Employment Law Newsletter – June 2019

employment law


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Disability Discrimination: A perceived risk of future disability is discrimination

In Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey [2019] EWCA Civ 1061 Lisa Coffey was a police officer in the Wiltshire Constabulary who suffered from a degree of hearing loss which had never caused her any problems in doing her job (‘day to day activities’) and which, everyone agreed, does not constitute a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. In 2013 she applied for a transfer to the Norfolk Constabulary, but it was refused because on a medical test her hearing fell, as the medical adviser put it, “just outside the standards for recruitment strictly speaking”. She brought a claim for disability discrimination against the Chief Constable of the Norfolk Constabulary because of a (perceived) disability. Section 13(1) of the Equality Act states: “A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.” Her claim was upheld by an Employment Tribunal but the Constabulary appealed. The EAT agreed with the tribunal.

Upholding the decisions of the previous tribunals, the Court of Appeal found  that the Constabulary did unlawfully discriminate against Ms Coffey because of a perception of a risk of future inability to work in a particular role, as she was clearly carrying out her current front-line officer role without hindrance. It was this perception of a risk of future disability that was discriminatory and resulted in the recruiting officer giving her less favourable treatment. The appeal was dismissed.

Discrimination: Does contributory negligence affect amount of injury to feelings award?

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 (‘LRCNA’) basically allows an award for damages to be reduced proportionately where the claimant suffered the damage partly as a result of his/her own actions or those of someone else.It is possible for it to apply to some discrimination claims, but reduction of an award for contributory negligence would rarely, if ever, be justified because of the difficulties in applying the concept of “fault” to the victim of a discrimination claim and the fact that the discriminator may have acted without “fault” in the sense of the 1945 Act. 

In First Greater Western Limited & Linley v Waiyego UKEAT/0056/18/RN the Claimant succeeded in bringing a claim for failure to make reasonable adjustments and a claim for disability discrimination, for which she was awarded £19,800 for injury to feelings in respect of the first claim and £8,800 for injury to feelings arising from the second claim. Both sides appealed. 

On appeal, the Respondent claimed that the LRCNA could be applied to discrimination claims and that the tribunal failed to make any deduction to reflect the Claimant’s contributory negligence in failing to give the employer details of her previous cognitive behavioural therapist. The EAT held that the obiter dictum relied upon in Way v Crouch [2005] ICR 1362 was in fact too broad and a contributory negligence argument in a discrimination claim may be more appropriately treated as an allegation of failure to mitigate loss. It further held that the tribunal had not erred in its assessment of the quantum of non-financial loss (psychiatric injury and injury to feelings) for disability discrimination. These awards were not flawed by misdirection in relation to causation of loss; nor were they perversely high or flawed by double counting.

As for the Claimant’s appeal, the EAT held that the tribunal had rightly rejected the Claimant’s invitation to impose a financial penalty on the First Respondent (First Greater Western Limited) under section 12A(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 for deliberate and repeated breaches of employment law. It was held that the tribunal had also rightly rejected the invitation of the Claimant to award aggravated damages. 

Disability Discrimination: Is reliance on Occupational Health reports sufficient to prevent constructive knowledge of a disability?

In Kelly v Royal Mail Group Ltd UKEAT/0262/18/RN, Mr Kelly was a postman who had a poor attendance record generally, which had triggered the Royal Mail’s Attendance Policy on several occasions. Following two further periods of absence relating to surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome the policy was triggered again, including the final AR3 stage of the policy, which allowed for a review of the whole of his attendance record. As a result the Royal Mail decided that it had lost confidence in Mr Kelly’s ability to maintain a satisfactory attendance record and accordingly dismissed him. 

The tribunal held that, whilst dismissal was a harsh response, it was within the band of reasonable responses and therefore the dismissal was fair. It dismissed the allegation that this amounted to disability discrimination on the basis that Royal Mail did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know that Mr Kelly had a disability. Mr Kelly appealed on the grounds that it was perverse to conclude that it was fair to dismiss him for two absences for corrective surgery which he could not help, and for Royal Mail to rely upon earlier absences. Furthermore, it was argued that the tribunal erred in accepting that Royal Mail did not have constructive knowledge of disability because it just “rubber stamped” the Occupational Health report. 

The EAT dismissed the appeal – the tribunal’s conclusion as to the fairness of the dismissal was not perverse because the policy expressly permitted earlier absences to be taken into account, and accordingly conduct in line with that policy is unlikely to be unfair. The policy applied to all absences, irrespective of fault or blame, and Royal Mail was entitled to look at the overall pattern of absence in determining whether there was a likelihood of satisfactory attendance in the future. As to disability discrimination, the EAT found Royal Mail had not simply rubber stamped the Occupational Health reports, but had actually given independent consideration to the question of disability (and arrived at the decision that carpal tunnel syndrome is not automatically a disability) though the reports themselves contained more than a bare assertion that the Claimant was not disabled. No other evidence had been supplied by Claimant or his representative, and there was nothing to suggest that the employer should seek further clarification as to whether the Claimant was disabled or not. Given all this, there was no error in the tribunal’s conclusion that Royal Mail did not have constructive knowledge of disability.

Right to Privacy: Employer can rely on material produced under police investigation

In Garamukanwa v United Kingdom [2019] 6 WLUK 109, Mr Garamukanwa and Ms Maclean worked for the same NHS hospital trust, and had had a relationship that had ended. Mr Garamukanwa had then suspected Ms Maclean had had a relationship with another member of staff, Ms Smith.  According to the evidence, he then started a campaign of harassment against Ms Maclean including stalking her and sending unpleasant emails to her and her colleagues. As a result, she made a formal complaint to the police. The police investigation included them taking copies of incriminating photos he had on his mobile ‘phone. In light of the investigation, the employer decided to suspend him on full pay pending their own investigation. Whilst the police ultimately decided not to prosecute, the employer NHS Trust obtained copies of the photographs seized by the police from his mobile ‘phone. A disciplinary hearing was held and the Claimant, Mr Garamukanwa, was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. He appealed, but the appeal was also dismissed.  

A tribunal found that the decision to dismiss was within the range of reasonable responses for a reasonable employer and therefore fair. The evidence was found to justify the conclusion that the Claimant was guilty of gross misconduct: a wrongful dismissal claim also failed. In making his claim, the Claimant also raised the issue that his employer had breached his right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ‘ECHR’) by using the emails and other material he sent, together with the photographs from his mobile ‘phone. His contention was that they were entirely private and personal. It was this issue that reached the European Court of Human Rights, which upheld the view of the EAT, which found that the dismissal of an employee by an NHS Trust did not breach the employee’s right to privacy under Article 8 ECHR. The NHS Trust relied upon material that had been collected by, and passed on to them by, the police during their investigation into harassment allegations made against him by a colleague.

 The  European Court of Human Rights found that while business communications are capable of falling within the protection given to “private life” and “correspondence”, the Claimant could not have reasonably expected that any materials or communications linked to the criminal investigation would remain private, and the tribunal was fully entitled to reach this conclusion. Article 8 was therefore not engaged and the appeal dismissed. Leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal also dismissed. 

Trade Unions: One-off direct offer is not unlawful inducement

In Kostal UK Ltd v Dunkley & others [2019] EWCA Civ 1009 the company had been negotiating with the employees’ union, UNITE, in respect of certain employment contract terms and conditions through collective bargaining. Section 145B of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULR(C)A) prohibits employers from circumventing this collective bargaining route and approaching the employees direct if the result is that such terms will not form part of the collective bargaining (an inducement to a ‘prohibited result’). In this instance, however, the negotiations had stalled and so the employer made two offers on two separate occasions. The offers created the prohibited result which was that the workers’ terms of employment, or any of those terms, “will not (or will no longer) be determined by collective agreement negotiated by or on behalf of the union” – i.e. circumventing the collective bargaining fifty-seven workers took the matter to the tribunal who made awards to each of them. The employer appealed.

The EAT agreed with the tribunal’s conclusion that the employer had sought to achieve a ‘prohibited result’ and dismissed the appeal. The Court of Appeal, however,  took a different view of what constitutes a prohibited result. It found that a one-off direct offer did not constitute an unlawful inducement because section 145B only prohibits two types of scenarios: 

  1. where an independent trade union is seeking to be recognised and the employer makes an offer whose sole or main purpose is to achieve the result that the workers’ terms of employment will not be determined by a collective agreement; and
  2. where an independent trade union is already recognised, the workers’ terms of employment are determined by collective agreement negotiated by or on behalf of the union, and the employer makes an offer whose sole or main purpose is to achieve the result that the workers’ terms of employment (as a whole), or one or more of those terms, will no longer be determined by collective agreement (i.e. the change takes the term or terms outside the scope of the collective bargaining on a permanent basis).

 It distinguished these offers: where an independent trade union is recognised, the workers’ terms of employment are determined by a collective agreement negotiated by or on behalf of the union, and the employer makes an offer whose sole or main purpose is to achieve the result that one or more of the workers’ terms of employment will not, on this one occasion, be determined by the collective agreement. The appeal was successful and the claims were dismissed. 

Tribunal proceedings: Extensions of time where belief reasonable

When bringing an employment tribunal claim, a claimant must complete a form ET1 and start the claim within certain prescribed time limits. In Lowri Beck Services Ltd v Brophy [2019] UKEAT 0277_18_2503, the original Claimant, Mr P Brophy, brought claims of unfair and wrongful dismissal and of disability discrimination against his employer. Mr Brophy suffers with severe dyslexia and had been helped much of his life by his brother, Michael Brophy. Due to his difficulties and the emotional impact of being dismissed for gross misconduct,  the Claimant had asked his brother to help him deal with his claim. It turns out the Claimant had misunderstood the date of his actual dismissal  and this was compounded by the unclear nature of the employer’s letter causing the brother to genuinely get the wrong date of dismissal. This, in turn, meant the claims were brought out of time. The tribunal decided to extend time for these reasons, and that it would be just and equitable to extend time, there being no prejudice to the employer in doing so. The employer appealed against the extension.  

The EAT held that the tribunal had not erred in its findings. This mistake had been one of fact not law. The issue was whether the brother’s belief was reasonable. The tribunal had found that it was, and was therefore entitled to conclude that it had not been reasonably practicable for the claim to have been presented in time. The extension was upheld and the appeal dismissed. 

Holiday Pay: Under the Working Time Directive  holiday pay must include regular voluntary overtime

The decision of the EAT in Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council v Willetts and others (which we previously reported in September 2017) has recently been approved by the Court of Appeal in East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust v Flowers & Others [2019] EWCA Civ 947. A number of ambulance crew worked ‘voluntary’ overtime. It was voluntary – they were under no obligation at all. They made a claim for unlawful deduction from wages to the employment tribunal, arguing that their voluntary overtime was not included with their ‘normal’ remuneration for the purposes of  holiday pay calculation, and therefore they were owed pay. 

The EAT in Dudley held that holiday pay under the Working Time Directive must include regular voluntary overtime, i.e. elements of pay that are sufficiently regular or recurring to qualify as “normal” must be included. The Court of Appeal expressly approved this decision and said that the patterns of voluntary overtime will be for the tribunals to determine, on a case-by-case basis, as to whether they are sufficiently regular and settled. Additionally, in this case, the Claimants’ contractual terms are to be found in the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook, a collective agreement popularly known as “Agenda for Change”. These required voluntary overtime to be included in the calculation of contractual holiday pay, and as Justice Soole in the EAT broke it down to be a mere question of construction, there being “no good basis to construe clause 13.9 so as to exclude overtime in the calculation of holiday pay”, which the Court of Appeal upheld. 

Other news:

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination: WEC publishes report on use of NDAs in discrimination cases

In November 2018, we reported that The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC)  had launched a new inquiry looking at the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)where any form of harassment or discrimination has been alleged. The committee was seeking written submissions on whether there are certain types of harassment or discrimination for which NDAs are more likely to be used, whether the use of NDAs should be banned or restricted in these cases and what safeguards may be necessary to prevent their unethical use.

The WEC has now published their report on ‘The use of non-disclosure agreements in discrimination cases’. Its findings show that NDAs are used as a matter of routine to ‘cover up’ unlawful discrimination and harassment and maintain confidentiality of employers in a variety of ways, such as preventing people from making protected disclosures under whistleblowing legislation, or preventing people from explaining to a new employer why their previous job ended, or preventing them from reporting an issue to the police. Settlement agreements will often include non-disparagement provisions. This is happening, the report suggests, because of the “substantial imbalance of power” between employers and employees. Employees are often left feeling that they have little choice but to sign the agreements and agree to their stringent conditions. The report also looked at the effect and practicalities of taking such a matter to an employment tribunal. Furthermore, the report also covers the emotional and psychological damage that can be inflicted upon those feeling forced into entering into NDAs, and how being in such a situation can make moving on and finding a new job more difficult.

The reports states: 

This cover-up culture has to be challenged. NDAs should not be used to silence victims of discrimination and harassment. Employers and their legal advisers should not be complicit in using NDAs to cover up allegations of unlawful acts. Discrimination at work is unlawful and employers should not have the option to cover it up through the use of NDAs. They have a duty of care to provide a safe place of work for their employees and that includes protection from unlawful discrimination. Insufficient focus and force from regulators to require employers to do more to protect employees has to change. It is in the public interest that employers tackle discrimination and harassment and that allegations of such behaviour are investigated properly and not covered up by legally sanctioned secrecy. The Government has to reset the parameters within which NDAs can be used and must address the failure of the employment tribunal system to ensure all employees who have experienced discrimination have a meaningful route of legal redress.

The WEC suggest the Government follow these key recommendations:

  • ensure that NDAs cannot prevent legitimate discussion of allegations of unlawful discrimination or harassment, and stop their use to cover up allegations of unlawful discrimination, while still protecting the rights of victims to be able to make the choice to move on with their lives; 
  • require standard, plain English confidentiality, non-derogatory and similar clauses where these are used in settlement agreements, and ensure that such clauses are suitably specific about what information can and cannot be shared and with whom; 
  • strengthen corporate governance requirements to require employers to meet their responsibilities to protect those they employ from discrimination and harassment; and 
  • require named senior managers at board level or similar to oversee anti-discrimination and harassment policies and procedures and the use of NDAs in discrimination and harassment cases. 

They also renewed their previous calls (which have been rejected) for the Government to: 

  • place a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace; and 
  • urgently improve the remedies that can be awarded by employment tribunals as well as the costs regime to reduce disincentives to taking a case forward. Tribunals should be able to award punitive damages, and awards for the non-financial impact of discrimination should be increased significantly.
Health & Safety: Employers should support victims of domestic abuse

The figures on domestic abuse are shocking:

Two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner. One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, which can range from coercive behaviour to murder. That means we are all likely to know or work with someone suffering from it right now. The damage to people’s mental and physical well being is huge, as is the cost to the economy, calculated by government to be £66 billion a year, writes Iqbal Wahhab OBE in the Independent

Over 270 companies and public sector businesses have joined the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA) (https://eida.org.uk/) to help put a stop to this. The EIDA is a network of employers who have set up this organisation to work collectively to end domestic abuse, and support and protect domestic abuse victims in their workplaces. The EIDA website invites you to join them, there is no fee, and provides an employer’s toolkit, as well as other resources to help employers help their employees in crisis. Among the suggestions are for employers to introduce policies and educate staff to identify, support and signpost victims.

Health & Safety: IES publishes report regarding support for epileptic workers 

One in 100 people in the UK suffer with Epilepsy but they are more than twice as likely as non-sufferers to be unemployed. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) was commissioned by Epilepsy Action to conduct research to explore the factors that contribute to people with epilepsy being disadvantaged at work, and to identify what good employment support should look like. The report ‘Employment support for people with epilepsy – Qualitative research to identify what good employment support for people with epilepsy should look like’ has now been published.

The study revealed both a lack of knowledge on the part of employers about the condition, particularly its fluctuating nature, and the fear held by epilepsy sufferers that they would suffer discrimination in the workplace. IES’s recommendations include a  personalised online toolkit – covering disclosure, health and safety, reasonable adjustments and other common concerns – could guide employers and employees in their conversations. Checklists and ‘job carving’ would help employers to assess employees’ capacity and fit with job tasks, and to make adjustments. These are areas that Epilepsy Action can address.The report also highlights the need for improved access to support services to empower people with epilepsy in their interactions with employers. 

Data Protection: One year on since implementation of GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018

Can you believe it’s been a year since we all scrambled to get  our policies, permissions and records straight? It has been a big change to the regulatory landscape and privacy is now arguably much better understood  and appreciated.

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denman, explains:

People have woken up to the new rights the GDPR delivers, with increased protection for the public and additional obligations for organisations. But there is much more still to do to build the public’s trust and confidence. The focus for the second year of the GDPR must be beyond baseline compliance. Instead organisations need to shift their focus to accountability with a real, evidenced understanding of the risks to individuals and how those risks should be mitigated.

With this in mind, the ICO has published a report detailing their work since 25 May 2018, looking back at what has been learnt over the last year, describes some of the work undertaken by the ICO to deliver the goals set out in its Information Rights Strategic Plan (such as supporting the public and organisations, and using its new enforcement and investigation powers). The report also looks at the ICO’s attempts to stay relevant and foster innovation to be an effective regulator both at home and abroad.

Parental Leave: UK ranks near bottom for family friendliness

The BBC recently reported that the UK is one of the worst countries in Europe for paid parental leave, according to UNICEF. Researchers for UNICEF looked 31 European countries and ranked them according to their paid parental leave and affordable childcare to assess how family-friendly they are. The UK came in at a disappointing twenty-eighth, followed only by Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland. Research revealed that UK parents were among the most likely to state that the high cost of childcare was the key factor dissuading them from using it. And yet many nurseries close or have to request top up fees from parents because their running costs are so high (even though childcare is not well paid) and the government’s ‘free childcare’ provision does not meet the actual cost of providing it. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sweden and Norway ranked first and second, because they have more progressive paid parental leave policies, with parents being able to split parental leave jointly and family time being much more important socially. These countries offered the equivalent of 35 and 45 weeks of paid leave respectively, while Estonia offers 85 weeks’ paid leave.

UNICEF says,

Family-friendly policies strengthen the bond between parents and their children, which is critical for the development of families and socially cohesive societies. UNICEF advocates for at least six months of paid leave for parents, and for universal access to quality, affordable childcare from birth to children’s entry into the first grade of school.

Further Information

If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: advice@dixcartlegal.com.

The data contained within this document is for general information only. No responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies. Readers are also advised that the law and practice may change from time to time. This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute accounting, legal or tax advice. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.