'Dismissive & belittling' | Pregnant worker branded 'emotional & hormonal' after raising concerns about high workload

Pregnant worker branded 'emotional & hormonal' after raising concerns about high workload

A pregnant employee has won an employment tribunal after being labelled “very emotional and tearful” by her boss after raising concerns about her workload.

Nicola Hinds is in line for compensation on the grounds of pregnancy discrimination, after her boss stereotyped her as “an emotional, hormonal pregnant woman”, with an employment judge declaring the description of her as “dismissive and belittling”.

Hinds, 37, was described as such in an email by boss Nav Kalley while working at outsourcing business Mitie, after reportedly raising concerns about her workload. 

Hinds’ boss, Nav Kalley, was “stereotyping [her] as an emotional, hormonal pregnant woman” and that in the particular circumstances his description of her as emotional and tearful was dismissive and belittling”, the tribunal found.

Hinds had notified her superiors that she was pregnant in April 2020. Later that year in October, she admitted to struggling with her workload and suffering panic attacks as a result.

Judge Tynan heard evidence that, rather than responding to Hinds’ concerns appropriately, he instead emailed another colleague, describing Hinds as “very emotional and tearful especially”. 

“I am very frustrated with this as she is certainly not overworked and we have been very supportive in helping her manage her workload,” Kalley wrote.

The email suggested Hinds should go on unpaid leave, the tribunal was told.

Roger Tynan, the employment judge overseeing the case, stated: “The inference was that she was not fully in control of her emotions because of the pregnancy and that she was making unreasonable demands as a result, when in fact she was experiencing significant work related stress in the advanced stages of her pregnancy, had suffered two panic attacks in short succession, felt overwhelmed, was worried about letting others down but equally concerned that she might become seriously unwell.”

Meetings were held with managers in the summer of 2021 to discuss Hinds’ needs upon returning from maternity leave but, having felt the discussions were “inadequate”, Hinds handed in her notice in September 2021. 

She later launched an employment tribunal appeal over her boss’s handling of her complaints, which have now been upheld by Judge Tynan, who ruled:

“In our judgement, [Mitie]’s cumulative treatment of [Hinds] over the period following her return from maternity leave until September 2021 was of itself sufficiently serious as to be destructive of trust and confidence thereby entitling her to resign from her employment.

“We are satisfied that the failure to undertake a risk assessment, together with Mr Kalley’s inaction in October 2020 were material factors in her decision to resign.”

A compensation figure is to be determined at a future hearing.

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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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.

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 thousand 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 has received Royal Assent.

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, previously told HR Grapevine: “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 commented: “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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Lead Evangelist EMEA of Snowflake, Eva Murray, added: “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.”

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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