Morrisons must pay a mother £60,000 compensation after bosses discriminated against her when she returned to work from maternity leave.
An employment tribunal heard that Donna Patterson, a buyer in the supermarket giant’s online business was asked to fulfil the responsibilities of a full-time job, despite being a part-time worker, when she returned to work after having her second child.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Patterson said she was offered a new role, but this role “disappeared” after she told bosses about her pregnancy.
The supermarket restructured Patterson’s department while she was on maternity leave, and she was asked to take on a full-time role upon her return. Despite being on a part-time contract, she was reportedly told she could fulfil her duties in her allotted hours. She was told to "prioritise things a bit better and get your head in the right place and get your mindset right”, she told the BBC.
After being "called out" for "things not being finished on time", Patterson filed a grievance. She subsequently handed in her notice and launched tribunal proceedings after describing the firm’s HR process as having “totally failed” her.
A tribunal judge ruled that Patterson had been "unfavourably treated" and that Morrisons had demonstrated indirect sex discrimination.
A spokesperson for Morrisons said the firm “don't accept that we acted in an unfair way in this case and believe a number of the facts have been misrepresented and we are considering an appeal.”
Impressively, Patterson’s legal victory came as a result of representing herself at the tribunal, in a bid to avoid expensive legal costs.
‘A warning sign to other companies’
Joeli Brearley, chief executive of Pregnant Then Screwed, a charity which supported Patterson during her legal battle, said this case "happens to thousands of women every year but we rarely hear about it because the justice system makes it almost impossible to challenge discrimination in the workplace".
"All women want is to be heard. We want employers who listen to us, apologise when they get it wrong, and then do what is necessary to ensure it doesn't happen again," she added.
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"We are proud to have supported Donna through this ordeal. She is brave and tenacious and we hope the publicity of this case will be a warning sign to other companies thinking they can get away with discriminating against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace."
The impact of pregnancy & maternity discrimination on the UK workforce
While there are laws in the UK to protect pregnant employees and new parents, research reveals that indirect maternity discrimination prevails in the UK.
In fact, more than one in four (26%) expectant mothers feel reluctant to share their pregnancy news due to fear of the stigma they may face from colleagues and managers, according to new research from Culture Shift. This jumped to almost half (46%) for those who had been in employment for less than six months when they fell pregnant.
Concerningly, the research conducted among mothers who worked while pregnant reveals more than one in five (21%) know someone who has faced maternity discrimination* at work, while one in eight (12%) have themselves experienced it. More than one in ten (11%) say it was their manager who discriminated against them.
Gemma McCall, CEO at Culture Shift, said: “It’s devastating to see that so many expectant mothers feel reluctant to share their pregnancy news due to fear of negativity from their co-workers and managers. I experienced maternity discrimination during both of my pregnancies, so I know first-hand how such discrimination can impact those facing it.
“Having a child is a huge moment for parents and affects so many aspects of their life. Expectant mothers already have a lot to contend with as they prepare for the arrival of their little one and they shouldn’t have to be subjected to such behaviour which can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Not only this, but facing maternity discrimination can make expectant mothers feel incredibly isolated. Being pregnant should be an enjoyable experience for mothers, and they shouldn’t be exposed to such negative behaviour in their place of work.”
Expectant mothers are also noticing changes in the behaviour of their colleagues towards them with one in six (16%) saying they were treated negatively by their manager and one in 10 (10%) by fellow employees once they announced their news. One in six (16%) expectant mothers say this treatment resulted in them no longer feeling like a valued member of the team.
On how experiencing maternity discrimination at work impacted expectant mothers, the research uncovered:
16% say how they were treated at work while pregnant impacted their mental health
15% felt like their colleagues were talking about them behind their back
14% say their employer no longer recognised their good work
12% weren't invited to team socials
10% say their working hours were reduced when they told their manager they were pregnant
7% say they weren't included in team meetings
“It’s particularly concerning to see that for one in ten, the perpetrator is their manager, the very person employees should be able to confide in when they are in a challenging situation and who is meant to be setting an example for fellow colleagues,” added Gemma.
Despite the challenges faced by mothers, a report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, plus the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, suggests the situation is improving. The study from 2016 found three in four mothers (77%) said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and on their return from maternity leave. While half of mothers (50%) described a negative impact on their opportunity, status or job security**.
Gemma continued: “Our research has shown that maternity discrimination is a problem workplaces need to tackle, but it is good to see that there has been some improvement in the last six years. That said, for too many women maternity discrimination is still a reality. Employers need to ensure that they are fostering a supportive community where expectant mothers still feel valued for the contributions that they are making to the business.”