Maternity Leave Discrimination

07 May 2014

EAT Decision : The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis v Keohane ; law relating to maternity leave

Under the current equality legislation, an employee who is pregnant or on maternity leave cannot be subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of her having taken maternity leave or being pregnant.

Mrs Keohane was a Police Constable in the Metropolitan Police Service where she worked as a dog handler with two narcotics dogs. Her status as a dual narcotics dog handler enhanced her career prospects and gave her an opportunity to earn overtime. The Metropolitan Police Service operated a policy relating to the “retention, reallocation or withdrawal of police dogs” when handlers were sick; performing recuperative or restrictive duties; pregnant or on maternity leave; or suspended from operational duties.

On 19 October 2010, Mrs Keohane advised her employer that she was pregnant. While pregnant she could not be deployed on operational duties for safety reasons.On 29 October 2010 she attended a meeting to discuss the reallocation of her police dogs. The Chief Inspector decided to reallocate Nunki Pippin, Mrs Keohane’s search dog, leaving her with one proactive search dog. Mrs Keohane complained to an Employment Tribunal that this decision was unfavourable treatment because of her pregnancy and she brought a second claim when the Metropolitan Police Service refused her request to have the dog returned to her before the end of her maternity leave.

The Employment Tribunal held that both decisions were discriminatory because they amounted to unfavourable treatment because of her pregnancy. The Tribunal held that Mrs Keohane had suffered a detriment as a result of the first decision and that she knew there was a serious risk that on her return to work, her working conditions would be different from those which she had enjoyed before she ceased operational duties. The subsequent loss of opportunity for overtime and damage to her career prospects that resulted from the refusal to reallocate Nunki Pippin were also a detriment about which Mrs Keohane was entitled to complain, despite their limited duration of eight months.

This decision is a timely reminder that an employer should always take professional legal advice prior to taking any action in respect of employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave.

Maxine Orr is a Partner with Worthingtons Solicitors in Belfast, specialising in Employment Law.

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