A black teaching assistant has won a race discrimination case after she was banned from working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic while her white colleague was allowed to.
Abi Balogun showed Cubitt Town Infants’ School in London a letter saying that her young son who was battling cancer and vulnerable should shield at home during the pandemic.
Ms Balogun told an employment tribunal she explained to the infant school’s deputy head Emmy Alcock she had to ‘do what’s right for my family’ and avoid a possible Covid infection.
However, Ms Alcock ordered her to attend and threatened her with no pay.
And when Ms Balogun questioned why a white, less qualified assistant was given permission to work from home, the deputy head terminated her contract the Isle of Dog school.
The special needs and disabilities assistant is in line to receive compensation after she successfully sued the school for race discrimination and victimisation.
Worried Abi Balogun told Cubitt Town Infants’ School (pictured) bosses she had to ‘do what’s right for my family’ and stay at home as her young son was battling cancer and vulnerable
An East London Employment Tribunal heard how Ms Balogun’s son was diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment in January 2021.
This was when the UK was plunged into its third lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Balogun who was employed by an agency, Teaching Personnel Limited, as a teaching assistant at the school was told it would be ‘non contact’ work and would be preparing work packs in a classroom.
Previously, she had been allowed by the school to stay at home while ‘the shielding advice for her son was in place’.
But the deputy head Ms Alcock told the mother-of-two, the court heard, that the government guidance only required the vulnerable person to shield and she should come into work.
A female assistant, named only as ‘LC’, carried out a similar role to Ms Balogun and was permitted to work from home from January 2021 as her mother was a vulnerable person and was shielding.
On January 28, Ms Balogun texted Ms Alcock: ‘Hi Emmy, I’ve made a conscious decision to do what’s right for my family and stay home during the lockdown.
‘It is impossible to work in isolation in school. Staff are everywhere and have come to speak to me without a face covering.
‘It’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Pupils have also approached me to show me their work, and I won’t turn them away.
‘My children were too in school while I was at work which defeats the purpose.’
Ms Alcock replied: ‘Hi Abi, I understand your concerns and why you want to stay at home.
‘As the shielding document is for your son and not yourself, you are still expected to attend work.
‘All staff apart from those that are themselves clinically extremely vulnerable are expected to attend work. This is the guidance from the DfE.’
The tribunal heard Ms Balogun pointed out Ms Alcock’s contradiction as LC was allowed to work remotely.
She asked: ‘To my knowledge, a specific co-worker is not clinically vulnerable however lives with a family member who is and shielding, why are they not expected to attend work, on the other hand, I have to?’
Ms Alcock claimed she had ‘done everything’ she could but said she ‘can’t discuss other member of staffs arrangements’ as they are ‘confidential’.
The tribunal also heard that the headteacher Robyn Bruce ‘in hindsight’ thought that Ms Alcock should have explained why another person was allowed to WFH.
Ms Balogun then brought up the Equality Act and Ms Alcock terminated her contract an hour later and notified the agency which she was employed through.
The tribunal also heard that the headteacher Robyn Bruce (pictured) ‘in hindsight’ thought that Ms Alcock should have explained why another person was allowed to WFH
At the tribunal, Ms Bruce claimed Ms Balogun was not comparable to LC and the mother of a child with cancer could not have worked remotely, however the panel found this was not true.
The tribunal concluded: ‘Little thought was taken by the school prior to the termination of Ms Balogun’s services by Ms Alcock of how she could be accommodated working from home.
‘This was in stark contrast to LC who was allowed to work from home presumably with the necessary software to do so.
‘Ms Balogun had a good work record and there were no performance or disciplinary issues with her.
‘The tribunal was not satisfied that the explanation provided by the school at the hearing was reasonable as to why she could not work from home especially given her good work record, superior qualifications and adaptable experience.
‘We were perplexed by the actions of Ms Alcock as it was clear to us that she was aware Ms Balogun was a single mother looking after two children, one of whom was suffering from cancer and was clinically vulnerable.’
The panel said ‘we were not satisfied’ by the school’s explanation of her sacking when the only difference was race.
Ms Balogun, who worked at the school for a year, won claims of race discrimination and victimisation and will be awarded compensation at a later date.
She lost an unfair dismissal claim as she was not directly employed by the school, but through an agency.