The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the Tribunal did not err in law in deciding that the employer did not have actual knowledge (or belief) of the Claimant’s pregnancy, and that her claim for automatic unfair dismissal was therefore bound to fail. The EAT also held that it was not, for reasons of statutory interpretation and practicality, sufficient for Claimants to argue that their employer ought to have known of their pregnancy.
Factual background in Ramdoolar v Bycity Ltd
Mrs Ramdoolar commenced employment with Bycity Ltd (“Bycity”) on 14 October 2002 as an Accounts Assistant. She was dismissed on 10 January 2003. The reason that Bycity gave for the termination of Mrs Ramdoolar’s employment was that she had been unwilling or unable to do tasks that had been given to her and that she had been late for work on occasions (and had not given her pregnancy as an explanation); Bycity denied that Mrs Ramdoolar had informed it of her pregnancy at any time before she had been dismissed. Mrs Ramdoolar, for her part, alleged that she had informed Bycity of her pregnancy on 15 November 2002 (the day that she had become aware of it).
Mrs Ramdoolar brought claims for pregnancy and maternity discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal.
The Employment Tribunal’s decision
The Employment Tribunal, faced with a stark contrast in evidence between the parties, found in favour of Bycity (that it had not been informed of Mrs Ramdoolar’s pregnancy). The Tribunal therefore found that she had been dismissed because of her performance and not because of her pregnancy.
Mrs Ramdoolar appealed the Employment Tribunal’s decision on the principal basis that the Tribunal should have found that Bycity ought reasonably to have known about the fact of Mrs Ramdoolar’s pregnancy, even if she had not expressly told her previous employer that she was pregnant (i.e. that it should have had ‘constructive knowledge’ of her pregnancy).
The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision
The Employment Appeal Tribunal examined section 99 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and Regulations 19 and 20 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999 and held that actual knowledge (or at the very least actual belief) of a woman’s pregnancy were necessary before the woman could (successfully) bring a claim for automatic unfair dismissal or detriment due to pregnancy – employers should not be held to a standard where they were obliged to infer that an employee was pregnant from the symptoms or behaviour of an employee, and that if an employee wanted her employer to know that she was pregnant then it was up to her to inform them of such.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal therefore held that the law as stated in Del Monte Foods Ltd v Mundon was still valid and that the appeal should be dismissed.
Our solicitors’ comments on Ramdoolar v Bycity Ltd
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case again reinforces the fact that, for both practical and legal purposes, employees should if possible inform their employer of their pregnancy in writing as soon as practically and personally possible in order to obtain protection under the relevant statutes – there is a slew of case law, as in this case, where the employer has succeeded in defending the case because they have (whether truthfully or untruthfully) persuaded the Employment Tribunal that the employee bringing the claim had not informed them of her pregnancy.”
The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Ramdoolar v Bycity Ltd can be found here.