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Woman who was unfairly dismissed after suffering miscarriage awarded €17k

The company argued that it had not unfairly dismissed the woman as it was unaware at the time of dismissal of her pregnancy.

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THE LABOUR COURT has upheld a decision that a woman was unfairly dismissed for being unable to attend work after suffering an ectopic pregnancy.

The woman said she had notified her employer of the nature of her illness, but the employer argued that they were unaware of her illness at the time of her dismissal.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) awarded the woman a compensation sum of €12,000 for the dismissal, which the company at the centre of the dispute, Western Brand Group Ltd, appealed.

The Labour Court has upheld the WRC’s ruling and increased the compensation sum to €17,000.

The claimant’s testimony

The woman said she became ill at work on 16 December 2015 but finished her shift. Late that night she was taken by ambulance to hospital where she underwent tests until the afternoon of the following day.

She left a voice message for ‘Ms G’, identified as the payroll administrator, saying that she was ill and would be unable to attend work that afternoon.

She was advised by the hospital that she had an ectopic pregnancy and was sent home. She received a medical certificate certifying her as unfit for work for 10 days. That certificate was delivered to the company’s reception at around 3pm that same day.

Another two medical certificates were given to the company on 18 and 21 December – the latter of which confirmed that the woman had had a miscarriage.

The woman called to the company on 29 December seeking a meeting with Ms G and to deliver a further medical certificate which she had received that day from the hospital. Ms G was unavailable so she left a message asking Ms G to call her.

Ms G then called her and, according to the woman, told her that she was “sick for too long” and that she was “being suspended” and that her P45 would be sent out to her.

She received her P45 on 6 January 2016, which identified her date of cessation of employment as 18 December.

The woman argued to the WRC and the Labour Court that the company was aware of her pregnancy at the time of dismissal and that the reason for her dismissal was her absence from work as a result of her pregnancy-related illness.

The company

The company’s payroll administrator Ms G said that she received a phone call from the woman on 17 December and was told she was in the emergency department. She was not told at that time that the woman was pregnant.

The company said that the woman had provided a medical certificate of unfitness for work from 17 December to 28 December 2015, but that certificate did not specify the woman’s illness.

The woman subsequently got a certificate from a doctor saying that she was unable to work from 22 December because of “post d/c miscarriage”.

“D/C” or D&C stands for dilatation and curettage, a minor surgical procedure where tissue is removed from the lining of the womb. After a miscarriage, if the body does not expel tissue, D&C can be performed to stop bleeding and prevent infection.

The certificate was left into the company’s reception on the afternoon of 23 December, according to the company. The offices were closed from 24 to 28 December, and the certificate was not seen by the payroll department until 29 December.

On 6 January 2016, the company received a letter from the woman’s legal representatives claiming that she had been dismissed because of her pregnancy.

The company’s legal team informed the woman that they had been unaware of her pregnancy at the time of her dismissal. In a letter, the company said that the woman could return to work; that offer was repeated on 26 February.

The company argued that it had not unfairly dismissed the woman as it was unaware at the time of dismissal of her pregnancy. She had been fairly dismissed by reason of her unavailability for work.

Ms G’s testimony

On 29 December 2015, Ms G received a message to return a call to the woman.

Before calling back, Ms G says she contacted ‘Ms W’, who she says was the decision maker in the dismissal.

When she called Ms W, Ms G said that she was in conversation with another employee. Both were discussing the pregnancy and miscarriage of the woman and were aware that illness associated with her pregnancy was the reason for the woman’s absence from work, according to Ms G.

Ms G said that Ms W told her to dismiss the woman. Ms G stated that she never dismissed any member of staff without instruction from Ms W.

Ms W didn’t testify.

Decision 

The Labour Court found that on the date of the dismissal, the company was aware of the woman’s illness and concluded that compensation was an appropriate form of redress.

The Court also noted that the woman hadn’t secured employment in the period since her dismissal, and was medically unfit to carry out her job at the company from January to June of the year of her dismissal.

At the time of her dismissal, the woman was paid €310 per week on average.

Because of the lack of detailed evidence of the woman’s efforts to secure employment and the detail of her unavailability for work following her dismissal, the Labour Court measures the amount of compensation at €17,000.

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