by Gordon Deegan
A GP has been ordered to pay a former practice secretary €27,500 after it was found that he discriminated against her when dismissing her while she was on maternity leave.
In the case, the Labour Court has ordered the GP to pay the woman the sum arising from her claim of discriminatory dismissal on the grounds of gender.
In the Labour Court ruling, it found that it did not find the evidence of the doctor that he did not know the woman was an employee “to be credible” for a number of reasons.
The Labour Court listed the reasons where the doctor signed the woman’s contract; he signed a form that was submitted to claim a HSE subsidy in relation to her position with her contract attached and when she reported for work after her maternity leave he asked her to change her hours and then proposed that she job-share.
The court found that the woman was treated less favourably because of her pregnancy when she was not allowed to return to work at the expiry of her maternity leave.
The Labour Court overturned an earlier ruling by a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer that found that the woman’s claim was not well founded.
The court heard that the doctor commenced work in the practice on the same day that the woman started her maternity leave. She told the Labour Court she introduced herself to the doctor and informed him that she was that day commencing her maternity leave and would be due back to work on June 1st 2016.
The woman advised the doctor that another woman would cover her period of maternity leave.
However, when the woman returned to work on June 1st 2016 there was no position available for her.
The doctor suggested that she job-share but the woman in situ objected to job-sharing.
It was the woman's contention that as there was no role for her she considered herself dismissed.
The woman had worked at the practice since 2006 and had worked for four different GPs there.
The woman told the hearing that the doctor was very appreciative that she had organised the maternity leave cover at the outset.
At the Labour Court, the woman provided the court with a copy of her contract which was signed by the doctor.
The woman also drew the court’s attention to the fact a form was submitted late January /early February 2016 by the doctor to the HSE Primary Care Reimbursement Service seeking payment of the subsidy due for a practice secretary and attaching the woman’s contract to that form.
On May 31st 2016, the woman contacted the doctor by text advising that her maternity leave was finished and that she would be back in work the next day.
However, on arrival, another woman was in situ and the doctor asked if they would job share.
However, the woman in situ objected to job sharing saying that it would not cover the price of her diesel.
In his evidence, the doctor said that he did not recall employing the woman nor providing her with a copy of the contract furnished to the court.
The doctor did not dispute that it was his signature on the woman's contract but he could not recall signing a contract for her.
Nor did the doctor dispute that it was his signature on the form that was submitted to the HSE with the woman’s contract attached seeking a subsidy in respect of her post but he did not recall signing the form or submitting the form.
On meeting the woman on June 1st, the doctor said that he had advised the woman that there was currently no position available but that he would review the structure with a view to offering her a position.
A practice nurse confirmed that the doctor was present on December 1st 2015 when the woman said that she was finishing up as she was going on maternity leave.
The doctor disputed the fact that he had dismissed the woman as he did not consider the woman to have been an employee of his.