I was still on maternity leave when my colleagues were offered the chance to embark on a further training course (I was not made aware of this opportunity via any form of communication). The deadline for a decision was given as the month before my maternity leave ended, but the course started after I was back. I feel I was excluded from this opportunity and am now the only member of the team ‘left behind’ because I have not started this extra qualification. There is currently “no more money in the pot” for me to start the course now as the funds have already been allocated.
I have recently been turned down for a promotion as one of the ‘essential criteria’ is that the candidate should either already have this extra qualification or be working towards it. All of my colleagues who did the course have subsequently been promoted to the band above me.
Should my employer have informed me of this opportunity? Is there anything I can do about this now or do I just have to accept that I was forgotten about/excluded?
Discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination in employment in relation to recruitment, promotion, transfer, training, provision of facilities and access to benefits in relation to dismissal or any other detriment on the grounds of sex, pregnancy and maternity.
A woman who is subjected to detrimental treatment because of pregnancy or maternity leave can claim pregnancy and maternity discrimination under Section 18 of the Equality Act 2010 or sex discrimination under Section 13. There is also a free-standing statutory right not to be subjected to any detriment connected with pregnancy, childbirth or maternity under Section 47C ERA 1996. The reason in your case would be that you have given birth to a child and the act or failure to act took place during your ordinary or additional maternity leave period.
There is no definition of detriment in the legislation, but the concept appears to be very wide as there is a right not to suffer any detriment. This would include the obvious examples of unjustified disciplinary action or a reduction in pay, but it would also incorporate more subtle forms of treatment such as a failure to promote, a refusal of training or other opportunities or a reduction in job status or content.
Consequently, in this case a failure to provide the same opportunity of training if due to maternity leave/pregnancy, which ultimately led to being placed at a disadvantage on recent promotions, could amount to a detriment and discrimination.
An employee who has suffered a detriment or been subjected to discrimination may make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal. A complaint must be presented to an Employment Tribunal before the end of three months beginning with the date of the act or the failure to act or, where there is a series of acts or failures, the last of them. Tribunals may, however, hear cases presented out of time if they consider that it was not reasonably practicable for the complaint to have been submitted within the three-month time limit. However, it can be difficult to convince a Tribunal that a claim should be heard out of time and consequently claims should be presented within the statutory time limit.
*Helen Frankland assisted in answering this question.