Informed of an employee’s pregnancy? Choose your words carefully…

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When an employee announces that she is pregnant, the prospect of maternity leave, and the potential managerial difficulties it may cause, could well enter an employer’s mind. However, as an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, employers need to be careful that they don’t show their frustration or make comments which may upset the employee and, as this employee described, “put a downer” on her happiness about her pregnancy.

The case concerned a woman who worked under a fixed, six-month contract for a company providing social work support to local authorities. She expressed concern to a manager about visiting a client’s home, where a child was suspected to be suffering from a communicable infection.

When she told the manager that she was pregnant, the manager responded with the comment, “We’ve only just put you on a contract.” Thereafter, the woman’s workload was substantially reduced, and her employment was terminated shortly after the expiry of her contract.

The ET found that her pregnancy was not the reason for her dismissal. Her reduced workload resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, and she had not been treated less favourably than two colleagues who were also on six-month contracts and who also lost their jobs

However, the ET found that the manager’s comment amounted to unfavourable treatment based on her pregnancy. It was motivated by her frustration that a recently appointed and valuable member of staff might not be able to carry out her full range of duties and would thereafter be taking maternity leave. For the injury to her feelings, the woman was awarded £4,500 in compensation, plus interest. The employer was also, perhaps, lucky in this case that it was able to establish that pregnancy was not the reason for her dismissal due to the obvious reduction in work and other comparable colleagues also being dismissed. In many cases it will not be so easy, and comments such as this one could well make it difficult for the employer to show that the pregnancy played no part in the decision.

Our highly experienced Employment Law team can assist you in dealing with any issues arising as a result of pregnancy or maternity to ensure that you do not act in breach of the law. For advice and guidance please contact us today.

Rachel Fereday

Partner and Head of Litigation & Employment

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