Claims controller unfairly dismissed following pregnancy

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Three hearings were heard in Limerick this year, on April 15, May 25 and May 26.
A CLAIMS controller in a Shannon-based insurance company was awarded €20,000 for being unfairly dismissed, after she claimed that she was let go as a result of being unfit to work due to pregnancy.

A CLAIMS controller in a Shannon-based insurance company was awarded €20,000 for being unfairly dismissed, after she claimed that she was let go as a result of being unfit to work due to pregnancy.

Three hearings were heard in Limerick this year, on April 15, May 25 and May 26.

Gráinne Hoey, who worked for White Horse Insurance Ireland for five years, was dismissed one month before she was due to go on maternity leave, on August 1, 2013, on grounds of “ill health”.

The tribunal stated that the company did not follow its own disciplinary procedures, after Ms Hoey was not aware that a meeting that took place that resulted in dismissal was a disciplinary meeting.

Medical reports were viewed, which were commissioned by the company, due to the “ongoing nature of the claimant’s absence” when she went sick leave on September 7, 2012.

In particular, a medical report was compiled by a doctor who had been contracted by an occupational health company. On receipt of the that, the health company published a report and forwarded it to the insurance company, without the doctor’s initial report.

On July 17, 2013, the health company’s report stated that Ms Hoey was not fit for work and that it would be unlikely that she would return within three to six months.

The doctor’s report that informed the health company’s report stated that, at the time, the claimant had a stable, underlying medical condition, which was not work-related. The report also stated that it would not have affected her work.

The doctor’s report added that she also had a pregnancy-related condition that was “significantly restricting her activity” and it would have affected her at work.

“I expect that this condition will resolve once her baby is born,” the report ended.

On November 8, 2012, a report stated that she was unfit for duties and “likely to be unfit for the foreseeable future”.

Because the company was considering hiring temporary replacement staff, another report was commissioned, stating that she was unfit for work, and that she would be able to return to work within two or three months.

It said that Ms Hoey could return to an “alternative administrative role” and that returning to her original role would be unlikely to be achieved in the next six to nine months. The technical manager accepted that Ms Hoey would return to work after her maternity leave.

After a meeting on May 10, Ms Hoey was issued a final written warning stating that she would be dismissed if she did not return within an eight-week period, after she could not definitively tell what her condition was, or when she would be able to return to work.

The general manager rejected her appeal because “the absence could not go on indefinitely”.

She replied that she had filled out the necessary forms, and that she was due to go on maternity leave in three months.

After the July medical report, Ms Hoey had a telephone meeting with two managers, but was not aware that it was a disciplinary hearing. Because the insurance company did not have a sick leave policy, it put in place its disciplinary procedure instead and issued a letter of dismissal on August 1.

Ms Hoey was not given minimum notice. If she had been given minimum notice, it would have meant being dismissed during her maternity leave. The general manager rejected Ms Hoey’s appeal, as there was no evidence to support her assertion thatshe was going to be fine after maternity leave.

Though management wanted to review her consultant’s report previously, they rejected Ms Hoey’s request for the adjournment of the dismissal meeting pending the report.

The tribunal found that no consideration had been given to Ms Hoey’s medical certs, stating that her pregnancy made her unfit to work, which were supported by the doctor’s report.