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Employment Law Case Update: Pregnancy Discrimination

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Data protection is such an important part of every business, and includes the data of our employees.  Our Employment Law team today review the case of Mrs J Walker v South Tees Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 2021 and whether a privacy violation by a colleague is the responsibility of the employer, even when that employer was not involved in the offence.

Mrs Walker worked for the Trust as a Patient Flow Coordinator. In 2019, she told her colleagues that she was pregnant with twins. On the same day she made this announcement one of her colleagues later accessed her personal data on the Trust’s patient database. The colleague said she did this to look up Mrs Walker’s address so that she could send her flowers congratulating her on the pregnancy. However, Mrs Walker was “extremely upset” on learning that someone had accessed her information and believed the colleague accessed the information because she was sceptical that Mrs Walker was pregnant.

The colleague was consequently taken through a disciplinary procedure and Mrs Walker no longer wished to work with her. Mrs Walker then went off sick for a little while before returning to work with amended duties. After returning to work she filed a claim in the Employment Tribunal (ET) alleging the Trust committed several instances of pregnancy discrimination.

The ET dismissed all of Mrs Walker’s claims, except for the claim that she was discriminated against by her colleague accessing her information. The ET said that Accessing somebodys confidential data in that way was unfavourable, on any assessment.” The ET expressed doubt that the colleague was just looking up the address to send flowers but said It makes no difference if the [colleagues] motivation was to do something nice for the claimant, we find, because the database was and remained confidentialWe find that, whatever motivated her to do so, the [colleague] accessing the records was unfavourable to [Mrs Walker]. Mrs Walkers claim for pregnancy discrimination was therefore well founded.

Mrs Walker was awarded approximately £10,100 in compensation by the ET, £8 800 of which was for injury to feelings.

This case reminds employers that they may be held vicariously liable for discriminatory actions of their employees. They should therefore do all that they reasonably can to ensure that employees do not commit acts of discrimination. Steps employers could take include providing training on the sort of behaviour that could constitute discrimination and having a robust anti-discrimination policy and procedure in place.

If you have any questions regarding this article, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or just fill in our subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.