Unfairly dismissed for being pregnant three weeks into a new job

Continuing with the pregnancy theme, in the case of Eilise Walker v Arco Environmental, Ms Walker won her tribunal claims for unfair dismissal and pregnancy discrimination after being made to feel “intimidated” and “degraded” by her employer because of the perceived inconvenience her pregnancy would have on the business in terms of needing a temporary replacement.

Ms Walker worked at Arco Environmental for just over a month, from 3 November to 13 December 2017 as Office Manager.

Three weeks after joining she told her employer that she was, in fact, pregnant with her second child.

Immediately after this Ms Walker began to experience isolation from the commercial and financial director and his wife who worked in purchasing.

This was the start of what Ms Walker described as a ‘hostile, humiliating and offensive environment’ which lasted a short period of three days but which culminated in the firms MD asking if she knew she was pregnant when she accepted the job and questions raised as to whether she had taken the job under false pretences to claim maternity pay from Arco.

Ms Walker resigned on the 13th December 2017.

The judge ruled that the “effect of the events which took place at work over the very short period of three days, 11-13 December 2017, was to harass the claimant by violating her dignity and creating a hostile, humiliating and offensive environment for her. That harassment related to her protected characteristic of sex because, as is axiomatic, only women can be pregnant.”

Ms Walker also succeeded in her claims for breach of contract for failure to pay notice pay and she was also awarded for a failure to provide a written statement of terms and conditions.

This case is a stark reminder of pregnancy and maternity protections and that a woman should never be asked about the circumstances of her pregnancy or whether she is trying to get pregnant.

Just because an employer thinks it will be an inconvenience in a new starter being or becoming pregnant, this doesn’t mean that these opinions are valid or lawful.

In fact, any inconvenience to the business which may be caused by a pregnancy is exactly what the legislation was brought in to protect in the first place.

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