Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Please Sir, we want some more - Pt II

A Twitter writer (@HMForces) asks:
"Does anyone in the whole of Britain think the following story is fair?
Single mother soldier expecting a large payout from Army over discrimination claim. A single mother soldier is expecting to win a large payout from the Army after a tribunal ruled that it had failed to take enough notice of her childcare needs.
Tilern DeBique said she was forced to leave the forces because she was expected to be available for duty at all times. However, a tribunal ruled she was within her rights to miss training when she could not find anyone to look after her daughter"
She is expected to receive a payment of at least £100,000 for loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages and the ruling could yet have significant implications for the armed forces."
Well, I can see the point that is being made. The Mum should have asked the appropriate questions before she signed on the dotted line. However, she may well have thought the Army was an Equal Opportunities employer and her situation is one that any civilian employer has to face and resolve. The treatment that DeBique expected is normal and one we have allowed to creep in under a number of disguises.

I left the Army at a time when pregnancy was dealt with by discharge. (For women that is - men facing pregnancy were given postings way away from the potentially disruptive individual!) Within ten years or so, I was heading a department of some 60 staff. Because of what the department served - switchboards, reception, catering, cleaning and reception - about 50 of these employees were female. Roughly half were post-menopausal so I had 25/30 'delicate' women to work with. Their absences - short and long-term - had to be covered; there was no way a switchboard position could be vacant or a executive lunch uncooked. Apart from the difficulties set by women going on maternity leave, I had a couple with medical difficulties - irritable bowel syndrome for two that led to sudden onset of inability to turn in for work. When Mum eventually decided that she might return to work, I had to consider - and arrange - for her to job share with another and to work hours that suited what she saw as 'her circumstances' These always seemed to consist of late arrivals and early departures with occasional working-time visits to the First Aid room for a bit of a lie down.

The greatest opponent I faced in any attempt to get some consideration for the employer from these employees was the Head of HR. This, that and the other seemed to all be 'covered by legislation' or 'decided at an employment tribunal'. It was even considered grossly incorrect for me to ask at the employment interview stage if a female applicant was in a 'relationship' - ('married' was totally banned as signifying aged and prejudicial attitudes to life-style).

My only real victory for sanity was when a freshly-returned Mum calmly told me that her working arrangements were no great matter as she was already again pregnant and would be seeking more feet-up holiday. Seems she had thought that breast-feeding was a contraceptive. After breaking off to go and bang my head against the HR door, I managed to put together a case that she was frustrating her contract and we gave her a small bag of gold to go away and breed to her hearts content. Even that course of action was deemed marginally illegal.

Mind you - if you truly want to see what a significant portion of the (soldiers') world thinks - have a look at their forum for full and frank discussion.

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