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Fair treatment of working mums and part-time staff

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The recent case of Mrs G Long vs British Gas Trading Company (Long) highlighted how employers can fall foul of mistreating working mums and part-time staff in general.

Facts

The Employment Tribunal (ET) held that Mrs Long’s claims for equal pay, sex discrimination, less favourable treatment on the grounds of part-time working and unfair dismissal were well founded and successful.

Mrs Long had worked at British Gas since January 2012. She went on maternity leave in 2017 and later gave birth to triplets. When returning to work, she adopted a part-time working pattern to spend time with her children. Despite her contracted hours her managers were unhappy with her performance stating, 'I've also told her that the work doesn't stop at 4pm on a Wednesday' – when in fact it contractually did for Mrs Long. Fast forward to 2019 and Mrs Long was made redundant, after which point, she brought the above claim.

Part-Time Work and Less Favourable Treatment

Long highlights how a part-time mother can be treated unfairly in the workplace. The managers responsible for Mrs Long’s redundancy procedure failed at several stages and the ET took the view that Mrs Long was less favourably treated than her comparative full-time colleagues.

With women more likely to work in part-time employment (38% of employed women are employed under part-time contracts compared to 13% of men ), it is important to remember that it may be discriminatory to treat a part-time employee less favourably than a full-time employee.

In addition, Regulation 5 of The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 states that an employee cannot be subjected to any detriment by any act, or deliberate failure to act by their employer by reason of their part time status.

It is important for employers to be aware of how they treat employees on part-time contracts and ensure that those in management are cognisant to not treat them less favourably than their full-time counterparts.

Equal Pay

Although the gender pay gap is closing, a fall from 9.0% in April 2019 to 7.9% in April 2021 , efforts can still be made to close it further. Employers should ensure mothers returning from maternity leave do not find themselves at a detriment compared to new colleagues on higher wages, or if they return on a part-time basis, they find themselves at a disadvantage compared to full-time employees, who are treated more favourably.

A lesson to be learned from Long is that Mrs Long was on a full-time equivalent salary of £78,000, when a male employee was hired with 11 years less experience on £80,000. The argument of ‘market forces’ was not sufficient for the ET. Just because a mother has responsibilities outside of work, does not mean an employer can forgo their responsibility to treat them equally.

Sex Discrimination

Long is a clear example of how commonly used business tools can be innately discriminatory against women. In Long the Centrica Selection Matrix was used for performance reviews at British Gas. The matrix caps performance at ‘Achieving’ (even though Mrs Long achieved ‘Exceptional’ when in work) if the employee has been absent for most of the year. The ET found this to be discriminatory on the grounds of sex, especially against women on maternity leave.

It is important for employers to make sure they check the redundancy matrixes or any other business systems they use for anything that could potentially discriminate against women for being on maternity leave - working mums, should not be treated less favourably because of maternity leave, it is discrimination.

Key takeaways to avoid similar situations to the Long case:

  • When recruiting a new employee into a position which has considerable overlap with an existing employee, ensure that the salaries are comparable. It is not a good enough reason to argue that a new employee is on higher wages to ensure you could attract them to the role.
  • Ensure that the criterion/matrix you are using to evaluate your employee’s performance is not indirectly discriminatory against any protected characteristic.
  • When evaluating a part-time employee against a full-time employee ensure that the same criterion is used so that you do not fall foul as the above case demonstrates.
  • Ensure that redundancy procedures are followed precisely, and no corners are cut.

 1 As shown in ONS Labour Market Bulletin, 15 February 2022
 2 As shown in ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) 2021

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