A large telecommunications provider has been ordered to pay €26,100 to a senior female employee over her job being gone after her planned return from maternity leave.
In the case before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), WRC Adjudication Officer, Penelope McGrath has ordered the firm to pay the Financial Administrator €20,000 for discriminating against her on the gender ground under the Employment Equality Act and a further €6,100 for breaches under the Maternity Protection Act.
The woman has remained out of work on sick leave with Ms McGrath reporting that a "state of stalemate appears to have been reached".
According to Ms McGrath’s report on the case, the woman “gave very compelling evidence on how devastating the situation was for her” ahead of her planned return to work.
Prior to going on maternity leave, the woman’s position was integral to the smooth running of up to 1,800 telecommunication mast sites and that she would have seen herself as the go-to person for all sorts of outside providers, users and support services who had an interest in the services available through the countrywide mast sites.
However, as part of a company-wide reorganisation which took place while the woman was on maternity leave, the employee was directed to move to an entirely new team, on a different floor, and under an entirely different manager to the one she had been advised she would be working with at the start of her maternity leave.
The company stated that new accountancy regulations deemed it inappropriate that so much of the work which the complainant had heretofore been carrying out, was being done without an appropriate level of accountancy skill and qualification.
Ms McGrath said: “Heretofore, she saw herself as having purpose, being competent and possessing high-level interaction and integration. She gave evidence that she was returning to the workplace in a vacuum with no real job description, no direction and no clear career trajectory.
“It all seemed very transitory and dead-end to her.
The woman returned to work in March 2018 briefly having been out of certified sick leave after her maternity leave.
Ms McGrath said: “The Complainant only remained in the workplace for two days at that time. To her mind, this was not her job and bore no resemblance to her job and did not amount to suitable alternative employment as it had nothing to do with the skill set she had crafted in nine years of employment.”
Ms McGrath said that, on balance, “I have to accept that the Complainant was not given a job description which would afford her any comfort”.
She added that some of the correspondence tends to show that the Complainant, presumably as she was coming back from maternity leave, “was a problem that needed to be solved”.
Ms McGrath said: “It seems to me that very little thought was given to the Complainant in her absence on what was a recognised protected leave.
“In the circumstances, she was treated less favourably than a person who remained in the workplace. The Complainant was therefore discriminated against by reason of taking her maternity leave and was therefore discriminated against on the gender ground.”
Ms McGrath found that “the change in the regulations governing Corporate Finance does not of itself amount to a justification for no attempt being made to ensure that the Complainant be so comprehensively disadvantaged for having to be away from the workplace by reason of the birth and nurturing process”.
Ms McGrath also accepted that the employer failed to allow the complainant return to the job she held immediately before the start of her maternity leave and nor was she offered suitable alternative work under a new contract of employment.
Ms McGrath said: “There is no doubt in my mind that finding suitable alternative employment should be the objective of this employer.”