Employers may wince when reading this case and then wince ever so much more learning that the claimant was paid over £8,000 in an injury to feelings payment. There are several issues to take on board from this case; some case-specific and others more general to our pandemic world.
First, headlines rarely give the full picture; there were other actions the respondent employer carried out or failed to carry out. That said, the tribunal chair noted this lack of invitation as one of only two reasons for the finding of discrimination. A harsh reminder that out of sight should not be out of mind when it comes to employees on maternity leave.
In other peaceful times (remember those?!) the implications of that case might have ended there. Now it prompts the question; in our 2021 lockdown, how does a good employer ensure its employees and workers, wherever they are, feel valued, included and part of a team?
- What worked in previous lockdowns regards communication? Apply that again and be willing to add tweaks and/or improvements.
- Are managers aware of what is required of them? Do they understand and do they have the time for additional soft communication skills at this time e.g. "checking in" with people in their team regarding their welfare and progress.
- Beware employees' circumstances might have changed. Are some homeschooling where previously children were in child care? Have some gone through relationship breakdowns affecting caring responsibilities? Have some got increased money worries which are causing stress?
- Do you provide a trusted helpline/somewhere to go? So that employees can explain these issues, feel listened to and maybe find some solution. This may be through line management or through a central source.
- Do take a look at this free recorded webinar for more advice (although recorded during the first lockdown, many of the issues are still very relevant to the current situation).
The Respondent discriminated against the Claimant by treating her unfavourably because she was exercising the right to ordinary or additional maternity leave, in that: a. It did not invite her to staff Christmas drinks in December 2018