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Admin worker loses unfair dismissal claim after refusing to return to work following two years of maternity leave

In the case of Ms Jowita Parsons v International Forest Products (UK) Limited Ms Parsons  commenced employment with the respondent in March 2019 as an import coordinator. The respondent employs 21 people in the UK and Ms Parsons’ role involved the administration for fulfilling and delivering orders of products such as paper and packaging.

In the case of Ms Jowita Parsons v International Forest Products (UK) Limited Ms Parsons  commenced employment with the respondent in March 2019 as an import coordinator. The respondent employs 21 people in the UK and Ms Parsons’ role involved the administration for fulfilling and delivering orders of products such as paper and packaging.

When Ms Parsons commenced her employment, she was a co-worker of Ben Wallace and she reported directly to the Managing Director, Jonathan Heywood. Ben Wallace was promoted to the role of UK Operations Supervisor and was assigned to be Ms Parsons ‘s line manager.

In March 2019 the respondent met with Ms Parsons and dealt with an unauthorised absence by way of a misconduct meeting. In August 2019, the respondent held a disciplinary meeting with Ms Parsons regarding her punctuality, additional breaks and standard of work. The outcome was a six-week progress review.

On 27th August 2019, Ms Parsons notified the respondent formally that she was pregnant and requested that her maternity leave begin from 15th November 2019.

In October 2019, Ms Parsons complained about an e-mail from Ben Wallace to her regarding a work mistake raised by Ben Wallace in relation to Ms Parsons ‘s work. The complaint was investigated by a separate manager and was not upheld. Ms Parsons was issued with a disciplinary warning due to her aggressive and inappropriate behaviour towards Ben 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 Ms Parsons ‘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.

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.

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.

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.

Her claims of unfair dismissal, discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and discrimination on the grounds of sex 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’.

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