'Epidemic of pregnancy-related dismissals in our workplaces'
A leading employment rights lawyer said yesterday that the issue of pregnancy-related dismissal in the workplace "is now at epidemic levels".
Richard Grogan was yesterday speaking after one of his clients, Sandra Gegeckiene, was awarded €10,000 earlier this week by the Labour Court after being sacked while pregnant by sandwich chain Subway.
Ms Gegeckiene's case followed a ruling at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where a crèche owner was ordered to pay €4,902 to a woman she sacked while pregnant.
On revealing the pregnancy to her female boss, the owner asked: "Was it planned or unplanned?"
Commenting on the upsurge in pregnancy-related dismissal claims and the attitude of some employers to expectant mothers, Mr Grogan said: "Some employers regard pregnant females as something to be got rid of as quickly as possible."
Mr Grogan, who has 30 years' experience as a solicitor and has written and lectured extensively on employment law, said that often women were wrongly viewed as a "problem in the workplace".
"The reality is that women play an extremely important role in the workplace," he said. "They bring huge benefits to the workplace and it is just an unacceptable approach by employers.
"The Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court take a very strict approach to matters and enforce the law vigorously. It is not acceptable behaviour.
"The law, as it stands, is very strong in protecting those who are pregnant who are dismissed."
Mr Grogan added that only a fraction of (pregnancy dismissal) cases are litigated .
"My experience is that less than 20pc actually even get to the door of a court or the WRC," he said.
"There was a time a few years ago that we would see one pregnancy-related dismissal every two months.
"Now we come across them roughly every two weeks."
"I do not believe there has been an increase in such dismissals, it is just that employees who are dismissed are more inclined to seek help mainly due to the coverage of these cases in newspapers.
"Pregnancy-related dismissal was always there and people are prepared to bring claims now a bit more."
Parties who take unfair dismissal cases at the WRC now will not have their identities revealed, though employers who breach employees' rights won't be 'named and shamed'.
Mr Grogan said that in appeal cases to the Labour Court parties are named.