Black teaching assistant wins £17k after being banned from working from home amid Covid lockdown

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.

Concerned Abi Balogun told school leaders she needed to “do what’s right for my family” and stay home as her young son is battling cancer and is vulnerable.

When the preschool’s assistant director, Emmy Alcock, ordered her to visit and threatened her without pay, Ms Balogun questioned why a white, less-skilled assistant was allowed to work from home.

But just an hour after the complaint, Ms Alcock canceled Ms Balogun’s contract with Cubitt Town Infants’ School on the Isle of Dogs, London.

Now special needs and disabilities assistant Ms Balogun has won £16,769 after successfully suing the school over racial discrimination and victimisation.

Concerned Abi Balogun told chiefs at Cubitt Town Infants' School (pictured) she needed to

Concerned Abi Balogun told chiefs at Cubitt Town Infants’ School (pictured) she needed to “do what’s right for my family” and stay home as her young son is battling cancer and is vulnerable

An East London labor court heard that Ms Balogun, a black British woman, is a single mother of two caring for a school-age boy and girl.

Her son was diagnosed with cancer and was receiving treatment at the time in January 2021 when Britain was plunged into its third lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She was not allowed to work from home even though her son was clinically vulnerable, and was placed on a roster, which meant she interacted with students and colleagues at school – although she was promised there would be a “non- Contact Role” would be.

A female assistant, referred to only as “LC”, performed a role similar to Ms. Balogun and was allowed to work from home as of January 2021 as her mother was a vulnerable person and shielded.

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 lockdown.

“It is impossible to work in isolation at school. Staff are everywhere and came to speak to me without face coverings.

“It’s not a risk I want to take. Students have also approached me to show me their work and I will not turn them away.

“My kids were also 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.

“Because the shielding document is for your son and not yourself, you will still be expected to show up for work.

“All staff, except those who are themselves at extreme clinical risk, are expected to participate in the work. This is the guide of the DfE.’

The tribunal also heard that headmistress Robyn Bruce (pictured) thought

The tribunal also heard that headmistress Robyn Bruce (pictured) thought “after the fact” that Ms Alcock should have explained why another person was admitted to the WFH

The court heard Ms Balogun pointing out Ms Alcock’s objection as LC was allowed to work remotely.

She asked: “To my knowledge, a particular colleague is not clinically at risk but lives with a family member who is shielded. Why isn’t he expected to come to work while I have to?”

Ms Alcock claimed she “did everything I could” and an hour after Ms Balogun brought up the Equality Act, she canceled her contract and notified the agency that employed her.

Before the tribunal, the school claimed Ms Balogun was nothing like LC and Ms Balogun could not have worked remotely, but the panel found that was not the case.

The court concluded: ‘Prior to Ms Alcock’s termination of Ms Balogun’s services, the school gave little thought to the possibility of working from home.

“This was in stark contrast to LC, who were allowed to work from home, presumably with the software required to do so.

“Ms. Balogun had a good work record and there were no performance or disciplinary issues with her.

“The court was not satisfied that the school’s explanation at the hearing as to why it could not work from home was reasonable, particularly given its good work record, excellent qualifications and adaptable experience.

“We were stunned by Ms Alcock’s actions as we realized she knew Ms Balogun was a single mother caring for two children, one of whom was suffering from cancer and was clinically vulnerable.”

The panel said “we were not satisfied” with the school’s explanation for her dismissal when the only difference was race.

Ms. Balogun, who worked at the school for a year, won racial discrimination and victimization lawsuits.

She lost a wrongful dismissal application because she was not employed directly by the school but through an agency. Black teaching assistant wins £17k after being banned from working from home amid Covid lockdown

Emma Colton

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