A leading employment rights lawyer said the issue of pregnancy-related dismissal in the workplace “is now at epidemic levels”.
Richard Grogan was yesterday speaking after one of his clients, Sandra Gegeckiene was awarded €10,000 earlier this week by the Labour Court after being sacked while pregnant by the sandwich chain, Subway.
Ms Gegeckiene’s case followed a ruling at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where a creche owner was ordered to pay €4,902 to a woman she sacked while pregnant.
On revealing the pregnancy to her female boss, the owner asked: “Was it planned or unplanned?”.
Commenting on the upsurge in pregnancy-related dismissal claims and the attitude of some employers to expectant mothers, Mr Grogan said: “Some employers regard pregnant females as something to be got rid of as quickly as possible.”
The Dublin-based solicitor said this was based on two reasons: “ignorance and the thinking that ‘this is going to disrupt my business’ — because the woman is going to go out on maternity leave; take additional maternity leave; take paid time off for antenatal classes; take time off for parental leave and then there is going to be the problem of sick children where mothers will have to take time off from work to look after their sick child”.
Mr Grogan — who has 30 years’ experience as a solicitor and has written and lectured extensively on employment law — said: “It is a stupid approach but pregnant women are seen as a problem in the workplace. The reality is that women play an extremely important role in the workplace.
“They bring huge benefits to the workplace and it is just an unacceptable approach by employers. The Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court take a very strict approach to matters and enforce the law vigorously. It is not acceptable behaviour,” he said.
“The law, as it stands, is very strong in protecting those who are pregnant who are dismissed,” he added.
Mr Grogan said that only a fraction of (pregnancy dismissal) cases are litigated for fear of being blacklisted and of those who issue proceedings only a tiny fraction actually get to a hearing as they are settled.
“My experience is that less than 20% actually even get to the door of a Court or the WRC.
“There was a time a few years ago that we would see one pregnancy-related dismissal every two months. Now we come across them roughly every two weeks,” he said.
He did not believe there has been an increase in such dismissals, it is just that employees who are dismissed are more inclined to seek help mainly due to the coverage of these cases in newspapers.”
“Pregnancy-related dismissal was always there and people are prepared to bring claims now a bit more. I believe, unfortunately, a significant number of employers still do believe the employee won’t sue. Many such dismissals are put out as a probation period not being successful, claiming it is a redundancy,or some other excuse.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved