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Tribunal decision will help working mums protect their workplace rights

Published: 22 Jun 2021

  • New judgement establishes as fact for future discrimination cases that the burden of caring for children falls more heavily on women
  • The original case was brought by a working mother of three children, whose employer tried to demand she move to frequently changing shift patterns impossible to manage alongside childcare
  • Working Families intervened in the Employment Appeal Tribunal to protect rights of women from being discriminated against at work because of the ‘childcare disparity’
  • Today’s judgement is hugely welcome news for working mothers who contact our helpline, many of whose employers have tried to impose changed terms or have lost their jobs because of their caring responsibilities

Working Families has today welcomed a judgement from the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which makes clear that all future cases can take it as fact that women are more likely to suffer a disadvantage as a result of childcare responsibilities than men. This is vital clarity for the many cases of indirect sex discrimination where employers attempt to force changes that make childcare impossible and have the effect of forcing women out of their jobs.

Working Families’ CEO, Jane van Zyl, gave evidence to the tribunal earlier this year to help prove this ‘childcare disparity’ and show that difficulties for women still persist with evening and weekend working, with unpredictable hours presenting particular difficulties. If the appeal had been rejected, it would have meant individual women would have had to present evidence to show women shoulder more of the caring burden than men – making the bringing of discrimination claims even more difficult than it already is.

The original case was brought by Mrs Dobson, who was employed as a community nurse and has three children, two of whom are disabled. For years she had worked set days to accommodate her caring needs. Her employer sought to impose a change in her contracted hours requiring her to work on a flexible schedule, changing her normal work pattern and including weekend working at her employers discretion. Given her caring responsibility she could not do the changed hours and she was dismissed as a result.

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, who gave evidence to the Tribunal, said:

“We are delighted with the result in Mrs Dobson’s case. This has clarified and reinforced the existing protection for working mothers from discrimination: something that many women who come to us for help rely on in their cases. We know that women have shouldered the major burden of caring responsibilities through the pandemic. As the economic impact of COVID takes hold and the furlough scheme comes to an end, this judgement is a welcome protection that makes it clear that anything that impacts on childcare impacts disproportionately on women.

“Of course we want to live in a world where caring responsibilities are shared equally, but the hard truth is that we are nowhere near that yet. To lose this case would have represented a huge step backwards for women’s workplace rights, and we are really pleased with the judgement.”

Claire Darwin and Emma Foubister of Matrix Chambers acted for Working Families on a pro bono basis in Mrs G Dobson v 1) North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust 2) Working Families – Intervenor: UKEAT/0220/19/LA(V).

Claire Darwin of Matrix Chambers commented that she “was delighted to have been involved in such an important appeal” and that

“the judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal provides welcome clarity for Employment Tribunals and litigants about what evidence women need to adduce in indirect sex discrimination claims that challenge working patterns which conflict with childcare responsibilities.”

Emma Foubister of Matrix Chambers said that she

“was very pleased to have acted for Working Families, who were able to provide the Employment Appeal Tribunal with a valuable insight into the matters affecting women with childcare responsibilities in this important appeal”.