A woman who was offered fewer shifts and later dismissed because of her pregnancy has been awarded more than £15,000 for unfair dismissal and discrimination.
Ms McKnight was told she would receive her P45 when she asked her employer, bar and restaurant operator WBI, about arrangements for maternity leave.
Her dismissal was never confirmed by the Greenock-based company, and her attempts to contact her manager and the firm’s HR representative following the birth of her son were unsuccessful.
McKnight started working as a barperson at the Word Up bar and nightclub in Greenock, Inverclyde, in November 2021. Later that month, she accepted an assistant manager role at Fenwick 47, a tapas restaurant owned by the same company.
Maternity and pregnancy discrimination
McKnight never received a written statement of employment particulars as required by the Employment Rights Act 1996, so she was unsure who her employer was. The employment tribunal in Glasgow determined that WBI, which operates both businesses, was her employer.
She informed restaurant manager Mr Carruthers of her pregnancy in January 2022. She was due to have the baby in September and planned to begin her maternity leave in August.
In February 2022 she experienced pain and sickness connected with her pregnancy. She informed Carruthers of this but was largely able to work her usual hours.
From the end of March 2022 she noticed she was getting fewer shifts than before, and in mid April she found she was not put on the rota at all despite confirming her availability to work. She was offered one further shift in May.
In May 2022 she contacted the firm’s HR representative, Ms Penman, to discuss her plans for taking maternity leave. Penman told her she had been “P45’d” in a way that suggested any conversation about maternity leave would not take place. McKnight took this to mean she had been dismissed.
She asked Carruthers for clarification, stating that if her sickness had been an issue she would have obtained a note from her GP. He replied by saying, “no hard feelings”. The next message McKnight received from Carruthers was in September 2022, congratulating her on the birth of her son.
McKnight’s attempts to contact Carruthers and Penman after this were unsuccessful.
The employment tribunal found McKnight had suffered a detriment and treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy by offering her fewer shifts and not engaging with her properly in relation to her maternity leave and pay.
It found her pregnancy was the reason for her dismissal. Although she had not been employed by the company for the two-year qualifying period, dismissal for this reason constitutes automatically unfair dismissal.
She was awarded £15,956.40 in compensation, including a £9,900 award for injury to feelings.
Commenting on the case, Sharokh Koussari, partner at law firm Axion DWFM, said: “This judgment has many interesting aspects but in particular it serves as a reminder of the extra care that employers must exercise when dealing with maternity and pregnancy issues.
“It is clear that in this particular case some basic supportive procedures were lacking: WBI failed to take some usual steps such as allocation of shifts, arranging maternity leave, and confirming maternity pay arrangements. This behaviour by the employer was qualified by the tribunal as unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy in accordance with the Equality Act.
“To make things worse, measures were taken by the employer which were found to constitute detriment pursuant to the Employment Rights Act. This included the further discrimination of Ms McKnight by her being offered fewer hours of work than normal because of her pregnancy or pregnancy-related illness.”