The Daily Mail (31.7.2014) have reported that a bakery has been ordered to pay more than £23,000 to a former worker after an employment tribunal found she had been sacked for becoming pregnant. Nicola McNamee took the sex discrimination case against Melting Moments bakery in Co Fermanagh after she was dismissed around a week after telling her employer she was going to have a baby. The Company claimed that its decision to let Miss McNamee go just two months after her start date was based on her conduct and performance.
An employment tribunal rejected the Company's claim and found the reason for dismissal was the fact of her pregnancy. The Company's case was not helped by the claim that Miss McNamee was told at her initial job interview not to get pregnant or married in her first year in the job and was also told to think about whether she would be better off leaving once she told the Company that she was pregnant.
So can you dismiss someone who is pregnant?
The easy answer is yes, you can dismiss someone who is pregnant but it is essential to ensure that there is evidence to prove that the dismissal is not related in any way to the pregnancy. However, this is easier said then done, as well as the risk of receiving a tribunal claim, the perceived impact by other Employees on the dismissal of their pregnant colleague may have a negative affect on the Organisation.
In circumstances such as redundancy, a pregnant employee should be included in the redundancy pool and scored along with others based on the same criteria. When scoring, do not include any sickness record that is connected to the pregnancy. Provided a fair process has been followed, a pregnant employee can be dismissed fairly on the grounds of redundancy. If the employee is on maternity leave, it is essential to consult with them as though they are still at work and there is objective evidence that they have been scored fairly against other people in the pool.
If an Employee becomes pregnant whilst being performance managed or disciplined, the process should continue, the Employee should be provided with evidence of any poor performance or conduct, they should be given the opportunity to improve and again, provided that a fair process has been followed, they can be dismissed on the grounds of performance or conduct. It will be harder to prove if the Employee announces they are pregnant and then faces disciplinary or performance warnings. However, this can still be achieved if the evidence does not bear any relation to the pregnancy.
What is important to realise is that pregnancy is something to be celebrated and supported and all Employers should have systems in place to help any employee have an enjoyable pregnancy and maternity leave. There is no limit to the compensation if it is found that an Employer has discriminated against someone because of a pregnancy related reason.