The result follows claims from an employee of Devon and Cornwall Police, who had been moved from her position on the Response Team to a desk-based role at the Police’s Crime Management Hub after disclosure of her pregnancy. This was because of a policy which instructed that a person on ‘restricted duties’ for longer than two weeks would be transferred to the Hub in the absence of ‘exceptional circumstances’. Although the employee had outlined adjustments to her working day that could have allowed her to remain on the Response Team, such as interviewing suspects and having reduced night shifts, none of these adjustments were considered. This was despite a Risk Assessment supporting her claims.
The employee felt forced to move to the Hub despite being told that this was regularly done to employees on ‘restricted duties’ and took time off work for stress and anxiety. She later brought two claims to the employment tribunal (ET), arguing that she had suffered pregnancy discrimination and indirect discrimination on the basis of her gender, contrary to sections 18 and 19 of the Equality Act 2010 respectively. The tribunal upheld both claims.
The Judge ruled that although her pregnancy was not the main reason for the change in her role, the employee had received unfavourable treatment on the grounds of it. Despite the Police’s argument that all decisions made were due to ‘business need’, this did not escape the fact that the context of all discussions surrounding the employee’s situation was her pregnancy. The tribunal held that the decision to place the employee in the Hub had put her at a disadvantage due to being a pregnant woman. They outlined that pregnant women were particularly disadvantaged by the organisation’s policy and that it had failed to outline the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that would avoid employees being placed in the Hub; despite the fact that concerns had been raised when the policy was first introduced in 2016.
With the recent tribunal statistics highlighting a 56% quarterly increase in tribunal claims relating to treatment or dismissals due to pregnancy, this judgement reminds organisations that pregnant employees have the right not to be unfairly treated as a result of their condition. Where a risk to a pregnant employee has been identified that cannot be avoided, organisations should consider making adjustments to her working conditions or hours of work. Potential adjustments will depend upon what is reasonable in the circumstances.