Does dismissal for post-natal depression after maternity leave amount to discrimination?

Not according to a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision.

In this case a new mother was absent for work for just under six months suffering from post-natal depression. Due the length of this absence she was eventually dismissed by her employer on the grounds they could no longer support her not being at work. A subsequent Employment Tribunal rejected her claims of sex and or pregnancy/maternity discrimination based on the fact her complaint arose after the end of her maternity leave period. The mother took her claim to appeal but the original decision was upheld.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination occurs where you are treated unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or because you have recently given birth. To make a case against an employer for pregnancy or maternity discrimination you must have suffered a disadvantage as a result of such unfavorable treatment such as being overlooked for promotion or being dismissed.

While being dismissed for post-natal depression (or any other pregnancy related illness) does amount to discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, this is only case if the unfavourable treatment occurs during the beginning of pregnancy and the end of maternity leave – a period that is protected by law.

On this case, as the ex-employee’s absences fell outside of this period, the employer was permitted to take into account the length of her absence as unsustainable and therefore a reason for justifying dismissal. Under such circumstances a man’s absences for illness would be considered in exactly the same way.

We are a small online retail business and the personal touch and service we get from Employline has been amazing! Ben Williams could not be more supportive and informative and his attention to detail and guidance is second to none. We have complete peace of mind. Ben feels like a valuable part of our team – one we could definitely have not done without!
MamaOwl / Owlfolk Ltd

The Employline service has provided us with expert and sound HR advice in a variety of areas whenever we have had cause to seek it in a swift, timely and professional manner.
Anne Masters, Radbrook Green Surgery

Just a quick note to say thank you for helping me in my dispute. I couldn’t have had a successful outcome without your help. It was very much appreciated. Thank you so very much.
Employline Client

The Employline service has provided us with expert and sound HR advice in a variety of areas whenever we have had cause to seek it in a swift, timely and professional manner.
Debbie Morris, Shropdoc

Sue Ball is our Employment Law Solicitor and she is approachable and easy to talk to, especially when you are dealing with challenging situations, putting you at ease. She always makes herself available and has an empathetic ear. Sue is a highly experienced professional and once you have used her services there would be absolutely no reason to look elsewhere.
Nicki Crowhurst, HOW2HR

[Alan Lewis] is as professional as you can get - he is superb.
Chambers and Partners

Alan has provided the RMS business with a first class support on all aspects of our HR requirements for very many years. We have always found his advice to be clear and concise and provided with a thorough understanding of RMS and its objectives. He has successfully defended Employment Tribunal claims, protected the business in matters related to grievances & redundancies and given good quality support service to our in-house HR, exactly what our business needs and relies upon.
Jon Hammond, RMS International PLC

The team were superb at taking my brief, understood everything I was asking and gave me a very in-depth assessment of where I stood legally. I'm very happy with their services - it was quick, concise and cost effective. I would highly recommend to other businesses who are looking for valuable expertise in employment law. I'll certainly use them again
Employline client

Having a professional and interactive legal team in my corner answering any concerns as and when they arose allowed me to negotiate with confidence what could have been a stressful period thus allowing me to totally focus on the start up of a new business venture.
Employline client

Alan Lewis has provided employment law support to our company for a number of years. He has made it his business to understand the nuances of our work environment and culture and the advice he gives is practical and within context for our business. He is a great sounding board and always provides relevant and meaningful case law examples to help us find the right solution for us. 
Helen Christie, Rayburn Trading Limited

Find out more