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Company ordered to pay €10,000 over unfair dismissal of pregnant employee

The woman was dismissed six weeks after she started the role.

Image: Shutterstock

A COMPANY HAS been ordered to pay a former employee €10,000 after it dismissed her weeks after she informed them she was pregnant.

The company involved, which markets a type of IT software system, employs just under 50 people in Ireland.

The woman who made the complaint took up a permanent position with the company in July last year on a salary of €30,000 but was dismissed six weeks later.

In her complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) she claimed she was dismissed because she informed her manager one week after she joined that she was pregnant.

When she commenced in the role, she said that she was provided with training and support to get up and running and she found that the environment in the company was friendly and supportive. However, she said that when she informed her manager that she was pregnant, the training stopped and she relied on what she had learned in her first week.

On the same day she informed her manager of three ante natal appointments she had arranged, which she needed time off for, she was dismissed.

The company argued that the she was made redundant for cost-cutting reasons.

The minutes of the company’s operational board meeting on July 20th were produced in evidence at which the directors discussed the need to save €100,000 during the remainder of 2017.

Another document shows that overheads were reduced from €469,000 in June 2017 to €378,500 in December of that year, a difference of €90,500 across the seven months to the year-end. The role has not been filled since the woman was let go.

Its chief financial officer said that when this role first became vacant, he had advised against recruiting for it and instead said the responsibilities should be delegated to others. He said he was not informed until after the fact that the role had been filled again.

The WRC heard that the decision to make the role redundant was made on the advice of the chief financial officer and it was discussed at a meeting on 20 July.

The company told the WRC that of the 46 employees, 19 of them are female and six have taken maternity leave in the last four years. At present, three employees, one of whom was the complainant’s line manager, are on maternity leave. The company also stated that the chief financial officer was not aware the woman was pregnant when he made the decision about her role.

The HR manager said she did raise the fact that the woman was pregnant at the 20 July meeting and that she informed management of the risks associated of terminating the employment in those circumstances. The chief financial officer said he felt there was no risk as the role was redundant.

WRC adjudication officer Catherine Byrne said the legislation in this area does not say that a pregnant worker cannot be made redundant, but the “circumstances in the workplace must be such that there is absolutely no alternative to this course of action”.

“I do not accept that the respondent in this case had no other alternatives to making a cost saving of €10,000, other than the dismissal of the complainant,” she said.

“Considering all of the facts of this case, I find it difficult to accept that any company would dismiss an employee in circumstances where her appointment arose from a failure by one manager to accept the instructions of another.

“Regardless of any protective entitlements, this would make the such a termination inherently unfair. I have reached the conclusion that the complainant was dismissed because she was pregnant and because of the inconvenience this presented to her employer.”

The woman was awarded €10,000 in compensation from the company.

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