How to deal with inappropriate comments made by line manager to pregnant employee

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 1 February 2019
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered:

Q: I’m currently six months’ pregnant. My line manager has made inappropriate comments about medical appointments and going home early. How should I deal with this?

Seamus: Yeah. I think these are the ones that we see in the headlines, more often than not, the shocking comments that get said to women during their pregnancy or whilst on maternity leave. A couple of recent examples have been the Finvola McMullan one and China Garden, where the employee was basically asked how long it would take before she could get rid of her baby and there wasn’t paid maternity leave or sick leave while she was off. She got £18,000 for injury to feelings for that.

The bottom line is that it’s unlawful to discriminate against a pregnant woman or woman that’s on maternity leave. The employer can’t treat that employee less favourably on the grounds that she is pregnant, on a reason relating to her pregnancy, or because of illness related to her pregnancy. I’ve had examples where the woman has suffered mental issues post her pregnancy and the employer essentially wants to get rid of her after because she hasn’t returned to work after maternity leave. The employer can’t do that. The employer has to tread very, very carefully in these circumstances.

Scott: In this one here, Seamus, I think the difficulty is the question is coming from an employee. It’s all very well saying, “Here, I’ve got my rights,” but they’re still going to be discriminated against or lose their job or whatever. So, whilst she’s in employment, what can she do speaking to the employer about, “Hey, this is getting too much.” How might she deal with that?

Seamus: I think you’re talking about the standards or a grievance procedure in relation to dealing with any concerns that you would have. It’s red-flagging it up to the employer and giving the employer an opportunity to resolve this issue on behalf of the employee. Certainly, if I was to receive a call for an employer asking for advice on this, I would be saying you need to deal with this very seriously.

You probably need to conduct an investigation in relation to what this employee—the comments that are being made because they’re potentially very serious litigious comments being made. Certainly, you can understand an employee feeling very uncomfortable and maybe even get into a position where they’re feeling uncomfortable going and asking for their time off in relation to attendance and medical appointments for their pregnancy, which is a legal entitlement that they have.

Certainly, you’d be wanting to address this as early as possible as the employer to nip it in the bud to make sure that ceases because if this is allowed to go on, inevitably either you’re going to end up in a problem of difficulty. I would have thought specifically you’re looking at a grievance procedure or potentially even the bullying and harassment procedure that an employer may have.

Scott: That’s if you go down the far more . . . I suppose the employee . . . The employee could go to the manager or a union rep or confidante or whatever and just say, “Look, I have certain rights.” Maybe you could send them a link to the guidance on that particularly. The employer is on a heighten to nothing if they go down this particular route. Hannah has mentioned some of the case law there. If you look into a beggar’s belief that some employers are still saying, “Hold on. How dare you have the temerity to get pregnant whilst employed here?”

Seamus: I mean, look, the reality is that I still meet people that will say, “I’m dreading going into work today to tell my boss I’m pregnant.” The boss may be even female, you know what I mean? I think there is still this concern from employees that feel that, “I’m going to need to tell someone I’m pregnant. I’m not going to be there to do my job. Am I going to lose my job as a result of this? What problems are going to arise as a result of this?”

The legislation is there to protect females and/or males that are intended to use part of the shared paternity or maternity periods to do that, but the law is behind them in relation to it, but certainly as a first port of call where the employee can deal with it informally and speak to a manager or another manager or to someone, maybe as you say, a confidante to say, “Look, I’m feeling uncomfortable here about these medical appointments that I have to attend and I want it to stop. That’s all I want. I just want it to stop. I don’t want to have to go down a formal route.”

But certainly, any wind of this, the employer should be taking the necessary action.


This article is correct at 01/02/2019

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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