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HR Magazine quotes Nick Hawkins on a pregnancy discrimination case and what companies need to be mindful of

A marine biologist has won more than £100,000 in a pregnancy discrimination case after she was made redundant from her job at a university despite it claiming it would protect 'vulnerable' workers during the pandemic.

Nick Hawkins, Senior Associate, provides comment for HR Magazine on the case, why this redundancy was discriminatory and why companies need to be careful in such situations.

He comments:

“The law, specifically The Equality Act 2010, prohibits discrimination in employment in respect of the nine protected characteristics including pregnancy and maternity. It says that it is unlawful for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy during the protected period (which basically begins when pregnancy does, and ends after maternity leave); or because of an illness she has suffered as a result of her pregnancy during the same period, or because she is on compulsory maternity leave, or she is exercising or seeking to exercise, or has exercised or sought to exercise, the right to ordinary or additional maternity leave. It becomes a matter of evidence – and the courts will typically look beyond just documentary evidence and will take into account comments made to an employee such as in this case those made by the manager hearing the appeal -  when determining whether the real reason behind a decision was discriminatory. In this instance it seems the tribunal did not view Ms Law’s redundancy as genuine (which could have been a fair and lawful reason to dismiss her even though she was pregnant) and that she had been discriminated against.

This decision also demonstrates that employers should take complaints received from employees seriously and that when appeals are heard, they are done so from a place of impartiality and open mindedness. In this instance it seems the Employment Tribunal took a dim view of the dismissive manner in which Ms Law’s appeal was heard, and that indeed there was a case to answer in respect of her unfavourable treatment.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is not uncommon but the number of cases that make it to tribunal are small. The Equality and Human Rights Commission previously conducted detailed research which showed that as much as 77% of working mothers reported potentially discriminatory or negative experiences, with only around a quarter raising the issue with their employer, and only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure. More strikingly less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal, no doubt for a variety of reasons but one can be certain that the costs of litigation would be a significant factor. In this matter, it was notably impressive that Ms Law represented herself.”

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