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27th September 2023

Fair Dismissal Following A Refusal To Return From Maternity Leave

pregnant woman packing up her things in an office

In the recent case of Parsons v International Forest Products (UK) Limited, the tribunal held that Ms Jowita Parsons (“the Claimant”) claims for unfair dismissal, indirect discrimination and pregnancy and maternity discrimination against International Forest Products (UK) Limited (“the Respondent”) should be dismissed.

The Claimant was employed by the Respondent as an import coordinator from 4th March 2019 until 11th February 2022. On 27th August 2019, the Claimant formally notified the Respondent that she was pregnant and that she would be taking maternity leave. Following this, the Respondent undertook the appropriate risk assessments.

In October 2019, the Claimant was issued with a disciplinary warning as a result of her aggressive and inappropriate behaviour towards a colleague. The Claimant accepted that “she had not got off to the best of starts”. The tribunal found that the Respondent had issues with the Claimant’s conduct since the commencement of her employment. On 14th October 2019, the Claimant commenced her first period of maternity leave until 12th October 2020. On 9th November 2020, the Claimant commenced her second period of maternity leave with the proposed return to work date of 10th November 2021.

On 20th August 2021, the Respondent contacted the Claimant to discuss her return to work following her second period of maternity leave. The Claimant requested that her leave be extended by 2 weeks paid holiday and a further 4 weeks unpaid leave. An agreement was made that she would return on 3rd January 2022. The Claimant did not return to work on 3rd January 2022, and her absence was now considered an unauthorised absence. After corresponding with the Claimant her employment was terminated on 11th February 2022 by Jonathan Heywood (Managing Director at the Respondent).

The Respondent contended that the reason for the Claimant’s dismissal was that she had expressed no intention to return to work at all or within a reasonable timeframe following her period of maternity leave. The Claimant stated that she was unable to return to work until her personal issues had been resolved (the sale of her house linked to her divorce) but was unable to provide a time frame for this. Based on this, the tribunal held that it was reasonable for the Respondent to terminate her employment on these grounds.

It is important to note here that the Respondent followed a number of processes and procedures including risk assessments, considering adjustments and contacting the Claimant before terminating her employment. The tribunal found that the processes undertaken were procedurally fair which contributed to the dismissal following within the range of reasonable responses.

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