Mother whose boss questioned commitment because of kids wins payout

Mother whose boss questioned commitment because of kids wins payout

April 21, 2023

Social worker mother-of-three wins £7,500 payout after boss asked her: ‘How could you be committed if you had had one child after another?’

  • Salma Hussain’s boss told her she’d had ‘one child after another’ in a phone call

A mother-of-three social worker has won £7,500 in compensation after her male boss questioned her commitment to her job for having children.

Salma Hussain thought all was well with her manager when she asked him for a reference having landed a new role in the council’s fostering service.

However, upon receipt of his assessment – where he called the mother’s attendance ‘poor’ – her job offer was rescinded, an employment tribunal heard.

When she rang him to ask what he had said, he said words to the effect of ‘How could you be committed if you had had one child after another?’

As a result, she took City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council to court and, after winning her pregnancy related discrimination claims, was awarded £7,513 in damages.

The tribunal in Leeds heard that March 2019, Mrs Hussain’s performance figures had ‘slipped’ because she had taken three weeks’ annual leave

The tribunal, held in Leeds, heard ‘experienced’ Mrs Hussain had worked as a social worker from 2010 before her first maternity leave in late 2015.

She joined a new team in 2017 as a ‘maternity cover’ post and would go on to have a further two babies.

In 2019, she had two spells of pregnancy related illness – both several weeks in length – and went on maternity leave in the latter part of the year.

The panel heard in March 2019, her performance figures had ‘slipped’ because she had taken three weeks’ annual leave.

As a result of her second and third maternity leaves, ill health of both her and her boss – named in tribunal documents only as Mr Singh – and holiday there were only two days in November 2020 where the two of them were physically at work together – as well as an additional ‘week or so’ in spring 2021.

In those two years, Mrs Hussain actually attended work for ‘four or so’ weeks, it was heard.

However, the pair frequently communicated via WhatsApp in their ‘usually friendly fashion’.

In December 2021, Mrs Hussain was successful in her application for a role as a supervising social worker in the council’s fostering service.

‘Plainly’ believing her relationship with her boss was ‘unproblematic’, she gave Mr Singh as her primary reference.

In the form with a scale ranging from ‘poor’ to ‘excellent’, Mr Singh assessed Mrs Hussain as ‘good’ in categories including quality of work, application of skills and ability to work without supervision.

However, the panel heard he he ranked her as ‘average’ in timekeeping and attitude to work, as well as ‘poor’ in relation to attendance.

In explanation to his ‘poor’ score, he wrote: ‘Salma had long periods on sick leave and generally was sick a lot.

‘I believe her attitude to work lacked commitment and her timekeeping was hit and miss.’

He also said he ‘knew of no reason not to employ her’ but answered no when asked if he would re-employ her.

The panel heard, when Mrs Hussain asked him over WhatsApp if he had completed the reference, he replied with a thumbs up emoji.

Assessing the interaction, the tribunal found ‘there was nothing in their communications to prepare her for what then ensued’ as no previous issues had developed into formal procedures.

Read more: Nursery chef sacked when he baked Valentine’s Day shortbread for all colleagues except two women he didn’t like is awarded £35k after winning unfair dismissal claim

In February, a recruiting manager was left ‘surprised’ by Mr Singh’s comments, who described Mrs Hussain as ‘slippery’.

As a result of the reference, Mrs Hussain’s job offer was withdrawn, and told it had been ‘negative’ and something to do with ‘sickness’.

The panel heard that upon hearing this, Mrs Hussain rang Mr Singh to ask him about the contents of the reference and that her job offer had been withdrawn.

He told her he had said she was ‘not committed’ and when asked what he meant by that, he said words to the effect of ‘how could you be committed if you had had one child after another?’

The tribunal heard, when she told him he ‘can’t say that’, he responded with: ‘I can do what the f*** I want, I’m the manager.’

This left Mrs Hussain ‘terribly upset’, especially when Mr Singh said he would ‘stand by the reference’. She blocked him as a contact that evening.

Eventually, she was offered the chance to use a different referee and was subsequently re-offered the job and had her grievance dealt with.

Employment Judge Jennifer Wade concluded Mr Singh’s decision to ‘denigrate commitment of a colleague by reference to her decisions to have children’ was unfavourable treatment. 

She added: ‘On our findings Mr Singh’s comments made in that call were unfavourable treatment.

‘It is self-evident that to make a remark of the kind about her commitment to the role was both unfavourable and because of her taking of maternity leave on a third occasion.’

Regarding his ‘damning’ reference where he described her attendance as poor, the judge continued: ‘Mr Singh’s assessment of attendance as poor was plainly influenced by the time that she had not been present in the workplace.

‘This was substantial but arose as a result of some intermittent sickness absence which appears in the chronology, much longer maternity related sickness absence, and her taking two maternity leaves.

‘Were some critical aspects of that reference influenced or because of her exercising her right to maternity leave and pregnancy related illness? Yes, they were.

‘In our judgment – the ‘poor’ reference for attendance and ‘average’ for commitment: so much so that he articulated his feelings about it in that phone call with [the recruiter].

‘Those remarks suggested, as to commitment, that it was Mrs Hussain’s second maternity leave while working for him (necessitated by a third child), which was in his mind.’

Assessing the ‘significant’ injury to feeling she was subject to after the phone call having been ‘very upset and shaken’ the tribunal awarded her £7,000 plus £513.33 interest.

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