Some public sector workers have been told to resign if they can't get back to work — despite having no childcare.
People with disabilities have also been ordered back to work by some employers according to the Free Legal Advice Clinics (FLAC).
The charity warns that a deluge of discrimination cases may be brought against employers at the Workplace Relations Commission due to the Covid-19 crisis and it is calling on the Government to extend free legal aid to these cases.
"Stressed" and "afraid" employees have been calling FLAC about their rights since the pandemic hit.
Employment law queries to the charity have doubled, jumping from an average of 10% to 20% of all calls in April. Eilis Barry, FLAC chief executive, said: "We have seen a definite increase in employment queries in the last few months, with 126 calls in March, 180 calls in April and 165 in May. Many of the calls have been about maternity issues. Some employees were told to go on maternity leave early instead of availing of the wage subsidy scheme."
Public sector employees have been told to consider resigning if they can't return to work by a certain date "even though the State should know that creches and playschools, as of now, are still shut".
“In any recession, pregnancy discrimination claims always increase, maternity claims always increase, and I suspect that will happen again with the scenario we’re facing into now," Ms Barry said.
To deal with the deluge of information requests, FLAC opened a phone-in helpline to replace their walk-in clinics which were closed by the pandemic.
And Ms Barry believes that the situation is going to get worse as the lockdown lifts further and more people with serious health and safety concerns are asked to return to work: "People have been afraid to query their employer about health and safety and they have been physically afraid of getting infected at work and passing that on."
Meanwhile, a new report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), called Employment Analysis of Maternity and Paternity Benefits 2016-2019, found that the rate of paternity benefit was almost 60% the rate of maternity benefit in 2019.
Maternity benefit was paid to 5.3 per 100 employees in 2019 — a decrease from 5.8 in 2016. One in ten women in receipt of maternity benefit in 2018 did not return to paid employment in 2019. And more than half (54%) of women in receipt of maternity benefit in 2019 received a top-up payment from their employer in addition to their maternity benefit payment.
Paternity benefit was paid to 3.1 per 100 employees in 2019 — an increase from a rate of 2.9 in 2018. Less than half (45.0%) of fathers entitled to paternity benefit did not take it in 2018.
Dermot Kinane, statistician, said: "This is the first CSO release to examine employment data of people who received maternity and paternity benefits... Public Administration and Defence had the highest rate of maternity benefit at 8.3 per 100 employees in 2019, while that same year the lowest rate was in Accommodation and Food Service Activities at 2.5 per 100 employees. Maternity benefit rates were highest in large enterprises with 250 or more employees."