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Court of Justice of the European Union: Pregnant Women Retain Their Work Status

(June 30, 2014) On June 19, 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that a pregnant woman who was a French citizen working in the United Kingdom was entitled to income support after she discontinued her job in the United Kingdom. The woman, who had worked in the UK for a number of years, discontinued her job when she was six months pregnant and filed for income support with the UK authorities. (Judgment in Case C-507/12m Jessy Saint Prix v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (June 19, 2014), InfoCuria – Case-Law of the Court of Justice website; Press Release, European Court of Justice, CJE/14/86, A Woman Who Gives Up Work or Seeking Work, Because of the Physical Constraints of the Late Stages of Pregnancy and the Aftermath of Childbirth Can Retain the Status of “Worker” (June 19, 2014).)

The UK grants this income support to individuals with low income. Women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth may also qualify for this benefit. EU citizens from other Member States may be entitled to this benefit, provided that they have acquired the status of “worker” within the meaning of Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of citizens and their families to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. (2004 O.J. (L158) 77.) The UK authorities refused to give the applicant this benefit on the grounds that she had lost her status as a worker when she discontinued her job. Meanwhile, the applicant resumed work three months after the birth of her child. (Judgment, supra.)

The Supreme Court of the UK filed a preliminary question with the ECJ requesting a judgment on the issue as to whether a pregnant woman who gives up work or seeking work because of her being in the late stages of pregnancy and following childbirth qualifies as a worker under EU law. (Id.)

The ECJ noted that an EU citizen who no longer works may still keep the status of a worker in a number of cases provided by article 7(3) of the Directive, such as being temporarily unable to work, suffering involuntary unemployment, or undergoing vocational training. The ECJ noted that this is not an exhaustive enumeration of cases. The ECJ observed that Directive 2004/38/EC aims to facilitate the right of EU citizens to move and reside within the EU and cannot limit the scope of the notion of a worker. It went on to state that ECJ case law indicates that the classification of a worker and the rights that emanate from such status do not depend “on the actual or continuing existence of an employment relationship.” (Id.)

The ECJ held that in the circumstances of this case, the fact that the pregnant woman discontinued working during the last stage of pregnancy and immediately after giving birth does not deprive the woman of her status as a worker, “provided that she returns to work or finds another job within a reasonable time after confinement.” If it were otherwise, and EU citizens were under threat of losing their status as workers in the host state, EU citizens would be reluctant to move to another EU Member State. (Id.)

The ECJ left it to the discretion of the EU Members to determine what constitutes a reasonable time period after which a woman should to return to work following childbirth in order to retain her status as a worker. (Id.)