Ms Quinn was a station manager support clerk when she successfully applied for the more senior post of duty station manager. Shortly before the end of her trial period, she found she was pregnant. This prompted her employer to undertake a risk assessment.
The draft report highlighted a number of risks, but indicated that, with some adjustments, Quinn could continue in the role. However, two weeks later, she was told that, due to health and safety concerns (particularly the perceived risk of assault), she was suspended from her duties, and must return to her former post with a reduced salary.
Quinn claimed for detrimental treatment by reason of her pregnancy, and sex discrimination. During her maternity leave, she brought a second claim for constructive dismissal and unlawful salary deductions.
The tribunal concluded that Quinn had been removed from her role due to her pregnancy, and not for legitimate health and safety reasons. It found her employer had been patronising and paternalistic, having no regard for the contents of the draft risk assessment and, as a result, was guilty of sex discrimination, and had subjected Quinn to a detriment by reason of her pregnancy. The constructive dismissal and unlawful deductions claims were also upheld.
The employer’s appeal was dismissed. The EAT confirmed that the term “avoid” (in the context of health and safety risks) cannot mean to “eliminate in entirety”, but must mean “reduced to its lowest acceptable level”. The employer had failed to show that the risk could not be avoided by altering Quinn’s work conditions or hours.
Employers should not assume that anything deemed to be for health and safety reasons will automatically absolve them from liability. The duty to protect staff must be read alongside the requirements of equality legislation and the avoidance of less favourable treatment to women.