Employment Tribunal finds that female employee was dismissed because of her pregnancy (Mrs S Deol v Sonic Laboratories Ltd)

In the case of Deol v Sonic Laboratories Ltd 3323774/2016 the Employment Tribunal held that Mrs Deol had been dismissed by her employer because of her pregnancy.

The facts in Deol v Sonic Laboratories Ltd

Mrs Deol commenced employment with Sonic Laboratories Ltd (“Sonic”) on 10 November 2014 as an administrator.

Mrs Deol alleged that Ismail Nawasra (Director) had told her in January 2015 “I d0n’t like pregnant women in the office. I was planning on terminating Lisa but cannot now that she is pregnant. A pregnant lady in this country is very strong.”

On 6 January 2016 Mrs Deol received confirmation of her pregnancy from her GP. She then alleged that she informed Mr Nawasra on 9 January 2016 of her pregnancy, and he informed her that she would have to submit a MATB1 form, which her GP would give her. Mrs Deol then asserted that Mr Nawasra had approved her absence for pregnancy-related absence and an antenatal appointment on 19-22 January 2016. She stated that her absence had been logged as pregnancy-related by Mr Nawasra on Sonic’s HRonline portal.

On 19 February 2016 Mrs Deol attempted to send a text message to Mr Deol stating: “Good morning Nathan, I may not come today, I was very sick last night. I have emergency appointment with midwife n GP. Sorry for that. Please do call me if need me, I will help you on phone. Many thanks.”

On 4 March 2016 Mrs Deol travelled to India on approved annual leave from 7 to 18 March 2016. She was due to return to the UK on 19 March 2016, and return to work on 21 March 2016, but on 16 March 2016 her brother-in-law died unexpectedly. Mrs Deol asked her husband to inform Mr Nawasra that she wished to stay in India for the funeral, and that she would therefore need an extended period of leave. Mr Deol alleged that he had done so, and that Mr Nawasra had not objected to the request.

Mrs Deol did not return to work on 21 March 2016 and the decision was made on 22 March 2016 to dismiss her summarily for unauthorised absence from work. Mr Little (General Manager) sent Mrs Deol an email on 22 March 2016 to confirm that she was viewed as having resigned from her employment due to her unauthorised absence and on 24 March 2016 to state that she was being treated as having resigned from the business. Mrs Deol texted Mr Nawasra on 26 March 2016 to appeal her dismissal but received no response.

On 8 April 2016 Mrs Seol submitted a written complaint complaining, among other things, that she believed the reason for her dismissal was to avoid paying her SMP and because she was pregnant.

Mrs Seol subsequently submitted Employment Tribunal claims for pregnancy discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal.

Sonic denied in its ET3 that Mrs Deol had informed anyone at the company of her pregnancy until after she had been dismissed.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Deol v Sonic Laboratories Ltd

The Employment Tribunal upheld Mrs Deol’s claims for pregnancy discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal.

The Tribunal found that Sonic had had knowledge of Mrs Deol’s pregnancy, preferring Mrs Deol’s evidence that she had informed Mr Nawasra of her pregnancy on 9 January 2016 and that she had been subsequently logged absent from work for pregnancy-related reasons by one of her managers. The Tribunal found Sonic’s evidence on this point to lack credibility, as Sonic’s employees had attempted to argue that Mrs Deol had inputted the pregnancy-related absences into the HR portal herself and the Tribunal found that this was unlikely. This finding regarding credibility had a significant impact on the Tribunal’s findings on liability.

With regards to the claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination, the Tribunal found that there were sufficient facts to infer that the reason for Mrs Deol’s dismissal was her pregnancy (including the lack of procedure followed relating to her dismissal, previous comments made regarding pregnant employees, and the fact that it was implausible that she would be dismissed for gross misconduct after a one-day absence from work). The Tribunal also found her dismissal to be automatically unfair, as it found the reason (or principal reason) for her dismissal was the fact that she was pregnant.

Our solicitors’ view on Deol v Sonic Laboratories Ltd

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must take care to treat pregnant employees with respect and patience, and to treat any pregnancy-related absence with the due care and attention that it deserves – submitting an employee to a detriment because they are pregnant or because of a pregnancy-related absence can potentially lead to an Employment Tribunal claim being made.”

The judgment of the Employment Tribunal on liability can be found here.