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Case 1 – Maternity and Dismissal

In July 1987 Mrs Webb was recruited by EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd to cover for the absence of an employee, Mrs Stewart, who was due to take maternity leave at the end of the year.  It was envisaged that Webb would be trained by Stewart for six months in order to familiarise her with the job.  It was also agreed that she would be kept on after Mrs Stewart’s return.  Just two weeks after starting work, Mrs Webb told her manager that she thought that she was pregnant.  She was sacked because she would be unable to cover her colleague's maternity absence.  In their defence, EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd argued that they would have treated a man/ non-pregnant woman in the same way; it was not the pregnancy that led to the dismissal but the employee's unavailability for work.

She complained to an Industrial Tribunal that dismissal because of pregnancy was unlawful under Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

The Industrial Tribunal dismissed her claim, holding that the "real" reason for her dismissal was the fact that she would be unavailable to carry out the task for which she had been principally employed, which was to take the place of the employee who was due to take maternity leave.  This was not a sexually discriminatory reason, because the employer would have treated in the same way a man who was going to be unavailable.  This decision was upheld in both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and in the Court of Appeal.  The House of Lords referred the case to the European Court of Justice CJ asking whether it would be contrary to the Equal Treatment Directive for an employer to dismiss a pregnant woman.  The ECJ answered that such a dismissal would indeed be contrary to the Directive as the dismissal of a pregnant woman on account of her pregnancy, or for reasons connected with it, is automatically sex discrimination without the need for a comparison with a man, or a non-pregnant and sick employee.

When the case was referred back to the House of Lords, their Lordships accepted (somewhat grudgingly) that, in the light of the ruling of the European Court, Webb had been unlawfully dismissed.

Case 2 – Discrimination in Recruitment

Mrs Alexander had previously worked for Alexander Pollack Ltd, serving her apprenticeship and becoming a fully qualified machine engraver. During her time with the company she was the only woman to be employed in the factory area. She later went on to work for other companies, where she gained further skills and experience.

In 1990, Alexander Pollack advertised a vacancy and Mrs Anderson telephoned to apply.  She was told that they could not employ her because they did not have any toilet facilities for women. She was told that the toilets she had previously used had gone.  Mrs Anderson complained to the employment tribunal and successfully argued that the telephone conversation was part of the 'arrangement' for determining who should be offered a job.  Mrs Alexander won her claim of sex discrimination.

Case 3 - Religious Discrimination

Ms Azmi, who was a teacher, was suspended for refusing not to wear a veil while teaching alongside male colleagues in the classroom. The school had concluded that wearing the veil made it hard for her pupils to understand her. The employee had also raised a grievance which was not dealt with.

The employment tribunal did not uphold the direct discrimination claim finding that the Ms Azmi had not been less favourably treated than a comparator in similar circumstances that is a non-Muslim who had concealed their mouth or face.  Regarding the claims for indirect discrimination, the tribunal held that the school had a legitimate aim in asking the employee to remove her veil and the way of achieving it was proportionate.  She had been asked to only remove the veil when she was actually teaching.

The tribunal did however uphold the Ms Azmi’s claim for victimisation because the grievance was not followed through.  Ms. Azmi won £1,000 for injury to feelings and uplifted the award for injury to feelings by 10% because of the failure to follow the statutory grievance procedure.

Employers should ensure that all grievances including potential religious discrimination issues must always be dealt with seriously, sensitively, consistently and in accordance with the statutory grievance procedure and an organisation’s own procedure.





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