Women whose salaries are cut when they use up their sick leave because of pregnancy-related complications are not the victims of sex discrimination, the EU’s top court ruled on Thursday.
Margaret McKenna, an Irish civil servant, exhausted her yearly allowance of fully paid sick leave during a difficult pregnancy in 2000 and was put on half-pay.
She brought a case against her employer, the North Western Health Board, arguing she was being discriminated against under EU equality legislation since pregnancy only affects women.
McKenna said she was entitled to her full salary when off sick due to her pregnancy.
But the European Court of Justice said that while pregnant women who took sick leave were protected from being sacked during pregnancy and when on maternity leave under EU law, their employers could legally cut their pay.
“During an absence resulting from such an illness, a female worker may thus suffer a reduction in her pay, provided that she is treated in the same way as a male worker who is absent on grounds of illness,” the Luxembourg-based court said.
“(This is) provided the amount of payment made is not so low as to undermine the objective of protecting pregnant workers.”
The judgment will be sent to the Labour Court in Ireland for a final decision.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD