Black teaching assistant wins payout after being banned from home working during lockdown
A Black teaching assistant who was banned from working from home during COVID-19 lockdown while her white colleague was allowed to remote work has been awarded £17,000.
Abi Balogun worked as a special needs and disabilities assistant at Cubitt Town Infants' School on the Isle of Dogs, London, and had asked to stay at home as her young son was undergoing cancer treatment.
The school's deputy head, Emmy Alcock, ordered her to attend and threatened her with no pay, but Balogun questioned why a white, less-qualified assistant was given permission to work from home.
The assistant, named only as "LC", carried out a similar role to Balogun and was permitted to work from home from January 2021 as her mother was a vulnerable person and was shielding.
Just an hour after Balogun's complaint, Alcock terminated Balogun's contract.
The school has since closed and become part of Cubbit Town Primary School.
Now Balogun has won £16,769 after she successfully sued the school for race discrimination and victimisation.
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An East London Employment Tribunal heard 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 COVID lockdown.
She was not allowed to work from home despite her son being clinically vulnerable and was promised she could work in a "non-contact role", but was put on a rota which brought her into contact with pupils and colleagues at school.
On 28 January, Balogun texted Alcock to say: "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."
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 Balogun pointed out 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?”
Alcock claimed she had "done everything I can", and an hour after Balogun brought up the Equality Act she terminated her contract and notified the agency which she was employed through.
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At the tribunal, the school claimed Balogun was not comparable to LC and 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.
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.