A recent Labour Court appeal highlights the relatively high awards made in pregnancy related dismissal situations.
In Western Brand Group Limited v Aneta Petrova the Labour Court (“the Court”) awarded €17,000 to an employee dismissed due to her pregnancy related illness, increasing the earlier Workplace Relations Commission award by almost a third.
In this case, the claimant employee had become ill in work, and was later hospitalised and subsequently miscarried. She provided various medical certificates of unfitness for work from 17 December 2015 to 29 December 2015. On 29 December 2015 the claimant was informed that, due to her unavailability to attend for work, she was being dismissed.
She filed for unfair dismissal.
The employer claimed that the medical certificate submitted by the claimant did not specify the illness, and that it was therefore unaware of her pregnancy at the time of dismissal. It was also alleged that, on subsequently becoming aware of her miscarriage, the claimant was advised that she could re-apply for her job.
However, the claimant stated that she had been told she was “sick for too long” when she was dismissed by phone on 29 December. She then received her P45 which identified 18 December 2015 as her dismissal date. The claimant alleged that the employer was aware that she was pregnant at the time and that she was dismissed in full knowledge of her pregnancy related illness.
The payroll administrator who dismissed the claimant over the phone stated in evidence that the staff member who instructed her to dismiss the claimant was fully aware of the pregnancy. The Court held that the reason for the dismissal was the claimant’s absence due to pregnancy and miscarriage and accordingly concluded that the dismissal was unfair. While the award was increased compared to the WRC award, it took into account the claimant’s lack of evidence regarding efforts to find new employment since her dismissal and her availability for work from January to June following her dismissal.
It is noteworthy that the claimant had only been employed for approximately a month at the time of her dismissal. As such, the case highlights that there is no requirement for 12 months’ service in unfair dismissal claims where the dismissal is pregnancy related and also the relatively high level of compensation often awarded (here approximately 12 months’ salary) in such cases, regardless of length of service.