£28k payout | HR worker was ordered to clean toilets after returning from maternity leave

HR worker was ordered to clean toilets after returning from maternity leave

An HR worker who was ordered to clean toilets after returning from maternity leave has been awarded more than £28,000 at an employment tribunal.

Sabbah Messum, an HR assistant at Bradford Management Services was left ‘degraded’ and ‘humiliated’ after finding herself demoted to housekeeping duties, accused of theft and subjected to a 'discriminatory regime' which penalised pregnant workers by creating a 'hostile' and 'intimidating' environment for them, the proceedings heard.

The 38-year-old mum-of-three represented herself at the employment tribunal hearing, and has been awarded more than £28,100 after the panel ruled she was subjected to a 'discriminatory regime' which penalised pregnant workers by creating a 'hostile' and 'intimidating' environment.

According to the proceedings, Messum began working at the Leeds-based firm in 2019. When she notified her employers later that year she was pregnant and would be taking maternity leave, her boss Dr Gul Nawaz Akbar reportedly became hostile, often shouting at Messum frequently and assigning her physically demanding tasks. 

When she briefly went off sick with a pregnancy-related illness several weeks before her maternity leave, Akbar refused her sick pay in an apparent act of punishment.

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Later, during her maternity period, Messum was falsely accused by the company of stealing food from the canteen and made to attend an investigatory meeting.

Her bosses warned her that if she did not attend, she might face a disciplinary hearing. 

When Messum returned to work many months after giving birth, her boss removed her from HR duties, first putting on a sales team then assigning her to housekeeping roles such as cleaning toilets, actions which the tribunal concluded were Akbar's actions were an attempt “to create a hostile or intimidating environment for her”.

But the employment judges were told that Messum was one of many pregnant employees treated this way by Akbar.

For example, on one occasion he told Messum herself to ‘get rid of’ a colleague who was expecting a child.

Messum resigned in February 2021 and launched appeal proceedings against the firm, which have now concluded with her victory and a five-figure compensation award.

Employment Judge Sarah-Jane Davies said: "[Messum] could see that Dr Akbar was treating her in the same way he had treated other women and knew that he wanted to get rid of her.

"She considered that the allegation of theft and demoting her to do general clerical work and housekeeping, including toilet cleaning, were to degrade and humiliate her and force her to leave the company.

"This was not a one-off act with continuing consequences, but was the operation of a discriminatory regime, or an ongoing state of affairs in which [Messum] was treated unfavourably."

Speaking after the case, Messum said: "I was told I didn't have a chance to win but I knew I was doing the right thing. I wanted other pregnant women to know how to get help on how to save themselves."

One in four 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.

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In February 2023, Parliament approved a Private Members’ Bill from Labour MP Dan Jarvis, which extended the legal rights of an employee from the moment they notify their employer that they’re pregnant, up to 18 months after they give birth.

The Barnsley Central MP said the proposal would help "tens of thousands of women pushed out of the workforce every year simply for being pregnant".

The bill, titled the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill has also been passed by the House of Lords and is currently awaiting Royal Assent before it officially becomes a law.

Research reveals a worrying 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 added: “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.”

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Comments (1)

  • Sabbah Messum
    Sabbah Messum
    Thu, 13 Jul 2023 6:11pm BST

    I just wanted to thank you for covering my story. It will help the other women who are vulnurable and are discriminated at workplace. It will give them courage to stand up for themselves. I highly appriciate it.


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