Staff pregnancies can be unsettling, particularly for small businesses with limited resources, but it is vital employers do not allow their decision-making to become tainted 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, the hair stylist 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 of her right of appeal.

The owner argued 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 to the business. An Employment Tribunal (ET), however, found the owner’s evidence in those respects was largely unsatisfactory and unreliable.

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

There was evidence 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.

For further advice please contact Jade Linton on 0121 746 3300, email j.linton@sydneymitchell.co.uk or fill in our online enquiry form

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