'Sexist & belittling' | Woman sacked after telling employer she was pregnant

Woman sacked after telling employer she was pregnant

HR professionals across the UK are reminded they need to tread carefully when dealing with maternity and pregnancy matters, after one company was sued for firing an employee as soon as she told them she was pregnant.

Essex-based security system supplier CIS Services hired Charlotte Leitch in May 2021 as an admin assistant and she had only been in the position for a few weeks when she decided to reveal her pregnancy to the Head of Compliance, Nicola Calder. Leitch was worried as she had experienced many miscarriages in the past.

The new employee had already raised concerns over her employment contract which remained unsigned, and Calder, upon hearing Leitch’s news, responded by telling her she was not entitled to any maternity leave as she hadn’t yet signed her contract.

Calder had told Leitch: “We have no obligation to keep you on,” and, according to Employment Judge Carol Porter, went on take “advantage of the situation and took steps to terminate [Miss Leitch’s] employment, giving [her] options as to the date when she would leave, and seeking, in the first instance, to make out that this was a mutual agreement.”

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Porter continued: “However, as soon as [Ms Leitch] challenged that, Mrs Calder did not persist with that false assertion, but sent the letter confirming that the [assistant] had indeed been dismissed.”

“Having considered all the circumstances, we find that the principal reason for dismissal, the reason uppermost in Mrs Calder’s mind was (Ms Leitch’s) pregnancy and (her) history of pregnancy related illness.”

Leitch sued the company for pregnancy discrimination and unfair dismissal and was awarded nearly £15,000 in compensation.

She told the East London hearing she had been left “shocked” by the company's “sexist and belittling” behaviour and felt “degraded and worthless”.

Leitch sadly lost her baby within weeks of being sacked but hopes her case will help others facing pregnancy discrimination.

According to Metro, Leitch said after the hearing: "We can stand up for ourselves, and I’m happy that other women can use my case in the future, so it doesn’t happen to them.

"Employers don’t need to destroy people’s lives – every life matters. To put a pregnant woman through that is horrendous. You should not be bullied out of work.

"We can stand up for ourselves, and there is support. Go to ACAS – they can tell you what the rules are."

1 in 4 expectant mothers concerned about telling employers

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.

And the study, from Culture Shift, shows that this jumped to almost half (46%) for those who had been in employment for less than six months when they fell pregnant.

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In fact, pregnancy and maternity discrimination was the fifth most common discrimination claim from 2020 to 2021.

The claims were based on mostly the following subject matters:

  • Sham redundancies

  • Offensive comments to pregnant employees

  • Failure to implement flexible working options

  • Being overlooked for promotion

Are there laws to prevent maternity discrimination?

In the UK, there are laws to some extent to protect individuals during their pregnancy period.

The most common and implemented law is the Protected Period.

The Protected Period is under the Equality Act 2010. This period covers the start of when a woman’s pregnancy begins and ends. It also states that if the woman has the right to ordinary and additional maternity leave, the protected period will be at the end of the additional maternity leave period or (if earlier) when she returns to work after pregnancy.

Research reveals a different case

While there are laws in the UK to protect pregnant employees, research reveals that maternity discrimination prevails in the UK.

According to research from Culture Shift, more than one in five (21%) know someone who has faced maternity discrimination at work.

While one in eight (12%) have experienced maternity discrimination themselves.

Gemma McCall, the Co-Founder and CEO of Culture Shift, said: “Society assumes all women will become mothers- and yet, we don’t like it when they get pregnant and we employ them.”

Research also suggests that 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.

McCall, comments: “All of a sudden, this societal expectation we’ve been pushing onto them since birth becomes an inconvenience and so, it’s no surprise that 1 in 4 expectant mothers hide their pregnancy.”

Lead Evangelist EMEA of Snowflake, Eva Murray, puts forth: “We face so many expectations, no matter how we decide to live our lives. I’ve heard a friend once question whether a colleague of his should be promoted given she wanted a family.”

Also, Gav Winter, CEO of RapidSpike, states: “I’ve 100% heard senior people say that we shouldn’t employ women when they are childbearing age (settled, just married were the key ‘tells’ so I was told). I was disgusted.”

The comments and research reveal a common theme against pregnant individuals which is that indeed maternity discrimination is present in many businesses and various industries.

Maternity discrimination is a reality and to state otherwise would be denying the truth of what pregnant women witness within their workforce.

It’s vital to recognise the troubles that pregnant individuals can already face. Don’t add or reinforce maternity discrimination against an employee.

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