A pregnant care home worker who was harassed by her employer during a meeting has been awarded £5,000 by an employment tribunal.
Amy Georgina Simkins had raised a grievance against her employer after the business declined to change her shifts following complications with her pregnancy, leading to a meeting where she was “intimidated”.
The London South Employment Tribunal heard that Simkins had been employed as a health care assistant at the Elm Lea Residential Care Home in Hythe, Kent since 2015.
Between 25 August and 1 September 2017, she took time off due to complications with her pregnancy. She requested that when she returned, she work mornings and evenings instead of her usual night shift.
At a meeting on 7 September, her manager, Mr Khanna, explained that all the day shifts were full. Alternative roles, including working alongside the home’s cook preparing tea, were suggested, but Simkins did not accept these and raised the grievance, claiming she had been forced to take sick leave because she was unable to work her shifts.
On 15 September, a meeting was held to discuss next steps. Simkins claimed Khanna stood over her while she sat down and was “overbearing” and “intimidating”.
The tribunal heard Khanna said he was very unhappy that she had raised a grievance, adding he had previously had a “generous” offer to make Simkins that he had now withdrawn. Simkins said Khanna told her she did not have a valid grievance and that he would not look into it.
Simkins reported she became very distressed in the meeting and suffered pregnancy-related complications as a result. The tribunal ruled Khanna had engaged in “unwanted conduct".
Employment Judge Martin held that the reason for the unfavourable treatment was not that Simkins was pregnant and intending to go on maternity leave. Evidence showed there had been many female employees at the home who had became pregnant, taken maternity leave and returned to work after their baby was born.
The reason was held instead to be the employee’s sick leave and the effect this had on her ability to work.
The tribunal ruled Simkins should receive £5,000 in compensation for the harassment.
Croner associate director Paul Holcroft said the ruling was a timely reminder of the breadth of protection from harassment: “Unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic is not restricted to verbal and written communication, but can cover physical conduct such as unwanted contact, intimidation and intrusion,” he said.
Holcroft added employers should review how sensitive meetings were conducted to ensure they were held in an appropriate, professional and constructive manner. He said management training on how to conduct meetings in such circumstances was crucial.
“Not only will this make it more likely that a positive resolution is reached for both parties, it will also reduce the risk that an employee feels they have been subjected to harassment within the definition of the Equality Act 2010,” said Holcroft.
Danielle Ayres, senior associate solicitor at Gorvins, said the tribunal had “reluctantly” rejected the link between Simkins’ pregnancy and her treatment. Had her claim made a direct link between her sick leave and her pregnancy, she suggested, the outcome may have been different.
“The Equality Act does protect a woman from being treated less favourably on the grounds that she is suffering with a pregnancy-related illness,” said Ayres. “In this case, the Claimant was on sick leave for a pregnancy-related reason.”
The tribunal dismissed a further claim that, in April 2016, Khanna had responded to news of Simkins’ pregnancy by saying he was “disappointed as he had high hopes for her at Elm Lea”. Simkins added he asked if she was going through with the pregnancy. This prompted Khanna’s wife, who was also in attendance, to tell him he could not ask such questions.
The EAT rejected the claim, holding Khanna’s explanation of events to be more credible. He argued the pair had reassured Simkins and asked when she was thinking of starting her statutory maternity leave.
Elm Lea Residential Care Home has been contacted for comment.