Karen Walsh: Employment and equality legislation prohibits discrimination against an employee because they are pregnant

There was a recent case before the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission), where a pastry chef in Co Kerry, who was dismissed when she became pregnant, was awarded €33,600 from her former employees.
Karen Walsh: Employment and equality legislation prohibits discrimination against an employee because they are pregnant

Female farmer hold and examine the wheat in summer day
Female farmer hold and examine the wheat in summer day

There was a recent case before the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission), where a pastry chef in Co Kerry, who was dismissed when she became pregnant, was awarded €33,600 from her former employees.

In this case, the complainant told the WRC that she felt under pressure to begin work a week earlier than was scheduled, but was reluctant to do so, as she had no PPS number.

She claimed that it was made clear by her employer that the company would change its mind about applying for her work permit if she did not start her employment on this date.

When she told her employer about her pregnancy, she claimed, she was told the company was no longer sure if it wanted to go ahead with getting her a work permit.

The employer stated that she failed to demonstrate her suitability as a pastry chef as she did not have the required precision and knowledge of French patisserie.

However, the WRC ruled that it was clear the complainant’s pregnancy was the only reason her work permit application was not processed and, in turn, that she was dismissed, and accordingly she was awarded compensation.

It is prohibited under employment and equality legislation in Ireland to discriminate against an employee because they are pregnant. The Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2011 prohibits discrimination in the workplace.

The legislation defines discrimination as treating one person in a less favourable way than another person based on, gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community.

If a person has been dismissed or discriminated against, due to pregnancy, they can potentially bring a claim to the WRC under the Employment Equality Acts for discriminatory dismissal on the grounds of gender and the Maternity Protection Acts 1994–2004.

Under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994–2004, a pregnant employee is entitled to 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave and 16 weeks’ additional unpaid maternity leave.

The employee is also entitled to time off for antenatal and post-natal care and time off from work, or reduced working hours, to allow breastfeeding, and is entitled to health and safety leave.

Anyone who is under a contract of employment is covered under these acts.

This would include full time and part-time employees.

If you have a pregnancy-related appointment, you are entitled to time off to attend, but you must notify your employer in advance of this.

Your annual leave should not be impacted when you are on maternity leave and should continue to accrue as normal.

Under this legislation, a pregnant employee’s employment rights are fully protected, including a protection against dismissal and, if on maternity leave, the right to return to their job.

An employee should return to the job that they had prior to going on maternity leave.

An alternative role should only be offered if it is appropriate in the circumstances, and carries terms and conditions that are as good as the original contract, and includes any improvement to the terms and conditions that they would have enjoyed if they hadn’t been away.

A dismissal will be deemed potentially unfair if it is as a result of pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, any pregnancy-related matters, or trying to exercise rights provided pursuant to the Maternity Protection Acts 1994-2004.

In a case where an employee is potentially dismissed due to pregnancy or due to the fact an employee is on maternity leave, the onus will be on the employer to show to the WRC or court that the dismissal was due to other grounds, and that the dismissal was fair.

If you believe you have been discriminated due to pregnancy, you should obtain legal advice from a solicitor.

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