I am pregnant and work for a local council on a fixed-term contract. I have been told that the work that I do is of an excellent standard and as a consequence my contract has been extended twice. My maternity leave begins in March and my contract ends at the end of March. Before I informed my employer that I was pregnant, it was suggested that the ‘next step’ would be to put me onto the new project that will be recruited for in February or March time. In addition to this new project, someone has handed in their notice, so there will be another vacancy within the team. When I initially told my manager, she said “we’ll look after you” and “we can’t get rid of you just because you’re pregnant” (my colleague was present for this). I received my redundancy letter on Thursday citing the end of my contract as the reason. I have appealed this and was told today that I would be having an appeal hearing. My appeal is on the grounds of discrimination – at the time I was made redundant, I was told by my manager that they would have be back in a second, and I could apply for any of the jobs when I was ready to come back after maternity leave, but that the council needed to save money now. My question is: do I have grounds for pregnancy discrimination?
You do not say how long you have been employed for, but I presume it is less than two years. If you have more than two years’ service, you are entitled to a redundancy payment. This should be calculated in the same way as for a comparable permanent employee; if it is not, this could constitute less favourable treatment because of your contract type.
It is worth remembering that termination of a fixed term contract on its intended expiry date can be potentially fair regardless as to whether you have two years’ service or not. However, if you have two years’ service, this would enable you to bring a freestanding claim for unfair dismissal if the employer has made you redundant but a genuine redundancy situation does not exist and/or an unfair process (or no process at all) has been followed.
Regardless of your length of service, though, you are protected from discrimination on grounds of your sex and/or pregnancy as well as benefiting from legal protections because of your contract type. These include protection from being treated less favourably to a comparable permanent employee and, in respect of your pregnancy, from less favourable treatment because of this condition (such as being dismissed because you are pregnant). In cases of redundancy this extends to a legal right to be offered any suitable available vacancies once it is known that your current employment cannot continue due to redundancy.
From what you have described, it appears there is no genuine redundancy situation because someone is still required to perform your role or at the least, the newly vacated role. The facts you have given suggest the real reason for the Council not renewing your contract is your pregnancy. If that is correct, this decision would be discriminatory on grounds of your sex and/or pregnancy and you could potentially bring claims against the Council for automatic unfair dismissal and sex and/or maternity discrimination. In addition, if a comparable permanent employee was or has been given the chance to apply for the newly vacant role but you have not because of your fixed term contract basis, this could give rise to an additional claim under the fixed term workers legislation for less favourable treatment on the grounds of your contract type.
You need to follow the ACAS early conciliation process before bringing a tribunal claim, and that you have 3 months from the date of dismissal or the discriminatory act to instigate this process.
Before you begin early conciliation though, I suggest you give the Council a chance through the appeal meeting to resolve the situation and reinstate your employment with immediate effect. It may be that when reminded about the benefits you brought to the team, the discussions and promises they made to you about the next project, and their legal obligations, they will change their position.