Health ruling backs women

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A WOMAN who was sacked for taking time off with an ectopic pregnancy has been awarded over pounds 15,000 compensation after a tribunal ruled that it was a pregnancy, not a sick leave issue.

Campaigners for equal opportunities said that the case, believed to be the first of its kind, was a breakthrough for establishing real equality of opportunity for women whose working lives are affected by pregnancy and childbirth.

If a woman takes time off because of pregnancy or has given birth and is then sacked the law is very clear that this is sexual discrimination. However, it was unclear whether women who had to take time off because of pregnancy related issues such as miscarriages or ectopic pregnancy would be covered by the legislation.

"The tribunal in this case has clearly shown that sex discrimination and unfair dismissal rights apply to women who are adversely treated because of absence due to pregnancy related conditions and illness, including such sad events such as ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, in the same ways as other pregnancy related issues," said Hilary Slater, lawyer for the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Pauline Berry, 29, from Yorkshire, had been working as a warehouse operative for over six months for Potter Group's branch in Selby, and had just been offered a permanent post, when she was rushed to hospital with an ectopic pregnancy.

Ectopic pregnancies, which can be fatal, occur when the egg is fertilised outside the womb, normally in the ovarian tubes.

"My ovarian tube were ruptured and I was bleeding heavily. The doctors said I only had five minutes to live, so I was operated on immediately. I was extremely frightened and in a lot of pain," said Mrs Berry, who is married with a 20-month child.

Mrs Berry was in hospital for a week, informed her employers, and got medical certificates to cover her subsequent sick leave.

However on her return home, she received a letter saying that the firm had withdrawn her permanent job offer.

"I was devastated. I had lost a baby, had almost died and on top of that lost my job," said Mrs Berry, who is now working two days a week at another factory, and two evenings in a pub to make ends meet.

The tribunal decided that she was unfairly dismissed and awarded a high level of injury to feeling compensation because Mrs Berry had been deeply upset by the sacking.

Sacking because of pregnancy is the single biggest reason that women contact the EOC. Last year it received 900 complaints from women who believed they had been sacked because of their pregnancy.

In a recent EOC survey of women who had asked for help with pregnancy related claims, 34 per cent were dismissed or threatened with dismissal when they told their employer they were pregnant, 28 per cent before they went on maternity leave, 18 per cent while they were on maternity and 3 per cent when they returned.

"Employers gain by good practice in the treatment of women who are pregnant because they retain valuable skills and experience while reducing recruitment costs. We would recommend that employers ensure they are fully aware of what is expected of them under maternity rights legislation," said Julie Mellor, chair of the EOC.