Pay rise refused due to maternity leave approaching

A HR assistant at a construction company was unfairly refused a wage increase because she was about to go on maternity leave, a tribunal ruled. The former employee felt “disillusioned” by the decision of her employer to refuse her pay rise request because she would only be working for four months before going on leave.  She said that “instead of seeing her pregnancy and impending maternity leave as a happy time to be enjoyed, it was tainted with mixed feelings as it was the reason she was initially refused the pay rise”.


Whilst she was on maternity leave another more junior HR coordinator also went on maternity leave and the company recruited a fixed-term employee.  The employer’s intention was to pay £27,000 per annum to the person covering the role(s) however the successful candidate asked for £28,000 and the company agreed in order to fill the vacancy. When the maternity cover employee became employed permanently, her salary decreased to £27,000.

The tribunal heard that former employee found it “deeply unfair” and the fact that there was only a £3,000 difference between her salary as a HR assistant compared to the maternity covers more junior role “undervalued her work and her experience”.  The Head of HR agreed to make a business case for a raise, although the tribunal found that it was a “very generalised discussion” prompted by the former employees request for a wage increase.  The employee later announced that she was pregnant for a second time and was told that the request for a pay rise had been refused by the directors because she was again due to commence a period of maternity leave and “would only be in the business for four months [so] a pay rise was not feasible”.

The employee went on sick leave, saying that her illness was caused by “work-related stress in pregnancy”. She raised a grievance setting out her unhappiness surrounding the unfair pay differential between her job and the maternity cover role, which she later brought to tribunal.

The judge found that the refusal of a pay rise was unfavourable treatment and an act of “overt discrimination”. She added “Even if she was not entitled to a pay rise, the refusal to exercise discretion in favour of giving a pay rise because of impending maternity leave is clearly unfavourable.”

The tribunal awarded the former employee £9,000 for injury to feelings.

Discrimination cases are increasing and it is important that employers make objective and reasoned decisions when dealing with women on maternity leave, or recently returning from leave.  If you feel that you need to take advice on this subject contact us on

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