Mother sacked by HR firm while on maternity leave and told to ‘go to the Jobcentre’ awarded £50k by tribunal

Judge upholds all worker’s discrimination claims, ruling employer’s conduct caused ‘detrimental and adverse’ stress that affected her ability to breastfeed her baby

A mother who was dismissed two months after giving birth and told to ‘go to the Jobcentre’ for money has been awarded more than £50,000 for pregnancy and maternity discrimination by an employment tribunal.

The South Croydon tribunal ruled that Mrs A Rodin, who had worked for HR supplier DMS1, now known as Dhillons Management Services, was discriminated against when she was fired while on maternity leave.

It found that the dismissal had a “detrimental and adverse impact” on Rodin’s health and wellbeing, and even reduced her milk flow, affecting her ability to feed her child which caused “additional distress”.

The tribunal ruled that DMS1, which did not have its own HR department, was nonetheless “not unsophisticated” and said that given its remit of advising on HR functions, there was “no excuse for not knowing the law”.

All of Rodin’s claims for pregnancy and maternity discrimination were upheld.

The tribunal was unclear about when Rodin began working for DMS1, but noted she had handled a specific account with Dominos Pizza for 16 years before being employed as a trainer in 2016. She was dismissed during her maternity leave in 2017.

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Rodin had become pregnant early October 2016 and informed the office manager Ms Sandhu, who is related to the firm’s managing director Mr Dhillon, in January 2017. Rodin was then on maternity leave from 19 June 2017 with an expected return to work date of 19 March 2018. However, from August 2017 she did not receive any statutory maternity pay. 

Around the same time as Rodin’s maternity leave, the ownership structure of DMS1 changed. The firm was taken over by Dhillons Management Services, a different company but one that was owned and run by the same people.

In September 2017, as DMS1 was beginning the process of being taken over by Dhillons Management Services, Rodin was dismissed without notice or a reason and was sent her P45.

Rodin then contacted the regional manager about her missing maternity pay and he said he would investigate. After not hearing from him for two days, Rodin got in touch and was told to contact Dhillon.

Dhillon told her that DMS1 had “closed” and Rodin claimed that he told her to “go to the Job Centre for any future money”. Rodin went to the Job Centre but was told that they were unable to assist as she was already on maternity leave with DMS1 and that it was up to her employer to pay her. She reverted back to Dhillon but he did not respond.

Rodin told the tribunal that the problems arose while she was on maternity leave because they could not transfer her to the new company. She also claimed Dhillon said she could work for the new company but would lose her maternity pay and benefits, adding “there was no way they wanted to help me”.

She told the tribunal that after learning of her dismissal and the company’s refusal to discuss her maternity pay, she became depressed and was “constantly crying and stressed”. She also said that her newborn daughter was “crying constantly” because Rodin’s milk flow reduced.

Rodin was initially prescribed sleeping pills by her GP, but after six months she was put on a high dose of antidepressants and had to attend therapy. Rodin added that this was the “worst time in her life” because she was not able to enjoy her baby daughter.

Representatives of Dhillons Management Services in attendance told the tribunal, “it is unfair, why should I pick up the bill? Imagine it was the other way around? I hope you can see”. The tribunal documents also noted there had been a “number” of previous hearings on the matter going back to May 2018 but several were cancelled because Dhillon did not attend.

In her ruling, Judge Sage said that the companies were “not unsophisticated” and as their main role was to advise HR functions, “there was no excuse for not knowing the law”.

"Mrs Rodin had no job during her maternity leave and this had a detrimental and adverse impact upon her health and wellbeing and this adversely impacted her ability to feed her child, which caused additional distress,” said Sage.

It concluded that the distress was “worsened” by Dhillons Management Services failing to contact Rodin or to provide her with any means to access the rest of her maternity pay, and that she was treated unfavourably because of pregnancy.

Both companies were ordered to pay a total of £50,720. Additionally, Sandhu – who initially told the tribunal she was the HR manager but was actually the office manager – told the tribunal that Rodin had been “sold a dream” by her solicitor and she had attended therapy in order to have “back up for a ‘big payday’”.

The tribunal said that as a result of Sandhu's accusation, the case was “somehow exaggerated” and awarded Rodin an additional £12,500 for injury to feelings.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said this case was a lesson on how not to treat employees on maternity leave, and that the employer acted in a total disregard for the law. “ There is little surprise to be had in the amount of the claim awarded,” she said.

“Employees on maternity leave are in a vulnerable position, with all the associated costs of having a baby, so to terminate without notice or good reason, and refuse to pay a statutory payment, it is difficult to see how this could be anything other than maternity discrimination.

“This is a situation that could easily have been avoided, through proper consultation and discussion, and shows a fundamental lack of basic support on the part of the employer,” Palmer said.

Neither Dhillons Management Services, DMS1 nor Rodin could be reached for comment.