Employment lawyer warns against pregnancy discrimination following case success
Following its latest positive outcome in an unfair dismissal tribunal, Yorkshire law firm Ison Harrison is urging employers to ensure they don’t fall foul of discrimination laws against staff members.
The call comes after leading employment lawyer Yunus Lunat successfully acted for a Leeds hotel executive who was unfairly dismissed after being discriminated against due to pregnancy.
Following a four-day hearing at the Leeds Employment Tribunal, the claimant who comes from Leeds, was found to have been constructively unfairly dismissed. The claimant was also subjected to direct pregnancy and maternity discrimination by her employer, Weetwood Hall Hotel in north Leeds.
The claimant was approaching the end of a period of maternity leave when she made a flexible working request to enable a better work-life balance. Prior to her meeting to discuss the request, the claimant discovered she was pregnant again. She informed her employer promptly prior to the meeting. At the meeting, the flexible working request was refused. The claimant then decided to return to work full-time and informed her HR manager.
A further meeting was arranged where the claimant was offered a termination package to end her employment. She was strongly encouraged by an external firm instructed to accept the offer. At the same time she was informed that complaints had been raised against her and that the financial health of the business might force redundancies in the future, as further incentives for her to accept the offer.
Reasons provided by the employer for the termination offer included that the claimant had expressed concerns about childcare availability and costs, which were found to be without foundation, and that the only reason she might be returning to work was to qualify for another period of maternity.
The claimant refused the offer and tendered her resignation on the basis that the settlement offer was only made as a result of the disclosure that she was pregnant again. The Tribunal agreed and the claimant was successful in her claims.
The Tribunal had no hesitation in concluding that the principal reason for making the termination offer was because of pregnancy and maternity rights, which also meant that the dismissal was automatically unfair. For the purposes of the Equality Act, the making of the termination offer was materially influenced by pregnancy and maternity.
Yunus Lunat commented: “This case provides a word of caution for employers who believe that they are protected by Section 111A of the Employment Rights Act. Whilst in most cases, off the record communications cannot be used as evidence in a claim, this does not apply in circumstances where anything said or done was improper. Discrimination and undue influence are included in the categories of improper behaviour, as seen in this instance.
Employers should be extremely cautious before opening termination discussions with pregnant staff.“
Yunus Lunat heads up Ison Harrison’s employment law department and has a wealth of experience in all the major aspects of employment law.
Yunus is heavily involved in football governance and administration where he puts his expertise in equality and discrimination to good use to help effect a positive change in society and sport. He has advised the Football Association on Race Equality matters since 2004 as a member of the Race Equality Advisory Board, latterly as Chair in April 2013, when he became the first Muslim in the FA’s 150 year history to take a seat on the full FA Council.
Yunus is also appointed by the FA to act as a specialist Chairman to its Discrimination Panel to chair discrimination cases and also sits on the FA General Appeals Panel and as Chair of the CRB Panel.
Yunus regularly appears in the local and national media to discuss discrimination issues both in sport and in the workplace.
Ison Harrison has 13 offices across the region and provides a full range of legal services for both business and private clients ranging from residential conveyancing, family and probate matters to personal injury and debt recovery.