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Optician was discriminated against following maternity leave

An optician has won her claim of unfair dismissal and discrimination after her employer tried to reclaim training costs following her maternity leave.

Ms M Walworth had joined the opticians and hearing care firm Scrivens as an optical advisor. She signed a training and services agreement which stated that she would be liable to repay any training costs if she left the company within three years of registering as a dispensing optician.

She eventually registered after four years of training. Eight months later she informed the company that she was pregnant and requested to go on maternity leave.

She had only completed 16 months of the three-years post-qualification period. That would continue when she returned from her maternity leave.

When the time came, Ms Walworth was reluctant to return at the planned date as her daughter was suffering from health problems.

She asked for more time off in the form of holiday pay or a sabbatical, but her request was refused. She was told that if she resigned she would be liable to repay £11,000 under the training agreement.

She resigned and said that Scrivens had 'fundamentally broken' their contract due to the way they had dealt with her pregnancy and maternity leave.

However, Scrivens made a formal demand for the £11,000 and withheld her holiday pay for the final year.

The Employment Tribunal found that there was nothing in the contract that would justify the company pausing the employment for maternity or any long-term absence.

The judge said: "The imposition and use of the 'pause clause' appears to us to be a classic case of unfavourable treatment (because of) maternity leave, and thus unlawful discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or maternity."

For further advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or for employment law advice more generally, please contact JPP Law on 020 3468 3064 or email info@jpplaw.co.uk

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