An employment tribunal in the UK has held that the transfer of a pregnant women from front line duty to a desk-based job is a form of pregnancy discrimination and indirect discrimination.
Mrs. Town had informed her in line manager that she was pregnant in November 2017. She expressed the wish to remain in her front-line role until her maternity leave, subject to certain reduction in responsibilities.
A risk assessment confirmed that the police constable was fit to carry out her duties, following certain adjustments to her role. This included wearing plain clothes, a reduction in the amount of night shifts and undertaking lower-risk work such as interviewing witnesses.
However, Mrs. Town was shortly afterwards informed that a decision had been taken by the “people management group” and she was being transferred to a Crime Management Hub. It effectively meant that she would be working in an office-based department dealing with low-level crime. The decision was claimed to be a “business need” and on the basis of her restricted duties.
Following the decision, Mrs. Town had to go on sick leave from the 22nd of December to the 9th of February due to the tremendous amount of anxiety and depression it caused her. Her GP and the midwife both agreed that the transfer caused her ill-health. Her wish to remain with her colleagues was rooted in the support they had given her, even during a previous miscarriage.
A further risk assessment was carried out while the police constable was carrying out her new desk-based role. The assessment exposed her anxiety, stress and stress-related migraine. Even though she eventually returned to the response team in May up till she went on maternity leave in July, Mrs. Town still had to deal with the “overflow” of work from the Crime Management Hub.
In the employment tribunal, the Devon and Cornwall Police maintained that the change in Mrs. Town’s role was not a result of her pregnancy. However, the tribunal did not accept such defence and decided that the police constable had received unfavourable treatment on the ground of pregnancy. The tribunal held that any other conclusion “would have had an air of artificiality about it”.
Employment judge David Harris noted that the decision exposed Mrs. Town to risks relating to her mental health, and noted that the risk assessment carried out after the announcement of her pregnancy was discarded.
The judgement explained how Mrs. Town was removed from a working environment “that she found particularly supportive, against the background of the miscarriage that she had recently suffered, and removed her from work that she valued and enjoyed. Indeed, it was the very work that the claimant had joined the police to be able to do”. The police force was held to have “lost sight” of the fact that she was pregnant in its decision-making process and simply regarded her as “a person with certain physical restrictions”.
The judgment adds that pregnant women were particularly disadvantaged by the police force’s policy that a person on restricted duties beyond two weeks would be considered for transfer to desk-based roles.
The Tribunal further found that the policy to consider a person for a role in the Crime Management Hub if that person had been on restricted duties for two weeks or more is a provision criterion or practice – that is, a practice which puts such a person at a disadvantage.