The fair and equal treatment of employees is essential in creating a positive working environment and culture in which staff feel comfortable. Not only does this boost loyalty among employees, but it is also shown to be vital in maximising productivity levels.

Key to achieving this is the management of discrimination or inequality inherent within the work place, ensuring not only that your current policies regarding issues such as maternity address the matter but also the actions of senior members of staff. Failure to do so can cost employers a significant amount in damages as highlighted by the recent case in which accredited architect Julie Humphryes was awarded £250,000.

Humphryes argued that she had been forced out of her job by former employers YOO Ltd following a campaign of sexist bullying and discrimination after taking maternity leave for her second pregnancy. Upon return to work Humphryes felt marginalised, subject to sexist and patronising comments from the Mr Hitchcox, CEO at the company. When attempting to express her concerns to her employer, she was merely rebuffed with the comment that she was suffering from ‘maternity paranoia’.

Although Hitchcox offered an explanation to the Tribunal for his frank choice in words they maintained that Humphryes had been treated unfavourably. Following a report of a series of other incidents involving further equally crass and inappropriate comments, the Central London Employment Tribunal held the CEO’s comments to be ‘pejorative’ and ‘patronising’. As a result the Tribunal held that Humphryes had been wrongly and unfairly dismissed, ordering Yoo Ltd to pay the following in compensation:

1) Injury to feeling – £20,000
2) Future losses caused to Humphryes – £72,500
3) Other losses caused to Humphryes – £176,500

This case serves as a serious reminder that work place discrimination, particularly in relation to sexual inequality will not be tolerated. Having fair procedures in place regarding maternity leave and pay is not enough to protect employers from costly employment tribunal claims. Inappropriate behaviour, be that spoken or physical is enough to substantiate claims of detrimental treatment resulting in substantial fines.

Employers must tread carefully when dealing with concerns from employees that they feel side lined or marginalised, treating issues such as these with the sensitivity they deserve. If you have been accused of direct discrimination, the penalties you can face if proven in an employment tribunal can be limitless. It is therefore imperative that you seek advice from an employment law solicitor at as early a stage as possible.

Here at Farleys Solicitors our dedicated employment law & HR team have a wealth of experience advising employers in relation to the Equality Act or workplace discrimination. For further advice contact us on 0845 050 1958, alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.