Worker unfairly dismissed for pregnancy-related absences, tribunal rules

Judge says manager had the opportunity to retract dismissal after finding out about employee's condition, but failed to do so

A debt drafter was discriminated against and unfairly dismissed after her boss fired her for absences caused by pregnancy-related illness, an employment tribunal has ruled.

The Manchester Tribunal found Maya Georgiev, who worked for Hanover Insolvency from 9 July until 8 October 2018, was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against after she disclosed her pregnancy to her boss during a dismissal meeting, and her boss proceeded to fire her regardless. 

In her judgment, judge Hilary Slater said although Daniel Morris, consulting managing director of Hanover Insolvency, did not know Georgiev was pregnant before he decided to dismiss her for absence from work, this did not justify him still dismissing her even once she had said her absences were the result of pregnancy-related illness.

“On the facts in this case, once the claimant had told Mr Morris the reasons for her absence and he had an opportunity to retract the dismissal, he did not do so but confirmed that, whatever the reason for her absence, he was dismissing her,” Slater said. 

Georgiev began working for Hanover Insolvency as an individual voluntary arrangement draft administrator in July 2018. Not long into her employment, on 29 August, she left work early unwell. She discovered later that day she was pregnant and was suffering from morning sickness and dizziness. Throughout her pregnancy she experienced pregnancy-related illnesses including nausea, dizziness and vomiting and had to take time off work.

She informed Alex Ryder, draft manager at Hanover Insolvency and Georgiev’s case reviewer, and Lucy Waring, head of pre-appointment, of her pregnancy early in September 2018, and asked them not to tell anyone else at work.

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Georgiev was concerned her illness could affect her performance at work and result in her failing her probationary period. At the time, Ryder and Waring reassured Georgiev that her work and performance were more than satisfactory, the tribunal heard. 

Georgiev was again absent from work on 17 and 24 September because of pregnancy-related illness. On 26 September, she called Suzanne Greaves, Hanover Insolvency’s HR manager, to say she was pregnant, had visited her doctor and was awaiting blood test results.

Greaves said she would tell Waring that Georgiev had been advised to stay off work, and she was signed off until 2 October, and then again from 2 to 8 October, because of vomiting. 

On 8 October, Georgiev returned to work and was invited to a meeting with Morris. She was not told beforehand the nature of the meeting, but used it to tell Morris she was pregnant and had been off sick because of pregnancy-related illness. However, it transpired Morris had called the meeting to dismiss Georgiev because of her absences, which he did even after Georgiev disclosed her pregnancy.

The tribunal heard Morris told Georgiev: “If staff [were] off sick they [were] not making him money.” 

Georgiev was concerned about her financial situation, and asked if there was any opportunity to work from home. She was subsequently offered a new role with the company on a self-employed basis that enabled her to do this.

Georgiev sent Hanover Insolvency an email appealing her dismissal on 12 October and disclosed that she had technical issues that made it difficult to work remotely. 

Replying to the email on 15 October, Greaves acknowledged Georgiev was dismissed, but said if she was having issues working from home she was “more than welcome to come back and work from the office, on an employed basis”.

However, the tribunal found Greaves did not comprehend that Georgiev had asked to appeal against her dismissal, and subsequently Greaves did not launch an investigation or set a hearing date.

On 23 October, Georgiev replied by email accepting the offer to return to work. She added that she had a doctor’s note advising she could return to work on the basis of being offered a less stressful role or adjustments being made. 

But about 30 minutes after the email was sent, Morris called Georgiev. He made her aware the call was being recorded, asked what kind of role Georgiev wanted, then told her there were no such jobs available. The tribunal said it was clear from the transcript of the call that Georgiev had “difficulty in speaking without being interrupted by Morris”.

Around this period, Georgiev was feeling ill and visiting hospital. She then suffered a miscarriage. 

On 7 January 2019 Georgiev lodged claims of unfair dismissal, discrimination, breach of contract and unlawful deduction from her wages. She was successful in all of these apart from the aspect of her unlawful deduction of wages claim that related to overtime payments.

Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, said this case served as a reminder that “blatantly attempting” to dismiss an employee because of pregnancy-related illness, or deny their rights by trying to change their employment status, could result in costly claims. 

“Employees in this situation have nothing to lose in bringing such a claim and pregnancy discrimination is an area that they are more likely to be aware of,” Palmer said. “As seen here, it will not matter if a pregnant employee is on a probationary period or has short service length; from day one, they are protected from both discrimination and unfair dismissal on the basis of their pregnancy.”

A remedy judgment has been set for September. 

Hanover Insolvency has been contacted for comment. Georgiev could not be reached for comment.