A worker sacked when she was seven weeks pregnant has been awarded nearly £19,000 by a tribunal.
The payout by Lanarkshire-based Premier Systems (Scotland) Ltd to former trainee sales administrator Karen Smith included £8,000 for injury to feelings.
Ms Smith was dismissed the day after she told her employers about her pregnancy. She claimed she consequently suffered pre-natal depression, high blood pressure and panic attacks.
She said that after telling sales executive Patrick Montague of her pregnancy he had told her to see a doctor without giving any reason. She was then called into a meeting and dismissed.
Mr Montague told the Glasgow tribunal that he didn’t know Ms Smith was pregnant and had been concerned about her performance for some time as she was not forceful enough on the phone with clients.
But the tribunal said that the inference that Ms Smith had been dismissed because of her pregnancy was ‘inescapable’.
Dismissing a worker because she is pregnant is automatically unfair yet the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) believes that roughly 30,000 women a year lose their jobs because they are pregnant. Only around three per cent take their employer to a tribunal.
Over five years the EOC estimates around one million women will be discriminated against for getting pregnant.
The EOC’s investigation, the results of which were published last year, found that the key causes of pregnancy discrimination were:
- A lack of knowledge and understanding of maternity rights, particularly among line managers
- Lack of dialogue and planning
- Negative attitudes towards pregnancy and maternity, such as believing pregnant women are less committed.
The government has taken steps to introduce some of the EOC’s recommendations, such as enabling the employer to ask women for return dates much earlier in the maternity leave.
Automatic unfair dismissal also applies to pregnancy-related sickness during the period up to and including maternity leave. If a woman is dismissed for repeated absences after the maternity leave is over, it will only be unfair if it can be shown that a man would have been treated more favourably.