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Single mum forced to work Saturdays at WHSmith wins £25,000

By Neil Shaw

A WHSmith worker has won more than £25,000 after she was forced to work on Saturdays and even had to bring her daughter to work. Jacqueline Keating, who was the sole carer for her eight-year-old child at the time, asked not to work at weekends because she did not have anyone to look after her.

But her 'frustrated' boss told her she had to work a four-hour shift on the Saturday and find her own replacement if she could not do it, an employment tribunal was told. She was forced to quit and sued the high street chain for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

And she has now been awarded £25,558.55 in compensation after the panel found that forcing women, as primary caregivers, to work on Saturdays put them at a disadvantage. Ms Keating first began working at the popular chain in Bromley, south London in October 2015 on a 20 hour contract plus a further eight if that was required, the panel heard.

Then in July 2018, her boss - Liam Cruickshank - introduced a Saturday rota for weekday staff to work one weekend day a month. This was to combat falling sales revenue and came after university students who usually covered the weekend had quit, the tribunal heard.

The hearing in Croydon, south London, was told on numerous occasions that this roster was a 'massive issue' for the single mother, who had no family or social network to help her out. The tribunal was told she tried to talk to her boss multiple times about this, even sending him a text which was ignored.

In September 2018, although she told her boss she could not work the Saturdays she had been scheduled to work, she was informed she would have to organise swaps herself, the panel heard. The following month, Ms Keating was forced to ask for both WHSmith and her boss to sign off on letting her daughter accompany her to work - a move the panel found to be an indication of her 'obvious and significant childcare issues'.

The tribunal found this should have been a 'red flag' to managers but her boss 'neglected his responsibility' and did not explore whether any staff could cover for her. Then later that month, she explained that no one could look after her daughter one Saturday which was a 'massive' problem for her and this left Mr Cruickshank 'frustrated', the tribunal was told.

"[Mr Cruickshank] accepted that he said to [Ms Keating] that if he permitted her not to work on the Saturday rota, everyone else would want the same. The enquiry of others however was not made," the panel was told.

Ms Keating then quit in October 2018 with Mr Cruickshank later arguing at the tribunal that he would have made those enquiries but she had already resigned. The panel also found there was 'woefully inadequate' information about how many of the WHSmith staff were women or had child caring responsibilities, with Mr Cruickshank having 'inadequate' diversity training.

Employment Judge Omar Khalil concluded: "It appeared... that there was either casualness and/or a lack of HR support for Mr Cruickshank, alternatively inadequacy of diversity training. Mr Cruickshank’s disinterest was rooted in his desire for Ms Keating to sort out swaps with her colleagues or simply to find a child care solution herself.

"That became overwhelmingly obvious to the tribunal when Mr Cruickshank confirmed... that he never explored himself with any of the other staff whether somebody was prepared to work an extra Saturday to mitigate against her childcare reason for not being able to do so.

"This was a surprising neglect of his responsibility."

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Dive Deeper:
WHSmith worker wins £25,000 after boss says she must bring daughter into work
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One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Pregnant woman wins £15,000 payout after boss said she 'must have been having fun lately'
Bianca King informed Mortgage Compare company director George Dodds that she was pregnant in October 2018 - two years after…
Under-promise to over-deliver: Albanese
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Get all your news in one place