Maternity-related complaints made to the workplace watchdog have almost doubled

Complaints are on the rise amid legislative changes and growing global awareness of gender-related issues.

By Laura Roddy Reporter, Fora

THE NUMBER OF complaints made under the Maternity Protection Act to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) have almost doubled in a year.

Figures released by the body to Fora show there was a jump in complaints made under the act from 21 in 2017 to 39 in 2018.

Of the total complaints last year, 20 were from employees who said they were not allowed to return to work after the end of their maternity leave compared to 11 in 2017.

There were 12 complaints from those who said they they did not receive their maternity leave at all, which was three more than the previous year. 

The body did not release data regarding the decisions made on the complaints. 

Therese Chambers, an associate at law firm William Fry, told Fora that it is “impossible to say exactly why there has been such an increase” but thinks it could be related to recent changes to family leave and flexible working laws which have brought the issues into the public eye. 

New legislation set to come into force on 1 November this year allows parents to take two weeks extra leave in the first year of their child’s life or adoption. There has also been increased discussion about the legislation surrounding companies reporting salaries to highlight gaps in gender pay. 

“It is likely the heightened global awareness of gender-related issues spinning from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements has also had an impact on these numbers,” Chambers added.

“Employers are risking high WRC awards and more importantly, a big impact on their organisation’s reputation if they are not meeting their obligations. If employers don’t step up, I think this upward trend is likely to continue.”

Employment law lawyer Richard Grogan made the point the figures likely represent “a small fraction” of the number of people who have faced discrimination in the workplace regarding maternity leave, as many cases are resolved through mediation before they make it to the WRC to begin with. 

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