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Employment myths 3

Employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave cannot be dismissed

They can, as long as the reason for dismissal is unrelated to their pregnancy or maternity leave as this would amount to sex discrimination and be an automatically unfair dismissal.  If you have a lawful reason for dismissing, like redundancy or poor performance, then make sure that you have a good paper trail to rebut any suggestion that the dismissal was in any way linked to the pregnancy or maternity.  Also be aware that in redundancy situations where suitable alternative employment is available, a woman on maternity leave is entitled to be offered this in priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy.

As long as I am paid less than £30,000 as a severance payment, I can be paid tax fee

If a severance payment is compensation for the termination of employment and is separate to any contractual entitlement, then the first £30,000 can be paid without a tax deduction.  However, if the ‘severance payment’ in fact arises out of the contract, or if the employee is not receiving their full notice entitlement, and the payment could be deemed to be a payment in lieu of notice, then it will be taxable.

Therefore, contractual terms need to be looked at carefully in order to assess whether any payment upon termination of employment can properly be regarded as an ex-gratia payment.

Average Employment Tribunal awards

If the headlines are to be believed, Employment Tribunals awards are astronomical.  However you may be surprised that the median award for unfair dismissal in 2012/13 was £4,832.  The highest award for unfair dismissal during that period was £236,147.

Even in discrimination claims, where there is no limit on the amount that an employee may be awarded, the median award for sex discrimination was £5,900 (highest £318,630). For disability discrimination, those figures were £7,536 and £387,472 respectively.  It is not always clear from the headlines, but these higher awards are very much the exception rather than the rule and are only made in the most serious of cases.