In Really Easy Car Credit Limited v Thompson, the EAT confirmed that an employer must believe or know that the employee is pregnant at the point when it takes a decision to dismiss, if a claim for automatic unfair dismissal because of pregnancy and/or pregnancy discrimination is to succeed.

Really Easy Car Credit Limited (RECC) employed Miss Thompson as a telesales operator, as part of its second-hand car sales business. On 3 August 2016, RECC decided to dismiss Miss Thompson, citing her emotional volatility and lack of work ethic as the reasons for her dismissal. The dismissal occurred during Miss Thompson’s probationary period. Importantly, RECC did not immediately inform Miss Thompson of the decision to terminate her employment. 

On 4 August 2016, Miss Thompson informed RECC that she was pregnant. The following day, RECC produced a dismissal letter to Miss Thompson, which was backdated to 3 August 2016.

Miss Thompson brought an automatic unfair dismissal and pregnancy discrimination claim, arguing that she was only dismissed because she had informed RECC of her pregnancy and that the letter had been falsely backdated. The tribunal held that the decision to dismiss was unrelated to Miss Thompson’s pregnancy but that, after learning of the pregnancy, RECC should have noted that her conduct and emotional volatility could have been related to her pregnancy and revisited its decision to dismiss. 

The EAT did not agree. It stated that it was necessary to establish if the pregnancy had been the reason for her dismissal for both the unfair dismissal and discrimination claim. On the facts, RECC made the decision to terminate Miss Thompson’s employment on 3 August 2016, a time before the company had belief in or knowledge of, her pregnancy. The tribunal had appeared to suggest that RECC should have reviewed their decision once Miss Thompson’s pregnancy – 6 – came to light. The EAT made clear that no such obligation exists. It commented that there is no prohibition against less favourable treatment because of something arising from pregnancy (as there is in the case of disability discrimination).

The EAT also noted that it could not be inferred with certainty that Miss Thompson’s emotional instability was directly related to her pregnancy. The EAT remitted the case to a different tribunal, in order to determine if any significant events occurred between 4 and 5 August 2016 which would show the reason for dismissal was in fact the pregnancy (in which case the employee may be successful in her claim).