The Financial Times has been ordered to pay £9,000 in compensation to one of its production journalists after a judge said her return to work after maternity leave had been handled “very poorly”.
Iseult Fitzgerald’s claims included that when she returned to work part-time in April 2018 after having her second child she was not allowed to return to her previous role but moved from print to digital production, plus that she was moved away from the main newsdesk, given diminished roles and responsibilities and not allocated her own desk.
She also told an employment tribunal that she was not given any guidance, support or retraining on her return to work, including not being given a maternity “buddy” – as per FT policy .
Judge K Andrews ruled that the FT did not breach regulation 18 & 18A of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 which states an employee is entitled to return to the job in which they were employed before their absence or, if this is not possible, to another suitable role.
The judge said that when Fitzgerald returned she was “still doing the same work but sitting at a different desk”.
“Although the change in desk would have some practical impact on the way she carried out that job, in that it would result at times in less immediate interaction with the main news team, this was not sufficient to make location of her desk an integral part of her job not least because she had frequently performed her role before her maternity leave from home,” the judgment continued.
However Fitzgerald, who has worked for the FT since 2007, did face “detriment and maternity discrimination”, it was ruled.
This was partly because another journalist had started permanently using Fitzgerald’s desk during her maternity leave and wanted to continue doing so.
Fitzgerald was then not allocated her own desk, and was shunted between desks and asked to move by a colleague on more than one occasion which became “humiliating and upsetting”.
In response to this aspect of the complaint, the judgment said the FT “accepts (and did so very quickly)” that Fitzgerald’s return “had not been handled well”.
The judgment also found that Fitzgerald had not been given “appropriate guidance and support on her return, was not offered retraining or allocated a maternity buddy or a formal return to work consultation meeting”.
These were all required by the FT’s own policy “as well as clearly being good practice one would expect from an employer of the size and reputation of the respondent”, Judge Andrews said.
The judge was critical of the way the FT dealt with Fitzgerald’s return to work but noted that, until then, it had responded well to her two periods of maternity leave.
The company had been “particularly flexible” with her requests for different working patterns, flexible working and a sabbatical around her statutory maternity leave, the judge added.
Fitzgerald was awarded £9,000 compensation in injury to feelings, plus interest of £793.91.
In the judgment, Judge Andrews said: “Returning to work from maternity leave is often a difficult exercise for women and can lead to feelings of vulnerability and insecurity.
“The claimant clearly and not unreasonably found the way she was treated on her return to be extremely upsetting. It is particularly disappointing that such a large, well-known employer allowed this situation to arise in direct conflict with its own policies.”
The judge added that Fitzgerald had given “compelling evidence” that what happened impacted both her physical and mental wellbeing.
A spokesperson for the FT said it does not comment on individual employment matters.
The full judgment is available to read here.
Picture: Financial Times