ECJ holds that pregnant employees are not entitled to special protection in collective redundancy situations

The European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) has held in Guisado v Bankia SA and others Case C-103/16 ECJ  that pregnant women are not legally entitled by virtue of EU law to special protection in collective redundancy situations.

The factual background of Guisado v Bankia SA and others

In January 2013 Bankia SA (a Spanish company) began consulting with employee representatives about a collective redundancy situation. It agreed redundancy selection criteria with the employee representatives and, in November 2013, the company informed Ms Guisado, who was pregnant at the time, by letter that she was being made redundant.  The letter that she was sent stated that staff numbers were being significantly reduced and that Ms Guisado had received a low score under the redundancy selection criteria. At the time that Bankia SA decided to make Ms Guisado redundant the relevant decision-maker was unaware of her pregnancy. Ms Guisado was subsequently dismissed and brought a claim of pregnancy discrimination in the local Spanish court.

Ms Guisado was unsuccessful with her claim in the Social Court (the local Spanish court) and appealed the decision to the Catalonian High Court of Justice. The Catalonian High Court subsequently asked the ECJ for clarification on: 1) its interpretation on the dismissal of workers who are pregnant and workers who are on maternity leave, save in exceptional cases where the dismissal is not connected with the relevant worker’s pregnancy or maternity leave (under Article 10 of the Pregnant Workers Directive (92/85/EC); and 2) its view of the interaction between the provisions of Article 10 of the Pregnant Workers Directive and the provisions of the Collective Redundancies Directive (98/59/EC).

The decision of the European Court of Justice

The ECJ held:

  1. That the wording of the Pregnant Workers Directive does not prevent national legislation which would allow the dismissal of pregnant workers through a collective redundancy process;
  2. That a dismissal taken at some point between the beginning of a worker’s pregnancy to the end of her maternity leave for reasons that are unconnected with the worker’s pregnancy is not contrary to Article 10 as long as: 1) the employer gives “substantiated grounds” for the dismissal in writing; and 2) the dismissal of the relevant employee is permitted under national legislation and/or practice

The ECJ further clarified that in situations where employers wished to make an employee who was pregnant or on maternity leave redundant it must:

  1. Set out in writing the reasons for making her redundant (an “ETO” reason i.e. for economic, technical or organisational reasons); and
  2. Inform the relevant worker (who is pregnant or on maternity leave) of the objective selection criteria which are being used to identify which workers will be made redundant

Our solicitors’ comments on Guisado v Bankia SA and others

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Under UK law priority treatment is given to women who are placed at risk of redundancy whilst they are on maternity leave (this goes further than required under the relevant European Directive); this case clarifies that women are not entitled to special protection in a collective redundancy simply by virtue of being pregnant.”