Being late because of the school run is not an acceptable reason to dismiss

A teacher who repeatedly turned up late for work after taking her daughter on the school run has won an appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

The employee brought indirect discrimination and victimisation claims against the London School of English, where she had worked as a freelance teacher since 2005. The claims arose from her inability to make an 8.45am start time because she had to take her child to school.

Although classes typically started at 9am, all employees were required to arrive 15 minutes before their first tutoring session, to prepare and meet with students. However, the employee argued that this put her and other women at a disadvantage. She asked for a later start time of 9.30am but was told that because tuition started at 9am, she might receive less work.

In July 2015, a client complained that  the teacher had been between 20 and 30 minutes late twice in one week. The teacher acknowledged the complaint and accepted she had a problem with timekeeping and said that she found it “unprofessional and personally distressing.” Around this period, the amount of work available to her dropped off.

The original claim at the Employment Tribunal was dismissed by a judge who stated that 9am was not an “unusual or extravagant start time”. The Judge on the case stated that the requirement for teachers to start at that time was proportionate to the aims of the business, particularly as the school catered to an upmarket audience and clients expected a certain degree of professionalism.

However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal judge granted the appeal, finding that the original tribunal did not adequately balance the needs of the business against the negative impact on the mother and child.

The case has been sent back to tribunal to reconsider the facts.

While this decision may, on the face of it, be worrying for employers who may now think that their female employees with childcare responsibilities are able to ignore designated start times, it is important to realise it is not a definite legal precedent. Employers who can demonstrate that there is a real need for their designated start time will be in a strong position to defend this type of claim, but it is important to wait for the outcome of the renewed employment tribunal before changing policy.

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