Tallinn hires top lawyers to fight laid-off mom

Liis Velsker
, reporter
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Having laid off a mother, a first, Tallinn City Office hired two sworn lawyers of Aivar Pilv Law Office for labour dispute committee with court case in view if needed. 

Maria (name altered – edit) has worked in the Tallinn city system for 17.5 years. Headed for parental leave with her second child in May of 2014, she suspected no ill. For her last four years, she had been working at development service of city office.

During parental leave, her employment contract was altered, and downgraded to a rank and file job to continue at financial services. For Maria (41 and Centre Party member), her former boss was picked as replacement.

Last November, the mother of two sons said she wanted to terminate the parental leave. Pursuant to decree, she was to come to work at the beginning of the new year.

Before Christmas, Maria went to see her new superior, Tallinn city financial director Katrin Kendra. «Ms Kendra told me my replacement had lost former managing position, seen a decline in salary and lost other benefits. And had done a good job the whole time. She wanted to help her and could not ditch her,» recalled Maria.

At the meeting, Ms Kendra had cited an example of a female employee earlier finding another job within the city government after two parental leaves in a row. She advised that Maria have recourse to staff department to find a new job. «She said she was keeping the replacement as she had already been working for a year and a half and settled on the job and she preferred her,» said Maria.

In January, Maria was no longer allowed to show up at work and kept having her stay at home extended by a weekly email.

After three weeks, following a city government session, city secretary Toomas Sepp signed termination of employment contract with Maria. In his written notification, he said they were aware she was raising a child aged three and under, but still decided to lay her off.

The law says parents of children aged 3 and below are to be preferred in case of lay-offs. The department in question had several equal options.  

«In my opinion a blatant and arbitrary behaviour,» said Oleg Gogin, providing legal assistance for Maria.

After Maria filed application to labour disputes committee, Tallinn begun to seek a compromise. They offered the woman a month’s salary to withdraw the plea and keep mum.   

On vacation at the moment and not available for comments, finance director Ms Kendra has referred at the beginning of March to a change of functions and structure while Maria was on parental leave, with only four of staff needed to do what seven used to toil at in the department in question.

After inquiry by Postimees, city press department said that labour dispute committee has proposed that the parties find a compromise. «City office has not ruled that out as the city has filed no complaint and we are not in it for an argument’s sake,» reads the reply.

«We have notified Maria (name altered – edit) and have met with her. Up to now, we have not seen any desire to solve the dispute wherefore the city is ready for court procedure if needed,» said the press service.

The city said use of legal assistants i.e. Aivar Pilv Law Office in this instance is the usual practice in labour disputes. For legal assistance costs, Tallinn has means earmarked in its budget.  

We never received an answer regarding why the woman was laid off. To labour dispute committee, Maria filed initial application to establish whether the termination. The lawyers countered with request for employment contract to be terminated and all lawful benefits for Maria cancelled. Then, Maria should return three months’ salary paid to her as lay-off was not announced in advance.

Thereat, Maria demanded that if Tallinn demands termination of labour contract , she be paid 1.5 year’s wages i.e. missed salary till child turns three.  

The labour dispute committee hold its session on April 13th. Maria believes that if the decision is in her favour, the city will sue. By the two sworn lawyer, she thinks they want to show her that once in court she would have to pay very large sums of money.


Procedure at Labour Dispute Committee

The committee receives claims to contest cancellation of labour contract from pregnant women, those on maternity or parental leave up to ten a year, and the decisions are about fifty-fifty.  

At the committee, employees usually represent themselves, legal assistance is sought in about a third of the cases. With employers, legal assistance is sought with almost a half of the cases.