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Image: picture-alliance/dpa/empics/Pa Wire/A. Devlin

Pregnant women not immune from redundancy: ECJ

Alistair Walsh with dpa
February 22, 2018

Pregnant women and new mothers are normally afforded immunity from workplace dismissal under EU law. But a new ruling allows employers a possible workaround.


The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that pregnant and breastfeeding women in the European Union lose their protection from workplace dismissal in the event of a mass redundancy.

EU law normally bars employers from knowingly firing pregnant women from the start of their pregnancy until the end of their maternity leave, barring exceptional cases.

Read more: Women in Germany balance career goals with pressure to parent

What the court ruled

  • Employers can dismiss pregnant and breastfeeding women as part of a collective redundancy, if national law allows.
  • Employers do not need to specify additional grounds to dismiss pregnant women other than those justifying the collective dismissal, if national law allows and the women are informed of the redundancy criteria.
  • EU law overrides national laws that do not adequately protect pregnant women from dismissal.
  • EU law does not afford pregnant women priority to be retained or redeployed during a redundancy round, but national law may provide additional protections.

Expecting at 60

Union response

The German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB) told DPA news agency it was disappointed with the ruling, but said pregnant women were still well protected under German law.

"In Germany, pregnant women can be dismissed in exceptional cases, but the highest state authority responsible for occupational health and safety must give its consent in individual cases, and the employer must have this consent before the dismissal is issued," said Helga Nielebock, head of the DGB legal department. "That's effective protection."

Read more: European court rules lesbian woman has no right to paternity leave

The original case: The ECJ ruled on the issue at the behest of a Spanish court, which was hearing the case of a Spanish woman who was dismissed by a bank in Catalonia as part of a mass redundancy at the end of 2013 while she was pregnant. Her employer had set the criteria for the redundancies nine months earlier, but the woman argued she was covered by EU law.

What the EU law says: The law in question is Directive 92/85/EEC, known as Pregnant Workers Directive 1992. The directive provides a series of workplace protections for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or new mothers. The directive:

  • excuses such women from work that involves exposure to potentially dangerous products, tasks, processes, movements, and stress,
  • excuses such women from working night shifts when medically indicated,
  • legislates a minimum maternity leave of 14 weeks, two weeks of which should occur before birth (premature deliveries can derail this),
  • prohibits workers from being dismissed barring exceptional circumstances.

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