A recent article in PM Daily by Emily Burt describes how a woman has been awarded £25,000 in compensation after an employment tribunal ruled she had been unfairly dismissed after she became pregnant (Telegraph & Argus – 1st June -17). Daniella Lewandowski said she had suffered “a year of hell” after losing her job at the Bradford District Apprenticeship Training Agency, which she joined in 2015.
Lewandowski was initially employed on a year-long contract due to end in March 2016. She said her employer told her the contract would be extended for a year, but after the news of her pregnancy came to light she was informed this would no longer happen.
Lewandowski told Leeds Employment Tribunal that her contract had been verbally extended in early 2016 after she had been promoted and awarded a pay increase. However, the agency did not provide written confirmation of the extension.
Lewandwoski said she spent five weeks “chasing” the written terms of her extended contract, which would have kept her in her role until March 2017. She was later dismissed, shortly after announcing her pregnancy.
“I loved my job – I was punished for being pregnant,” she said, adding that the experience had caused her to lose trust and confidence in her current and future employers.
The agency denied Lewandowski lost her job because of her pregnancy, telling the tribunal that she was dismissed because of redundancy, and that her fixed-term contract had expired.
However, the tribunal found that the agency had offered “unreliable” evidence. The tribunal said the agency’s behaviour was “substantially and procedurally unfair”, stating that firing an employee over their pregnancy was a “serious act of discrimination”.
“This decision reinforces that, in cases of pregnancy discrimination, the tribunal will not simply accept on face value the reason for dismissal put forward by an employer,” said Naeema Choudry, partner at Eversheds Sutherland.
“The tribunal will undertake a thorough evaluation of the facts and evidence to determine whether there is an inference of discrimination. While it is not unlawful to make a pregnant employee’s role redundant, if the decision is linked to the pregnancy it will amount to unlawful discrimination and unfair dismissal. Similarly, if the contract of employment of a pregnant worker is not renewed because of her pregnancy or future maternity leave, this would also amount to unlawful discrimination.”
Lewandowski was awarded £9,130 for financial loss of earnings including interest, £15,600 for injury to feelings and £435 for loss of statutory rights.
“As there is no cap on the amount of compensation that a tribunal can award in a claim for discrimination, specialist legal advice should be sought if an employer is considering terminating the contract of a pregnant worker,” said Choudry.
Karen Jackson, managing director at didlaw, added: “Any time an employer tries to frame a dismissal as a redundancy when it is not will get them in very hot water. They can expect the harshest of responses from a tribunal and for the injury to feelings award to feel like a punishment even though that is not how it is calculated.”
A Bradford District Apprenticeship Training Agency spokesman apologised for the “unintended” distress caused. “We understand that this has been a very difficult case for the individual involved and are sorry for any distress caused, albeit unintended,” he told the Telegraph and Argus. “We are now considering the tribunal judgment and we will look to learn lessons from it.”
Matthew from Consensus HR states “Somebody telling an employer they are pregnant should not be seen as an excuse to get rid of them whether they are a permanent employee or a temporary one. Specific measures should be put in place to ensure everything runs smoothly when the employee goes on maternity leave such as recruiting an interim member of staff. I am not saying it is easy but we must ensure that women are not discriminated against due to their sex and this area of nature. The practicalities of shared maternity leave should also be explored and assumptions not made immediately once being told “I am Pregnant!” “
Employment Law is just one of the many areas that Consensus HR can help & support your business and one that we have a lot of experience in ensuring you do not end up in and Employment Tribunal with an award of £25,000 to pay.