Ordering a HR worker to clean toilets after returning from maternity leave was discrimination

  • Discrimination
Changing job role after maternity leave
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

The case of Messum v Bradford Management Services serves as a useful reminder for employers that it is unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably when she is pregnant, on maternity leave and upon her return to the workplace.

 The claimant started working for the respondent in January 2016 as an Executive and HR Assistant. In February 2019 she notified the respondent that she was pregnant and that she intended to start her maternity leave in June 2019. The claimant asserted that the attitude towards her by her manager changed at this point as she was shouted out and assigned physically demanding tasks. When the claimant went off sick with a pregnancy related illness, she was refused sick pay and later, during her maternity period, she was falsely accused by her employer of stealing food from the canteen and made to attend an investigation meeting.

 When the claimant came back to work after her maternity leave her HR duties were removed. Initially she was put on a sales team and then assigned housekeeping duties which included cleaning toilets. The claimant was required and expected to work beyond her daily contracted hours and not paid for the required additional hours. The claimant was also discouraged generally from requesting annual leave to which she was entitled, with the effect that she did not take all her leave.

 In February 2021 the claimant resigned and brought claims of unfair dismissal, harassment, as well as pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

 The Employment Tribunal found that the fact that the claimant’s contract permitted flexibility and that whilst she agreed she might have to ‘pitch in’ on occasions this did not give the respondent the ability to remove a fundamental part of her job role and require her to undertake menial tasks such as laundry and cleaning instead. The tribunal found that this, requiring her to work additional hours and discouraging her from taking annual leave was conduct without reasonable cause that was calculated or likely to seriously undermine the mutual trust and confidence and a breach of express terms of her contract.

 The tribunal found that removing the claimant’s HR duties, which was in effect a demotion, was also unfavourable treatment and so it was not only a breach of contract but also pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The tribunal also found that she had been subjected to harassment as there had been a discriminatory regime against her which created a ‘hostile’ and ‘intimidating’ environment.  In total the claimant was awarded £28,100 in compensation.

 

This is a useful reminder that whilst employment contracts may have some flexibility built in this does not make it lawful to in effect completely change someone’s job duties. Also, that it is unlawful for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably during the protected period (from the beginning of pregnancy to the end of maternity leave) because of her pregnancy.

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