How do I deal with gossip about my pregnancy at work?

Colleagues have been gossiping about my pregnancy at work and are speculating about who the father might be. What can I do about this?

I’m sorry to hear that you are being subjected to such conduct in the workplace. To answer your question it is appropriate to have a look at two issues: firstly, how does the law apply to your situation and, secondly, what practical steps can be recommended in your case. These are addressed below in the following order: 

  1. The applicable law
  2. Recommended steps

The applicable law

You may have a claim for “harassment” under s.26 of the Equality Act 2010. Under s.26, you have been subjected to “harassment” if you are subjected to unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of either violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

If colleagues have been openly speculating (whether in front of you or out of our earshot) about who the father of your unborn child is then the success of a harassment claim would depend on the following:

  1. Whether the gossip and speculation is unwanted – given that you have posed a question about this, I have presumed that the gossip and speculation is unwanted. However, if you have participated in or entertained this gossip and speculation previously (whether in your own situation or another colleague’s) then it could be argued that the gossip and speculation is not “unwanted”. This is a familiar line of defence for employers subject to a harassment claim.
  2. The “relevant characteristic” – pregnancy is not a protected characteristic for the purposes of a harassment claim, although the unwanted conduct here would probably relate to your “sex”/gender
  3. Whether the conduct has the “purpose or effect” of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you – if the speculation and gossip by your colleagues has the purpose of violating your dignity then there would be no further argument on this point. However, if the conduct does not have the purpose of offending you, but has this effect then a Tribunal will look at whether your perception of the conduct was reasonable (both subjectively and objectively) and will also the context of the conduct

Depending upon the facts of your matter, you may also have a claim for constructive dismissal.

Recommended steps

If you have been subjected to workplace harassment, discrimination or victimisation then it is recommended that you take the below-listed steps in order to best protect yourself:

  1. Create a diary of what has occurred to you
  2. File a grievance with senior management
  3. Obtain legal advice
  4. Consider the limitation dates for claims

Create a diary of what has occurred to you

Writing down what has happened to you will allow you to create a contemporaneous record of exactly what has occurred during your employment – this is important as it will allow you to argue your case persuasively and will give you a better chance of remedying the behaviour in the workplace (whether this is internally through a grievance procedure or externally through litigation, or the threat of litigation).

File a grievance with senior management

Filing an internal grievance with an appropriate manager of senior management (whether it is your line manager or some other appropriate person) is an important step for two reasons: firstly, it allows the possibility that your matter could be resolved internally without having to take any further steps and, secondly, it serves as a ‘written record’ of what you have experienced and the complaints that you had at that time – this can be extremely important if you do make an Employment Tribunal claim as the Tribunal will generally expect you to have raised the matter internally (if possible) before resorting to litigation.

Obtain legal advice

Obtaining legal advice from an experienced employment specialist will allow you to have a better understanding of what your legal position is and what the appropriate steps to take are. A solicitor should also be able to advise you upon the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and to also advise you on settlement.

If you can’t afford a solicitor or don’t want to resort to external legal advice just yet then educate yourself on the applicable law and best next steps to take – there is a wealth of resources on the internet that you can take advantage of (although not all websites are always reliable). Preparation will be key to success in your matter, whether the outcome you want is resolution through a grievance procedure, a settlement with your employer, or litigation through the Employment Tribunal.

Consider the limitation dates for claims & contact ACAS

If you do want to make an Employment Tribunal claim then you should carefully consider what the ‘limitation date’ for your claim is (the last date on which you can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal) – in harassment cases (and discrimination and victimisation cases) the limitation date is three months less one day from the date on which the incident of harassment occurred. For example, if the incident of harassment occurred on 2 February 2016 the limitation date for making a claim regarding that particular incident would be 1 May 2016. If a subsequent act of harassment occurred on 6 February 2016 then the limitation date for that incident would be 5 May 2016, and so on.

Before you make an Employment Tribunal claim you must also submit an ACAS Early Conciliation request to ACAS (www.acas.org.uk) and obtain an ACAS Early Conciliation Certificate – without such a certificate you will generally not be able to make an Employment Tribunal claim. Making an ACAS Early Conciliation request will generally extend the limitation date in your matter, which is another benefit.





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