Employee Who Was Asked to Come into Office During Covid While Pregnant Wins Pregnancy Discrimination Case

In the case of Ms Zowie Young v Shift Group Limited, an employment tribunal ruled in favour of Ms Young stating that she was treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy. As such, a future remedy hearing will determine her compensation.

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination, read our guide to learn more.

The Facts in Ms Zowie Young v Shift Group Limited

Background – The Agreement

Ms Young (“The Claimant”) began working for Shift Group Limited (“The Respondent”) on 9 April 2021 as a customer service executive. She received an offer letter on 2 April, outlining her proposed permanent contract of 16 hours per week. However, she didn’t receive her contract then, with a contradictory zero-hours contract drafted by the respondent on 20 April. She’d never signed a contract and saw this for the first time during proceedings.

Ms Young’s partner also worked for the respondent, and the tribunal learned that she’d agreed only to work when he didn’t. At that time, her partner alternated between working three days and three days off.

Restructuring of the Company

On 25 May, employees were informed of a restructuring in the company, affecting the claimant’s partner’s shifts. From 15 September 2021, he would work for five days before having two days off. Also, around 25 May, the respondent was informed of the claimant’s pregnancy. 

Due to the shift pattern changes, Mr Carroll, the Operations Director, informed Ms Young that their current agreement may no longer be possible. He wanted to discuss this with her, but no future discussion occurred.

A Reasonable Management Instruction was Received

On 22 June, without explanation, a zero-hour contract was uploaded to the claimant’s file on the company’s HR system. Then, during July, the office experienced Covid cases. On 15 July, the claimant worked remotely and received a letter from the respondent requiring her to work from the office from 16 July. The letter contained a pregnancy risk assessment, which didn’t address Ms Young’s Covid concerns and wasn’t completed in her presence. 

The respondent explained they’d taken safe office working measures. They stated the office working requirement was a reasonable management instruction, and failure to comply would result in no pay. However, they didn’t address Covid risks linked to a pregnant employee and their expecting baby.

Ms Young’s Cancelled Shifts

Ms Young confirmed she would return to the office the following week once Covid cases had reduced. However, on 16, 21 and 22 July, the claimant required sick leave due to pregnancy-related illness. Whilst on leave, her 27 and 28 July shifts were cancelled, meaning she contacted her line manager, Mr Hodge-Brooks, to get answers. He explained that she wasn’t required, but when she asked if she would still be paid, he said no.

Although routinely given 16 hours weekly, he said she was on a zero-hour contract, meaning there wasn’t an obligation to provide them. Ms Young stated she’d never signed such a contract and proved her offer letter entitled her to 16 hours weekly. Mr Hodge-Brooks then investigated the discrepancy, leading to the reinstatement of her shifts.

Childcare Issues

On 3 August, Ms Young couldn’t work due to another pregnancy-related illness. She also informed her line manager she couldn’t work the following day as it clashed with her partner’s shifts. In response, Mr Hodge-Brooks stated that the respondent wasn’t responsible for her childcare, meaning she’d have to make arrangements in the future. However, Ms Young outlined her shift pattern agreement and that she felt she was being pushed out due to her pregnancy.

Later, Mr Hodge-Brooks stated the claimant’s level of absence had impacted the department. Yet after this correspondence, he said he’d honour previous agreements and hoped they could ‘move past this’.

The New Contract

On 11 August, the claimant received an employment contract email. The contract discussed her 16 weekly hours and previous agreement but explained the business needs would take precedence over it. 

The tribunal learned that the claimant hadn’t previously discussed this contract with the respondent. Although she agreed with the contracted hours, she objected to the shift allocation clause.

The Claimant Raises A Grievance

On 17 August, Ms Young raised a grievance concerning the contract. Then, on 1 September, the claimant was found unfit to work and signed off sick. Initially for four weeks, then extended to the beginning of her maternity leave on or around 6 November.

On 9 September, Ms Young’s grievance was rejected. The respondent explained that the claimant hadn’t experienced pregnancy discrimination. They reasoned her cancelled shifts resulted from them believing she was on a zero-hour contract. Also, they explained her clashing shifts resulted from her line manager not knowing of her prior agreement. Finally, they insisted the new contract was drafted to meet business needs whilst honouring her prior agreement where possible.

An Appeal is Made

As a result, Ms Young appealed on 13 September. She didn’t agree with any of the respondent’s reasons or believe a full and fair investigation had taken place. Then, on 11 October, Ms Young learned her appeal was rejected. The respondent reasoned that a reasonable level of investigation had been carried out. Furthermore, they explained that reasonable explanations could be provided to answer each of her grievances.

The claimant’s employment ended when she began maternity leave, subsequently issuing proceedings to an employment tribunal on 12 November 2021. She claimed discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

The tribunal held that although the company didn’t plot to force Ms Young out, she was subject to discriminatory acts. They explained that the pregnancy risk assessment was simply executed to meet their needs. It didn’t consider the Covid risk to the pregnant employee and was used to bring her back into the office. This, and the threat of withholding pay, clearly disadvantaged the claimant.

Regarding her cancelled shifts, the tribunal ruled this resulted from her perceived unreliability following pregnancy-related absences. They dismissed arguments from the respondent that this occurred because they believed she was on a zero-hour contract. This was because no other colleagues on such contracts had shifts cancelled. As a result, they concluded this was unfavourable treatment and amounted to pregnancy discrimination.

Moreover, the tribunal found the comments about the claimant’s pregnancy-related absences affecting the department to be inappropriate. They explained this claim also succeeded as the comment amounts to unfavourable treatment linked to a protected characteristic.

In conclusion, the tribunal outlined which of Ms Young’s claims succeeded, explaining that they would be dealt with during a remedy hearing. Those included:

  • Her being forced back into the office despite the cases of Covid, 
  • An inadequate pregnancy risk assessment being undertaken, 
  • The cancellation of her shifts, and 
  • The comments about her absences affecting the department

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination, contact us today. We can provide a case assessment to uncover the eligibility of your claim and advise on how to proceed.