A mother of two has been awarded over £17,000 by an employment tribunal after being fired from her position at beauty firm Liz Earle while she was eight months pregnant, raising fresh concerns over maternity discrimination.
Helen Larkin, 38, had worked for Liz Earle for five years but was given just two weeks’ notice of her redundancy when her job was terminated in June 2018.
Mrs Larkin revealed she was not interviewed for two new digital marketing roles at the company, even though they were similar to the job she had been doing, and the company had specifically hidden one job role from her.
Liz Earle, which was ordered to pay Mrs Larkin £17,303, claimed the redundancy was not discrimination but part of a restructuring in which three other roles were terminated.
However, Mrs Larkin told the hearing she believed her redundancy was rushed through before her maternity leave when she would have fallen into a protected period of employment.
Mrs Larkin, who represented herself in the tribunal, said she felt “a responsibility to stand up and speak out” and empower other women to speak up after being contacted by hundreds of women who had been “silenced”.
Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, she said: “It has cast a massive shadow over my maternity leave and it was very distressing […] I feel now that I can move on and focus on my family.
“I felt a responsibility to stand up for other women and talk about the scope and breadth of this issue because it affects so many people within Liz Earle and in other companies elsewhere.”
Joeli Brearley, founder of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed which helped Mrs Larkin, told the Independent: “This is a monumental win not only for Helen but for women everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of women across the UK are cheering Helen on: women who have faced their own version of pregnancy or maternity discrimination but, due to cost, time limits, stress, mental health issues or the sheer complexity of managing a tribunal claim and a new baby, were unable to challenge their employer.
“Taking a case of pregnancy or maternity discrimination to tribunal isn’t easy. You have three months less one day to raise the claim; the costs can be horrifically expensive with a straightforward case costing between £5,000 and £10,000, and more complex cases costing upwards of £30,000; and the stress and strain on new mums can be totally overwhelming. Companies often have finances and legal representation that far outweigh that of the victim, making it feel like David vs Goliath.”
These factors lead to only one per cent of those who experience pregnancy or maternity discrimination raising a tribunal claim, the campaigner said.
Findings from interviews conducted with over 3,000 employers and over 3,000 mothers show that an alarming 77% of women report having “a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave.” More specifically, “half of mothers… described a negative impact on their opportunity, status or job security,” with 1 in 9 mothers stating “they felt forced to leave their job”.
Ms Brearley added the public rarely hears about cases such as Ms Larkin’s due to firms using “powerful and legal tools” to “gag and silence” their victims.
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.
The Government responded to the report by revealing plans to extend the redundancy protection period by a further 6 months. The Government also announced that they would be establishing a taskforce to make recommendations on improvements on how to increase awareness amongst pregnant women and new mothers of their maternity rights.
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:
“Experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination could result in a scenario where women have to pick between being discriminated but financially secure, or leaving their job and struggling financially. No woman should have to make this choice.
“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 help us in our efforts while reminding employers and colleagues to consider how they can better support pregnant women in the workplace.”