A nurse who was sacked by the NHS for refusing to work weekends has won her tribunal appeal. She won it on the premise that she had to look after her children at the weekend. The decision is considered a landmark ruling, as it establishes for the first time the belief that women take on the primary responsibility of childcare. She was indicating that employers must consider that.
Gemma Dobson, a community nurse in the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, had her first child in 2008. When she returned to work after her maternity leave, she agreed with her employers that she would only work on Wednesdays and Thursdays. In 2016 the Trust asked Ms Dobson to change her shifts and work one weekend a month. However, she refused, stating she needed to be with her children at the weekends. By this time, Ms Dobson had three children, two of which are disabled. Based on her refusal to work weekends, the Trust dismissed Ms Dobson.
Ms Dobson then took her case to an employment tribunal in Carlisle, Cumbria, alleging the Trust had been discriminatory to her based on her sex. However, the tribunal threw the point out, stating that of her colleagues, eight women and one man was willing to work weekends despite having children.
Ms Dobson’s solicitors then argued that her flexibility with working hours had only been compared to her small team, whereas it should have been compared to the community nurses across the whole Trust. This argument caused the original decision to be overturned by Mr Justice Choudhurythe president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal. He stated in his judgement that the Trust had failed to consider the ‘childcare disparity’ between men and women.
Ms Dobson’s solicitor, Doreen Reeves, said, “This landmark decision gives a clear warning – working mothers with caring responsibilities should not be penalised if they are not able to work flexibly to meet business needs or demands of a service.” In light of these findings, Ms Dobson will now have her case re-examined by the original employment tribunal.
The North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust commented, “The Trust does not believe that it is appropriate to comment further at this stage given that the matter will return to the original employment tribunal. It is important to note that the Employment Appeal Tribunal did not find in its judgment that Mrs Dobson was discriminated against or unfairly dismissed by the Trust, which is why the matter will return to the original employment tribunal for further consideration.”