The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has recently ordered a seafood restaurant to pay €30,000 compensation (one years’ salary) to a former employee. The employee alleged she had been dismissed 5 weeks after she notified her employer that she was pregnant. She was told she had lost her job because “business is business” and to enjoy her maternity. The employee had been pregnant when she started work at the restaurant but had waited two months before reporting this to management.
The employer’s case was that the worker’s dismissal was a result of her performance during her probation period and was completely unrelated to the pregnancy. However, the employee argued that she was dismissed without prior warning, that she had not been subject to any disciplinary procedures and that there was no previous meetings suggesting that she might be dismissed.
The WRC Adjudication Officer accepted that the employer had not dismissed any of its employees who had previously become pregnant but said the employer failed to rebut the complainant’s prima facie case that she was dismissed because she was pregnant.
Dismissal of an employee who happens to be pregnant is possible so long as the reason for dismissal is lawful and any required procedures are followed. However, it is a higher risk situation for employers and compensation awards when things go wrong tend to be relatively large. This higher risk exists regardless of the pregnant employee’s length of service and even when she is still in a probationary period. There is no minimum service requirement for pregnancy related employment equality claims and the usual 12 months’ service requirement for unfair dismissal cases does not apply where a dismissal is allegedly due to pregnancy. Employers considering dismissing pregnant employees should be conscious that a particularly high burden of proof will arise and that a very clear and convincing explanation will be required in order to convince the WRC that the dismissal was not because of the pregnancy. This will involve providing a plausible explanation as to the reasons behind the dismissal and producing a supporting paper trail.