And employment tribunal has ruled that asking a pregnant woman whether she’s coming back to work before she goes on maternity leave is discrimination.
Laura Jo Duffy, who worked as a PA at Barnet, Enfield & Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust in North London, successfully sued the health service after her boss nodded towards her belly while asking about her forthcoming plans.
A hearing in Watford was told that the NHS employee was also asked by a coworker if she’d informed managers she wouldn’t be returning after maternity leave, even though she’d never said what her intentions were.
The tribunal ruled this comment was based on a stereotypical assumption about new mothers not returning to employment.
Laura Jo Duffy, who was accused of planning her baby to achieve a promotion, is now in line for compensation after winning her claim of pregnancy discrimination.
At the time, Laura Jo Duffy was paid as a Band Four-level employee, meaning she earned up to £25,000 a year.
The NHS worker, whose pregnancy was deemed high risk, was told in August 2019 there was to be restructuring to the personal assistant team and bosses planned to automatically match her position to a new band five roles, where salaries are increased to up to £28,000.
The tribunal heard her coworker, fellow PA Joanne Cleasby, was annoyed about this because she believed it was unfair for Ms Duffy to be job matched when she herself was told she would have to apply to be promoted to a higher band.
The hearing was told Ms Cleasby wrongly thought Ms Duffy was receiving preferential treatment because she was pregnant, and complained to colleagues.
In its decision, the tribunal said that Ms Cleasby made two unwanted remarks related to Ms Duffy’s pregnancy, i.e., that she planned her pregnancy well and that she hadn’t told her boss that she wouldn’t be coming back after maternity leave.
And that the reason Ms Cleasby said those things was because she was vexed and resentful about what she perceived was Ms Duffy’s unfair preferential treatment.
The tribunal ruled the remarks were discriminatory because Ms Duffy’s pregnancy was a significant motivation behind them.
Employment Judge David Maxwell said that the question posed to Ms Duffy as to whether she had told her boss she wouldn’t be coming back after maternity leave was not based on anything Ms Duffy had said to Ms Cleasby about her intentions, instead, it involved a stereotypical assumption about new mothers not returning to work.
Surely the Health NHS Trust would have arranged to get temporary staff in to cover her maternity leave, so why would they need to know her plans after her baby was born? The baby hadn’t even been born yet, so this was just sour grapes from a colleague and the boss should have stamped it out. Instead, he just cost the Trust money and bad publicity.
The premise should be that people will return to work, comparable to when people are off work because they’re sick or on other leave such as bereavement, and it’s discrimination to be treated otherwise.
This isn’t fair to ask unless, of course, they ask every single member of staff what their intentions are going to be in six, nine or twelve months time, but of course, we don’t do that.
The big picture here is that it’s a totally unanswerable question, and there should be guidelines in place which cover any kind of long term leave.