Former Gannons Solicitor Constructively Dismissed After Employer Rejects Flexible Working Request Post Maternity Leave

In Ms Jennifer Wall v Gannons Commercial Law Limited, the tribunal ruled the Gannons solicitor was constructively dismissed. This comes after the law firm seriously damaged the relationship of trust and confidence with their solicitor, who was on maternity leave. As a result, there will be a remedy hearing in April.

The Facts in Ms Jennifer Wall v Gannons Commercial Law Limited

Background – Gannons Solicitor Begins Employment with the Law Firm

Ms Jennifer Wall (“The Claimant”) began working for Gannons Commercial Law Limited (“The Respondent”) on 2 November 2020 as a company commercial associate solicitor.

Towards the end of January 2021, the claimant learned she was pregnant. Unfortunately, the Gannons solicitor experienced severe hyperemesis gravidarum and sickness, meaning she informed the firm early about her pregnancy.

On 14 July, the claimant had an appraisal with Ms Catherine Gannon, the firm’s founder. During the meeting, Ms Gannon said the claimant had made the “best start possible” considering the disruptions of Covid and awarded a £10,000 pay rise, making her annual salary £75,000.

Whilst in the appraisal meeting, the claimant’s imminent maternity leave was also discussed. Here, it was established that the firm would only provide Statutory Maternity Pay. 

Subsequently, from July until September, there was various correspondence discussing the claimant’s maternity leave and accrued holidays. The claimant wanted to utilise her holidays to enable her to extend her leave while stabilising her finances. However, there was some confusion concerning how the holidays could legally be used, and the respondent changing their holiday year added to this confusion.

Flexible Working Requests Made During Leave

On 15 September, the Gannons solicitor emailed the firm, confirming that she wanted to begin her maternity leave on 24 September. At such time, negotiations were still ongoing concerning when she would return to work. However, the claimant unexpectedly went into labour the following day whilst working and gave birth.

Over the coming months, the claimant occasionally corresponded with Ms Gannon about her baby, Poppy. Then, on 28 March 2022, Ms Gannon messaged the claimant asking for a catch-up. The claimant responded on 8 April, suggesting meeting dates and discussing her return to work. She explained she wanted to take her full leave plus accrued holidays, meaning she would return to the firm around Christmas.

She also made several flexible working requests, including a part-time working-from-home arrangement, understanding she would be paid less. Ms Gannon emailed the same day, informing the claimant that a new HR consultant had been employed. She added that it may be wise for the claimant to discuss her role with this new individual.

On 12 April, the claimant emailed back requesting details of the HR consultant. She understood it was probably best to contact them closer to her return to work but was conscious of childcare booking up quickly. 

Ms Gannon responded the following day, confirming it was too early to discuss her return. Despite this, she said the claimant should assume a full-time return to the office following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

The Law Firm Rejects the Request of the Gannons Solicitor

Then, on 13 May, Ms Gannon contacted the claimant, stating arrangements for her return to work needed to be made. She explained that if the claimant wanted to make flexible working requests, these must be made by 20 May. 

As such, the claimant submitted her requests to work flexibly on 16 May. In her request, she stated that she wanted “part-time – 8.30 to 4.30 pm working remotely… Ideally 2.5 or 3 days per week term time only”. She again emphasised that she wanted to take her full maternity leave, followed by accrued holidays, returning in December 2022.

However, the law firm rejected these flexible working requests, stating the Gannons solicitor needed to return full-time from 19 September. They added that if she decided not to return, they would treat 16 September as her last day of employment.

The claimant replied on 16 May, requesting a one-day extension to make a decision. On 18 May, she wrote again, outlining her shock at being forced back into the office in September. She claimed this was because a December return had been previously agreed.

The claimant felt she was being forced out and wasn’t prepared to resign. Furthermore, she believed the firm had previously decided to reject her flexible working request before even asking. As such, she amounted their conduct to sex discrimination.

The Gannons Solicitor Resigns from the Law Firm

Over the following months, the deadline to confirm the claimant’s decision kept getting pushed back as negotiations concerning her role continued. At one point, the respondent offered the claimant a part-time, flexible role, paying a mere £12,500. Yet, the claimant rejected this, stating the significant reduction in pay was simply unworkable.

Then, on 12 September, the respondent informed the claimant that they didn’t have any roles supporting her part-time requests. Moreover, they said, “There is no right of appeal from a decision to turn down flexible working”.

The Gannons solicitor responded on 14 September, outlining that the email she’d received was “the final straw”, believing the law firm had dispensed of her. This was because their email repeated the notion that she had “no right of appeal to the part-time working request”. Furthermore, it asked her to defend why she should be paid her notice and particularise her claims.

Subsequently, the claimant had several of her correspondence ignored by the respondent. As such, on 23 November, she told the respondent she’d begun ACAS early conciliation. She explained to the tribunal that this was her resignation letter. Eventually, she made a constructive dismissal claim to an employment tribunal.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

The employment tribunal began by establishing when the claimant had resigned. The Gannons solicitor said this was on 23 November; however, the law firm argued it was on 14 September. After looking at the claimant’s emails, terminology like ‘dispensed with’ led to the conclusion that she’d resigned on 14 September.

Then, the tribunal looked at the treatment the claimant had experienced during her leave. This included how Ms Gannon said it was too early to discuss the claimant’s return but pushed for a decision weeks later. They understood how this would have come as a shock to the claimant because:

  1. Her return to work was brought forward from December to September 2022
  2. Her request to work flexibly was abruptly rejected
  3. She was only given four days to make a decision or face her employment being terminated

The tribunal stated that by the law firm going back on their word concerning the return of the Gannons solicitor, they “seriously damaged the relationship of trust and confidence”. Also, they believed the 12 September 2022 email had the same effect and was the final straw.

As such, they concluded the claimant resigned due to the breach of trust and confidence and was constructively dismissed. They added she didn’t affirm her contract whilst negotiating, as the matters that led to her constructive dismissal were cumulative. 

Finally, the tribunal held that although this claim was successful, the respondent’s actions weren’t influenced by the claimant’s pregnancy or maternity leave. Therefore, her dismissal wasn’t found to have been discrimination.

If you have been constructively dismissed and want to claim compensation, contact Redmans Solicitors now. We are employment law specialists and could assess your situation before advising on possible next steps.

Contact us today by: