August 14, 2019

Employee Subjected to Discrimination Following Pregnancy Announcement

The case of Walker v Arco Environmental Limited demonstrates what can happen if an employer reacts negatively to an employee’s pregnancy announcement.

Summary of Walker v Arco Environmental

The claimant Mrs Walker started working at Arco Environmental an asbestos removal company, on 3 November 2017. She resigned on 13 December 2017 because she believed she had received unfavourable treatment and had been harassed as a result of announcing her pregnancy.

Mrs Walker told her manager that she was pregnant three weeks after she began her employment.  She alleged that soon after, the companies’ commercial and financial directors changed their attitude towards her. Mrs Walker said: “It was clear neither of them wanted to talk to me,”.

One of the directors, Mrs Rees asked her whether she had been trying for a baby. At this point, Mrs Walker realised her new employer may have reacted negatively to her pregnancy announcement. Mrs Walker told her employer that she had been trying to get pregnant before accepting the role but had then stopped. She alleged that the director responded by saying: “Oh well, shit happens, it’s a new life,” however Mrs Rees denies saying this. The tribunal noted: “Mrs Rees had already congratulated her on the pregnancy. Mrs Rees gave her oral evidence in a highly emotive, often angry, and hyperbolic way; we are satisfied that she is more likely than not to have made such an ‘over the top’ remark.”

A few days later, Mrs Walker attended a meeting with her managers. One of her managers, Mr Grant, conceded to the tribunal that it could have been understood by Walker that Arco believed her to have known she was pregnant and taken the job anyway. The managers weren’t aware the company’s statutory obligations. After the meeting Mrs Walker sent Mr Grant a message explaining she was upset. Mrs Walker insisted she would not have taken a job for maternity pay.

Walker resigned from Arco Environmental after being employed for just over a month

On 12 December Walker felt she was being ignored by managers and her evidence was accepted by the tribunal that she had been subjected to unfavourable treatment and harassment. She resigned from the firm the following day, as she felt the unfavourable treatment would continue. The employment judge ruled the treatment she received on telling her employer she was pregnant amounted to discrimination and harassment as defined in section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

What can we learn from this case?

  • You cannot ask an employee if they are pregnant during the recruitment and selection process. If you do this would be discriminatory based on the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity.
  • A candidate is not required to disclose that they are pregnant during the recruitment and selection process.
  • Your employees are protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy. This is from the point the woman becomes pregnant and they have informed you that they are pregnant.
  • It is automatically unfair to dismiss a female employee or select her for redundancy due to pregnancy. There is no minimum qualifying service period.

Next Steps

To learn more about your statutory obligations in relation to pregnancy you can view our webinar which covers best practice for supporting employees through their pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work.

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About the author

Donna Chadbone

Donna completed her post graduate studies in Human Resource Management (MCIPD) and then spent 7 years working as an in house HR Consultant in the corporate financial services sector. She has worked with a range of clients from the engineering, aerospace, manufacturing, service, leisure, education, construction and care industries.