Another eye catching tribunal report headline: “Removing staff who are on maternity leave from work WhatsApp groups is discrimination.” Surely in this day and age, we might think, this is only a contender for the Sybil Fawlty prize for stating the, er, blindingly obvious? How come an employer fought such a claim all the way and lost? Time for a closer look beneath the headline. 
In Lad v Lily Head Dental Practice Sales, the claimant Ms Lad brought two tribunal claims. They were consolidated for trial. After two case management hearings, the tribunal took 6 days to assess a bundle 1,421 pages long and evidence from 5 witnesses. Ms Lad acted in person. The tribunal had to determine around 30 issues linked to alleged sex discrimination and victimisation. The claimant won on the two WhatsApp group issues that caught the journalist’s eye, and lost on all of the others. 
The tribunal confirmed, not surprisingly, that employees on maternity leave risked feeling isolated, and that WhatsApp workplace groups provided a way to keep in touch, keep up to date, and share personal and work news. It was noted that an employee could readily archive or silence WhatsApp chat, and that if an employer unilaterally removed a woman on maternity leave, this would stand to be viewed as detrimental and less favourable treatment
The obvious having been stated, was there anything more to this dispute? Evidently so. The claimant had lost her work phone in February 2023. This rendered her unable to participate in the WhatsApp group, ten members strong. She asked for a replacement in July 2023, unaware of the fact that she had been unilaterally removed from the group a month earlier. Her request for a replacement handset was refused. Curiously, although the tribunal stopped short of criticising the employer for the refusal, it found that denying access to the WhatsApp group was an act of discrimination and victimisation. A SIM card could evidently have been provided for this purpose. 
On this occasion, perhaps, with so many live issues, there was never going to be any chance of sensible settlement. Refusal to replace a lost phone handset did not cause the employer’s relatively small scale but eye catching defeat – refusal to facilitate access to the group by some other means did so. Whether this victory might prove Pyrrhic for the claimant may never be known. On a wider basis, it illustrates once more how carefully employers should tread when dealing with employees on maternity leave. 
Are your social media and maternity leave policies in need of a review? Do you have a tricky workplace maternity dispute to resolve, or one that may not be as deceptively simple as it looks? Let us know if you need a hand. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via . 
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