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Treatment by Employer Following Pregnancy Announcement Was Discrimination and Harassment

An employment tribunal has found that an employer discriminated against and harassed a new starter. The unlawful treatment started shortly after the employee told the Company she was pregnant. She was made to feel that the employer was not pleased that she had arrived at her new job already pregnant and was subjected to a number of incidents of negative treatment as a result. She had only been employed for a few weeks before she ultimately felt she had no choice but to resign.

The case of  Walker v Arco Environmental Ltd highlights the importance of employers being aware of the rights and protections the law gives pregnant women and the need to treat all employees appropriately in the workplace.

The Facts of the Case

Shortly after starting her Office Manager role the employee informed her employer that she was pregnant, and a number of incidents occurred including:

  • A director and his wife no longer wanting to speak to her.
  • The Managing Director asking the employee during a meeting if she already knew she was pregnant when she took the job. This led the employee to believe the employer considered her to have taken the job under some kind of false pretence when she knew she was already expecting a baby. She understood from the meeting that her suspected motivation for this was to obtain maternity pay from her new employer rather than her husband’s business where she previously worked.
  • Failing to respond to her written concerns about how she had been treated.

The employee subsequently resigned and complained to an employment tribunal that she had been discriminated against and harassed.

The employment tribunal agreed and found that:

  • The conduct of the meeting with the Managing Director and the employer’s failure to respond to her concerns amounted to unfavourable treatment because of her pregnancy and harassment. It was found that there was no other explanation for how she had been treated.
  • The other incidents that took place after she announced her pregnancy were found to be harassment because of sex as they were due to her pregnancy. The effect of the incidents was to create a hostile intimidating and offensive environment for her.

Advice

A key problem in this case seems to be that the employer did not have any knowledge or experience of managing pregnancy and maternity matters. At tribunal the Managing Director admitted to panicking about the HR issues he was concerned the employee’s pregnancy would cause and he confirmed that none of the management team had ever dealt with maternity arrangements before. This lack of awareness is likely to have contributed to the employee’s unlawful treatment.

Whilst dealing with pregnancy and maternity rights can seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be when you have help available. Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd is here to provide advice and support if you have any questions or concerns about pregnancy and maternity rights or discrimination and harassment.