Employer ordered to pay €15,000 for pregnancy-related dismissal



€15,000 award in pregnancy-related dismissal

The employee worked as a training coordinator for a healthcare provider employer. She began working on 1 November 2016. Her employment was terminated on 30 November 2017 which she claimed was linked to her pregnancy. The employer argued that the position was being made redundant as it could no longer afford to retain the employee in her role due to a downturn in sales.

Employee claim

The employee stated that in April 2017, her co-worker (Ms. A) went on maternity leave and that the employer hired a third party (Mr. B) to cover this period of leave. The employee notified her employer that she was pregnant in September 2017. Following a period of illness in October 2017, she returned to work on 1 November and learned that Mr. B was appointed on a permanent basis to a similar position to her own within the organisation. The employee alleged that, shortly after Mr. B’s permanent appointment, she was informed that her own position was to be made redundant.

The employee questioned why Mr. B was retained and was informed that Mr. B was performing a different role to her own. The employer further claimed that Mr. B was offered a permanent contract after he had indicated that he would be leaving for a role with a separate employer.

A receptionist’s role also became available which the employee claimed she was not offered despite having significant work experience in the employer’s reception. Ms. A was appointed to this role when she returned from maternity leave despite the employee’s assertion that she had more experience for the role.

The employee also alleged that she was never made aware that her position was at risk and that the organisation failed to look at alternative positions for her. The employee also highlighted that the role filled by Mr. B and her own role were both administrative roles which were interchangeable.

Employer’s reply

The employer stated that the employee was recruited on a back-to-work scheme and that she was then successful in her application for the role of training coordinator.

The employer submitted that in March 2017 it discussed revenue declines with the employee which were further highlighted in July 2017 along with ways that revenue could be increased. The training manager submitted that they met again with the employee on 7 November and explained that no improvements had been made and a meeting would take place in two weeks, with the CEO, to review the viability of the role of training coordinator. It was submitted that this series of meetings and the invitation to propose any alternative measures in advance of the meeting with the CEO effectively put the employee on notice that her role was at risk.

On 23 November, the training manager met with the employee to confirm that her position was no longer viable due to persistent below target revenue.

The employer denied that the roles performed by Ms. A and Mr. B were interchangeable. The roles were completely different as one involved selling healthcare to clients and developing new business while the other role was administrative in nature and did not include business development. The employer further argued that the administrative role was advertised internally following Ms. A’s decision not to resume that role and Mr. B was successful in his application. The employer also outlined that as Ms. A’s employment was protected under maternity leave legislation, the reception manager role was offered to her.

WRC decision

The adjudication officer was ‘not satisfied from the reports of the meetings submitted in evidence that the complainant would have known that her position was in jeopardy’. She also added that it was significant that Ms. A, who requested a change in roles following her maternity leave, was prioritised over the complainant’s need for an alternative position. The adjudication officer determined that the employer also failed to establish that the employee’s role and the one taken up by Mr. B were not interchangeable. The adjudication officer ordered the employer to pay the employee €15,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal.

Redundancy risks

The decision serves as a reminder to employers to ensure that correct procedure is followed if a redundancy needs to be made. While each redundancy situation needs to be reviewed on a case by case basis, the following points should be borne in mind:

  • Organisations must apply a reasonable selection process where there is more than one candidate.
  • Organisations must make employees aware of the potential risks as they arise.
  • Organisations need to provide employees with all alternative roles if there is a need to make a role redundant.
  • Organisations need to make meaningful assessments of how interchangeable roles are when facing a redundancy situation.
  • Accurate minutes of all meetings should be kept at all times to document what was discussed at the meetings and shared with the employee in question.

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