A bank clerk who was sacked after she had a miscarriage at work has been awarded almost £20k in compensation.
Santander forced Chi Agbaje out of her job at one of Santander’s High Street branches after she became distressed at the prospect of losing her baby and collapsed.
The bank accused Chi of acting in a “wholly unacceptable” manner during the incident and fired her for gross misconduct.
However, an employment tribunal ruled she was unfairly dismissed and ordered the bank to pay her £19,702 in compensation.
Chi began to experience severe abdominal pain and bleeding while serving customers at the Santander branch in Bexleyheath, London.
She told her manager she was unable to carry on with her work and moved to the staff canteen area where she became uncommunicative while displaying considerable distress.
Chi then rushed to the bathroom as she felt increased bleeding and pain. It was there Chi realised she was having a miscarriage, resulting in cries of distress that could be heard from the banking hall – where customers are served.
She then collapsed on the floor after leaving the bathroom during the incident on March 7 2014, the Cambridge Employment Tribunal was told.
Her manager took time to photograph and record Chi, while she was immobile, and waited over twenty minutes before calling the emergency services.
Mrs Agbaje, who works as a Customer Support Adviser, was rushed to a nearby hospital where it was confirmed she had lost her baby.
Once Chi returned to work later that year, she was asked to leave and return the following week. When she returned on the requested date, Chi was suspended by her manager and informed that she was being investigated for gross misconduct.
During her suspension, Chi became pregnant again and took maternity leave. When she returned in March 2016 she found herself being interviewed as part of the disciplinary process.
She told investigators her behaviour was due to the frustration of losing her baby, saying: “when I was in the toilet and saw the blood that I screamed and I was crying. I did not want to lose my baby. My behaviour was due to me thinking I was miscarrying”.
A disciplinary hearing, chaired by Managing Director Andrew Briggs, dismissed Chi for gross misconduct concluding that there was “insufficient evidence” her actions were as a result of a miscarriage despite a London Ambulance report which confirmed bleeding and miscarriage.
Santander Senior Executive Christopher Fallis, who chaired her subsequent appeal, agreed with Mr Briggs’s conclusions and described her actions as “wholly unacceptable”.
In his ruling at the Employment Tribunal, Judge Michael Ord criticised branch staff for being more concerned with “balancing the tills” than ensuring their colleague was being cared for.
He said: “The Tribunal have found it difficult to understand how a woman in those circumstances can be criticised for not behaving ‘professionally’ when suffering a miscarriage.”
A Santander spokesperson said “they were immediately passed on and reviewed to avoid such failings happening again.”
Sadly, cases of maternity discrimination like these have become prevalent in recent years.
Earlier this year, a mother of two was awarded over £17,000 by an employment tribunal after being fired from her position at a beauty firm Liz Earle while she was eight months pregnant.
Another Employment Tribunal ruled in favour of an NHS worker who was discriminated against after her manager asked “objectively inappropriate and upsetting” questions about her pregnancy.
A report from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that as many as 54,000 women each year may be fired or otherwise lose their role because of pregnancy or motherhood.
It also found that over three-quarters percent of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce experience some form of discrimination or negative treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work from leave. This is up from 45% of women in 2005.
Additionally, only around a quarter (28%) of those women raised the issue with their employer, only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure, and less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.
The 1% who do go ahead to an employment tribunal are often ‘sacked and silenced’.
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:
“Negative workplace attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood could pressure women to have an abortion . No woman should have to face such pressure.
“Cases like these are, sadly, becoming commonplace and are further proof that the culture urgently needs to change to support mothers in the workplace.
“Ahead of the election, tens of thousands of our supporters urged MP candidates to sign the Both Lives Pledge, which outlined three policy changes designed to increase protection for babies in the womb and end pregnancy discrimination for women.
“We will continue to work closely with parliamentarians to campaign for positive changes and are hopeful that Mrs Larkin’s case will send a strong message to employers and colleagues that they should be considering how they can better support pregnant women in the workplace.”