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Was decision to dismiss employee related to her pregnancy?

View profile for Emily Yeardley
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Where an employer decides to dismiss an employee without knowledge of the employee’s pregnancy but it discovers, prior to dismissal, that she is pregnant, a tribunal may be asked to consider whether the dismissal was related to the employee’s pregnancy. A recent tribunal ruling examined this question in Thompson v Really Easy Car Credit Limited.

The Facts

Miss Thompson began working for Really Easy Car Credit Limited (the ‘Employer’) as a tele-sales operator on 20 June 2016. During her initial 3-month probationary period the Employer alleged it was disappointed with her performance. The Employer also felt that Thompson was having trouble fitting in with the other employees and the general ethos of the company. Thompson asserted that this was never communicated to her directly, a point which was contested by the Employer.

On 25 July 2016, Thompson found out she was pregnant. On 2 August 2016 Thompson attended hospital as a result of abdominal pain. She notified her Employer that she could not attend work that day due to illness and she was at hospital as she had been in pain since Saturday. The Employer was unhappy that she had left it until Tuesday (she did not work on Mondays) to attend hospital. One of the Employer’s shareholders wanted to dismiss Thompson at that stage. 

Upon her return, there was an issue between Thompson and a customer causing her to become emotional. She went home. The Employer spoke to Thompson about this and a decision to dismiss was made on 3rd August 2016. The same day, a letter was prepared but it was decided that the Employer would delay delivery until Thompson had returned to work.

On 5th August 2016 Thompson notified the Employer that she would return the following day and also confirmed she was pregnant. Thompson attended work and was dismissed.

Claims

Thompson brought a claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination and alleged that her dismissal was automatically unfair as it was related to her pregnancy. Her claims succeeded.

In its judgment, the tribunal held that the delay in delivering the letter had given the Employer “the opportunity to review its action in the light of the knowledge of Thompson’s pregnancy which clearly had a bearing on the behaviour that the respondent considered was the final straw”. It considered that it must have been obvious to the employer that her attendance at hospital and subsequent emotional state were pregnancy related.

Therefore, even though the employer had no knowledge of pregnancy at the time it decided to dismiss, it failed to satisfy the tribunal that the dismissal was unrelated to her pregnancy.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this case, please contact a member of the Employment Department.

This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.

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