Tribunal finds that ignoring employee whilst on maternity leave constituted discrimination (Mrs A Baszkowska v Mr Zbigniew Godzisz – ET/2602065/2019)

In the case of Mrs A Baszkowska v Mr Zbigniew Godzisz ET2602065/2019 the Employment Tribunal held that an employee’s disclosure that she was pregnant led to a change in attitude by the employer towards the employee, and that this then resulted in the employee being ignored whilst on maternity leave.

The facts in Mrs A Baszkowska v Zbigniew Godzisz

Mrs Baszkowska (the “Claimant”) commenced employment in 2003 with Info Service, a trading name of Mr Zbigniew (the “Respondent”). Info Service provided advice to Polish and Eastern European nationals living locally to the business on various matters, including insurance and travel.

In 2014 Mr Godzisz stepped back from the day to day running of the business in favour of his career at TH Clements, and Mr Godzisz’s wife then became the manager of the Respondent’s business.  Mrs Godzisz handled the day-to-day running of the business and Mr Godzisz’s shared decisions made but did not attend the office very often.

The Claimant and her partner had plans to marry and in October 2018 the Claimant, whilst on holiday in Poland, underwent a scan to confirm her pregnancy. She posted a picture on Facebook of the scan and a number of her colleagues saw the picture.

On her return to work the Claimant discussed her pregnancy with Mrs Godzisz and confirmed her pregnancy formally at a meeting on 7 December 2018 (in which she presented Mrs Godzisz with her MATB1 form).

Prior to the Claimant announcing her pregnancy there had been discussions at times about personal matters, small talk and social interactions within the small team in the business. Upon Mrs Godzisz’s learning that the Claimant was pregnant she stopped talking to her and limited the Claimant’s duties – this included: requiring the Claimant to move desks to the other side of the office so that she was furthest from the door as well as removing some of the Claimant’s work and responsibilities.

The Claimant wrote to the Respondent on 17 December 2018 after being prompted on her plans for maternity leave ,stating (English translation) –

It is very difficult for me now to define when I should go on Maternity Leave, but Agnieszka, you asked, for this moment I can estimate that I would like to work until the end of February, later I would like to use Annual leave and immediately after that maternity leave. I have an appointment to see a midwife in the clinic on 3 January at 11:55 a.m. and then on 31 January I have another ultrasound in the hospital at 8:40 a.m. and this may take a little longer because I will have a diabetes test And Zbyszek, could you remember about the payslip for last month.

The Claimant had specified her preference to use up all her annual leave and then go on maternity leave. The Respondent later argued that the Claimant had changed her mind and had agreed to a U-turn, saying to Mrs Godzisz that in fact she wanted to take her period of maternity leave and then use up her outstanding annual leave. The Employment Tribunal did not accept there had been any material change in the Claimant’s future plans, nor had any such discussion had taken place; the Employment Tribunal in fact determined that the Respondent had positively chose not to deal with the Claimant’s request to take annual leave before she had commenced maternity leave.

In December 2018 Mrs Godzisz shared with her staff plans for a new collaborative project with an insurance provider, Polplan – this was in the form of car insurance and the idea was to offer this product to the Respondents’ existing clients.  The Claimant was left out of the initial staff induction on Polplan products. 

The Claimant finished work on 28 February 2019 to start her maternity leave (based on her understanding she was using her annual leave first) – prior to the Claimant going on maternity leave she wrote to Mrs Godzisz to ask for her rights and responsibilities whilst on maternity leave to be clarified in writing but received no response. This gave the impression, the Employment Tribunal noted, of the Claimant no longer being considered as part of the business and that her maternity leave was, instead, considered a burden on the business.

In March 2019 the Claimant sent emails to the Respondent requesting information on payslips, annual leave and maternity. The Respondent replied, referring to payment for maternity leave and annual leave being subject to proportionality (which was not part of the employer’s employment terms). Shortly after this the Respondent appeared to change its mind on the Claimant’s proposal that she take annual leave before the period of maternity leave.

On 27 March 2019 the Claimant lodged a formal grievance, with the grievance hearing being held on 16 May 2019. The Respondent had legal representation at the hearing but the Claimant did not. At the grievance hearing the Claimant made clear her concerns were not financial and that she was not seeking compensation, but rather restoring some trust in a job she had done for several years and ensuring that she be able to return to work, as well as confirming that she was able to take her annual leave before her period of maternity leave.

The Respondent rejected the Claimant’s complaints, save for the following: that the Claimant had not received written confirmation of her period of maternity leave (which was blamed on an administrative oversight); and that she had not received her payslips. The Claimant was given a right of appeal but did not do so, and on 9 October she resigned with effect from 31 October.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal found – in a unanimous decision – that all of the Claimant’s claims of pregnancy and maternity discrimination succeeded. Specifically, the Employment Tribunal found that the Claimant had been subjected to the following unfavourable treatment because of her period of maternity leave:

  • the failure to provide the Claimant with key information she was entitled to confirming her status, rights and obligations immediately after 28 February;
  • the behaviour of Mrs Godzisz in no longer talking to the Claimant and limiting her duties once she announced her pregnancy;
  • not to allow the Claimant to take annual leave after 28 February 2019 (instead of maternity leave), resulting in the Respondent’s unilateral decision that her maternity leave would start on 1 March 2019; and
  • the failure of the Respondent to respond or discuss the Claimant’s proposal on taking annual leave followed by maternity leave

Our lawyers’ views on the case

Stephen Norton, legal adviser at Redmans, commented as follows: “This is another interesting example of a change in behaviour and attitude by an employer towards an employee after becoming aware of her pregnancy – instead of engaging with the employee, offering help and support to a valuable member of the team, and engaging properly to discuss their preferences, the employer only saw inconvenience and disruption to their business.”

The Employment Tribunal’s judgment in Mrs A Baszkowska v Mr Zbigniew Godzisz – ET/2602065/2019 can be found here.