A recent employment tribunal decision held that a former Marketing Director of a company with over 800 employees and a turnover of £76 million was discriminated against when she announced her pregnancy and took maternity leave. The claimant was awarded £30,000 in damages.
The claimant was earning £100,000 and was a member of the company's Group Executive team. She then notified the company's leadership team and colleagues of her pregnancy.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits unfavourable treatment in relation to pregnancy and maternity and the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides statutory rights in relation to pregnancy and maternity leave (for example, protection from dismissal).
What followed in the lead up to the claimant taking maternity leave, were a series of comments made by three senior male colleagues that Employment Judge Grewal deemed to be 'unfavourable treatment' and 'harassment related to sex'.
This included questions about when the claimant had stopped taking contraception, whether her pregnancy was planned and how she thought her pregnancy would affect her long-term career prospects. It was also alleged by the claimant that a member of the executive team had 'remarked that they should put a wager on how much weight she would put on during her pregnancy', although this comment was disputed at the tribunal.
Whilst the claimant found these comments offensive and humiliating, she did not formally present those complaints before going on maternity leave, as she did not want to spend it embroiled in litigation and was wary of making complaints against senior colleagues who had already made comments about her pregnancy affecting her long-term career prospects.
Whilst on maternity leave, the claimant received an 'out of the blue' email after six months that her role was at risk of redundancy and saw a restructure in which she had no role. Nobody had contacted the claimant when the restructure had been started months before. The company then treated the claimant unfavourably by going through a sham consultation process. This involved being offered to do the same job, under a differently named title, for a £20,000 pay cut. The claimant was also asked to attend the office four days a week where other male colleagues in equivalent roles of seniority were not. The role was made unattractive to the claimant (with a new-born child) so that she would refuse it and so was dismissed. Judge Grewal concluded in her judgement that the claimant's dismissal was unfair under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and a 'serious case' of maternity discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
The decision provides evidence of continued discrimination in the workplace for those wishing to take maternity leave and how discrimination can occur from the outset of announcing pregnancy.
It also highlights how redundancy protection for pregnant women and new mothers continues to develop. On 25 January 2019, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a consultation on extending this protection so that it applies from the date an employee notifies the employer in writing of her pregnancy, to the six months after her return from maternity leave. This legislation has yet to be brought in but Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary under Secretary of State for BEIS, has maintained that this redundancy protection will be brought in 'when parliamentary time allows'.
Employers will need to ensure that appropriate training, policies and processes are in place across their departments so that employees are well informed should pregnant and maternity discrimination arise. HR departments will need to have effective complaint procedures for employees who are discriminated against during the course of their pregnancy and maternity leave.
W Legal are able to provide any assistance and/or training in this area and would love to answer any questions either an employer or employee may have.
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