A firm’s decision to demote an expectant mother, before sacking her during her maternity leave, has cost them £38,000 - a loss that should send a stark warning to companies that fail to take pregnancy and maternity rights seriously.
An employment tribunal heard that Abbey Gannapureddy felt “ashamed to be pregnant” and suffered with poor mental health following her treatment from bosses at Icestone Gelato in Chester.
Gannapureddy, 29, was an assistant manager at the time she became pregnant in 2019 but she was demoted during her pregnancy and put on minimum wage because she was unable to carry out some of her usual duties, including physical tasks such as lifting and moving tables.
Additionally, the court heard that a male colleague told Gannapureddy that she should not be working and that if he had a pregnant wife, he would not allow her to work.
Allegedly, when she raised these comments with a manager, she was told: "You'll need to look for another job."
The employment judge also heard that a pregnancy risk assessment was not carried out until six weeks before her maternity leave.
Gannapureddy left on maternity leave and gave birth to a son in November 2019, but she was not paid what she was owed. In May 2020, she received a letter confirming her redundancy.
The tribunal ruled the demotion, sacking and the lack of a risk assessment “was an act of pregnancy discrimination”. She was awarded £38,677 in compensation.
Pregnancy & maternity discrimination
This case shines a light on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. According to Acas, there are two types of pregnancy and maternity discrimination – unfavourable treatment and victimisation.
Unfavourable treatment occurs when an employee or job application is disadvantaged because of their pregnancy or maternity.
However, victimisation occurs when an employee suffers what the law deems as ‘detriment’ which is what causes a disadvantage, harm or loss as a result. This can include giving evidence relating to a complaint about discrimination or raising a grievance concerning equality or discrimination.
How to support employees going on maternity leave
Pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave if they provide employers with the correct notice, according to Acas. Yet employees aren’t obliged to take the whole 52 weeks if they don’t want to.
If you're not au fait with current maternity leave and pregnancy discrimination best practice, here are some tips the CIPD has provided:
Make employees aware of their rights and how to exercise them. Employees are often aware of obvious rights though it is crucial to communicate the less clear rights to them.
Employers must deal with flexible working requests in a reasonable manner. Workers with 26 weeks’ continuous service are entitled to request flexible working for any reason.
Make their right to return clear. While it is often tempting to recruit temporary staff to cover maternity leave, employers need to be careful not to overlook the fact that employees who have been absent for 26 weeks (or even less) are still legally entitled to resume their role.
UK maternity leave is lacking
But even when following the law to a tee, British and Irish firms are still falling behind compared to how other nations support their working parents.
A 2022 league table comparing statutory maternity pay shows the UK and Ireland aren't as maternity-friendly as most of their European neighbours. The rankings were produced by Boundless, a global employment platform, after analysing how individual countries compensated women as they become new mothers.
Bulgaria boasts Europe’s best maternity package. It allows new mothers to take a minimum of 58.6 weeks off (410 days), with its National Health Insurance Fund paying 90% of their full salary during leave (with a social security cap of £1,452 or €1,700).
By comparison, the UK offers new mothers up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, but they are entitled to just 90% of their average weekly pay for the first six weeks. In Ireland, new mothers get 42 weeks of maternity leave with £209 (€245) paid weekly for the first 26 weeks.
The UK and Ireland also fall short when it comes to paternity leave, with fathers getting up to two weeks’ leave, paid at £156.66 and €245 per week respectively. And, despite the UK offering up to 18 weeks’ parental leave, all of it is unpaid. Ireland is slightly better, with the government offering five weeks’ parental leave with £209 (€245) paid each week.
By comparison, Romania offers a very long parental leave to its citizens, with both parents entitled to 108.7 weeks of parental leave with 80% of their full salary paid.
The bottom line for HR
Despite it being an incredibly exciting time for most, pregnancy and early parenthood will always be fraught with stress and anxiety. However, no workplace should be contributing to the problem. The law is clear and so are the consequences for breaking it, as the eye-watering pay out from Icestone Gelato shows.
As the cost-of-living crisis rumbles on, new parents are also understandably concerned by the sub-standard maternity rights in this country. Food, energy and fuel costs are spiralling, with some families even left with no choice but to go without heating. It’s led to numerous calls from charity Maternity Action for the UK Government to increase the current basic rate which, for many women, is not enough for anyone to live on, let alone enough to raise a baby.