Earlier this year an employment tribunal case concluded that pausing a training costs repayment period during maternity leave was unfair and discriminatory.
The employee had entered into a training agreement whereby the employer would pay for her dispensing optician training. Under the terms of the agreement, the employee had to repay training costs incurred if she left the company within three years of registration as a DO.
The employee qualified on 15 December 2014. If she left before 14 December 2016, she would be liable to pay £11,000 and if she left after 15 December 2016 but before 14 December 2017 she would be liable to repay £5500.
The employee became pregnant and told her employer in August 2015 that she was due in April 2016. The employer said that the repayment period in the agreement would be paused during her maternity leave. There were no such provisions in the agreement.
When later discussing her return to work with her employer, she was reminded that if she didn’t return to work, she would have to repay fees of £11,000. The employee resigned and claimed constructive dismissal and pregnancy/maternity discrimination.
FindingsThe employee’s claims were successful. The tribunal said that pausing the repayment period during maternity leave was unfavourable treatment due to maternity leave and unlawful discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or maternity. This was irrespective of whether there had been a pause clause in the agreement.
The implementation of the pause clause and the discriminatory way in which she had been treated also amounted to a constructive dismissal.
The employee also had a successful claim for holiday pay as the employer had withheld this as a set off for the money it claimed to be owed.
Tips for members
As this is only a first instance employment tribunal decision, this is not binding. However, the arguments are very persuasive.
Members undertaking pre-registration training should check their agreements and repayment provisions carefully before agreeing to the terms. Members can call the AOP for advice on individual contracts.
Business owners should ensure that they do not pause training fee repayment periods for maternity leave otherwise they risk claims of discrimination or constructive dismissal.
For further information see the employment tribunal judgment.