Toy shop employee was asked if she had deliberately got pregnant, WRC told

Workplace Relations Commission unable to hear dismissal claim as outside statutory timeframe

A female employee at a toy shop was asked by her boss if she had got herself deliberately pregnant just months before she was dismissed, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was told.

Shauna Cox also told the WRC that her manager only began complaining about her standard of work after they were told she was expecting a child.

Ms Cox’s employment with Toytown Toys Limited, trading as Toymaster, began on October 1st, 2018, and she earned €353.54 per week before tax.

But she was sacked from her full-time role less than nine months later, with her employer claiming she had been let go over a “breach of trust” issue.

Ms Cox, however, claimed she had been dismissed solely because she was pregnant and raised a claim of discrimination against her former employer under section 77 of the Employment Equality Act 1998.

The WRC was told that, prior to starting her employment with Toymaster, Ms Cox had informed her store boss she couldn’t work on Saturdays because she was attending a healthcare course.

At a hearing, Ms Cox told WRC adjudication officer Marguerite Buckley she had informed her manager on March 28th, 2019, that she was pregnant. She said she was then asked to give proof of pregnancy, which she did.

Ms Cox also told Ms Buckley that one of the company directors later said to her that she could not be sacked for being pregnant.

Within two days of advising her employer about her pregnancy, she said she was contacted by her manager who asked “whether or not the pregnancy was planned or unplanned”.

Ms Cox said that issues with her work were raised shortly after she informed her boss about the pregnancy.

She said she was told colleagues had complained she was not working Saturdays even though she was no longer attending the healthcare course.

But Ms Cox said she had been put back on the Saturday roster four months earlier, in December 2018, after deciding the course “was not for her” and informing her boss she was available for Saturday work.

Ms Cox was then dismissed following “a flawed investigation and disciplinary process” carried out by the company, the WRC was told.

`Sham’ process

She said she used company procedures to launch an appeal against the decision to sack her but “the same person who made the decision, heard the appeal and dismissed the appeal without any regard to” her side of the story.

In her submission to the WRC, Ms Cox said she was dismissed because she was pregnant and “for no other reason”, and that the appeals process was a “sham”.

In response, lawyers for Toymaster told the WRC that their client had allowed Ms Cox time off to attend the course even though Saturday was their busiest trading day.

The chain also claimed it first found out she had “dropped out” from the course on April 16th, 2019.

Ms Cox was then invited to an “investigation meeting” with her manager on May 16th. The manager warned her beforehand that an allegation of constructed deception was classified as gross misconduct and could be an “immediate sackable offence”.

Although a follow-up disciplinary hearing was held on June 5th “to clarify outstanding issues”, she was dismissed for breach of trust on June 13th, 2019.

Toymaster told the WRC that Ms Cox was not dismissed because she was pregnant and, in fact, she had received a good performance review days after notifying her boss about the pregnancy.

The company also claimed she had been dismissed because of a “breakdown of trust” which it said was “gross misconduct”.

Delivering her ruling, Ms Buckley said she had “no jurisdiction to hear this complaint as it was lodged outside the statutory timeframe”.

The clock started “to run” on the case from June 26th, 2019, Ms Buckley explained.

“The complainant lodged her complaint on January 9th, 2020, which is outside the six-month time limit,” she said.

Although Ms Buckley said she accepted Ms Cox was suffering from “anxiety postpartum” around the time the deadline to lodge her complaint was approaching, she said she was not “satisfied that there was a causal link between the complainant’s anxiety and the delay in lodging her complaint in time”.