Mother Dismissed for Absenteeism Wins Tribunal Claims

A call-centre worker who was dismissed for gross misconduct after she was absent from work when her baby daughter was in hospital has won her claims of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal (Van Heeswyk v One Call Insurance Services Limited).

Annie Van Heeswyk worked for One Call Insurance Services Limited. After her return from maternity leave she had applied to her employer for parental leave, so that she could spend time with her baby daughter and her soldier husband, who was on leave having served in Afghanistan. The child had been unwell and Mrs Van Heeswyk had previously taken time off work to be with her when she was undergoing hospital treatment. The request was denied, however, on the basis that 'spending time together as a family didn't qualify as parental leave'.

Shortly afterwards, Mrs Van Heeswyk, who had an excellent work record and had received no earlier warnings, was asked to attend a disciplinary hearing on account of 'persistent absenteeism' and 'unsatisfactory standards or output of work'. She was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct, even though it was understood that her absence from work had been linked to her daughter's stay in hospital. Her employer found her explanation unsatisfactory on the basis that 'children get ill all the time'.

Mrs Van Heeswyk brought claims of sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and unreasonable refusal to allow parental leave as well as a further claim for unlawful deduction of wages as she had been denied a pay rise of £2,000 a year to which she was entitled after she had completed two years' service.

In upholding her claims, the Employment Tribunal described her employer's behaviour towards her since her return from maternity leave as 'unsympathetic' and was of the view that the company was 'scraping the barrel' in order to find reasons to dismiss her.

Unpaid parental leave is a separate right from Shared Parental Leave. Parents who meet the 12-month continuous employment qualification can each take up to 18 weeks' unpaid leave at any time up to the child's 18th birthday in order to look after a child's welfare. Employees are obliged to give their employer 21 days' notice and no more than four weeks can be taken in any one year, unless the employer agrees otherwise. Leave must be taken in blocks of one week, unless the employer is happy to vary the rule or the child is disabled. Further information can be found on the website of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

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