What if an employer decides to dismiss an employee, but then finds out she’s pregnant?
In Really Easy Car Credit Ltd v Thompson, an employee was dismissed during her probationary period because her employer was unhappy with her performance and conduct. The decision to dismiss her was reached before it knew she was pregnant. However, the employee claimed that she was dismissed because she was pregnant, and that her employer had lied about when it had made its decision to give the impression it had nothing to do with her pregnancy.
The Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal was automatically unfair because once her employer knew about her pregnancy it was clear the issues of her performance and conduct were related to the pregnancy.
However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected this reasoning, concluding that the decision to dismiss her could not have been because of the pregnancy, because it knew nothing about it at that time. That said, it remitted the case back to the Tribunal to consider whether the employer had re-examined her dismissal once it found out she was pregnant. If the outcome of a re-examination was based on her pregnancy, the employee’s claim might succeed.
What does this mean for employers?
Whilst this case offers some reassurance to employers that they cannot be scrutinised for matters they do not know about at the time of making a decision to dismiss, it also highlights the need to ensure that the dismissal process is undertaken in a fair, reasonable and impartial manner.
A detailed investigation of any potential allegations should be undertaken prior to any dismissal to minimise the risks of potential claims for discrimination and unfair dismissal being brought.