Tribunal awards €8,000 to expectant mother fired over sick leave 'abuse'

She visited a doctor's clinic whilst on sick leave, and took the opportunity to renew her car insurance opposite the clinic

A pregnant mother whose employment was unjustly terminated has been awarded €8,000 in compensation.

The applicant’s lawyer, David Gatt, filed a court application in April 2019, declaring that Ashleigh Pandurov had started working for S&M (Marketing) Company Ltd in January 2018 as a full-time secretary on an indefinite contract.

In August 2018, Pandurov discovered that she was pregnant. In February 2019, at that point 6 months pregnant, Pandurov presented a three-day sickness certificate to the director of the company, Mark Bezzina.

Whilst on sick leave, the woman had to go to her doctor’s clinic in Qormi as she was suffering from nausea. Directly opposite the doctor’s clinic was an office used by her car insurer, so the woman had crossed the road and paid her insurance whilst she was out of the house. 

Somebody reported her to her boss as having left her home whilst on sick leave.

When she returned to work after three days, Bezzina had gone up to her and told her that she could clear her desk, because a friend of his had seen her outside in Qormi.

Pandurov had “dismissed due to disciplinary reasons” recorded on her JobsPlus termination form, which she denied ever signing and which had been in fact only been marked with her initials.

She claimed that she had been dismissed solely because of her pregnancy and that this was a clear breach of her rights.

On its part, the defendant company, S&M (Marketing) Company Ltd claimed that she had “breached her statutory and contractual obligations” by choosing to run an errand whilst on sick leave.

It said that by coincidence, Bezzina had learned that the woman had gone out to renew her car insurance whilst on sick leave. He was told this by the owner of the insurance agency, who knew Bezzina, as he had introduced the plaintiff to him, it said.

This, said the company, constituted gross misconduct and that it had to take the decision to terminate Pandurov’s employment on disciplinary grounds related to abusing sickness certificates.

Pandurov subsequently filed a case before the Industrial Tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal.

In his decision, upholding her claim, the Tribunal Chairman Edmund Tabone said that it was not justifying her going to pay her insurance whilst sick, but said that it could never agree with the disciplinary proceedings of the company which led to her dismissal.

“Dismissal from employment is the most serious punishment and therefore this must be justified by the procedure adopted and the related gravity” [of the offence], said the Tribunal.

The tribunal also noted serious shortcomings by the company regarding “dubious administration” with regards to the registration of the plaintiff’s employment with Jobs Plus.

Ruling that there was a lack of good and sufficient reason to terminate Pandurov’s employment, the Tribunal ordered the company to pay her €8000 in compensation.

Lawyer David Gatt represented Pandurov in the proceedings, whilst lawyer Pio Valletta appeared for S&M (Marketing) Ltd.