Am I being discriminated against for being pregnant? Ask the expert

I am currently 21 weeks pregnant. I have been at my current job for three months as a dental nurse/receptionist. I told them I was pregnant a couple of weeks ago and was asked “if I’m keeping it?” To which I asked if my job was safe and was told “I’m not sure you are on probation, but we might have to keep you on” which I knew to be inappropriate. I am a dental nurse re-registering with the GDC and whilst getting my information together I was contacted by Occupational Health. I phoned them and was informed I’m a non-respondent to the Hep b innoculation and that I should not work in surgery due to it being unsafe even though I shouldn’t work in surgery until my GDC registration comes back anyway. I was called into the office a few days later and told I was a “surplus requirement” and that my job wasn’t safe as I could not work in surgery and that they do not need two people on reception even though they arrange cover for me when I’m off work and always make sure there are two people on reception and told me a few days after this meeting that two people need to run reception. Where do I stand?

Under discrimination law you are currently in the “protected period” which runs from the start of your pregnancy to the end of your maternity leave.  During that protected period it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you by treating you unfavourably because of your pregnancy.  Although you have only been with your employer for three months, there is no minimum service requirement for bringing a discrimination claim and any dismissal as a result of your pregnancy would be automatically unfair.

Clearly your employer’s comments on being told of your pregnancy were wholly inappropriate and, of themselves, grounds for complaint.

You have now been told you can’t work in surgery because you are a non-respondent to Hep B, which your employer may argue is the reason why you are at risk of being dismissed (and not because you are pregnant).  However, if your employer’s decision to dismiss you is influenced by your pregnancy, then this is enough for discrimination to occur.  Given the need for two people on reception, and the need for cover in your absence, your employer’s argument that you are surplus to requirements does not seem to stack up.

All employers are obliged to protect the health and safety of their employees and special duties apply in respect of expectant or new mothers in the workplace.  In summary, the law requires employers:

–        To assess the workplace risks posed for new or expectant mothers or their babies.

–        To alter the employee’s working conditions or hours of work to avoid any significant risk.

–        Where it is not reasonable to alter working conditions or hours, or would not avoid the risk, to offer suitable alternative work on terms that are not substantially less favourable.

–         Where suitable alternative work is not available, or the employee reasonably refuses it, to suspend the employee on full pay.

Where an employer fails to undertake the above requirements, claims may be presented to an Employment Tribunal.  You could argue that you should be offered suitable alternative work, and working on reception where two people are evidently needed would fulfil this.

Ask for a copy of your employer’s grievance procedure and lodge a formal grievance in respect of the treatment you have received.  Your employer will be obliged to investigate your complaint, discuss it with you and give you an outcome.  You will have the right of appeal if you don’t agree with the findings.  If you are dismissed, you would have 3 months less one day from your last day of employment in which to lodge a claim of automatic unfair dismissal and pregnancy discrimination at the employment tribunal.  However, before issuing proceedings, you must contact ACAS, which runs a mandatory early conciliation service which tries to resolve differences between employers and employees before going to a tribunal.

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