A 24-year-old woman was told at a job interview that she should not get married or get pregnant in her first year in the job — and was sacked a week after she did become pregnant.
Nicola McNamee was dismissed last year a week after telling the owners of the bakery in which she worked that she was expecting a child.
Millie McWilliams and Ken Neely, who own Melting Moments Bakery in Fermanagh, told an industrial tribunal that the case was a “fabrication”.
But the tribunal was withering in its criticism of their evidence, saying that it found Ms McNamee “a more reliable witness” than the pair.
It said: “Their evidence frequently was contradictory and Mr Neely’s evidence, at times, bordered on the incoherent.”
The bakery was ordered to pay Ms McNamee more than £23,000 — made up of £7,500 for injury to her feelings and £15,788 compensation for loss of earnings.
The company claimed that its decision to let Ms McNamee go last April, just two months after taking her on, was based on her conduct and performance. But this contention was rejected by an industrial tribunal panel sitting in Belfast, which instead found the reason for the Lisnaskea woman’s dismissal was “the fact of her pregnancy”.
The panel accepted a claim by Ms McNamee, who was supported in bringing the case by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, that she was told at her initial job interview not to get pregnant or married in her first year in the job.
Although an employee with less than 12 months’ continuous employment cannot usually bring a claim of unfair dismissal, this is not the case where the reason is related to pregnancy.
Ms McNamee, who went on to give birth to her daughter Melissa Rose, said: “I was delighted when I got the job and believed that it would be long term.
“I was told it would take about six months to get me up to speed with the job. Around the end of March I found out I was pregnant and I spoke to one of the owners at the start of April and told her about it. She suggested that I think about whether it was best for me to continue working or if I’d be better off leaving. I didn’t want to leave, I was happy to work and I was devastated when I was dismissed a week later.
“I am glad the tribunal has found in my favour and now I just want to get on with my life with my little daughter.”
Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner at the Equality Commission, said that the laws governing pregnancy and maternity issues in the workplace were essential to protect the rights and support the needs of women in the workplace.
“As a society, we need to ensure that women who become pregnant don’t lose their employment and that they can resume their careers after their maternity leave without discrimination,” he said.
“The Equality Commission still receives more complaints about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace than about any other form of gender discrimination.
“We also carry out a lot of work with employers, providing advice and guidance about the regulations governing pregnancy and maternity, work/life balance and flexible working.
“We find that most employers want to know what the law requires and how they can make sure they are providing fair treatment and equality for all their workers.
“Employers can find that offering flexible working arrangements opens up a wider pool of talent for posts and increases the commitment and loyalty of staff who benefit from it.”