Saturday 18 November 2017

'I was trying to put her at ease' - Civil servant awarded €7k after John Halligan asked was she married during interview

Junior Minister John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
Junior Minister John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

JOHN Halligan is the Minister of State who asked a high ranking civil servant if she was married or had children during a job interview.

Mr Halligan’s comments resulted in a Government department being ordered to pay the woman €7,500 in compensation following a Workplace Relations Committee (WRC) ruling.

Mr Halligan, who is currently in Thailand on State business, confirmed to Independent.ie that he is the minister at the centre of the WRC ruling.

The minister said he was “upset” by the ruling as he feels he runs a “family friendly” office.

“I was simply trying to put the interviewee at ease. I wanted to assure her that I am as flexible as possible with members of my team with any external or non-work commitments they may have,” he told Independent.ie

“All of my staff start at 10am because they need to get their kids to school and can finish early if they need to. I’m upset in the sense I genuinely didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. Sometimes I am wrong but I operate a family friendly environment,” he added

The WRC ruling found the executive officer, who has been employed by the civil service since 1993, applied for one of two posts of private secretary in May 2016 to two Junior Government Ministers in the same Government department.

At the interview, Mr Halligan said to the official: “I shouldn’t be asking you this, but... ‘Are you a married woman?’ Do you have children? How old are your children?’

The female official answered the questions and confirmed that she was married and that she was the mother of two children and she indicated their ages.

In reply, the minister observed “you must be very busy”.

At a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) hearing into the official’s claim of discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts, the minister’s words at the interview were neither challenged or denied.

In her ruling which found that the woman was discriminated against, WRC Adjudication Officer, Penelope McGrath found the Junior Minister’s comments to be “so outmoded”.

She said: "It was ill-advised of the Minister of State to have so pointedly obtained information that had nothing to do with this candidate’s suitability for a position, and a position for which she had determined she was eligible to compete."

Ms McGrath found that the woman “was put in a difficult situation in a job interview by reason of probing questions which went to the heart of her married and family life which historically could not be considered gender neutral questions”.

Ms McGrath said that the questions also “indirectly associated her with the task of primary homemaker and therefore not as available as other less encumbered candidates might be”.

Speaking after the ruling, Mr Halligan confirmed he asked the woman if she had children.

“I did this as I wanted her to feel that I would be flexible in terms of any family business that she may have to attend to. Too many workplaces have less than family-friendly arrangements and I always ensure that my workplace is as family-friendly as possible,” he said.

“This was the first time I was conducting an interview of this sort and I did not realise that it was unacceptable to ask such a question. But the question was coming from a good place. It was in no way meant to be discriminatory in any shape.

 “During the course of the Workplace Relations Commission hearing, four members of my constituency team submitted testimonials backing up my ethos as an employer.

“As a true advocate for equality for all, I regret that this incident occurred. The reasons behind my actions that day was to try and be as accommodating as possible to people who have children.”

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