Women who are expecting babies or who have just given birth are covered by specific labour law provisions, particularly with regard to protection against dismissal. These provisions are frequently asked about at the "Guichet" support centre.
The protection of pregnant women against dismissal begins with the delivery of a medical certificate (by registered letter or hand delivery with signature required) informing the employer of the pregnancy, and ends 12 weeks after the birth. This protection is extended in the event of parental leave.
If a pregnant woman is dismissed before delivering the medical certificate of pregnancy, she may still retroactively benefit from the protection, by sending the certificate proving her pregnancy to her employer by registered letter within 8 days of receipt of the letter of dismissal.
Scope of protection for pregnant women
Pregnant women are protected against dismissal with notice – i.e. against a dismissal based solely on the employee's abilities or the company's operational needs.
On the other hand, pregnant women are not protected against dismissal with immediate effect – i.e. dismissal due to serious misconduct rendering continuation of the working relationship immediately and definitively impossible. However, in that case, the employer is required to follow specific procedures. The employer must immediately suspend the employee and ask the court for authorisation to dismiss her.
Procedure for nullifying a dismissal
A pregnant woman who is dismissed must request annulment of the dismissal within 15 days of the letter of dismissal being sent (not received).
Sending a medical certificate within 8 days following the dismissal does not reset the starting point for the limitation period, which still begins to run when the dismissal letter is sent.
In the event of an unfair dismissal or a dismissal that occurs during the period of protection, the dismissal will be declared null and the employee will remain with or be reinstated at the company.
Application for damages
Moreover, a pregnant woman may seek compensation for the harm suffered due to an unfair dismissal in the form of monetary damages within 3 months of the dismissal.
The pregnant woman may also pursue legal action to nullify the dismissal and/or claim damages.
Restoration of rights
If an employee was already pregnant at the time of her dismissal but was unaware of the pregnancy and allowed the 8-day period for delivering a certificate of pregnancy to elapse, she may ask the court to restore her rights – in other words to authorise her to pursue legal action to nullify the dismissal despite the expiry of the limitation period.
However, the courts retain the right to decide whether or not to grant that request.