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Staff Pregnancies – Don’t Let Frustration Lead You into Discrimination!

Staff pregnancies can be disruptive, particularly for small businesses, but it is vital that employers do not allow their decision-making to become infected by discrimination. In one case, a hair stylist who was dismissed after she took time off, suffering from morning sickness, won the right to substantial compensation.

The stylist was a trusted and senior member of staff at a small hair salon. She had a positive and friendly relationship with the salon’s owner, who had come to rely heavily upon her. However, after discovering that she was pregnant with her fourth child, she began a period of sickness absence from which she was never to return. She was dismissed despite her GP having certified her as fit to go back to work and was not informed that she had a right of appeal.

The owner argued that her dismissal had nothing to do with her pregnancy. She was said to have exhibited a pattern of unreliable behaviour, including unauthorised absences and a number of occasions on which she brought her children to work, resulting in disruption. An Employment Tribunal (ET), however, found that the owner’s evidence in those respects was largely unsatisfactory and unreliable.

The ET accepted that the owner did have some concerns about the stylist’s history of absences and bringing her children to the salon. However, it noted that the stylist had been dismissed within a matter of weeks of telling the owner that she was pregnant and during a period of pregnancy-related sickness absence.

There was evidence that the owner had expressed frustration about the disruption that would arise from the stylist’s childcare arrangements and had said words to the effect that she only wished to employ people without children. The burden of proof fell upon the owner and the ET found on the evidence that the stylist would not have been dismissed had she not been pregnant.

The stylist’s complaints of direct pregnancy discrimination, under Section 18 of the Equality Act 2010, and of unfair dismissal, under Section 99 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, were both upheld. The amount of her compensation would be assessed at a further ET hearing.