Athis v Blue Coat School, EAT website 11 October 2005
Mrs Athis, a teacher, was employed by Blue Coat School. In 2000, a new performance-related pay system was introduced. The teacher’s achievement and contribution needed to be substantial and sustained to progress up the pay scale. In 2002, Athis was on maternity leave when the pay review took place. She was not recommended for a move up the pay scale, based on the poor exam results of her A-level students that year. Athis brought a tribunal complaint, claiming that the school’s decision amounted to sex discrimination, as it had been determined by her maternity leave absence.
The tribunal rejected her complaint and she appealed. She argued that because she had been on maternity leave, she had not been provided with relevant information about the pay review process, which had been made available to her colleagues at work.
Her appeal was successful. A notice explaining the pay review process had been placed in the school staff room. It indicated that teachers had the right to provide further evidence of their contribution to the head teacher before the pay review process.
The EAT found that while this information had been made available to the other teachers, who were advanced up the pay scale, the school had failed to provide this information to Athis, who was away on maternity leave. This amounted to sex discrimination, which the tribunal had failed to address. The case was sent back for rehearing.
Communication between employer and employee is vital during maternity leave to support women in returning to work. But many employers are uncertain about what is deemed to be acceptable. In the recent Work and Families consultation response, the government indicated plans to clarify this area through detailed guidance confirming that reasonable contact is permitted at any stage of maternity leave. It will also include examples of ‘reasonable contact’.