A care home worker has been awarded £25,000 after her boss called her "pathetic" for needing a five minute break.
Wales Online reports that an employment tribunal was told Anna Burns, who was four months away from giving birth, asked to take a short tea break while working at a care home in Kent, only to told she was "treating her pregnancy as an excuse not to pull her weight".
An employment judge heard that Burns’ bosses accused her of already taking too many breaks that day, and refused to let her have another break in the afternoon. Burns added that her boss called her "pathetic" following this incident.
The next day, Burns went off sick and filed a grievance, citing an "ongoing culture of bullying and discrimination due to her pregnancy".
She decided not to return to the company after her maternity leave.
Employment Judge, Corinna Ferguson, concluded that the incidents did constitute discriminatory behaviour from the company.
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Judge Ferguson said: "Given that it is not in dispute the claimant had a good relationship with all staff before her pregnancy, and both incidents involved the claimant being accused of not doing her job properly, the most likely explanation for their conduct is that they had formed the view that the Cclaimant was treating her pregnancy as an excuse not to pull her weight.
"In the absence of any alternative and satisfactory explanation for them treating the Claimant in they way that they did, we are satisfied that the Claimant’s pregnancy was an effective cause of their behaviour on both occasions.”
The judge added: “...it was unjustified to use the word pathetic, whether directed at the claimant or the situation. She should not have made that kind of judgment until finding out more about the situation and in particular the claimant’s side of the story. We find this was unfavourable treatment, and it was because of [Burns’ boss] negative attitude towards the claimant and her pregnancy.”
Burns was awarded £24,460.52 in compensation.
Pregnancy & maternity discrimination
This case shines a light on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace.
The introduction of the Equality Act in 2010 meant that pregnancy and maternity became a protected characteristic – rather than having to raise claims under “sex discrimination”, which happened prior to 2010.
This means that any woman who is treated differently or unfairly during the period of her pregnancy, maternity leave, recently after giving birth or while breastfeeding could make a claim for discrimination.
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.
In a recent Insight piece for HR Grapevine, HR and employment law experts Moorepay revealed “not considering the employee for pay rises” was a common discriminatory practice against pregnant workers.
The big learnings 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.
With many businesses still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, it is understandable why bosses might be hesitant to give staff pay rises, particularly if they’re already having to pay an additional salary to someone covering a maternity role.
But the law is clear and so are the consequences for breaking it. And as this payout shows, discriminatory cost-cutting measures could have major long-term reputational and financial impact.