Informed of an Employee Pregnancy? Choose Your Words Carefully

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When an employee announces that she is pregnant, the prospect of maternity leave and potential managerial difficulties may well enter an employer’s mind. However, as an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, simply offering congratulations may, in legal terms, be the safest response (Hedges-Staines v CF Social Work Ltd).

The case concerned a woman who worked under a fixed, six-month contract for a company providing social work support to local authorities. She expressed concern to a manager about visiting a client’s home, where a child was suspected to be suffering from a communicable infection.

When she told the manager that she was pregnant, the manager responded with the comment, ‘We’ve only just put you on a contract.’ Thereafter, the woman’s workload was substantially reduced, and her employment was terminated shortly after the expiry of her contract.

After the woman launched proceedings, the ET found that her pregnancy was not the reason for her dismissal. Her reduced workload resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, and she had not been treated less favourably than two colleagues who were also on six-month contracts and who also lost their jobs.

However, the ET found that the manager’s comment amounted to unfavourable treatment based on her pregnancy. It betrayed her frustration that a recently appointed and valuable member of staff might not be able to carry out her full range of duties and would thereafter be taking maternity leave. For the injury to her feelings, the woman was awarded £4,500 in compensation, plus interest.