A NEW worker was unfairly treated and dismissed by a nursery after she got pregnant – a tribunal has concluded.

Darci Topping, 22, was employed by Stepping Stones Nursery in Hoddlesden when she found out she was expecting her first child in March 2020.

An employment tribunal heard how Miss Topping was delighted when she was employed by the nursery on February 24, 2020.

She informed her manager Zara Costello of her pregnancy on March 2, with the nursery conducting a risk assessment for her the following day.

As the pandemic hit the country, Miss Topping became anxious over how she and her baby would be affected if she were to catch the virus. She discussed her concerns with the nursery manager and owner who both agreed that she could go off sick for two weeks.

As lockdown was announced, fewer children were able to attend the nursery due to restrictions with the nursery management having a discussion with staff that they would see a drop in their hours due to the loss of demand.

Miss Topping was called in to the nursery the following week and was asked to sign a document reducing her hours to 20 – something no other member of staff was asked to do.

Due to this, when the furlough system was introduced, Miss Topping was only furloughed on the reduced 20 hours – meaning she received 16 hours of pay – while other members of staff were furloughed on their original hours.

Miss Topping received furlough payments between March 30 and April 21 but received a phone call from Ms Costello on April 20 telling her they were having to make her redundant.

When the panel asked why she didn’t appeal the redundancy, Miss Topping said: “I didn’t want to work for people who made me redundant while pregnant.”

Julie Mercer, the owner of the nursery said that she had read an article and thought that she would have to pay her staff a proportion of their furlough payments and said that the business would have gone under if she had to do this.

Ms Mercer also believed that she would have to furlough people on the hours they would return to work on – with the judge asking how this would have been possible for any company to work out at such an early stage.

While giving evidence, Ms Mercer said that, at the time, she believed she was doing what was best for the business.

She said: “I didn’t want to make Darci redundant. I didn’t want to feel like I was going to lose my business. I didn’t want any of it.

“I was trying to do the best for the parents, staff and trying to keep my business and home.”

Ms Mercer said that they had planned to make further redundancies but never had to as three members of staff resigned after Miss Topping had left.

Tribunal Judge Marion Batten found the nursery to be liable on all counts of detriment on grounds of pregnancy; unfavourable treatment on grounds of pregnancy; and unfair dismissal on the ground of pregnancy.

After the ruling, Miss Topping said: “I’m sorry that it had to get to the point that it got. I do feel like I have got justice and I am relieved that the case is over.

“It was a very difficult time to get made redundant when you have a child on the way.”

Owner of the nursery, Ms Mercer said: “We are very disappointed at the outcome.

“We have been through an extremely challenging period due to the effect of the pandemic on the business.

“From the nursery opening in 1994 it was devastating after 26 years to have to start making redundancies.

“When furlough was announced it was for a three-month period to end in May 2020.

“When we were allowed to re-open to all children on June 1, we had less than half the number attending than we had before lockdown.

“Over the years we have had many pregnant employees who have returned to nursery after maternity leave some bringing their children with them.

“We are in the process of considering an appeal and therefore it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this stage.”