How our Employment Law team helped a local employer manage their employee’s grievance that she had been discriminated against while on maternity leave.
Aztech LLP, an Eastbourne-based firm of architects, employed Suzanna as an architect. Throughout her employment Suzanna performed well, receiving a number of pay rises and bonuses.
Suzanna’s performance began to deteriorate in 2013. She announced her pregnancy at the beginning of 2014. She brought in less money for the firm than year end 2012 and did not generate new work. 6 months into the financial year she was barely covering the cost of her salary.
A number of clients also complained about Suzanna, suggesting that she was slow at responding to their calls. The Managing Partner spoke to Suzanna to see if she needed any support, but she reacted defensively and insisted that everything was fine.
Suzanna commenced maternity leave and the Managing Partner at Aztech carried out a firm-wide pay review. He decided that Suzanna’s performance did not justify a pay rise or a bonus, but he did increase the salaries of other staff and pay some bonuses.
When Suzanna learned that she had been excluded from a pay rise and bonus she grieved. She alleged that she had been excluded because of her maternity leave, that the Managing Partner had taken unkindly to her pregnancy and had made her feel like a difficult employee.
Aztech felt that a complaint of this nature was entirely out of character. They were concerned that Suzanna had given up on her employment shortly after becoming pregnant and had no intention of ever returning to work. More than this, they feared that she was engineering a constructive dismissal and preparing to bring an Employment Tribunal claim for discrimination.
We carried out a thorough investigation and established that Suzanna’s performance was unaffected by her pregnancy as her performance had gone down hill some months before she became pregnant. We scrutinised Aztech’s salary review, bonus awards and the respective employees’ performance. We established that although the Managing Partner’s decisions on pay rises and bonuses were not entirely transparent, his decision not to improve Suzanna’s salary or to award her a bonus could nevertheless be explained in a way which discounted pregnancy or maternity discrimination.
We advised Aztech on the various legal issues and agreed a strategy to deal with Suzanna’s grievance.
We helped Aztech to organise the grievance process – from their initial response, conducting the grievance meeting, guiding them through the investigation, and helping them to prepare a robust response. Their grievance response dealt with all of Suzanna’s complaints fully and in a straightforward and sensitive manner. As part of their written decision Aztech offered to pay Suzanna a ‘return to work’ bonus when she returned from her maternity leave. This was done as a matter of good will to ensure trust and confidence between the parties was fully restored.
Suzanna told the Practice that she did not intend to appeal and that she was pleased with their response.
Aztech avoided a grievance appeal and made sure that trust and confidence was fully restored to avoid a constructive dismissal situation and a possible discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal.