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WRC Awards Employee €20,000 for Penalisation due to Applying for Parental Leave

Paulette Leonard v The Board of Management Farnham NS- ADJ-00033826 concerned two complaints of penalisation under the Parental Leave Act 1998 heard by the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”). The first complaint was about the handling of the Complainant’s request for Parental Leave and the second complaint was that the Complainant was penalised in her interview for the post of Deputy Principal due to her exercising her rights under the Parental Leave Act.


The Complainant had been a Primary School teacher for 28 years. In June 2020, she had requested six separate periods of Parental Leave, some of which was to occur in  the coming September and October 2020. At the time of her application, the Respondent did not have a policy in place for Parental Leave.

 The Respondent denied her application for the Parental Leave in September and October stating that:

due to the worldwide Covid pandemic and the fact that children will have been off school nearly 6 months at the time of their return, children will need stability. Consequently, the Board of Management agreed that no discretionary leave will be granted for September/October. All other weeks of leave post Halloween will be considered in October.”

The Complainant sent further correspondence to the Respondent in relation to her taking Parental Leave in 2020/2021 school year. The Respondent communicated its decision to the Complainant on 1st July 2020 that her requested dates were not able to be granted as a named substitute teacher was unavailable. However, it granted other dates close to the requested dates but on condition that the Complainant surrender statutory leave that she would otherwise be entitled to during that school year. The INTO engaged in correspondence with the Chairperson of the Respondent on behalf of the Complainant objecting to the conditions and not granting the Complainant’s requested dates.

In mid-November 2020, the Complainant became aware of a vacant position for a Deputy Principal role. The Complainant submitted her application on 3rd December 2020. Subsequently, the Complainant was interviewed on 15th December for the position by a panel comprising of the Principal, Chairperson, and an independent assessor. At the time of the interview, the protracted dispute in relation to the Complainant’s Parental Leave application had not been resolved. The Complainant was unsuccessful in her application and the position went to another candidate. The Complainant argued that ‘but for’ her exercising her right to seek parental leave she would have been successful in the interview. She also argued that the Principal and Chairperson had “subconscious bias” against her due to her application for Parental Leave.

The substantive issue was argued by the Complainant who stated that as a result of the interaction between the Chairperson and the Principal on the Parental Leave issue that there was a subconscious bias against her in the interview for Deputy Principal. The Respondent denied this and submitted detailed scoring systems used in accordance with the relevant Circular Letter covering such competitions. The Respondent declared that there was no bias or animosity towards the Complainant. The evidence upheld that the position of Deputy Principal was appointed to the right person however the independent assessor confirmed that despite the right candidate being appointed the promotion, that the Parental Leave issue was mentioned in relation to the Complainant and her application to the role.


The first part of the Complainant’s claim regarding the dates and the handling of her application for Parental Leave was held to be out of time as her claim form was lodged on 11th June 2021 in respect of the Respondent’s decision which was made on 1st July 2020. This was outside the six-month time limit to lodge such a complaint.

The second part of the Complainant’s claim was within time. The Respondent rejected the Complainant’s submissions and produced evidence that both candidates were asked the same questions at interview and showed that the detailed scoring system used was in accordance with the relevant Circular Letter covering such competitions. The Respondent submitted that there was no bias or animosity towards the Complainant and that her application for Parental Leave was of no relevance to her application for the Deputy Principal Role.

However, the Independent Assessor on the selection panel gave evidence that either the Principal or Chairperson of the Respondent, in a preparatory meeting for the interviews, raised the issue of the interaction between the Complainant and management of the Respondent in relation to her application for Parental Leave. The Independent Assessor stated that he took this as background information relevant to the candidate. The Adjudicator held that raising the incidents surrounding the Complainant’s application for Parental Leave was clearly considered relevant to her application for the role of Deputy Principal and in a negative way.   

The Adjudicator held that the Complainant was penalised contrary to section 16A of The Parental Leave Act 1998 and she was awarded 20,000 as compensation for unfair treatment for availing of her statutory rights.

Takeaway for Employers:

This case should act as a reminder to employers that they must respect employees’ entitlement to exercise their statutory rights. Although the Respondent conducted a thorough interview process, the fatal flaw was making any reference whatsoever to the Complainant’s application for Parental Leave. There should be no mention or consideration of any protected leave in respect of a recruitment process.

Link  – https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2023/june/adj-00033826.html

Authors – Anne O’Connell & Susan Coyle

31st July 2023

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19-22 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2


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