Mothers cannot be sacked for refusing to work weekends, court rules

Mothers cannot be sacked for refusing to work on weekends, a court has ruled in a landmark case.

Community nurse Gemma Dobson was dismissed by the North Cumbria Integrated NHS Foundation Trust in 2017 after it moved to make flexible work mandatory, including at the weekend.

Ms Dobson, who had spent 13 years with the Trust, had a request to work fixed hours across Wednesdays and Thursdays accepted in 2008.

She worked a total of 15 hours per week so that she could care for her three children – two of whom are disabled – but was eventually sacked after she raised a grievance about the new rota arrangement.

Ms Dobson lost an initial employment tribunal over indirect sex discrimination and unfair dismissal, but has now won an appeal.

Mr Justice Choudhury said in a written judgement that employers must consider “childcare disparity” as women continue to take on more responsibilities than men in looking after their children.

“Whilst the childcare disparity is not a matter directed by statute to be taken into account, it is one that has been noticed by courts at all levels for many years,” he said.

“As such, it falls into the category of matters that a tribunal must take into account if relevant.

“The assumptions made and relied upon [by the appellant] … are still very much supported by the evidence presented to us of current disparities between men and women in relation to the burden of childcare.”

Ms Dobson, whose case will now go back before an employment tribunal to reconsider the issues of unfair dismissal and indirect discrimination, said the ruling “meant everything” to her.

“I truly hope that in the future other working mothers won’t be discriminated against for having caring responsibilities; especially those that care for disabled children,” she said.

A spokeswoman for North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust said: "The trust notes the judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

“It is important to note that the Employment Appeal Tribunal did not find in its judgment that Mrs Dobson was discriminated against or unfairly dismissed by the trust, which is why the matter will return to the original employment tribunal for further consideration.”

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