An administrative worker who suffered a miscarriage was sacked when her bosses refused to give her more time off because it had ‘inconvenienced’ them, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Chantelle Nicholson, who worked at Willowbank Holdings, a real estate company in Stanmore, Middlesex, was told to go on ‘sick leave for a few weeks’ after telling one of her bosses Pradnya Naigaonkar what had happened.
The office administrator contacted her employers again to say she was signed off for more than two weeks as she had to undergo surgery following the failed pregnancy, the tribunal heard.
But ‘a change of position’ saw Miss Nicholson then receive a ‘harsh’ email from her bosses saying they had not received ‘any notification of her absence’.
She was later sacked, the tribunal was told.
Although the company argued she had resigned, the tribunal found they had fired her because of the absence following her miscarriage.
An administrative worker at Willowbank Holdings (pictured), a real estate company in Stanmore, Middlesex, was sacked when her bosses refused to give her more time off after she had a miscarriage because it had ‘inconvenienced’ them, an employment tribunal has ruled
A judge concluded: ‘We infer from the change in position, including the harsh tone of the email, that Miss Nicholson’s absence, which was as a result of her pregnancy and illness suffered by reason of it, was becoming an inconvenience.’
Miss Nicholson first started working for Willowbank Holdings Limited in February 2017 as an office administrator and later a property administrator.
The tribunal was told Miss Nicholson had experienced ‘personal issues’ in 2018 and was also issued a final written warning for absences.
Then in August 2018, she fell pregnant.
But at the end of October, she went into hospital and later sent a text to Ms Naigaonkar to say that following a scan, no heartbeat had been found, the panel heard.
Ms Naigaonkar then sent her a text which read: ‘Sorry to know this. I would recommend you to put down as sick leave for a few weeks til things get better with your health. Please take care of yourself. Good luck.’
The tribunal, held in Cambridge, was told Miss Nicholson later had to have surgery which meant she was signed off until November 16.
Her bosses were not in contact with her which the tribunal found ‘fitted’ with the fact there had been no discussion of a ‘fixed timescale’ for contact to resume between them.
But on November 9 when she informed them of her being signed off work, Miss Nicholson received a ‘harsh’ email which read: ‘We are very sorry for the recent health issue and losses at personal level you have experienced.
‘I would like to note that you have been absent from work since 29 October 2018 without any notification of your absence.
‘Today is the first communication we have received from you with regards to absence [until] 16 November. This is having adverse impact on the business.
‘We look forward to you returning to work on 18 November 2018. It makes sense that we have a meeting on 18 November at 10am to discuss your personal situation and its impact on your work.’
This left Miss Nicholson feeling ‘distressed’, the panel heard, as she felt she was potentially in trouble ‘in circumstances where she had just lost her unborn baby child’.
During the meeting, Miss Nicholson was upset so she was told to take a few days off and then return to work, the panel heard.
But after returning from annual leave in January 2019, Miss Nicholson told the panel she was sacked ‘without warning’ by her other boss, Haresh Rane.
Although he argued she had ‘stormed out’ and resigned, the panel found he ‘did not dispute’ she had actually been sacked in an email he sent.
Miss Nicholson then made claims for unlawful discrimination, unfair dismissal and subjection to detriment to an employment tribunal.
The panel, headed by Employment Judge Roger Tynan, found it ‘revealing’ that Mr Rane should ‘equate absence as a result of miscarriage with unpredictable attendance’.
It concluded: ‘The “harsh” email of 9 November 2018 was not a communication we would expect a fair and reasonable employer to send to an employee who had recently suffered a miscarriage, let alone in circumstances where Ms Naigaonkar had suggested she should take time away from work.
‘If, as Willowbank Holdings Limited suggest, they were solely concerned that this was a further uninformed absence, they might have contacted her at any time before she contacted them on 9 November 2018 to enquire as to the reasons for her continued absence.
‘Her pregnancy and miscarriage proved a tipping point in the relationship and we conclude that Mr Rane had resolved by no later than 9 November 2018 that Willowbank Holdings Limited should part company with her, albeit he recognised that legally (and perhaps morally) it could not do so immediately and certainly not during her protected period.
‘We can identify no other reason for her dismissal other than that Mr Rane had resolved by no later than 9 November 2018 to bring her employment with Willowbank Holdings Limited to an end because her pregnancy and subsequent pregnancy related absence were an inconvenience and that he acted on this when he met with her on 10 January 2019.’
The case will next be resolved at a remedy hearing where Miss Nicholson is in line to receive compensation.