In a recent employment tribunal decision, a mother who was not invited to a work Christmas party because she was on maternity leave is in line for an award of damages for injury to feelings.
Didn't get an invite?
The employment tribunal has ruled that Catriona Howie, a former general manager at the kitchen and design company Hollaways of Ludlow, was discriminated against after she was not invited to an informal staff party. Ms Howie had worked for the company for six years and went on maternity leave after giving birth, agreeing to return to work the following summer. She was therefore opting to take the maximum period of maternity leave.
It was an informal party
The company was struggling financially, and it was decided not to hold a traditional Christmas party that year but the firm organised drinks in a local pub instead and a sum of apparently £200 was put behind the bar. Most of the staff attended the event but Ms Howie was not invited.
The company argued that the outing was arranged at short notice without formal invitations and staff were informed by word of mouth or text message. Giving evidence for the company, a director told the tribunal that it did not occur to her to invite Ms Howie and that “ it was not a proper party and not a normal year”. She conceded however that had Ms Howie not been on maternity leave and been at work she would have been invited. This amounted to less favourable treatment because of maternity and therefore unlawful discrimination. The discrimination element arose in the context of a further claim for unfair dismissal after Ms Howie had been selected for redundancy.
However, the case does provide an example of how apparently, innocuous treatment of an employee which is not intended to be discriminatory, can amount to unlawful discrimination resulting in a damages award. The case sends a signal to all employers to ensure that staff on maternity leave (or indeed any other form of family leave such as parental, adoptive or paternity) should be included in communications generally and be treated as if they were at work.
There is, however, obviously a fine balance to be struck as employees on such leave cannot be expected to receive all communications and emails which are work related because they are of course not at work.