An employee who was referred to by a colleague as a “baby farmer” after she returned from maternity leave was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.

Miss Hayman started working for Pall-Ex in 2000 as a key account manager. She left the firm but re-joined it in 2007 until her resignation in July 2016.

After re-joining the company, Miss Hayman took several periods of maternity leave, and after maternity leave for her second child returned in November 2010 reporting to a new line manager, Mr Tancock.

Miss Hayman told the tribunal that in the following years, there were a number of incidents in which alleged comments were made about her parental responsibilities, she was scapegoated for losing clients and she was treated unfairly for working part-time hours.

On her return to work after her third period of maternity leave, Miss Hayman told the tribunal she began noticing her manager making references to her parental responsibilities. On 7 March 2017, Tancock said in an email: “Can you tell me when you get a moment in between nappy changing?” e sex discrimination, one happened during a meeting in October or November 2013 in which Miss Hayman asked for an update on the finances relating to a specific client. She was allegedly told by then finance director Mr Gannon: “Nothing has happened since you’ve been busy being a baby farmer.”

In the second, separate incident, on 9 June 2016, Miss Hayman was attending a client meeting alongside Mr Tancock and head of sales Mr Steel in Milton Keynes. Mr Steel at this point had just become Miss Hayman’s new manager. Miss Hayman drove separately and arrived after her colleagues. Mr Tancock asked where Hayman had been, and when she said she was in the Tesco car park around the corner, the tribunal heard Mr Tancock sarcastically said: “Where? In Nottingham?” after which both he and Mr Steel laughed.

The judges said it was unlikely Mr Tancock would have made the comments about the car park if Miss Hayman was not a woman, and they were “demonstrative of a stereotypical attitude towards the claimant as a woman that she was not competent to drive to a given destination and got lost.”

The tribunal also heard of several incidents of where Mr Tancock shouted at Miss Hayman, and that he had harassed her with phone calls while she was sick. The tribunal ruled that one such shouting incident, on 10 June 2016, “properly constituted the last straw”, after which Miss Hayman emailed her resignation.

The judges said: “Shouting at an employee sufficient to leave them in tears cannot reasonably be considered as ‘innocuous’. The act was the last line in a series of acts which had begun on 26 May with Mr Tancock harassing the claimant (though not because of a protected characteristic) when she was sick and when she had made it clear she was unwell.”

They added the behaviour “clearly constitutes conduct which is calculated or likely to damage or destroy trust and confidence”. 

This decision a timely reminder that the attitude that a “women cannot do a man’s job once she has had children” continues to remain rife in, competitive, male dominated environments. 

Miss Hayman worked in a highly successful freight distribution business within the sales division where pre-children she was respected by her direct line management and colleagues. Attitudes changed, once the claimant became a mother. She was bullied and sexually discriminated and harassed by senior, male, managers and on one occasion was referred to as being a “baby farmer”. Ultimately, this led to her resigning from a job that she was highly competent in and found satisfying. 

This is a familiar story for many senior, high powered, female executives who are either denied promotions or manoeuvred out of positions when they become mothers. 

This case, alongside the “Me Too” campaign highlights the need for businesses to invest in appropriate “Respect, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion at Work” training which centres on what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace with reference to “2019”. 

Times have changed as has the legal framework so what was appropriate 10, 20 or 30 years ago is not necessarily appropriate now and workforces need to be re-educated on these basic principles. 

This is particularly important given the detrimental impact this behaviour has on people’s mental health and the increased in mental impairments suffered by today’s workforce. 

A remedy for the case has yet to be decided.

If you think your company may benefit from “respect, diversity, equality and inclusion at work” training, please do not hesitate to call us on 01133 50 40 30 or at info@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

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