Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Discrimination – What are Your Rights?Free 20 minutes employment consultation
In a recent court case, a hairdresser’s redundancy was found to be related to pregnancy and maternity leave discrimination despite her boss maintaining it down to ‘business reasons’.
Employment Tribunal Rules Maternity Leave Discrimination
The employment tribunal ruled the hairdresser was discriminated against by her employer. This was due to her employer sacking her only four days after she informed her employer she was pregnant while on maternity leave.
The remote tribunal found that Miss Black had reminded her employer of her legal rights when they tried to dismiss her during her first pregnancy. Additionally, she was the only employee to be “paid off” after disclosing her second pregnancy.
The owner of the business claimed that there was a “genuine redundancy situation” as it was struggling financially. However, they were unable to provide the balance of probabilities that the decision was not related to Miss Black’s newly announced pregnancy of her second child.
Miss Black started working at the Glasgow salon as a barber back in October 2019. She came with several years of experience. Additionally, she knew that the business was “historically not very profitable”. In 2020, Miss Black became pregnant with her first child, and as a result, her employer tried to immediately terminate her employment.
Miss Black’s husband informed her of her employment rights which she informed her employer of. After this, the employer dropped the proposal.
What Are Your Employment Rights When Experiencing Maternity Leave Discrimination?
It’s unlawful to discriminate against an employee because:
- They are pregnant
- They are experiencing a pregnancy-related illness
The protection against discrimination lasts for a specific period called the protected period, which starts when you become pregnant.
If you have the right to maternity leave, the protected period ends when your maternity leave ends or when you return to work. All employees have the right to take maternity leave.
If you’re treated unfavourably after this, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.
Once you’ve given birth, it’s also unlawful to discriminate against you for one of these reasons:
- you’re on maternity leave
- you’ve been on maternity leave
- you’ve tried to take your entitled maternity leave
If you’re not sure if your employer has treated you unfavourably, you can read more about discrimination claims here.
Unprofitable Businesses Leading to Maternity Leave Discrimination
In February 2020, the business was becoming “quiet and unprofitable”, and Miss Black agreed to reduce her hours to help the company. In addition, the employees agreed to flexible, reduced hours.
The business was further affected by the impact of the pandemic. This resulted in Miss Black being furloughed from March to July 2020. She then went on maternity leave until 10 April 2021 following the birth of her first child.
In November 2020, the business reopened briefly but a further lockdown meant it closed again until 5 April 2021.
The employer’s accountant “emphasised” the need to cut costs and suggested that the employer should contact Acas if she were to consider redundancies.
In March 2021, Miss Black met with her employer to discuss her return to work. Together, they agreed her return to work would be on 12 April. On return she would work 16 hours a day. This worked well for Miss Black as she wanted to spend time with her newborn and the hours would not interfere with her universal credit.
Shortly after, Miss Black shortly discovered that she was pregnant with her second child. On 7 April, she informed the salon that she would return as planned a few days later.
Paid Off to Leave a Business
On the day that Miss Black returned to work, she was informed by her employer that she was being “paid off”. When Miss Black asked if any other employees were also being paid off, she was informed they were not. The tribunal also discovered that no other staff members had their hours reduced, as Black was initially led to believe.
Maternity Leave Discrimination Resulting in Employees’ Redundancy
Miss Black informed the tribunal that she was “distressed and upset” by the redundancy. In addition, she had since separated from her husband and was anxious about how, as a newly single mother, she could afford to support her family.
Miss Black was already taking medication for epilepsy. However, the stress of the maternity leave discrimination caused her to have an epileptic fit and spurred the need for her to be on a stronger dose of medication.
As a result, Miss Black has not worked since her redundancy.
Court Rules in Favour of Employee Who Experienced Maternity Leave Discrimination
The tribunal ruled that Miss Black was a credible and reliable witness. In addition, they ruled the employer was a credible and reliable witness. This is with the exception being when they were asked to explain the decision to make Miss Black redundant as well as the reasoning for the redundancy. The employer claimed that there was a “genuine redundancy situation.” However, Miss Black argued that she was “simply chosen” after revealing she was pregnant.
The employment judge stated that the employer was not a “persuasive witness”. This was because she was unable to prove on the balance of probabilities that Miss Black’s dismissal was not on the grounds of her pregnancy.
The tribunal ruled that the timing and conjunction of events as well as the past actions of the employer when discovering Miss Black’s first pregnancy was “sufficient in our view to allow us to draw inferences of discrimination”.
Discrimination on the Grounds of Pregnancy and Injury to Feelings
Miss Black was awarded £7,500 for discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and injury to feelings. She additionally noted that the employer “resisted” the decision by arguing her redundancy was for business reasons.
Unfortunately, Miss Black’s case highlights one of many cases of maternity discrimination and pregnancy discrimination. However, it proves that financial issues are no excuse for discrimination.
Even though the pandemic has hurt many businesses, the case serves as a reminder that the tribunal will always look at all historic events that may prove maternity discrimination. The order of events is always important. Even without explicit evidence, the court can infer discrimination from past events.
Once an employer has stated they feel discriminated against, it is then up to the employer to prove that they had grounds for their actions. If an employer cannot find justification, the employment tribunal will rule the case in the employee’s favour.
Legal guidance and support with discrimination at work claims
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Our expert employment law team will assess your situation and help you understand what your rights are. If you choose to bring a discrimination claim against your employer for workplace discrimination we will be by your side throughout the process, supporting you and ensuring that you get full compensation.
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