Pregnant employee discriminated against when she was told to resign from her job (Mrs N Agarwal v St John Freight System UK Ltd – ET/3200221/2019)

In the case of Mrs N Agarwal v St John Freight System UK Ltd: ET/3200221/2019 an Employment Tribunal held that a pregnant employee had been discriminated against by being told to resign from her job when she told her line manager that she was absent from work due to bleeding.

The facts in Agarwal v St John Freight System UK Ltd

Mrs Agarwal (“the Claimant”) commenced employment at St John Freight System UK Limited (“the Respondent”) on 7 September 2017. At the start of the Claimant’s employment it was agreed that her working hours would be from 9am to 3pm in the office, and then from 4.30pm to 5.30pm from home.

The ‘working from home’ arrangement did not work out well – the Claimant found it difficult to work from her mobile phone when she was at home, and that she needed access to her computer in the office in order to do her work efficiently. This led to customer queries not being responded to promptly. The Respondent was aware of this and was not happy, but did not compel the Claimant to work from the office. It accepted that she was only working effectively during her time at the office (9am-3pm) but that she was still allowed to work from home (4.30pm-5.30pm).

On 24 October 2017 the Claimant suffered a miscarriage.

In January 2018 and February 2018 the Respondent informed the Claimant that the working from home arrangement was not working well, but the Respondent did not require the Claimant to stay in the office until 5.30pm. The Claimant’s position was that if she had been told to do that then she would have objected, as she had childcare responsibilities that she had to undertake.

On 24 October 2018 the Claimant left the office at approx 2.30pm and went straight to the hospital – she was pregnant again and was suffering some bleeding. She rang the office and told her line manager of her pregnancy and the reason why she was absent. Her line manager informed her that she should be in the office and that, if she could not come in, she should resign as the business needed staff who would work full-time. She called her line manager again the next day and the contents of the conversation were the same.

The Claimant submitted fit notes between October 2018 and January 2019. On 27 December 2018 the Claimant sent an email to the Respondent to inform them that she intended to return to work from sick leave on 2 January 2019. The Respondent sent an email on the same date confirming that upon her return to the office she should work from 9am to 5.30pm at the office with a 1-hour lunch break. The Claimant replied to confirm that she could not do these hours and that she could only work until 3pm, as before.

The Claimant subsequently made claims for pregnancy and maternity discrimination under section 18 of the Equality Act 2010 to the Employment Tribunal.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant had been subjected to unfavourable treatment because of her pregnancy or a pregnancy-related absence as a result of the following conduct:

  • The requirement to work increased hours in the office from January 2019; and
  • Being told on 24 October 2018 that she should resign from her job

The Employment Tribunal ordered that a remedy hearing take place at a later date to consider compensation.

Our solicitors’ comments on Agarwal v St John Freight System UK Ltd

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must ensure that they treat pregnant employees fairly in the workplace, otherwise they may find themselves facing a claim for discrimination in the Employment Tribunal.”

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Agarwal v St John Freight System UK Ltd ET/3200221/2019 can be found here.