Unfair Dismissal and Pregnancy. A recent case of the Workplace Relations Commission in a Community Development Officer v Family Resource Centre ADJ-00010478 provides guidance into the burden placed upon a complainant who is faced with discharging the onus of proving a dismissal by reason of pregnancy. A person who is dismissed by reason of pregnancy may submit a complaint under the Employment Equality Act or the Unfair Dismissals Act. However a complainant cannot recover compensation under both the Unfair Dismissals Act and the Employment Equality Acts in respect of the same dismissal and must elect as between which legislation they wish to proceed with prior to hearing. In the above cited case before the Workplace Relations Commission, the complainant submitted a complaint under the Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 and the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and ultimately elected to proceed with the complaint under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015.
The Factual Background
A complainant must establish facts from which it can be inferred that the dismissal related to the complainant’s pregnancy. The existence of the pregnancy itself may be sufficient to establish this and has the effect of shifting the onus onto the employer to prove that the dismissal was effected for reasons unconnected with a pregnancy.
In the above cited case before the Workplace Relations Commission the complainant was in the early stages of pregnancy when she was employed as a Community Development Officer. The complainant began to experience difficulties with her line manager and had been told that she was “not physically working hard enough”. The complainant “informed her line manager” that she was pregnant. Following this, the complainant’s work environment and relationship with her line manager deteriorated further. There were four allegations of misconduct put to the complainant which were denied by the complainant. The allegation which led to the complainant’s dismissal was an allegation that the complainant had “roared” at a child. This was denied by the complainant who stated that she would on occasion “raise her voice in youth groups as these occurred in large sports halls”.
The decision was critical of the investigative process which lacked any adherence to the principles of natural justice and fair procedures. The adjudicator noted that the complaint relating to the alleged incident in the sports hall were provided a full two months after the alleged incident. The witness statements were provided to the respondent by “volunteers” who had previously been in a “personal relationship” together. The adjudicator also noted that given the allegations put to the respondent, it was not apparent from the facts of the case that the sanction of dismissal “was the only reasonable outcome in the circumstances”.
The adjudicator was satisfied that the complainant had established facts from which a presumption of unequal treatment had arisen by reason of the complainant’s pregnancy. The complainant had informed the respondent that she was pregnant upon commencement of employment. The respondent had not discharged the burden of proving that the dismissal had occurred for reasons unconnected with the complainant’s pregnancy. The adjudicator awarded the complainant compensation under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 while noting that “while it is the Respondent’s position that the dismissal occurred as a result of the Complainant’s misconduct, the evidence as presented does not credibly or cogently demonstrate that this was the sole reason for the dismissal.”
Anyone wishing to read the above decision from the Workplace Relations Commission may do so by accessing www.workplacerelations.ie. Should you wish to discuss any of the above matters, please get in touch by contacting us at (01) 833 8147 or alternatively you can email us at [email protected]. Telephone and Skype consultations are available by appointment