Unfair dismissal

A recent Employment Tribunal (ET) case brings to mind the phrase 'practice what you preach'. A company which managed Human Resources (HR) activities across a number of franchise operations (including Domino's Pizza and Costa Coffee) faced a claim from an employee for unfair dismissal, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, notice pay, holiday pay and arrears of pay, to name but a few. 

There was a transfer of the company for whom the claimant worked to another organisation and, despite being told that she would be kept informed and re-employed on her return from maternity leave by a new company, she was sacked during her maternity leave. The ET had to consider the situation regarding the transfer of undertakings, but it is the findings of the ET regarding the behaviour of an organisation, which provides HR support and training to other organisations, that is particularly damning.

The employer's case was not strengthened by the fact that one of its employees had referred to herself as an 'HR manager' in a court statement but it transpired she was, in fact, the office manager. The claimant was promised on more than one occasion that she would receive payments into her bank account. Some money was received but was not accompanied by a payslip. The claimant was also told that she should attend the Job Centre for any 'future money'. Impressively, the claimant did attend the Job Centre only to find that they could not assist because she was already on maternity leave. It is perhaps not surprising that she reverted to the employer and was told that her matter would be looked into but she received no further response to any of her calls or emails.

The claimant received her P45 but did not receive an explanation of the reason for her dismissal. The claimant stated that she suffered as a result of these events including stress and depression and this also impacted her milk flow after her baby was born.

The ET found in favour of the claimant saying that 'the consistent evidence was that she was told to go to the Job Centre to claim her benefits'. The dismissal was unfair and the claimant was discriminated against. She successfully recovered over £50,000, plus a further £12,500 for injury to feelings.

The reputational damage to an organisation which purports to offer HR support services is obvious. All organisations should ensure that their own policies and procedures are in place and are properly followed when dealing with sensitive and legally protected matters such as employees on maternity leave. 

To discuss this or any other employment matter, contact us.

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