The industrial tribunal found in Elizabeth Kennedy’s favour after she was not allowed to return to her permanent job after a five-year career break from her employer, despite having been led to believed that she could.
Ms Kennedy worked as a legal officer for the Equality Commission and took a career break January 2009. She renewed this career break four times to extend to the break to five years, which was the maximum available under the Equality Commission’s career break policy.
She told her employer in September 2013 that she intended to return to work in January 2014 but was not told until December 2013 that she would not be able to return.
After being informed that she would not be able to return to her employment Ms Kennedy made a claim for sex discrimination to the industrial tribunal, alleging that she had been indirectly discriminated against by the Equality Commission.
The claim came to the industrial tribunal earlier this year, with the industrial tribunal ruling in favour of Ms Kennedy in her claim for indirect sex discrimination. The tribunal found that the Equality Commission had known since at least 2009 that people on career breaks would not be permitted to return to work and that the failure to implement the policy properly was unfair. However, the industrial tribunal also stated that the Equality Commission had not intended to discriminate against Ms Kennedy.
The industrial tribunal awarded Ms Kennedy £7,500 for the injury to her feelings caused by the discrimination, as well as a fure £637 in interest.
The Equality Commission commented on the judgment of the industrial tribunal: “The career break policy was agreed with the employees’ trade union in 2001,” the commission added. It was a policy aimed at providing greater flexibility for employees. Since then a considerable number of employees have benefitted from the policy. The changing financial position and staffing reductions over the past five years resulted in difficulties for the commission in facilitating a return to work for staff at the end of the career breaks.”
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must ensure that they implement equality policies at work fairly and consistently or they could face potentially expensive and time-consuming tribunal claims. If you think that you may be sued by a current or former employee then you should take legal advice on your position.”