Redundancy during Maternity Leave (October 2008)

A recent decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, however, shows that it is permissible to address termination issues with employees during pregnancy related leave, or even during maternity leave itself. The case is Gleeson v L’Oreal.

In September 2006, the employee was on leave due to a pregnancy related illness when she was told that the viability of her position was being reviewed. Following a meeting in November 2006, and, notably, while still on pregnancy related leave, she was informed that she would be made redundant. She was offered the choice of a redundancy package or alternative employment, but was told that she would not have to make her decision until her return from maternity leave.

Her maternity leave commenced in January 2007, and her employer wrote to her on 30 January 2007 to discuss her “options for the future”. No reply was received.

The employee contacted her employer on 3 September 2007 ahead of her return to work date of 7 October 2007, saying that she did not want to return to work, but wanted to discuss the redundancy package. Her employer provided details of the redundancy package, which was in excess of her statutory entitlements. On 9 October 2007, she contacted L’Oreal’s HR department to say that the redundancy package was insufficient, and that she did not accept that a valid redundancy situation existed.

The employee took a claim for unfair dismissal arguing that she had been made redundant because of her decision to start a family and that the alternative position offered to her was a demotion.

Following a review of the background circumstances, the Tribunal held that her redundancy was fair, reasonable and genuine, that she had been offered suitable alternative employment, and that her redundancy was in no way related to her maternity leave.

The failure of this employee’s claim indicates that, although the Maternity Protection Acts render void any attempt by an employer to terminate an employee’s contract of employment while they are on maternity leave, discussion of such issues with an employee whilst they are on maternity leave is permissible.

This is provided, of course, that the reason for the redundancy is not linked to the fact that the employee has exercised her rights under the maternity legislation. However, the notice period for termination of employment cannot start to run until maternity leave has ended.