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Retailer Mr Price faces €20k compensation bill after manager 'jumped the gun' and terminated worker while she was on maternity leave

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Mr Price

Mr Price

Mr Price

Retailer Mr Price has been ordered to pay €20,000 in compensation to a worker on maternity leave who was dismissed from her job after a misunderstanding with her manager.

Elena Balan took complaints against Corajio Unlimited Company, trading as Mr Price, under the Employment Equality Act and the Payment of Wages Act, both of which were upheld by the Workplace Relations Commission.

The company had rejected the discrimination claim and denied any breach of employment law.

Ms Balan told the tribunal that, as she was suffering from back trouble, she took maternity leave two weeks early in mid-March 2020, having started work for Mr Price in July 2019.

After a safe delivery, she visited the store with her husband around the middle of July 2020, around two months before she was due to return from her leave.

She was there to shop, but ran into the store manager, identified in the decision as CON and had a “friendly chat” in which she said she was still having back trouble and might have to delay her return.

In his evidence, the store manager, CON, said Ms Balan had been “anxious about funds”.

CON told her she ought to discuss it with the newly-appointed store manager, MH, Ms Balan added.

In texts received in evidence to the tribunal, Ms Balan contacted MH, the new store manager, on 5 August, asking about the procedure for taking outstanding holiday leave.

Two days later, MH wrote back to say Ms Balan was entitled to three weeks’ leave but that payment “depends on whether she is returning to the workplace or not”.

After further correspondence, Ms Balan wrote that she would “write that she is not quitting when she has gone to her doctor”.

Ms Balan said she got a phone call from MH on 3 September 2020 in which the new store manager told her that she would be getting her final payslip and that “everything she was owed would come to her”.

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She said MH then told her her employment had been terminated and her name had been removed from the company database.

Ms Balan said she was shocked at this and asked why she had been dismissed.

MH replied by suggesting she had quit, she added, but the store manager admitted she didn’t know the answer and that “it had not been up to her”.

When she checked with Revenue, Ms Balan found her employment had been terminated as far back as 31 July that year.

MH later wrote to the complainant to say she would be “happy to have [Ms Balan] back here any time”.

CON, the previous store manager, wrote on 14 September to say: ““As far as I understood leaving our conversation in the store, you wanted to leave and receive the holiday hours owed to you.”

“I am inclined to accept that there was some sort of misunderstanding,” adjudicating officer Penelope McGrath wrote in her decision.

She noted that CON had said in evidence that he thought the complainant wanted to resign.

“He even asked her to write to him confirming that was her intention, though he conceded he got no such letter,” Ms McGrath added, noting further that the manager said he had “jumped the gun”.

Ms McGrath wrote that she would have expected the manager to double-check with an employee – but particularly with the complainant in view of the legal obligation for the employer to state in writing why a worker on maternity leave was being terminated.

The two store managers involved went on to “double down” on their error by not immediately reversing it, she added.

Ms McGrath found Ms Balan had been discriminated against on the grounds of gender, specifically by being dismissed on maternity leave, and ordered the company to pay €20,000 in compensation.

Ms McGrath also ordered the employer to pay a further €780 after upholding a second complaint under the Payment of Wages Act for the company’s failure to pay Ms Balan for her notice period


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