How should you communicate with a woman on maternity leave?
Or indeed, any other member of staff away from the office taking adoption leave or shared parental leave? Can you send important information to their work email address or should you use a personal email address or send by post?
These issues were central to a claim of discrimination brought by a woman on maternity leave who was at risk of being made redundant in South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust v Mr C Jackson and others.
Ms Pease was on maternity leave when her job was put at risk of redundancy. She attended a meeting about the proposed redundancies and two days later she was sent an email asking her to complete a redeployment form to allow her employers to try and "match her" for other roles. That email was sent to her work email address which she was not accessing.
She realised she had missed something a few days later and after ringing HR she received the redeployment form via the post. She returned it straightaway.
Ms Pearce argued that the delay in sending her the form was "unfavourable treatment" related to her maternity leave under section 18 of the Equality Act 2010.
The Employment Tribunal agreed and awarded her £5,000 in compensation - even though she was not financially disadvantaged by the short delay. Her employers appealed.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) started by saying that "having an important and urgent work message sent to an email address which one cannot access for some reason must ... amount to unfavourable treatment one way or another". But, this didn't necessary mean that her employer had discriminated against her.
Tribunals have to look at the reasons why this happened. In this case, the EAT said the Tribunal had to look for evidence that suggested the employer was motivated by a discriminatory attitude or had applied a discriminatory rule. If it was a simple mistake, there will be no discrimination.
This case was remitted back to the Tribunal to decide this.
It's easy for staff on long term leave to feel isolated from their workplace and to worry that stuff is going on without their knowledge - particularly where you are making major changes.
To avoid grievances and claims, we recommend:
- You agree how you will keep in touch with staff on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave and how frequently you'll do so.
- Even if staff ask you to send information to their work email, if you need to inform them about something important or urgent, you should alert them in some other way - such as sending the information by post or telephoning them first. It's unreasonable to expect someone to frequently check their work email when they are absent.
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Our expert, Alan Lewis can help you overcome any issues relating to redundancy or maternity discrimination.
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