In the case of Ms L Naraine v Smart Medical Clinics Ltd: 2301156/2016 the Employment Tribunal held that Ms Naraine had been automatically unfairly dismissed for a reason connected to her pregnancy and period of maternity leave, awarding her over £29,800 in compensation.
The facts in Naraine v Smart Medical Clinics Ltd
Ms Naraine commenced employment with Westover Medical Ltd, a private medical practice, on 21 February 2011 (initially in the Notting Hill office and then in the Wandsworth office). Westover Medical Ltd was liquidated in 2013; both prior to and after the liquidation of Westover Medical Ltd Ms Naraine was paid by the same payroll company (PG London Trading Ltd), which was owned by certain directors of Smart Medical Clinics Ltd (“SMC”).
In September 2014 Ms Naraine discovered that she was pregnant and informed her line manager; her line manager subsequently informed other members of staff and the directors of SMC. Mr Parker, a director of SMC, congratulated her and asked her whether she was going to return from maternity leave (as, if she was not, he wished to find a permanent replacement). Ms Naraine informed him that she was at that time intending to return to SMC after her period of maternity leave.
Ms Naraine commenced maternity leave on 1 June 2015; during her period of maternity leave Ms Wright was employed as her maternity cover and she commenced work at SMC prior to Ms Naraine commencing maternity leave.
In the middle of April 2015 Dr O’Brien, a GP at the Wandsworth clinic, overhead a conversation between Ms Naraine and Ms Wright in which Ms Naraine said that she would be going on maternity leave sooner than expected and that she didn’t intend to return to work. Dr O’Brien reported this conversation to Mr Parker, and Mr Parker became concerned and upset by this. He reviewed SMC’s CCTV to observe the conversation for himself.
On 30 April 2015 Ms Naraine noticed that she had not been paid and therefore phoned the receptionist at the Brompton Cross clinic who told her that they had been paid. She therefore asked to speak to Mr Parker and did so. On 1 May 2015 Ms Naraine wrote to Mr Parker and detailed what had occurred in that telephone conversation (including that he had accused her of “conspiring” with Ms Wright, that she had no intention of “coming back”, that he had reviewed the CCTV footage of her conversation with Ms Wright, and that he had enough evidence to allow him to dismiss her for gross misconduct).
Following 1 May 2015 there was correspondence between Mr Parker and Ms Naraine, and on 22 June 2015 Ms Naraine gave birth. Ms Naraine did not hear further from SMC until 16 March 2016, when she received her P45. This P45 showed that her leaving date was 31 January 2016. At 17:15 on 16 March 2016 Ms Naraine wrote to Mr Parker asking why she had received her P45, and on 24 March 2016 Mr Parker wrote back to inform her that, among other things, he was terminating her employment.
Ms Naraine subsequently brought Employment Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal (section 98 Employment Rights Act 1996), automatic unfair dismissal (section 99 Employment Rights Act 1996), and pregnancy and maternity discrimination (section 18 Equality Act 2010).
The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Naraine v Smart Medical Clinics Ltd
The Employment Tribunal upheld Ms Naraine’s claims for unfair dimissal, automatic unfair dismissal, and pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
The Tribunal found that there was no fair procedure undertaken before Ms Naraine’s dismissal, and therefore upheld her claim for unfair dismissal.
Automatic unfair dismissal
The Employment Tribunal held that the real reason for the termination of Ms Naraine’s employment was that he considered her a dishonest liar because she had indicated to him that she intended to exercise her right to return to work from maternity leave, but in other conversations she had stated that she might not. The Tribunal held that 14 months had elapsed between this conversation and the date on which her employment was terminated, and that she was entitled to keep her options open during maternity leave, and that the reason for her dismissal was therefore entirely connected with her representations about her plans to return to work.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
The Tribunal held that there were inferences from which it could conclude that discrimination might have occurred (as per the automatic unfair dismissal claim), and that SMC could not provide a reasonable alternative explanation to the dismissal.
The Employment Tribunal awarded Ms Naraine £29,821.36 in compensation, comprised of the following awards:
- Basic award for unfair dismissal: £948
- Loss of statutory rights: £350
- Financial losses: £13,191.17
- Injury to feelings: £15,332.19
Our solicitors’ view on Naraine v Smart Medical Clinics Ltd
Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employees on maternity leave have a right to return to work (unless specific exceptions apply); employers must ensure that they treat employees fairly, particularly when dealing with periods of absence from work due to pregnancy-related illnesses or maternity leave.”