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Employment tribunal awards £15,000 to claimant who was dismissed whilst on maternity leave

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Three in four mothers say they have had a negative or discriminatory experience

It has been reported that a former employee at an accountancy firm has been awarded a sum of £15,995 by the employment tribunal, after it ruled in her favour that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her pregnancy.

It is reported that the claimant had her employment terminated via email shortly after going on maternity leave. The claimant’s boss had purportedly told her that her pregnancy had “ruined” his plans for her and made negative remarks regarding her prospects in the company, after she informed him of her pregnancy.

The claimant was successful in her claims of unfair dismissal and pregnancy discrimination, with the tribunal awarding £15,436 in compensation for injury to feelings. It has been reported that a hearing to determine the award for loss of earnings will be held at a later time, where consideration would be given to the claimant’s difficulty in finding new employment after her maternity leave came to an end.

It is understood that the employment tribunal heard that comments made by the claimant’s boss, such as “that would have been your new office but now you will be leaving soon”, and his alleged statement that her pregnancy had “ruined” his plans, unnerved her and left her feeling insecure in her role.

It is reported that the claimant had to go on maternity leave early in light of health risks, on the advice of her midwife. Whilst it is understood that her employer responded that he understood where she was coming from, he later terminated her employment via email with one weeks’ notice, describing her to have not been entirely focused on work when she was in the office, contrasting the same with her “vigour and enthusiasm” when she initially joined the company five months prior.

The tribunal found in favour of all of the claimant’s claims, deeming that the principal reason for the termination of her employment was her pregnancy, and not performance concerns, as the employer had tried to argue. The judge being reported to have stated that the same was an issue “contrived to provide an excuse for terminating her employment.” It is reported that the judge went on to state that “to dismiss someone because they are to take maternity leave is significant and to do so in such an offhand manner by email, without even speaking to them about the alleged reasons and giving them a chance to respond, is particularly egregious.”

It is understood that, to date, the claimant has been awarded £15,995 in compensation, with further remedy hearings to take place in due course.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to treat someone unfavourably because they are pregnant, or for a reason relating to their pregnancy, such as taking maternity leave, or a pregnancy-related illness.

Section 4 of the legislation deems pregnancy and maternity to be a protected characteristic, and therefore the unfavourable treatment on these grounds contravenes the act and constitutes discrimination.

The legislation rules that a claim for discrimination in the workplace should be made within three months, less one day, of the discriminatory act itself. The tribunal is very strict in applying these time limits, so acting promptly is critical.

Getting the right advice

Stephensons' employment and discrimination teams are experts in this field, providing specialist advice to both individuals who may have been subject to discrimination, or businesses faced with accusations of discrimination.

Should you require any advice or assistance in relation to your business or employment due to the issues raised in this case, please contact us on 0161 696 6170.

By Abbie Seddon, employment and discrimination advisor