A social worker whose boss complained ‘we’ve only just put you on a contract’ when she revealed she was pregnant has won more than £5,000 at an employment tribunal.
Poppy Hedges-Staines, 30, was just eight weeks pregnant and hadn’t told her family the good news when she informed work as she was concerned about visiting someone who had a suspected contagious disease.
She then received the ‘disappointing’ response from a female boss who is also a mother.
Two months later, after Miss Hedges-Staines was let go by the company, she sued for discrimination – and represented herself at the hearing because she couldn’t afford a lawyer.
She has now been awarded £5,134 – £4,500 plus interest for injury to feelings – after the judge agreed the comment had been made by director Cheryl Finlayson.
‘It was really disappointing. I couldn’t believe that she said it – both as a woman and having children. She put a real dampener on my fantastic news,’ said Miss Hedges-Staines, whose son Knox is now 17 months old.
‘It was also shocking to be treated that way because of the line of work that we do, helping families out and children.’
Poppy Hedges-Staines, 30, was just eight weeks pregnant and hadn’t told her family the good news when she informed work as she was concerned about visiting someone who had a suspected contagious disease
Poppy Hedges-Staines told the employment tribunal how Cheryl Finlayson (pictured), director of Ipswich-based CF Social Work, ‘put a downer’ on her happiness when she told her: ‘Poppy, we’ve only just put you on a contract’
Miss Hedges-Staines starting working as a self-employed social work assistant from November 2019 with Ipswich-based CF Social Work Ltd, which states on its website’s homepage that it ‘puts the needs of children, young people and their families and carers at the heart of everything we do’.
She was given a six-month fixed-term contract in July the following year and on November 6 rang work with concerns about a home visit where the father had suspected scabies.
Her line manager told her to speak to Ms Finlayson who, the tribunal heard, said: ‘Poppy, we’ve only just put you on a contract and now you’re telling me you are pregnant.’ Ms Finlayson argued she couldn’t have made the comment as Miss Hedges-Staines hadn’t ‘just’ been given a contract.
But the tribunal concluded she had complained about the contract, although it didn’t find or accept the second part of the statement had been made.
In December 2020, Miss Hedges-Staines was given a reduced workload due to the pandemic and was unable to work occasionally due to antenatal care and fatigue.
The following month, she was told that local authorities wanted staff who could work 48-hour shifts and do ‘sleep-ins’, which she was unable to do.
CF Social Work, who are based in Ipswich, Suffolk, concluded there was no suitable work available for her. Her contract was not renewed and she was given four weeks’ notice, with pay.
Miss Hedges-Staines claimed that she was fired due to her pregnancy, although the tribunal noted two other social work assistants on six-month contracts also lost their jobs.
It dismissed the pregnancy discrimination claim but upheld a separate claim for unfair treatment.
‘The thought process behind the words that we have found were used was frustration that a recently appointed and valued member of staff might not be available to carry out the full range of her duties and would thereafter be taking a period of maternity leave,’ Employment Judge Michael Ord said.
‘We are satisfied that the remark amounted to unfavourable treatment, based on her pregnancy.’ Describing presenting her own case over the three-day hearing in Cambridge, Miss Hedges-Staines, who lives with electrician Patrick Summerfield, 33, in north Suffolk, said: ‘I couldn’t afford to have anyone represent me.
‘It’s so expensive and, not having any work, I’d used up most of my savings.
‘It was really daunting but the judge was really kind. He explained things and used terminology I understood and gave me time.’ One of the witnesses she cross-examined was Ms Finlayson, who answered questions for around 20 minutes.
‘I was nervous but once I got part of the way through it was a lot easier,’ added Miss Hedges-Staines, who is now a rehabilitation support worker.
Ms Finlayson resigned as a director in of CF Social Work in December 2020 but worked as a consultant.
The company was approached for a comment.