Office worker who went on maternity leave for 28 months and refused to return to work has unfair dismissal and discrimination case thrown out
An office worker who lost her job after going on maternity leave for 28 months and refusing to return to work failed to sue her bosses for unfair dismissal and discrimination.
Jowita Parsons spent two years and four months out of the office following two successive maternity leaves as well as additional leave for family issues, an employment tribunal heard.
After more than two years, Ms Parson’s line manager asked her for a specific return to work date which she failed to provide, saying she would only return when her divorce and the sale of her house was completed.
She began her first maternity leave four weeks early, just after she was issued with a disciplinary warning due to ‘aggressive and inappropriate behaviour’, the tribunal heard.
Her lack of clarity about a return date and her time away was said to have led to disruption in the business, which has just 21 members of staff, and caused a lot of stress to colleagues.
The tribunal heard Ms Parsons began working as an import coordinator for Newbury-based International Forest Products Limited (pictured)
The tribunal heard Ms Parsons began working as an import coordinator for Newbury-based International Forest Products Limited – which sold ‘forest commodities’ like paper – in March 2019.
Five months later, Ms Parsons was called into a meeting by her line manager, Ben Wallace, where he raised concerns about her punctuality and standard of work.
Later that year, Mr Wallace sent her an email about a mistake in her work and Ms Parsons complained – telling the tribunal the pair had ‘not got off to the best of starts’.
This complaint failed and she was issued with a disciplinary warning for her ‘aggressive and inappropriate behaviour’ towards Mr Wallace.
Four days later, Ms Parsons asked to take maternity leave four weeks early.
As a result Mr Wallace, who was in the Philippines at the time, had to arrange cover for her job – which involved the administration of fulfilling and delivering orders – at short notice.
The tribunal, held in Reading, Berkshire, said: ‘This resulted in poor performance of the business during this time and resulted in additional stress to both him and the claimant’s colleagues.’
On March 25 2020, two days after the UK went into lockdown, Ms Parsons told her boss she would like to extend her first maternity leave to 12 months.
Jowita Parsons failed to sue her bosses for unfair dismissal and discrimination at an employment tribunal, held in Reading, Berkshire (Pictured: Reading Employment Tribunal)
She was due to return to work in October that year, however fell pregnant again and requested her second period of maternity leave continue and be attached to the first.
Her second maternity leave was due to end in November 2021, after it was extended because of a ‘family issue’.
Ms Parsons then asked for more time off which was granted – meaning she wasn’t then due to return to the office until the new year.
By this point, the woman had carried out her parental role for six and a half months and had been on maternity leave for two years, two months and two weeks.
Mr Wallace informed her she would need additional training before returning to work and requested a specific date she would return rather than leaving it open ended.
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Ms Parsons was given a date to return, but she said no and did not give any further indication of when she would.
The tribunal said: ‘She was asked whether it would be days, weeks or months until she could return and that was when she stated she did not want to return until her divorce proceedings were completed and the house sale had been finalised.’
In February 2022, her employment was terminated after she failed to return to work.
She tried to sue the business for unfair dismissal, discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and discrimination on the grounds of sex but her claims were all dismissed by the tribunal.
Employment judge Angela Shields stated: ‘[Ms Parsons] was asked about her return to work and on eight separate occasions she categorically stated that she was not able to return at all.
‘She was further asked to put her alternative suggestions to return to work, in writing. She did not do so at any time.
‘[Ms Parsons] was repeatedly asked to provide a reasonable time frame in which she would be able to return to work. She was not able to provide a reasonable time frame.
‘Furthermore, she stated on multiple occasions that she would not be able to return to work.
‘The reason that the clamant was dismissed was because she refused to return to work and [the company] could no longer keep her role open indefinitely.
‘The tribunal were also satisfied that there were real pressures on [the firm] to fulfil the role of import coordinator and to have [Ms Parsons] in her position and completing the work… there was a genuine disruption and overburdening of a small company whilst [she] was not in her role.’