In recent weeks, Discount Retailer, Mr Price, has been ordered to pay €20,000 in compensation for discriminating against a former employee who had her employment terminated while on maternity leave.

Why did the Employee Win the Case?

The employee had taken maternity leave two weeks earlier than expected in March 2020 due to chronic back pain related to her pregnancy. During her maternity leave, she went into the Mr Price store and had a friendly conversation with her manager, during which she mentioned that she was still suffering with ongoing back pain so may be extending her maternity leave with the use of a doctor’s certificate. The manager was ‘very relaxed’ about the matter and just suggested that she contact the office when she plans to return to work. 

However in September 2020, the employee received a call from the new manager, who advised her that she would be receiving her final payslip, and that her employment had been terminated. When the employee checked her Revenue account, her termination was dated as far back as July 31st 2020. 

As a result of this, the WRC Adjudicator ruled that the employer decided to terminate her employment of his own volition during a period of recognised protected leave. Almost not surprisingly, there was no HR guidance provided to the manager from the company during the termination, who was clearly unaware of the legal obligations when terminating an employee. 

What are the Maternity Leave Rights for Employees?

All female employees are entitled to 26 consecutive weeks of statutory maternity leave, followed by up to 16 weeks of statutory additional maternity leave which must commence immediately after the initial maternity leave.

At least two weeks maternity leave must be taken before the expected week of confinement and at least four weeks must be taken after the expected week of delivery.

When should an Employee Inform their Employer about Maternity Leave?

An employee is required to notify the company in writing of her intention to take maternity leave as soon as possible before the start of her maternity leave, but in any event at least 4 weeks before the start of her maternity leave. 

An employee returning to work at the end of her statutory maternity leave or additional maternity leave is required to inform the company, at least four weeks, or earlier if possible, before her intended return date.  

Any employee taking the additional maternity leave must give notice of intention to do so at least four weeks, or earlier if possible, before the date on which the employee would have been expected to return to work at the end of her statutory material leave.  

Can an Employer Contact the Employee during their Maternity Leave?

An employer reserves the right to make reasonable contact with an employee during their maternity leave.  The frequency and nature of contact will depend on many factors such as the nature of the employee’s work, their role, and the employees’ return to work date.  The employer should discuss the arrangements for such contact with the employee before the commencement of the employees’ maternity leave. 

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against any employee due to pregnancy or being on maternity leave. This recent case concerning Mr Price and the pregnant employee highlights the importance of having a Maternity Leave Policy in place so that both the employer and employee are aware of the rights and obligations surrounding Maternity Leave.