that he wrote to the complainant on October 4th 2018 asking her to withdraw her resignation, telling her she was welcome to return to work and advising her of mediation services to be made available.

In deciding whether it was reasonable for the Complainant to terminate her contract of employment, Ms Cunningham noted the summary of events as outlined in the complainant’s resignation letter and the complete lack of contact from the employer from March 12th 2018 until he contacted her by letter dated 4th October 2018 offering a facilitated discussion. 

Ms Cunningham said that compensation is the appropriate remedy as re-instatement or re-engagement are not appropriate in circumstances where the employment relationship has broken down.

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Gordon Deegan

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