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Pregnant Employee Dismissed for Taking Sick Days

A pregnant employee who worked for her employer for only a week has won her automatic unfair dismissal and pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims. The employee had been dismissed for taking two days off sick for a reason connected to her pregnancy.

This case highlights some of the protections pregnant employees have and is a reminder that it is important to ensure that the dismissal of any employee is lawful – even if they have only been employed for a short time.

The Facts of the Case

In Wright v Coupland Cavendish t/a Gowing Law Solicitors the employee was employed as an administrator and started work on 18th March 2019. The employee was pregnant at the time her employment started and was suffering from pregnancy related hyperemesis which caused nausea and vomiting. She was absent from work due to this on 21st and 25th March 2019. On the afternoon of 25th March, the employer dismissed the employee by email.

The employee complained to the employment tribunal that she had been automatically unfairly dismissed for a reason related to her pregnancy, that she had been subjected to direct pregnancy/maternity discrimination and that the particulars of the reasons given for her dismissal were inadequate or untrue which was in breach of the Employment Rights Act.

Shortly before the day of the employment tribunal hearing the employer’s solicitors contacted the employment tribunal and admitted that the principal reason for the employee’s dismissal was a reason connected with her pregnancy. They agreed that the reason for the employee’s dismissal was the fact that she had been ill, which was the result of her pregnancy. The employer accepted that the employee had been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against.

That left only one claim to be decided at the hearing. In the bundle of documents, the Tribunal was provided with the email of 25th March 2019 which was the email which dismissed the employee. The conclusion of the email said that the reason for dismissal was that the employer was unable to rely on the employee. The Tribunal found that the reason given was the true reason for dismissal, albeit as accepted by the employer, that it was an unfair and discriminatory reason. The claim for giving inadequate or untrue reasons for dismissal therefore failed.

The employer was ordered to pay the employee just over £23,000 for the automatic unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Kingfisher’s Advice

It’s important to be aware of some of the rights pregnant employees have in order to avoid falling foul of the law when managing such an employee in your workplace. As is highlighted by this case, an employee shouldn’t be dismissed or discriminated against because of her pregnancy, but what are some of the other key rights employers should be alert to?

  • Pregnant employees have the right to a reasonable amount of paid time off to attend appointments for antenatal care, which are made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor.  Antenatal care includes medical examinations and may also include other appointments, for example, relaxation classes and parent-craft classes.
  • Pregnant employees are entitled to take maternity leave regardless of how long they have worked for you. The maximum amount of statutory maternity leave a woman is entitled to take is 52 weeks. Your employee doesn’t have to take the full 52 weeks maternity leave but she must take a minimum of two weeks’ leave after her baby is born (or four weeks if she works in a factory).
  • If you dismiss an employee for asserting certain statutory rights, such as the right to paid time off for antenatal care or maternity leave, this is another way in which a dismissal can be automatically unfair.
  • Whether they are pregnant or not, employees may be able to complain to an employment tribunal if they feel they have been constructively dismissed due to the way in which you have treated them so it’s important to remember that you need to act reasonably and fairly.

If you have any questions regarding pregnancy and maternity rights or you are considering terminating the employment of one of your employees, please contact Kingfisher Professional Services for advice on the facts of your case.