For the first time in Belgium, an employer was convicted of gender discrimination in the workplace after dismissing an employee over an abortion, marking an important precedent, the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men announced on Friday.
An employment court ordered the employer to pay six months of gross wages for firing an employee because of an abortion. The Institute was awarded €1 in symbolic damages and is satisfied with the ruling. The employer, meanwhile, decided not to appeal.
"This sets a very important precedent because this is the first judgment explicitly confirming that dismissal because of an abortion is discrimination on the basis of gender," said deputy director of the Institute for Gender Equality, Liesbet Stevens.
"It is a clear message from the court that women should not be dismissed due to getting pregnant without wanting to and deciding to terminate a pregnancy early," she added.
Vague and unreliable testimonies
In 2021, the woman in question went to the Institute because she was the victim of unfair dismissal: she was fired after informing her employer of her pregnancy and her intention to terminate it. On the second working day after the abortion, the woman's employment contract was unilaterally terminated due to "diluted performance and breached trust."
The employer referred to an alleged performance review a few days before the abortion and said that there had been no improvement in her performance since then. Additionally, they cited testimonies from several managers during the court proceedings to show that the employee was not performing well.
However, the timing of the dismissal and the lack of serious reassessment of the employee pointed to a link between the dismissal and the termination of her pregnancy. The former employer did not provide any objective evidence for the dismissal reasons cited and the court found the testimonies too vague and unreliable.
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The labour court ruled in February 2023 that this dismissal was motivated by the abortion and therefore constituted gender discrimination.
Pregnancy- and maternity-related discrimination is still a major social problem in Belgium: three in four working women experience discrimination, unequal treatment or tension at work because of pregnancy or motherhood.
This type of complaint also constitutes the majority of women's work-related reports to the Institute. Almost one in three reports in the work domain (29%) relates to pregnancy or motherhood.