Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Maternity leave women win discrimination damages

Kennel worker Judith Hitch
Kennel worker Judith Hitch received 8,624 in compensation

Two women in Northern Ireland who claimed they were discriminated against after going on maternity leave have been awarded more than £17,000.

Kennels worker Judith Hitch, 22, was offered unsuitable return to work hours and left a meeting in distress.

Her manager in Holywood, County Down, assumed she had resigned and sent her a P45 in the post.

Richenda McAleenan, 29, a credit loans officer, was told she could no longer act up in the absence of her manager.

Ms McAleenan returned after maternity leave in May and was told she would not know what she was doing.

She had worked at Ballynahinch Credit Union since 1996 and was the longest-serving employee.

An industrial tribunal found there was an implied term in her contract allowing her to act up and ruled that she was in effect no longer allowed to return to the job in which she was employed before her absence.

She was awarded £8,808 compensation.

Ms Hitch's son was born in January 2008 and she attended a return-to-work interview in August that year.

Richenda McAleenan
Richenda McAleenan was awarded 8,808

She had written asking for changed hours to fit childminding arrangements but was told she would only be offered unsuitable hours.

The tribunal found her employer had made no real effort to bring Ms Hitch back to work after her maternity leave.

It said: "The respondent should have contacted the claimant, preferably in writing, explaining her right to return to work in her previous job and suggesting another discussion to try and resolve the working times."

The tribunal awarded compensation of £8,624 to Ms Hitch for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Equality Commission casework director Anne McKernan said: "Women returning to work after the birth of a baby, with responsibility for the upbringing of their child, have rights under sex discrimination and employment rights laws which cannot be set aside.

"Parenthood and family are essential elements in our society and to facilitate women to maintain their position within the workforce we need to ensure that they can continue in work when pregnant and resume their jobs afterwards."

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