A black teaching assistant has won £17,000 after she was banned from working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic while her white colleague was allowed to.
Worried Abi Balogun told school bosses she had to ‘do what’s right for my family’ and stay at home as her young son was battling cancer and vulnerable.
When the infant school’s deputy head Emmy Alcock ordered her to attend and threatened her with no pay, Ms Balogun questioned why a white, less-qualified assistant was given permission to work from home.
But just an hour after the complaint, Ms Alcock terminated Ms Balogun’s contract with Cubitt Town Infants’ School in Isle of Dogs, London.
Now, special needs and disabilities assistant Ms Balogun has won £16,769 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 Ms Balogun, who is black British, is a single mother of two looking after a boy and girl, both school-aged.
Her son was diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment at the time in January 2021, when the UK was plunged into its third lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She was not allowed to work from home despite her son being clinically vulnerable and was put on a rota which meant she came into contact with pupils and colleagues at school – even though she was promised it was a ‘non-contact role’.
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 also heard that the headteacher Robyn Bruce (pictured) ‘in hindsight’ thought that Ms Alcock should have explained why another person was allowed to WFH
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 I can’, and an hour after Ms Balogun brought up the Equality Act she terminated her contract and notified the agency which she was employed through.
At the tribunal, the school claimed Ms Balogun was not comparable to LC and Ms Balogun 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.
She lost an unfair dismissal claim as she was not directly employed by the school, but through an agency.