Discrimination case highlights duties of agency work providers

Out-Law News | 12 Jan 2021 | 9:54 am | 1 min. read

A recruitment agent in Ireland has been ordered to pay an agency worker €20,000 as compensation for distress suffered as a result of discrimination against her.

The Workplace Relations Commission upheld the agency worker's complaint in which she alleged that the recruitment agent had treated her less favourably as a result of her gender.

The worker, who was on the recruitment agent's register as an agency worker, had been informed of an upcoming 23-month contract by the agent and subsequently shared her updated CV in order for her name to be put forward for the role. However, five days later the worker informed the agent of her pregnancy. On that same day the agent responded with an email that stated: "In regard to the role – it is a 23 months contract. We can put you forward for shorter roles up until May".

The recruitment agent argued that it had not put the agency worker forward for the role because it had determined, upon reviewing the job description and the worker's CV, that the worker did not meet three of the four competencies or skills and experience required for the role. It denied that it had engaged in discrimination by not putting the worker forward for the 23-month role. To support its case, the recruitment agent shared a chart which outlined that it had enabled pregnant job candidates to obtain work on eight separate occasions.

The adjudication officer considering the case found that the worker's evidence established a 'prima facie' case of discrimination and so the burden of proof shifted to the agent to prove that the alleged discriminatory act had not been prompted by being informed of the worker's pregnancy. However, the adjudication officer did not accept the recruitment agent's stated reasons for not putting the worker forward for the role and held that the agent discriminated against the worker on the basis of gender.

"Discrimination on the grounds of gender is prohibited under employment equality legislation," said Dublin-based employment law expert Jason McMenamin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law. "The legislation applies not only to employees but also extends to prospective employees and agency workers. The award in this case highlights how seriously these cases are taken by the Workplace Relations Commission. Employers should ensure that they have an equality policy in place and that all staff are given training on the policy to reduce the risk of such claims."