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I work in an office and I informed my employer in July 2013 that I was pregnant. They never carried out a risk assessment and proceeded to continuously increase my workload to the point where most weeks I was working double my normal hours. I ended up becoming extremely stressed from the constant pressure and began experiencing panic attacks and low mood. I eventually ended up being signed off work sick by my doctor at 20 weeks with depression. I am only beginning to recover now and have not yet returned to work following my maternity leave – I am still off sick and currently receiving ESA, but still officially employed. My question is do I have a case for discrimination?
Pregnancy/maternity discrimination occurs where an employee is treated unfavourably during pregnancy and/or maternity leave because of her pregnancy or because she is seeking to exercise the right to maternity leave. It would appear that you may be alleging that your employer treated you unfavourably because of your pregnancy/maternity and as such you may be able to pursue a discrimination claim against your employer.
It is important to note that any claim for discrimination connected to pregnancy/maternity must be brought within three months of the date to which the complaint/discriminatory conduct relates. It would therefore appear that you would potentially be out of time to pursue a claim against your employer for pregnancy/maternity discrimination which occurred prior to your maternity leave as I anticipate that such conduct occurred more than three months ago now.
However, discriminatory conduct occurring more than three months before a claim is brought may still be in time in certain circumstances. For instance, if the discrimination is part of conduct extending over a period of time or is found to be a ‘continuing act’ as it is sometimes called then a claim may still be in time. For instance, if further incidents of discrimination have occurred during your maternity leave and more recently then your claim could still be found to be in time. That said, your query appears to suggest that there have been no further incidents of discrimination during your maternity leave and therefore that more than three months has passed since the last act of discrimination alleged by you. It is therefore important to seek specific advice relating to your claim to establish whether any claim is still in time. You should do this without any further delay.
Additionally, where discrimination has occurred, it is usual for an employee to raise a grievance with their employer outlining the conduct which they claim to be discriminatory. It is not clear from your query whether any grievance has been raised by you at the time of the alleged conduct prior to your maternity leave or since this time. If you have not raised a grievance with your employer, then I would certainly suggest that you do so, outlining within your grievance the conduct which you allege to be discriminatory and asking your employer to investigate this further. Raising a grievance would usually result in your attendance at a grievance meeting to discuss the content of your grievance with your employer and following the meeting, your employer would convey their written decision in respect of your grievance to you i.e. whether they agree that you have been discriminated against. If you do not feel up to attending a grievance hearing then you can request that your employer deal with your grievance as a written exercise and without you having to attend at any grievance hearing in person. Raising a grievance may assist with resolving the issues you had experienced prior to your maternity leave and may assist with a return to work.