The Employee commenced employment with the Employer in 2019 as a waitress in the coffee shop. Her duties included serving customers, making coffees, cleaning tables and mopping floors.
The Employee informed the Employer that she was pregnant on March 2nd 2020 and she claimed that her relationship with her employer changed at this point. She claimed the Employer was less than friendly with her and commented to her “now the rules have changed you have to do what I say”. The Employee gave evidence that she requested additional help with cleaning and lifting of heavy bin bags because of her pregnancy and despite agreeing that there would always be someone to help, the Employer told the other waitress to go home leaving the Employee to do the cleaning alone.
Later that night on March 2nd 2020, the Employee received a text message from the Employer to say that her start time the next day was 10am but if she did not feel well she could come in later. The text message went on to say that the Employer was delighted for the Employee and to let her know if she felt sick or tired and to take plenty of rest breaks. The Employee said that she was very surprised by this response as it was a different tone from how the day ended at work.
The Employee continued to work up until the 12th March 2020 and to be rostered until the 15th March. As a result of Covid-19, the restaurant closed the following week and there was no communication from the Employer until the start of June 2020 when the Employee asked the Employer to complete her maternity benefit application. The Employer confirmed that the accountant would send the Employee “the letter when it is filled up”. However, the Employee said that she received an envelope with a blank maternity benefit application together with a letter from the accountant dated 22nd June 2020, noting a resignation date of 12th March 2020. The Employee and her solicitor wrote to the Employer several times between July 2020 and September 2020 but received no response.
In December 2020, the Employer submitted her complaint to the WRC alleging that she had been dismissed on the grounds of her pregnancy in breach of the Employment Equality Acts.
At the WRC hearing, the Employer maintained that the Employee had resigned from her position verbally on March 2nd 2020 when she first informed her of her pregnancy. The Employee was adamant that this did not occur.
The WRC Adjudication Officer found that it was clear from the Employee’s evidence that she did not voluntarily resign. In evidence, the Employer repeatedly stated that in hindsight she would have done things differently, which the Adjudication Officer found only served to “acknowledge the Employee’s claim”.
Ultimately, the Adjudication Officer found that the Employee’s claim for dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy was well founded and awarded the Employee compensation in the amount of €15,000, equivalent to almost 8 months pay.
This WRC case highlights the importance of having a robust maternity policy in place for employers and employees to understand maternity legislation and have a source of guidance in situations similar to the above.