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Eamonn Farrell
mr price

Mr Price ordered to pay €20,000 for discriminating against worker sacked on maternity

Elena Balan told the WRC that she had been “frozen” in shock after learning that she had been fired.

DISCOUNT RETAILER MR Price has been ordered to pay €20,000 in compensation for discriminating against a former worker who had her employment terminated while on maternity leave.

Elena Balan told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that she had been “frozen” in shock after learning that she had been fired, weeks before she was scheduled to return to her job.

She gave evidence that she was unable to sleep after being advised of the termination, her breastfeeding was disrupted, and she had low-grade anxiety, thinking that she had done something wrong.

The WRC heard that Ms Balan had taken maternity leave two weeks earlier than expected in March 2020 due to chronic back pain related to her pregnancy.

She had her baby and around July 2020, she went to the store where she worked to do some shopping with her husband and their new child.

During the course of a “friendly chat” with the store manager, Ms Balan mentioned that she was still having back trouble and said she may need to get her doctor to certify her unfit to return to work at the end of her maternity leave.

She said her manager was “very relaxed” about the matter and suggested that she just contact the office as soon as she was ready to come back. He also told her to contact a newly appointed store manager about her holiday entitlement.

WRC adjudication officer Penelope McGrath said it seemed clear that Ms Balan was exploring her options for not immediately returning to the workplace at this point, when she still had six or seven weeks of maternity leave to go.

At the beginning of September, Ms Balan received a call from the new manager, who advised her that she would be receiving her final payslip, and that her employment had been terminated.

She was shocked and asked why she had been dismissed. The manager told Ms Balan that she had quit her job, but also admitted she did not know the answer and said the decision had not been up to her.

The former worker told the WRC that she was shocked, and emailed her previous manager confirming that she had been unsure about her exact return date, but had never said she would quit.

She also checked her details with Revenue and was surprised to find that her employment had been terminated as far back as July 31. This had been done without any notification and no notice period had been paid.

In her decision, Ms McGrath accepted that there had been “some sort of misunderstanding” about what Ms Balan was seeking during her casual conversation with her manager when she visited the store in July 2020.

However, she did not believe any blame lay with the complainant. Her manager had decided to terminate her employment of his own volition during a period of recognised protected leave.

Ms McGrath said it was surprising that there had been no HR guidance provided as the matter unfolded, given the size of Corajio Unlimited Company, which trades as Mr Price.

She said Ms Balan had been dismissed while on maternity leave when she had simply indicated that she may not be in a position to immediately return to work as scheduled due to ongoing back pain arising from the birth of her child.

The adjudication officer ordered the company to pay compensation for the effects of discrimination in the sum of €20,000.

She also ordered the firm to pay €780 in lieu of statutory notice.

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Darragh McDonagh