Employer 'wrongly assumed pregnant woman would job share'

Lawyers warn tribunal decision shows necessity of 'well thought-out redundancy process'

Enter body text hereA travel company that assumed a pregnant employee would be happy to switch to a job share when her role was at risk of redundancy has lost an employment tribunal.

The Liverpool Employment Tribunal heard that Ms Zlotnikova worked for STA Travel’s Liverpool office from December 2012 until 29 July 2016 when she was dismissed through redundancy. The company employed her as a global travel help (GTH) executive.

Zlotnikova took maternity leave between April 2013 and November 2014. When she returned, she requested flexible-working arrangements, which involved job-sharing and a three-day week. STA agreed to this. However, Zlotnikova was also expected to operate an incident report desk (ISD), with no pay increase or formal training. Although she reluctantly agreed to do so at first, she eventually complained and was transferred to another line of work, focusing on customer refunds.

In September 2015, STA Travel opened an office in Romania with the intention of moving its GTH duties there and, gradually, staff in Romania took over the ISD role. In June 2016, business plans were put forward that would involve closing the Liverpool office, putting the jobs of the 46 staff who worked there at risk. However, the proposals also created six roles, including four ISD executives, which STA planned to fill from their existing staff.

Around the same time, Zlotnikova was pregnant and due to go on maternity leave from 31 July 2016 to 30 July 2017. On 12 July 2016, Zlotnikova told the external HR executive overseeing the process that she was interested in applying for an ISD role.

Zlotnikova informed the HR executive that she was working a three-day week, to which the HR executive suggested she consider a job share alongside another STA employee, Gemma Gould, who was also pregnant. Zlotnikova did not confirm that she was definitely happy to take on the job share, but was prepared to consider it. She also said she wanted to be considered for a full-time position, should the job share not work out.

Three managers were involved in the selection process for the new roles and were responsible for scoring applicants using a selection matrix. They evaluated Zlotnikova and Gould alongside each other but, when it came to ranking each candidate separately on the score matrix, they relied on their memory to determine where each should be placed, as opposed to any documentation.

Zlotnikova was placed sixth out of the eight applicants and was told on 21 July that she had not been selected for a role and would be made redundant on 29 July. Zlotnikova appealed the decision but was not successful.

Finding that Zlotnikova’s dismissal was both unfair and discriminatory on the grounds of her pregnancy, the tribunal criticised STA for its inadequate and subjective marking and for assuming a job share would suit both pregnant candidates, resulting in them being marked as one person. In particular, the judge found that one of the three managers responsible for the selection process had treated Zlotnikova unfairly because of her personal circumstances.

A hearing to determine how much Zlotnikova should be awarded will take place at a later date.

Ed Livingstone, associate at Fox Williams, told People Management that the case reflects the necessity of “well thought out redundancy processes and robust moderation” during assessments. “If errors become clear, it is better to reconsider the criteria and scores rather than try to paper over the cracks,” he said.

Josephine Van Lierop, employment solicitor at Slater and Gordon, added that the case is a reminder to employers to make sure they can justify why a staff member is being made redundant. “This needs to be meticulous at every stage because discrimination can creep into the process, even if at the outset the employer sought to do things lawfully,” she said.

STA Travel declined to comment ahead of the remedy hearing.