Sacked from Liz Earle: Pregnant worker awarded £17k by employment tribunal

Getting redundancy and maternity leave wrong can cost companies big money. Here’s how to avoid a hefty fine.

BrightHR Team

The Liz Earle Beauty Company made waves in the media last week after an employment tribunal instructed the beauty giant to pay out in an unfair dismissal case. Let’s see what made the headlines…

The case

A former employee, Mrs Heidi Larkin, made a claim against Liz Earle (now owned by US company Walgreens Boots Alliance) for giving her two weeks’ redundancy notice when she was eight months pregnant.

Mrs Larkin said she believed the company ‘rushed through’ her redundancy before her maternity leave would put her in a ‘protected period’ of employment.

She said that the company rejected her applications for two new digital marketing roles—even though they were similar to the role she’d already been doing at Liz Earle for over five years.

The Tribunal’s decision

The Liz Earle Beauty Company argued that Mrs Larkin’s redundancy was not pregnancy or maternity discrimination, but part of a restructuring exercise that saw another three roles terminated, too.

However, the company admitted that it had “fallen short” of its usual employment standards, “which we sincerely regret.” The Tribunal ordered Liz Earle to pay Mrs Larkin £17,303 in compensation

As an employer, here’s what you need to know:

Redundancy rights

The law states that your employee has redundancy rights if they’ve worked continuously for you for two years or more. And these rights include being provided with ‘suitable alternative employment’ wherever possible.

This means that you, the employer, have a duty to try to move your employees into other positions within your organisation.

In this case, the Tribunal ruled in Mrs Larkin’s favour because she was refused the opportunity to apply for internal jobs that she was qualified for.

Pregnancy and maternity leave

Remember, this was a UK tribunal and the law is slightly different in Ireland. But the case highlights the risk all employers face if they misunderstand their legal obligations when it comes to redundancy rights and maternity leave.

And redundancy can be even trickier where pregnancy is involved, because maternity leave is a protected form of leave.

This means employees have the right to return to the same position, on the same terms, that they held before they began their maternity leave. You must wait until your employee returns to work to make any changes to her job role, including matters of redundancy or termination.

Protect your business

Liz Earle is a company worth millions. So imagine what a £17,303 payout could do to a small business like yours—it’s the sort of payout that could be hard to recover from…

So you need to make sure you know your stuff when it comes to maternity and redundancy rights. But don’t worry, we’re always here to help.

Our employment law experts can answer all your maternity and redundancy questions and they’re available 24/7. So whenever you need quick legal advice, we’re just a phone call away.

Call BrightAdvice today on 1800 279 841.