What employers should learn from NI teacher indirect sex discrimination case

Employers in Northern Ireland should take note of the recent indirect sex discrimination case that was brought by a part time teacher that was settled out of court, and in particular the need to avoid unintentionally prejudicing flexible or part-time employees.

Catherine McCormick has worked at Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch since 2007, but reduced her days from five to three when she returned from maternity leave. Her colleague was appointed temporary head of English, a role which she had not been considered for because she was now working part-time.

While Ms McCormick was aware that the post would involve increasing her days back up to a full-time schedule, she wanted to have the option to consider making that change in order to gain experience in the role, albeit a temporary one. She made a claim of indirect sex discrimination against her employers and the matter was settled out of court, with Ms McCormick accepting a £5,000 settlement and an assurance from the Board of Governors that she will not be disadvantaged in the future as a result of having missed out on the opportunity to become temporary head of English.

The Board conveyed its regret at overlooking Ms McCormick and accepted that they had not given her the opportunity to apply for the role, and that as such she had been disadvantaged as a result of being a part-time worker. It has also agreed to work in conjunction with the Equality Commission on delivering improved training on how they deal with part-time and flexible employees during recruitment and promotion processes.

Female employees represent 82 per cent of part-time employees in Northern Ireland, which is why any decision, policy or action that prejudices or excludes part-time or flexible employees can amount to indirect sex discrimination. A reduction in hours is often considered to be temporary, and part-time and flexible employees will often be reviewing their capacity to increase their hours in light of changes in other areas of their lives. Employers need to be mindful to take all of their employees into account when considering promotions or any other changes to the roles within the business, regardless of how many hours those employees are currently contracted to work.

If you are an employer or employee requiring legal advice in respect of a discrimination claim, or any other matter of employment law, contact Wilson Nesbitt solicitors in Belfast by clicking here.