In a recent workplace relations case a Restaurant Manager was awarded compensation equivalent to one year's salary for a pregnancy-related dismissal. The Adjudication Officer indicated that the award may have been even higher if the Restaurant Manager had more than three months' service.

Background

This case concerned an individual who had been employed as a Restaurant Manager by a seafood restaurant. She carried out her role with another manager, Ms B. Two months after starting work, the Restaurant Manager told her employer that she was pregnant. After this, the Restaurant Manager noticed a change in atmosphere. She was no longer invited to weekly managerial meetings. She also received an email from Ms B outlining a number of performance issues, some of which had not been discussed with her. The Restaurant Manager accepted some of the issues raised but attributed most of them to inadequate training. The Restaurant Manager offered to have a meeting with Ms B to discuss these matters and to have a meeting with their manager, Mr A. The Restaurant Manager then emailed Mr A for a meeting to discuss "really urgent matters" and said she required his assistance as the situation had become "too serious". Despite her request, no meeting took place. Three days after this email (and one month after the notification of her pregnancy), the Restaurant Manager was advised that she was being let go.

The Restaurant Manager brought a claim under the equality legislation alleging that she had been discriminated against and dismissed due to her pregnancy.

The restaurant contended that the Restaurant Manager was dismissed during her probationary period due to performance issues unrelated to her pregnancy. It claimed that she had been adequately trained, that performance issues arose prior to the pregnancy notification and that, despite meeting with the Restaurant Manager to discuss improving her performance, there had been no improvement. The restaurant accepted, however, that there were no records in relation to opportunities afforded to the Restaurant Manager to improve her performance and conceded that everything had been communicated verbally.

Findings

While the Adjudication Officer recognised that there may have been genuine performance issues, she stated that the restaurant was misconceived in believing that it could rely on the probation clause to dismiss for performance issues without having recourse to a formal review, a disciplinary process or fair procedures. As there were no records or minutes of meetings discussing the Restaurant Manager's performance, the Adjudication Officer did not find it credible that they took place. The Adjudication Officer also said that there was an added onus on the restaurant to identify and provide the Restaurant Manager with any necessary supports once it became aware of her pregnancy, which it failed to do.

The Adjudication Officer decided that, given the proximity of the notification of the pregnancy to the dismissal and Mr A's refusal to have a meeting, the Restaurant Manager's pregnancy was a significant factor contributing to her dismissal. The Adjudication Officer held that the restaurant failed to show that there were exceptional circumstances unrelated to pregnancy that would have warranted the dismissal and awarded the Restaurant Manager compensation equivalent to one year's remuneration for pregnancy-related dismissal.

Conclusion

There is a high burden for employers to discharge when trying to prove that employment was terminated due to circumstances unconnected to pregnancy. This case is a stark reminder of this. In addition, this case highlights the importance of following a process and documenting it, where there are any performance issues with an employee. Without having such documentation, it can be difficult to defend a claim.