This month the news focus is on the future of working practices and health. The government is being prompted to get on with setting up the new single labour enforcement body, some companies are trialling a four-day working week and BEIS has issued a call for evidence on the future of the UK labour market after COVID. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is hanging around with long-COVID, the menopause is increasingly being cited in tribunal cases and new regulations allow more healthcare professionals to sign “fit notes”.
- Law Change: EHRC recommends that government set out legislative timetable for proposed single labour market enforcement body
- Health at Work: New regulations will allow more healthcare professionals to sign “fit notes”
- COVID-19: ONS releases latest statistics on prevalence of self-reported long COVID-19
- Working Practices: Seventy companies begin trial of four-day working week
- Menopause: Menopause-related employment tribunal claims nearly double over the past year
- Future of Work: BEIS Committee launches call for evidence on future of UK labour market
Law Change: EHRC recommends that government set out legislative timetable for proposed single labour market enforcement body
On 9 June 2022, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published an inquiry which assessed the treatment and experiences of lower-paid ethnic minority workers in health and social care, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the key findings was low awareness of employment rights. The EHRC recognised the positive role the proposed new single labour market enforcement body, which would have powers and resources to help increase awareness of and access to rights for vulnerable workers, could play in improving the treatment and experiences of such workers. However, it noted the uncertainty created by the lack of a legislative timetable for the introduction of the new body. To address this, the EHRC has recommended that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) set out a legislative timetable for the introduction of the new single labour market enforcement body and ensure it is sufficiently resourced to meaningfully monitor and enforce compliance with employment rights. The EHRC also recommended that BEIS legislate to ensure that access to information on workers’ rights, including where to go if they want to raise a concern, is detailed in the statement of particulars provided under section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
The government committed to setting up a single labour market enforcement body in June 2021, when its consultation response on the proposed new body confirmed that three of the current enforcement bodies, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Team, would be consolidated into a single agency. In April 2022, a call for evidence was issued on the labour market enforcement strategy for 2023 to 2024, which will shape the remit of the combined agency, and was open for responses until 31 May 2022. The strategy is due to be delivered to government in autumn 2022. The formation of the new agency requires primary legislation, which is awaited.
Health at Work: New regulations will allow more healthcare professionals to sign “fit notes”
The Social Security (Medical Evidence) and Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/630) have been laid before Parliament. These regulations amend existing legislation on statements of fitness for work, or “fit notes”, to expand the category of people who can sign them for the purposes of SSP and social security claims. From 1 July 2022, the Social Security (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1976 (SI 1976/615) and the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1985 (SI 1985/1604) will be amended to allow registered nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists to sign these statements. The regulations also insert a definition of “healthcare professional” which includes doctors and the four new professions. It is hoped that this change will make it easier for patients to see GPs by reducing their workloads.
COVID-19: ONS releases latest statistics on prevalence of self-reported long COVID-19
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that, as of 1 May 2022, 2 million people living in private households in the UK were experiencing self-reported long COVID-19 symptoms, considered to be symptoms that continue for more than four weeks. For 1.4 million people (71% of those with self-reported long COVID-19), symptoms adversely affected their day-to-day activities. 398,000 (20%) reported that their ability to go about their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”. The most common symptom reported to be part of individuals’ experience of long COVID-19 continued to be fatigue. This symptom was reported by 55% of people with self-reported long COVID-19, followed by shortness of breath (32%), a cough and muscle ache (23% each).
Working Practices: Seventy companies begin trial of four-day working week
On 6 June 2022, around 3,330 workers at 70 companies began a trial of a four-day working week, as reported by Personneltoday.com. The trial, thought to be the largest of its type in the world, is expected to last for six months and is led by campaigning group 4 Day Week Global. It will be monitored by academics from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, as well as Boston College, who will consider the impact on employees, companies and the environment. Employers taking part have agreed that workers will receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their time, in return for workers committing to 100% productivity.
Menopause: Menopause-related employment tribunal claims nearly double over the past year
Peoplemanagement.co.uk has reported on an analysis of court records by Menopause Experts Group has found that 23 cases cited the menopause in 2021, which is a 44% increase from the 16 cases that cited the menopause in 2020. Of these 23 cases, 16 included claims for disability discrimination, 14 included claims for unfair dismissal and 10 included claims for sex discrimination. In addition, mentions of the word “menopause” increased by 75% in tribunal documents.
This research adds to other recent findings about the impact of the menopause on employees’ experiences at work. Menopause Experts Group has suggested that employers should offer their workforce training about symptoms, signs and side-effects of the menopause and that the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee should advocate for a requirement that all employers have a menopause policy or code of conduct.
Future of Work: BEIS Committee launches call for evidence on future of UK labour market
On 27 May 2022, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee published ‘Post-pandemic economic growth: UK labour markets’ in which it launched a call for evidence into the UK labour market, in particular whether the UK has enough workers with the right skills in the right places to do the jobs required for the economy, taking into account an ageing population, migration changes and the impact of technology. The Committee also wishes to understand whether current employment law is fit for purpose or requires reform.
Responses to the call for evidence are invited by 8 July 2022, which you can view and comment on here. Submissions are invited to questions under five headings: the state of play in the UK labour market post-Brexit and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on recruitment, skills shortages and the growth of the labour market; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and technology in the workplace; workers’ rights and protections; employment status and modern working practices five years on from the Taylor Review; and the impact of an ageing population on the labour market.
The Committee has indicated that it will welcome submissions which address the challenges currently facing both UK employers and workers, and which identify potential solutions and actions required by the government, businesses and employers to effectively support the UK labour market, while boosting productivity, equipping a skilled labour force and protecting workers’ rights. Since it will not be able to consider every aspect of the economy in depth, the Committee would particularly welcome data-rich case studies which might exemplify national trends.
The call for evidence follows the recent announcement that Matt Warman MP would be leading a review on the Future of Work.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month largely centred around dismissal. We have a harassment case that looks at how employers should provide for breastfeeding mothers returning to work, and some interesting cases of dismissals showing that common sense ultimately steers the tribunals.
- Harassment: Tribunal finds school harassed teacher who was forced to express breast milk in ‘dirty’ toilets
- Unfair Dismissal & Disability Discrimination: Failing to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee does not render dismissal unfair
- Unfair Dismissal: It was not automatically unfair to dismiss an employee who refused to go to work because of concerns over COVID-19 risk to his vulnerable children
- Indirect Sex Discrimination & Constructive Unfair Dismissal: Shop assistant was unfairly dismissed after being made to work Saturdays despite childcare issues
Harassment: Tribunal finds school harassed teacher who was forced to express breast milk in ‘dirty’ toilets
In the case of Mellor v The MFG Academies Trust  ET/1802133/2021, the tribunal had to consider the effect of how a teacher had been treated in respect of expressing breastmilk while at school. Ms Mellor had been a teacher of Citizenship at Mirfield Free Grammar School. In July 2020, she returned to work from maternity leave and before returning to work, made a flexible working request and informed her employer she required a room in which to she would be able to express milk or possibly feed her baby during lunchtimes while at school. Having been told that due to COVID-19 restrictions, her partner was not allowed onto school premises to bring the baby to her to breastfeed, Ms Mellor again requested somewhere to express. Having had nowhere suitable she raised the matter with her line manager, as her breasts were becoming uncomfortable from being prevented from expressing the milk and she was afraid of developing mastitis again. Through a series of requests which were not followed up properly, Ms Mellor ended up expressing regularly at lunchtimes either in her car where she might be seen by students, or whilst sitting on the floor in the dirty toilets, and trying to eat her lunch at the same time.
Judge Miller found that Ms Mellor “genuinely and reasonably had no choice but to use the toilets or her car to express” and had made the school aware on numerous occasions but not only was no suitable room provided. “The alternative was that the claimant would experience an embarrassing leakage in the afternoon,” Judge Miller explained. “It is obvious that this is unacceptable.” Ms Mellor was also keen to avoid developing mastitis again and was under the impression this would be avoided by expressing during the day.
Judge Miller therefore found in favour of Ms Mellor, expressing the sentiment that the conduct did have the effect of creating a degrading or humiliating environment for the claimant on the basis that “a woman who has recently given birth should not be subjected to these circumstances solely because she has done so.” The judge also concluded that “As the claimant reasonably and genuinely felt compelled to act in a way that she did not want to, she was we find forced to do so”, therefore interpreting the meaning of ‘forcing’ to include leaving someone with no realistic choice but to take a particular course of action and must be read in conjunction with ‘unwanted’ – such as expressing milk in the toilets while eating lunch and /or in the claimant’s car with the risk of being seen by pupils and others.
The claim of harassment succeeded, but the claim of direct discrimination was dismissed as the failure to provide a suitable room was more due to administrative incompetence rather than on the basis of her sex, and in any event, the same detriment could not be relied upon to make out both claims. The claim of indirect discrimination failed because the provision, criterion or practice (PCP) must place women at a particular disadvantage compared to men. Given that expressing breastmilk is a sex specific practice in which biological men can have no interest this PCP cannot be meaningfully applied to both men and women and therefore there is no comparative disadvantage that can arise.
Unfair Dismissal & Disability Discrimination: Failing to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee does not render dismissal unfair
In Knightley v Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust  EAT 63 the EAT considered the question of if an employer dismisses a disabled employee, but fails to make a reasonable adjustment during that process, must that render the dismissal unfair?
At first instance, the Employment Tribunal found that the employer had failed to make a reasonable adjustment to its procedure when dismissing the employee on grounds of capability in that it had not allowed her an extension of time to lodge an appeal against her dismissal. It therefore upheld her claim under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 (duty to make reasonable adjustments). However, it found that her dismissal was fair and proportionate, and therefore dismissed her claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination arising out of disability, contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010.
The employee’s appeal was on the basis that the Tribunal’s finding, for the purposes of the duty to make reasonable adjustments, that the employee was unreasonably denied an opportunity to appeal against her dismissal ought to have led to her other claims succeeding and/or that the Tribunal had not sufficiently explained how her dismissal could be fair or proportionate given this finding and/or that the Tribunal had wrongly relied on its finding that the employee’s appeal would not have been successful in any event and had thereby committed the Polkey heresy. The ‘Polkey Deduction’ is a very well established principle that, if a dismissal is unfair on procedural grounds, the fact that the employee would have been dismissed in any event, even if a fairer procedure was followed, only impacts the remedy rather than the question of liability.
The EAT dismissed the appeal, noting that it was obvious that the legal tests involved in the three claims before the tribunal were different, and just because an employer might fail on one of the claims does not mean that the others will also fail. What matters to the tribunal is drawing conclusions under each test from the facts which the tribunal has found. The legal principles applicable to each claim should be separately applied to the findings of fact because the elements of each part of the Act are different. Here, the conclusion on the reasonable adjustment claim did not depend on or reflect, the merits of the case for dismissal or the dismissal itself or whether the appeal would have made any difference to the outcome.
Unfair Dismissal: It was not automatically unfair to dismiss an employee who refused to go to work because of concerns over COVID-19 risk to his vulnerable children
In Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd  EAT 69 the EAT considered the case of Mr Rodgers who had refused to go into work during the first national lockdown, despite his work remaining open, because he was concerned that if his children caught COVID-19 they would become very ill. As a result of this refusal, Mr Rodgers was dismissed. He claimed unfair dismissal on the basis that he had exercised his right not to return to work in order to protect himself from circumstances of danger, which he had reasonably believed to be a serious and imminent threat, and which he could not have been expected to avoid (section 100(1)(d) or (e) Employment Rights Act 1999).
However, the EAT found that the employment judge had accepted that the Coronavirus pandemic could, in principle, give rise to circumstances of danger that an employee could reasonably believe to be serious and imminent, but this case failed on the facts. The circumstances of the workplace (it was large and few people worked in it, he could generally maintain social distance at work, masks were available, the tribunal rejected the claimant’s contention that he was forced to go out on deliveries) combined with Mr Rodgers’ actions (he had remained at work from the date of the announcement of the lockdown on 24 March 2020 until he left at his normal time on 27 March 2020, he had not asked for a mask, he did not say that he would not be returning when he left on 27 March 2020, he drove his friend to hospital while he was meant to be self-isolating, he worked in a pub during the lockdown) did not support his argument that there were circumstances of danger which he believed were serious and imminent. Even if the tribunal had been wrong about this, it had been entitled to find that Mr Rodgers could have been expected to take reasonable steps to avoid such danger, such as wearing a mask, observing social distancing, and sanitising his hands. The appeal was dismissed.
Indirect Sex Discrimination & Constructive Unfair Dismissal: Shop assistant was unfairly dismissed after being made to work Saturdays despite childcare issues
The case of Keating v WH Smith Retail Holdings Ltd ET/2300631/2019 has recently been published, which relates to a single mother working at the large retail chain. Following a drop in sales and the reduction of Saturday staff, the manager instated a rota for Saturday working – where sales assistants would have to work 1 in every 4 Saturdays. Although Ms Keating’s contract stated she would work 20 hours a week, flexible to the needs of the business, and could be required to work up to eight hours extra per week where trading patterns required it, and further, she may be required to work Saturdays. Sundays or bank holidays. Ms Keating did not normally work weekends and explained she was unable to work Saturdays as she had no childcare for her eight year old daughter. The manager, Mr Cruikshank, told her she should arrange to swap with one of her colleagues. He also admitted to saying to Ms Keating that if he permitted her not to work the Saturday rota, everyone else would want the same. Otherwise he had not dealt with the issue nor discussed it further with her. On the first Saturday Ms Keating was rostered to work, she had to bring her daughter to work with her. She was then off sick for four weeks and resigned, giving four weeks’ notice.
Ms Keating claimed indirect sex discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal. Ms Keating was put at a disadvantage: as a woman, with a dependent child, as a single mother and who could not afford childcare and had no family or other network she could call upon. The Judge found that while there was a legitimate business aim to introduce the Saturday rota, there was ‘no consideration’ by Mr Cruikshank of any less discriminatory ways to carry out his legitimate aim (i.e. to meet weekend staffing needs). Ms Keating was found to have resigned in response to this breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, and no potentially fair reason was advanced by the employer. The Judge held both claims to be well founded and both claims succeeded.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: email@example.com
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month including how to establish worker status, the use of PILON clauses, privacy regarding email at work and what test to use to determine detriment in victimisation cases.
- Worker Status: “Irreducible minimum of obligation” is not a prerequisite for establishing worker status
- Contract: No dismissal where employer invokes contractual PILON after employee’s resignation to bring forward termination date
- Privacy: Appeal dismissed against judgment that personal emails sent from business account were not private or confidential
- Victimisation: What test should be applied when determining if a Claimant has suffered a detriment under a victimisation claim?
Worker Status: “Irreducible minimum of obligation” is not a prerequisite for establishing worker status
In, Nursing and Midwifery Council v Somerville  EWCA Civ 229, the Court of Appeal has confirmed that an “irreducible minimum of obligation” is not needed to establish worker status under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR 1998). Mr Somerville, a panel member chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Fitness to Practice Committee, worked under an overarching contract. This contract did not oblige the Nursing and Midwifery Council (the Council) to offer hearing dates to him, and he was under no obligation to accept any dates offered to him. Applying Uber BV and others v Aslam and others  UKSC 5, the court found that the fact that the overarching contract did not impose an obligation to work did not preclude a finding that he was a worker when he was actually working.
In addition, the fact that Mr Somerville could withdraw from an individual agreement to attend a hearing even after he had accepted a particular date did not change the Court of Appeal’s view. He entered into an individual contract for an individual assignment which existed until terminated and had to be read alongside the overarching contract. If an individual contract was not terminated and he chaired a hearing, he would, in the language of section 2(1)(b) of the WTR 1998, have worked under a contract personally to perform services. There is no indication that there must be a distinct, super-added obligation to provide services independent from the provision of the services on a particular occasion. When deciding whether a specific agreement to provide services on a particular occasion amounted to a worker’s contract, the fact that the parties were not obliged to offer, or accept, any future work was irrelevant.
The Court of Appeal’s decision confirms what was previously understood to be the position, that an “irreducible minimum of obligation” is not an essential requirement for worker status. The analysis of the Uber Supreme Court decision also adds to the often-fraught discussion of what it means to be a worker. That said, the Court of Appeal’s decision is clear: where an individual is, in fact, working or providing services personally under a contract, a finding of worker status can be made even where no overarching contract imposing an obligation to provide and accept work exists.
Contract: No dismissal where employer invokes contractual PILON after employee’s resignation to bring forward termination date
In Fentem v Outform EMEA Ltd  EAT 36, the EAT has held that is bound by the decision in Marshall (Cambridge) v Hamblin  ICR 362. Accordingly, where an employer invokes a clause in an employee’s contract enabling it, following the employee’s resignation, to terminate their employment immediately by making a prescribed payment calculated by reference to the unexpired period of the employee’s notice, there is no dismissal under section 95(1)(a) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Despite reaching this conclusion, the EAT expressed misgivings about the decision in Marshall. It was strongly inclined to view Marshall as wrong and could see nothing in the reasoning that supported the conclusion that there was no dismissal in that case.
However, the EAT could only depart from its own decisions in the narrow circumstances set out in British Gas Trading v Lock  ICR 503. These include where the earlier decision was not merely wrong, but manifestly wrong. It was the outcome or proposition of law for which the decision stood that had to be the focus of consideration. If there is an argument that can reasonably be advanced in defence of the outcome that is itself not manifestly wrong, then the legal outcome could not be said to be manifestly wrong.
In this case, the employer relied on authorities concerning a scenario in which an employee’s termination date was brought forward with their agreement following their dismissal. The employee argued that these were not relevant because he had not agreed to his termination date being brought forward. The EAT accepted that these authorities may not inform the approach to the issue, but it could not say that they obviously would not. Further, it might be arguable that a contractual provision could have the legal effect that, following a resignation, the employer could cause the employment to end sooner than the date given by the employee, even without the employee’s agreement, by making a contractually-prescribed payment by reference to the unexpired notice period, in a way that only alters how and when the resignation takes effect.
Since these points could not be said to be obviously unarguable, the decision in Marshall could not be said to be manifestly wrong. Therefore, the EAT could not depart from it.
Privacy: Appeal dismissed against judgment that personal emails sent from business account were not private or confidential
In Brake and another v Guy and others  EWCA Civ 235, the Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal in unsuccessful proceedings for misuse of private information and breach of confidence which arose in relation to a former employee’s personal emails that were sent from a business email account. The email account was used to receive enquiries about the employer’s services.
Baker LJ’s leading judgment emphasised that the success of privacy and confidentiality claims turned on the specific facts, and considered that it had been open to the judge at first instance, HHJ Paul Matthews, to find as he did. In particular, he said that it was telling that the former employee (who was the claimant in the proceedings) had shared access to the email account with two colleagues, and that her employer had set up personal accounts in the names of each of the employees at the same time as it created the business account. Baker LJ also agreed with the first instance judge that, had there been a reasonable expectation of privacy or circumstances of confidence, disclosure of the emails by the defendants for the purpose of obtaining professional advice would not have breached privacy or confidence and, even if it had, damages would have been limited.
The only point of disagreement with the earlier judgments related to HHJ Paul Matthews’ decision to split out the issue of the “iniquity defence” (that is, the public interest defence, which the judge had held was available in relation to privacy and breach of confidence claims where the defendant accessed the information unlawfully), leaving it until after his trial of other matters. Baker LJ considered that any fraudulent conduct on the part of the claimant was likely to be relevant to whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy or duty of confidence and, if there was, whether they had been breached. He concluded, however, that this had not been determinative in the present case.
This judgment provides some guidance on ensuring that an employer will have full access to emails sent via a business account. In particular, it may be advisable to create individual email accounts for each employee who operates from the central business email address and to require them to limit private emails to the account set up in their name.
Victimisation: What test should be applied when determining if a Claimant has suffered a detriment under a victimisation claim?
In Warburton v The Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police  EAT 42, the EAT was had to consider whether the tribunal had asked itself the correct question when deciding whether or not the claimant had suffered a detriment, and if not, which was the correct test to use.
The claimant had applied to be a police officer with the Northamptonshire Police force. In his application email he referred to what was accepted as being a protected act, namely, proceedings he was bringing in another employment tribunal against another police force (Hertfordshire Constabulary) alleging unlawful discrimination on the grounds of disability. He had made an application to join that force, which resulted in an offer which was subsequently withdrawn. The claimant was later told by the respondent that his application form had not been accepted.
The claimant pursued a claim for victimisation. The respondent’s argument for why the claimant’s application had not been successful was not due to the protected act but owing to the failure of another force (Avon and Somerset Constabulary) to provide information to allow the vetting procedure to proceed. The tribunal found in favour of the respondent and the claimant appealed.
The appeal was predicated on the basis that the employment tribunal had erred in law by misstating the test for victimisation, and the four other claims flowed from this.
The EAT held that the tribunal had not asked itself the correct question when deciding that the claimant had suffered no detriment. The key test is from the House of Lords in Shamoon v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary ICR 337: “Is the treatment of such a kind that a reasonable worker would or might take the view that in all the circumstances it was to his detriment?” The EAT concluded that detriment is to be interpreted widely in this context and it is what a reasonable worker might think, not just the view of a tribunal, to satisfy the test. Therefore, it was not particularly difficult to establish a detriment for these purposes and but the EAT also found that the tribunal had also not applied the correct legal test to the causation or “reason why” question. The appeal was allowed and the victimisation claim was remitted for rehearing.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month including a Covid-19 dismissal, worker status, business owner liability, fire and rehire injunction and misclassified worker’s right to holiday pay.
- COVID-19: Dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated was fair
- Worker Status: London cabbie also working through Mytaxi app was not a worker of the app-operator
- Liability: Dental practice owner liable for alleged negligence of self-employed dentists
- Contracts: High Court grants in junction to stop Tesco firing and rehiring employees
- Holiday Pay: Misclassified worker’s right to holiday pay for whole period of employment crystallised on termination
COVID-19: Dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated was fair
In Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Ltd ET/1803699/2021 an employment tribunal has held that the summary dismissal of a care assistant employed in a nursing home for unreasonably refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was fair.
In the context of the state of the pandemic in January 2021, a small nursing home’s decision to make vaccination mandatory for staff who were providing close personal care to vulnerable residents was a reasonable management instruction. The care assistant’s refusal to be vaccinated due to concerns about the safety of the vaccine was not reasonable in circumstances where there had been a very recent outbreak and deaths of residents at the nursing home, the pandemic was growing nationally and there was widespread publicity and advice about vaccine safety.
An employer’s instruction that an employee must be vaccinated, unless they have a reasonable excuse, interferes with the employee’s physical integrity in a manner capable of engaging Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The employer’s aims, of protecting the health and safety of the residents, staff and visitors to the care home during the pandemic and protecting itself against the increased likelihood of claims due to the withdrawal of insurance cover if staff members were unvaccinated, were legitimate.
An unvaccinated staff member would pose a significant and unjustified interference with the Article 8 rights of the residents and the other staff and visitors to the home, such that the requirement for the care assistant to be vaccinated and the dismissal for unreasonably refusing vaccination was justified. Less draconian means could not have been used.
It was within the range of reasonable responses for the employer to conclude that the refusal was due to scepticism of the vaccine and not due to religious beliefs, as had been raised at the disciplinary hearing. In the context of the recent outbreak and deaths at the nursing home, and the urgency with which measures to protect the vulnerable residents needed to be put in place, refusing to comply with the management instruction to be vaccinated amounted to gross misconduct and the dismissal was neither unfair nor wrongful.
Worker Status: London cabbie also working through Mytaxi app was not a worker of the app-operator
In Johnson v Transopco UK Ltd  EAT 6, the EAT has upheld an employment tribunal’s decision that a taxi driver working through an app was not a worker, under section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Mr Johnson worked as a self-employed London black-cab driver. He also registered with Mytaxi, an app operated by Transopco UK Ltd (TUK). During one year, he completed 282 trips via the app at a total value of £4,560.48. In the same period, he earned £30,472.45 as a self-employed driver. Employment tribunal complaints brought against TUK failed because the tribunal found Mr Johnson was not TUK’s worker. The tribunal observed that Mr Johnson could provide his services as infrequently or as often as he wanted, could dictate the timing of those services and was not subject to control by TUK. It also took into account the small proportion of work done through the app.
The EAT held that the tribunal was entitled to analyse the split of time between income earned as a self-employed cab driver and income earned via the Mytaxi app, when considering whether Mr Johnson’s work for TUK formed part of his own business, and as pointing towards its conclusion that this was not a dependent work relationship. It was not the case that the tribunal’s analysis amounted to a “numbers game” or introduced a minimum hours threshold for worker status.
The tribunal was entitled to take the view that the essence of Mr Johnson’s business was picking up passengers and driving them to where they wanted to go, however they were obtained. This was so having regard also to the tribunal’s findings on the simultaneous nature of the activities, subordination, dependency, control and integration.
The fact that some incentives and risk-sharing were offered by TUK to reflect the risks associated with using its platform (such as the risk of fraud or cancelled jobs), in order to enhance its financial attractiveness as an option, this did not point inevitably to worker status and the tribunal did not err in holding otherwise. The tribunal’s conclusions were soundly reasoned. It followed that although the driver had an obligation of personal service, the tribunal had correctly concluded that TUK was a client or customer of Mr Johnson’s taxi-driving business.
Liability: Dental practice owner liable for alleged negligence of self-employed dentists
In Hughes v Rattan  EWCA Civ 107, the Court of Appeal has held, as a preliminary issue, that a dental practice owner owed a patient a non-delegable duty of care in respect of the treatment she received from self-employed dentists who worked at the practice.
Non-delegable duties put primary liability on a person to avoid harm, to take reasonable care to avoid harm or to see that care is taken by others, rather than imposing secondary liability for the wrongdoing of another person, as with vicarious liability. While the two are conceptually distinct from each other, they may achieve a similar outcome and liability can arise as a result of negligence of an independent contractor, but with a non-delegable duty there is no defence to show that performance was delegated to a person reasonably believed to be competent.
Ms Hughes was, in law, a patient of the practice and the dental practice owner, Dr Rattan, was named as the treatment provider in the treatment plans she had signed. Patients were described as “patients of the practice” in the agreements between the practice owner and the self-employed dentists, and the dentists were subject to stringent restrictive covenants prohibiting them from treating those patients outside the dental practice.
The factors set out in the leading case, Woodland v Essex County Council  UKSC 66, were satisfied:
1. A “patient” included anyone receiving treatment from a dentist; they did not need to be especially vulnerable to qualify.
2. An antecedent relationship between the patient and the dental practice owner was established at the latest on each occasion when the patient signed the relevant treatment plan, which placed her in the practice owner’s actual care.
3. The patient had no control over whether the dental practice owner chose to perform his obligations personally or through employees or third parties.
Although the court was not required to decide whether the dental practice owner was also vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of the self-employed dentists, it expressed a view that he would not be vicariously liable because the test in Barclays Bank Plc v Various Claimants  UKSC 13 was not met.
Contracts: High Court grants in junction to stop Tesco firing and rehiring employees
In USDAW and others v Tesco Stores Ltd  EWHC 201 (QB), the High Court has granted an injunction to restrain Tesco from terminating and re-engaging a group of warehouse operatives in order to remove a contractual entitlement to enhanced pay, which had been incorporated as a result of collective bargaining. The entitlement had been negotiated as a retention incentive at a time when Tesco was reorganising its distribution centres, which involved some major relocations. A collective agreement reached in 2010 stated that the enhanced pay would be a “permanent feature” of each affected employee’s contractual entitlement, and could only be changed through mutual consent, or on promotion to a new role.
In these unusual circumstances, the court granted declaratory relief, setting out the precise contractual term relating to enhanced pay that was incorporated into the contracts of employment, and held that it was appropriate to imply a term preventing Tesco from exercising its right to terminate on notice for the purpose of removing or diminishing the right of each employee to receive the enhanced pay. The court noted that Tesco’s intention to terminate and re-engage on inferior terms would operate to remove a significant proportion of the remuneration currently payable to the affected employees, causing significant injury to their legal rights. Since damages would not have provided an adequate remedy, the court granted an injunction to restrain dismissal in breach of the implied term.
Holiday Pay: Misclassified worker’s right to holiday pay for whole period of employment crystallised on termination
In Smith v Pimlico Plumbers Ltd  EWCA Civ 70, the Court of Appeal has held that a worker who took unpaid leave, having been wrongly told that he was an independent contractor with no right to paid leave, could bring a claim in respect of his entire accrued holiday entitlement under Article 7(1) of the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC), whether taken or untaken, going back to the start of his contract.
Following the principle in King v Sash Window Workshop Ltd (Case C-214/16), annual leave under the Directive is a “single composite right” to paid leave, rather than a right to leave and a separate right to payment for that leave. As the employer had refused to grant that right, the worker’s full leave entitlement under the Directive accumulated from year to year without limitation, and his right to claim a payment in lieu of that entitlement crystallised on termination of his contract. He did not need to rely on establishing a “series of deductions” under section 23(3) of the ERA 1996, and the time limit for bringing the claim ran from the date of termination, rather than the date of the last non-payment of holiday pay. It was also not necessary for the worker to specify whether the leave in question was untaken or taken but unpaid.
Although the court did not strictly need to deal with this point, it also expressed a “strong provisional view” that the EAT’s decision in Bear Scotland Ltd v Fulton  ICR 221, that a series of deductions is broken by a gap of three months or more between deductions, was wrong.
A few days later the Court of Appeal added a postscript and an appendix.
The earlier judgment of the EAT had included suggested wording to be read into the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) (WTR 1998) in order to reflect holiday pay case law under the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC), including King v Sash Window Workshop and another (C-214/16) EU:C:2017:914. In light of the Court of Appeal’s decision that the EAT had wrongly interpreted King, it invited further submissions from the parties as to the appropriate course to adopt.
Although the court acknowledged that it had “no power to draft regulations” it suggested a form of words that would best reflect EU law, as an appendix to its earlier judgment. It includes the following additional wording to be read into the WTR 1998 at regulation 13(16):
“Where in any leave year an employer (i) fails to recognise a worker’s right to paid annual leave and (ii) cannot show that it provides a facility for the taking of such leave, the worker shall be entitled to carry forward any leave which is taken but unpaid, and/or which is not taken, into subsequent leave years.”
The case has important implications for the way time limits work in holiday pay claims, particularly for workers who have been misclassified as self-employed and therefore denied any paid holiday rights. Such workers may now be able to claim holiday pay back to the start of their employment, without having to rely on the “series of deductions” rules which would otherwise limit the value of historical claims.
Here we look at some of the big issues to occur over the last 12 months and what to expect over the coming year.
Hot topics of 2021:
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the employment landscape. While many had expected, or hoped, the changes brought by the pandemic would have plateaued in the latter half of 2021, many employees are only just returning to the workplace following a change in government guidance in December 2021. In some respects, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, particularly around flexible and hybrid working, however the delays to key employment law developments expected to take place in 2021 continue into 2022. The pandemic has also formed the context of a number of cases that have come through the employment tribunal system as a result of remote working and the furlough scheme. There have also been a raft of cases involving unfair dismissals, where not knowing how to react to the difficulties brought by the virus sometimes led employers into trouble. Covid-19 also had a significant gendered economic impact on women.
Of course, Covid-19 sent the world into a tailspin with employers and employees both having to work out how to be productive despite very challenging circumstances, nevertheless it has highlighted the myriad of possibilities that exist. There have been calls by many respected business groups to make flexible working the default position, leading to a government consultation on the subject, and the CIPD calling for it as a day one right.
Equal Pay and the Gender Pay Gap
Big cases for Morrisons and Asda determined that (female) retail workers could be compared with those of (male) logistics workers at national distribution centres. Meanwhile, enforcement of gender pay gap reporting was put back six months in 2021 due to the pandemic, with most eligible companies now complying with their reporting obligations. There have now been calls for reporting of the ethnic pay gap, especially since some big firms have voluntarily started publishing results which include other diversity metrics including class, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability – way beyond the minimum obligation, and tying in nicely with the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
The Employment Bill
The bill was promised in the 2019-20 parliamentary session but did not get past a first reading. It was omitted from the Queen’s speech in 2021 with the government response being it will be addressed “when parliamentary time allows”, namely once all the extra pandemic work is out of the way. There do seem to be small workings taking place though – with the single enforcement body for employment rights starting to take shape, but again, this will involve more parliamentary time to flesh out its bones. We continued to see the evolution of cases involving workers in the gig economy. This is an area that is not going away just yet, and we hope to see more clarification in the Bill when it is ready.
The Big Issues for 2022:
Changes to traditional 9-5 office-based working
Whilst some employers are now requiring their workforces to return to pre-pandemic working locations, the pandemic shifted and centralised the issue of flexible working for employers, with many now normalising a return to offices on a hybrid basis. A government consultation on making flexible working the “default position” ran from September to December 2021 and set out five proposals including making flexible working a day one right. Note that the government’s proposals do not introduce an automatic right for employees to work flexibly. Rather, the proposals include a number of measures to broaden the scope of the right, while retaining the basic system involving a conversation between employer and employee about how to balance work requirements and individual needs, potentially changing the statutory business reasons for refusing a flexible working request. As the consultation closed on 1 December 2021, it is unlikely there will be a response from the government until the latter half of 2022.
Some developing themes which employers may continue to face in 2022 include requests from employees to work flexibly abroad and the impact on wellbeing of continued working from home. Following research about the significant amount of hidden overtime while working from home during the pandemic, there have also been calls for the government to introduce a “right to disconnect“. This has recently been brought into effect in some European countries and is being discussed by the Scottish Government in relation to their own employees. It was also mentioned in a briefing paper on hybrid working published by the House of Commons Library in November 2021. Most recently, several big companies have announced their intention to trial four day working weeks, with senior managers under 35 being the most enthusiastic, understanding the impact on employees as well as improving retention and happiness. Perhaps this is the year that the oft quoted “good work-life balance” statement actually rings true.
Vaccinations at work
On 1 April 2022, following a consultation, regulations come into force which will make vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for health and social care workers in a face-to-face role. It remains to be seen how employers in this sector will deal with unvaccinated employees. Employers in other sectors, who have a duty to maintain a safe workplace, have been encouraging staff to get vaccinated. In the absence of further government requirements on mandatory vaccinations, there would be risks for employers who may want to make vaccination a requirement for new or existing staff. The key legal problem will be the risk of potential unfair dismissal and potential discrimination claims if employees are dismissed for refusing to be vaccinated and the employer is unable to justify dismissal as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
New duty to prevent sexual harassment
On 21 July 2021, the government published its response to the 2019 consultation on workplace sexual harassment. The response confirmed a new duty for employers to prevent sexual and third-party harassment, which is likely to include a defence where an employer has taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the harassment. The government will also consider the proposal to extend the time limits for claims under the Equality Act 2010, but has not yet committed to making any changes. The duty will come into force when Parliamentary time allows.
Review of gender pay gap reporting regulations
By April 2022, the government must review the gender pay gap regulations as they are obliged to do so within five years of the regulations coming into force (regulation 16(3), Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 (SI (2017/172)). The purpose of this review will be to assess the extent to which the reporting requirement achieved the objectives of the regulations, whether the objectives remain appropriate and whether any unnecessary burden is placed on employers.
Several data protection developments are likely to impact employment practitioners in 2022. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) proposed data protection reforms in its consultation which closed on 19 November 2021. The primary objective of the consultation was to seek views on the proposals to reduce the burden data protection places on businesses. In addition, the government sought views on how Article 22 of the UK GDPR should be interpreted in the context of artificial intelligence (AI) in several areas, including where it related to automated decision-making.
We are also expecting to see updated data protection and employment practices guidance in 2022 from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), following a call for views which ran until 28 October 2021. The new guidance will finally replace the ICO’s employment practices code, supplementary guidance and the quick guide, which have not been updated since the Data Protection Act 2018 came into force. The new guidance will cover topics including recruitment and selection, employment records, monitoring of workers, and information about workers’ health.
Human Rights Act 1998
In 2020, the government announced the launch of an independent review of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998), while emphasising its ongoing commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR), conducted by an independent panel chaired by Sir Peter Gross, a former Court of Appeal judge, reported back to the government on 29 October 2021. On 14 December 2021, the Ministry of Justice published Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill Of Rights, a consultation on replacing the HRA 1998 with a Bill of Rights. The full report conducted by the IHRAR Panel was also published on 14 December 2021. Whether the right to a jury trial should be recognised in the Bill of Rights and the introduction of a permission stage for human rights claims where claimants must establish they have suffered “significant disadvantage” or that the claim is of “overriding public importance” are key proposals included in the consultation document.
Many of the proposals are regarded as highly controversial. However, it should be recognised that the proposals are simply being consulted on at this stage and therefore whether they ultimately become law remains to be seen following the close of the consultation in March 2022.
Potential developments to look out for:
Single enforcement body for the labour market
In the Good Work Plan, the government announced an intention to bring forward proposals for a new single labour market enforcement agency. On 8 June 2021, BEIS published the government consultation response on the proposal, and confirmed they would consolidate three of the current enforcement bodies into a single agency with increased powers. On 22 November 2021, Margaret Beels OBE was appointed as the new Director of Labour Market Enforcement, and she plans to set the strategic direction for the three existing labour market enforcement bodies that will be amalgamated into the single body; the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Team. The formation of the new agency requires primary legislation and this will be brought forward when Parliamentary time allows. The joined-up approach is intended to help improve enforcement through better co-ordination and pooling intelligence.
Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements
In July 2019, the government published its proposals to prevent the misuse of confidentiality clauses or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in the settlement of workplace harassment or discrimination complaints. The government reiterated that confidentiality clauses can serve a legitimate purpose in both employment contracts and settlement agreements but confirmed its intention to bring forward new legislation “when Parliamentary time allows“.
This measure has been significantly delayed due to the pandemic, but it is anticipated that the legislation (likely to be included in the long-awaited Employment Bill) will curb the use of NDA provisions in employment contracts and settlement agreements alongside a requirement for independent legal advice to be provided to individuals asked to sign an NDA. New enforcement measures will be introduced for NDAs in employment contracts and settlement agreements that do not comply with legal requirements.
In practice Employment lawyers have been ahead of the government on this matter. Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement settlement agreement have routinely included carve outs from the confidentiality provisions to allow ex-employees to report crimes, as well as seeking support from professionals providing medical, therapeutic, counselling and support services. As ever though without statutory backing the inclusion of such carve outs remains dependent on the negotiating powers of the parties involved.
Tipping, gratuities, cover and service charges
Another measure to be included in the Employment Bill, once progressed, is legislation that will see tips retained by hospitality staff in their entirety, except deductions required by tax law. Employers will also be required to distribute tips in a fair and transparent way, according to a published policy. A new Code of Practice on Tipping, to which employers will be required to have regard, is expected to replace the existing voluntary code of practice.
Neonatal leave and pay
On 16 March 2020, the government responded to a consultation on neonatal care leave, proposing the introduction of statutory neonatal leave and pay for up to 12 weeks for parents of babies requiring neonatal care. The government will legislate to implement the new entitlements in the forthcoming Employment Bill.
Extending redundancy protection for women and new parents
On 21 June 2021, the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill was reintroduced to Parliament for a second time. The second reading of this Private Members’ Bill is scheduled for 18 March 2022. If passed, the Bill will prohibit redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave and for six months after the end of the pregnancy or maternity leave, except in specified circumstances. This follows the government’s statement on 22 July 2019 that it would expand redundancy protection in response to a BEIS consultation on the matter. The government has since reiterated their intention to extend the period of redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents would progress as part of the Employment Bill “when Parliamentary time allows“. It remains unclear whether the extended redundancy protection will be implemented through the Private Members’ Bill or the Employment Bill.
Leave for unpaid carers
On 23 September 2021 the government published a response to its consultation on carer’s leave. In the response, the government committed to introducing a right for unpaid carers to take up to a week of unpaid leave per year. There is no scheduled timetable for the introduction of this right; it will progress when Parliamentary time allows.
Ethnicity pay gap reporting
In 2018, the government launched a series of measures to tackle barriers facing ethnic minorities in the workplace, including a consultation on the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay reporting, based on the model of mandatory gender pay gap reporting. While the government is still considering mandatory ethnic pay reporting, and has failed to respond to its consultation (which closed in January 2019), there has been a wider move towards voluntary collection of diversity data to help companies identify and address existing barriers to access or promotion.
Disability workforce reporting
The government is consulting on disability workforce reporting for large employers with 250 or more employees and is expected to publish their response on 17 June 2022, as part of the National Disability Strategy. Through the consultation the government hope to glean information on current reporting practices, arguments for and against implementing a mandatory approach and how such a mandatory approach may be implemented. The consultation also requests views on alternative approaches to enhance transparency and increase inclusivity for disabled people in the workforce. The consultation will accept submissions until 25 March 2022.
Whistleblowing review and new EU Directive
BEIS announced a review of whistleblowing legislation, following the publication of data showing that one in four COVID-19 whistleblowers who contacted the whistleblowing advice service, Protect, were dismissed between September 2020 and March 2021. The scope of the review has not yet been confirmed and whether it is to fall within the remit of the single body to enforce workers’ rights. Although the UK will not be required to implement the new EU Whistleblowing Directive (2019/1937/EU), the Directive may still influence whistleblowing practice, especially for pan-European organisations operating in multiple locations. Since 17 December 2021, EU member states have been obliged to bring into force the laws necessary to establish internal reporting channels. (For private sector entities with between 50 and 249 workers, the implementation deadline is extended to December 2023.) The Directive also requires measures to be implemented to protect a whistleblower’s identity, acknowledge disclosures within seven days and provide a response within a reasonable period.
Post-termination non-compete clauses
On 4 December 2020, BEIS opened a consultation on measures to reform post-termination non-compete clauses in employment contracts. The consultation, which closed on 26 February 2021, sought views on proposals to require employers to continue paying compensation to employees for the duration of a post-termination non-compete clause, requiring employers to confirm in writing to employees the exact terms of a non-compete clause before their employment commences, introducing a statutory limit on the length of non-compete clauses, or banning the use of post-termination non-compete clauses altogether. The government is yet to report the results of the consultation.
Extending ban on exclusivity clauses
Another consultation was launched by BEIS on 4 December 2020, on measures to extend the ban on exclusivity clauses in employment contracts to cover those earning under the Lower Earnings Limit, currently £120 a week. This would prevent employers from contractually restricting low earning employees from working for other employers. This consultation, which was launched in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on low earners, closed on 26 February 2021 but there is not currently a timetable for the next developments.
Working conditions in digital labour platforms
The European Commission has adopted a package of measures to improve working conditions in digital labour platform work and support their sustainable growth in the EU. The measures include a Directive, to which the UK will not be bound but which may prove to be influential.
On 20 January, the Court of Appeal heard the appeal in Kocur & Others v Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd, part of the latest instalment in long-running litigation involving agency workers supplied to Royal Mail. In the decision under appeal, the EAT concluded that the right of agency workers under regulation 13 of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/93) to be informed by their hirer of any relevant vacant posts with the hirer does not encompass a right to be entitled to apply, and be considered, for vacancies on the same terms as employees recruited directly by the hirer. The EAT also held, among other things, that there was no breach of the principle of equal treatment in agency workers’ shift lengths being 12 minutes longer than those of direct recruits, nor in direct recruits being given first refusal in relation to overtime. The judgment is awaited.
On 9 November 2021, the Supreme Court heard the case of Harpur Trust v Brazel. Judgment is awaited on whether “part-year workers” (those working only part of the year, such as during school terms) should have their annual leave entitlement capped at 12.07% of annualised hours. Once the case reached the Court of Appeal, Unison was given permission to intervene as an issue of general importance was raised regarding the calculation of holiday pay. The case was widely reported at the latter stages and may lead to further claims being brought by part-time employees. Therefore, the Supreme Court judgment is highly anticipated in the hope it will provide further clarity.
In Smith v Pimlico Plumbers Ltd, the EAT found that the ECJ’s ruling in King v Sash Window Workshop Ltd (Case C-214/16) EU:C:2017:914 should not be interpreted as meaning that a worker is entitled to carry over untaken annual leave where the worker was permitted to take leave that was unpaid. Although King established that a worker is entitled to carry over annual leave that is not taken because the employer refuses to pay for it (thereby discouraging the worker from taking leave), the principle does not apply to leave that was actually taken. The worker in this case, a plumbing and heating engineer, was therefore unable to rely on King when asserting his right to be paid for holiday he had taken at the time when his employer did not accept that he was a worker within the meaning of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) (WTR 1998). The main issue is likely to be whether unpaid leave can properly be regarded as leave for the purposes of the WTR 1998. The Court of Appeal heard the case on 7 and 8 December 2021 and judgment is awaited.
In Baker and others v Royal Mail, 120 postmasters and sub-postmasters brought an employment tribunal claim against the Post Office. The claimants run Post Office franchises but seek recognition as workers because of the degree of control the Post Office has over the work they do. The same argument was used successfully in the landmark Uber BV and others vs Aslam and others on which the Supreme Court ruled in February 2021. A judgment is yet to be delivered in this case and could have implications beyond the specific claimants as there are thousands of sub-postmasters across the UK.
The EAT is expected to deliver judgment in Mackereth v Department for Work and Pensions and another which concerns the refusal of a Christian doctor, engaged to carry out health assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions, to address transgender patients by their chosen pronoun. The EAT will consider an employment tribunal’s finding that while the doctor’s Christianity is protected under the Equality Act 2010, his particular beliefs, that God only created males and females, that a person cannot choose their gender and his conscientious objection to transgenderism, are not protected as they amount to views incompatible with human dignity and therefore conflict with the fundamental rights of others. The EAT heard the case on 18 and 19 October 2021 and judgment is awaited.
Lastly, Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd was heard by the Court of Appeal in November 2021 and we are awaiting the outcome. The initial decision by the County Court, upheld by the High Court, found that an employer was not negligent or vicariously liable for a contractor’s personal injury suffered in its workplace because of an employee’s practical joke. The County Court held that devising and implementing a health and safety policy which factored in horseplay, or practical jokes, was expecting too much of an employer.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: email@example.com.
- COVID-19: Employee able to proceed with victimisation claim concerning employer’s failure to furlough him
- COVID-19: Employment tribunal cases consider alleged discrimination of pregnant worker and dismissal of employee who refused to attend self-isolating manager’s home
- Contract: Employer liable to pay income protection payments not covered by insurance
- Unfair Dismissal: EAT confirms narrow scope of Jhuti principle
- COVID-19: Adjusted Right to Work checks extended until April 2022
- COVID-19: Government publishes Autumn and Winter Plan: employment aspects
- National Insurance: Increase to pay for health and social care
- Immigration: Changes to UK Immigration Rules announced
- Gender Pay Gap: EHRC and CMI publish toolkit to help employers tackle gender pay gap
- Flexible Working: Consultation published on making flexible working a “day one” right for employees
- Home Working: ONS figures suggest that older workers and disabled workers may retire later if they can work from home
COVID-19: Employee able to proceed with victimisation claim concerning employer’s failure to furlough him
An employment tribunal has allowed an employee’s victimisation claim that his employer subjected him to a detriment contrary to section 27 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) by not furloughing him under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to proceed, as amended. The employee’s other claims and proposed amendments were struck out or not allowed.
In Jimenez v Firmdale Hotels Plc ET/2203194/2020 (12 February 2021) Mr Jimenez had previously brought various claims against his employer, Firmdale Hotels Plc (Firmdale). These claims were dismissed following a final hearing in March 2021. The outcome of that hearing was unknown at the time that the preliminary judgment in the present case was handed down. However, it was not disputed that presentation of the earlier claims was a protected act within the meaning of section 27 EqA 2010. It was also not disputed that Mr Jimenez was excluded from the group of employees furloughed by Firmdale under the CJRS, whether in late March 2020 or subsequently. His exclusion was because he was on long-term sick leave and not in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay, meaning that Firmdale considered him “ineligible” under the CJRS. It subsequently considered it too late to furlough him because he had not been furloughed before June 2020.
Without purporting to make a judicial determination of the point, the employment judge at the preliminary hearing considered that Firmdale was mistaken in its understanding of the CJRS and could have furloughed Mr Jimenez. In addition, despite his requests, it had not explained to him in sufficient detail why it considered him ineligible for furlough. Firmdale submitted that other employees on long-term sick leave were treated in the same way as Mr Jimenez. The judge noted that if this was correct and there was no other indication of differential treatment, it would be compelling evidence that Mr Jimenez had not been subjected to a material detriment because of the protected act. However, with sufficient evidence to shift the burden of proof to Firmdale, his claim could proceed given that he had also attempted to present it in time. The judge advised Mr Jimenez to consider any comparator documents disclosed by Firmdale, as they were likely to inform his decision on whether to pursue his claim to a final hearing or apply to amend it to a discrimination arising from disability claim.
COVID-19: Employment tribunal cases consider alleged discrimination of pregnant worker and dismissal of employee who refused to attend self-isolating manager’s home
Two non-binding employment tribunal decisions have provided guidance on how measures taken to protect pregnant workers during the height of the pandemic might be viewed and when dismissing an employee who refuses to obey a management instruction due to COVID-related risks might be automatically unfair.
In Prosser v Community Gateway Association Ltd ET/2413672/2020 (13 May 2021), Ms Prosser, a pregnant zero hours worker, was sent home at the start of the pandemic because her employer viewed her as clinically vulnerable. Her return to work was delayed following a risk assessment and while her employer implemented social distancing measures (spacing of desks and Perspex screens). She was advised that she would not be asked to undertake night shifts, which involved lone working, unaccompanied travelling to tenants’ homes and the provision of physical support. This was deemed unsafe for her as a pregnant worker. During her absence, she was paid “generously” in excess of her contractual entitlement and was not left out of pocket. A payment was mistakenly made late but not because of her pregnancy. A tribunal dismissed her discrimination and victimisation claims, noting that her treatment was appropriately informed by the available public health advice and relevant COVID regulations. A formal risk assessment had been completed and the employer’s motive was to protect her and her unborn baby.
In Ham v Esl Bbsw Ltd ET/1601260/2020 (14 April 2021), Mr Ham was dismissed from his cleaning service job when he refused to deliver equipment to his self-isolating manager’s home, who had COVID-19 symptoms and was unvaccinated because it was the start of the pandemic. He offered to bring the equipment to another location, where it could be stored securely. In his internal appeal against his dismissal, he expressed concern for his and his family’s health. A tribunal concluded that his dismissal was for the principal reason that he had raised health and safety concerns, making it automatically unfair contrary to section 100(1)(c) and (e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. While his inexperienced manager was dealing with huge uncertainty at the start of the first lockdown, when a lot was unknown, her reaction to his legitimate concerns was not excusable. It was inconceivable that an employee being instructed to go to the home of two self-isolating individuals (his manager and her daughter) during late March 2020 was not raising legitimate health and safety concerns or taking appropriate steps to protect himself.
Contract: Employer liable to pay income protection payments not covered by insurance
In Amdocs Systems Group v Langton UKEAT/0093/20 and UKEAT/0210/20 (24 August 2021), the EAT has held that an employer was liable to pay an employee the level of income protection payments (IPP) set out in an offer letter and summary of benefits provided by his original employer prior to a TUPE transfer. The EAT held that those documents had contractual force as they contained clear and certain terms and were intended to be incorporated. The employer was bound to pay the additional “escalator” payment of 5% per annum that they referred to, regardless of the fact that this was not covered by its insurance. From a review of the relevant authorities the EAT held that it was clear that, if there was any ambiguity or uncertainty as to whether an employer’s obligation to provide benefits was limited by reference to the specific terms of its insurance cover, any such ambiguity would be resolved against the employer and in favour of the employee. To be effective, any limitation of the employer’s exposure should have been unambiguously and expressly communicated to the employee. However, the employee had not been given, nor given access to, the insurance policy terms, or any other document setting out the specifics of what those terms were.
This case is a reminder to transferee employers on a TUPE transfer to carefully check the level of permanent health insurance benefits provided by the transferor to any transferring employee, and whether this will be fully covered by their existing insurance policy.
Unfair Dismissal: EAT confirms narrow scope of Jhuti principle
In Kong v Gulf International Bank (UK) Ltd  EA-2020-000357-JOJ and EA-2020-000438-JOJ (10 September 2021) the EAT has clarified that, when determining the reason for dismissal in an unfair dismissal claim, it will rarely be possible to attribute to the employer the motivation of any person other than the one who decided to dismiss.
Ms Kong was employed by Gulf International Bank (UK) Limited (GIB) as Head of Audit. She raised several concerns with GIB’s Head of Legal, Ms Harding, about an agreement relating to one of GIB’s financial products. It was accepted that these concerns were protected disclosures. Ms Harding disagreed with Ms Kong and confronted her. During this conversation, Ms Kong questioned Ms Harding’s legal awareness. Ms Harding was upset and complained to GIB’s Head of HR and CEO that Ms Kong had questioned her “integrity“. She subsequently limited interaction with Ms Kong. The Head of HR and CEO informed the Group Chief Auditor of the incident. The three managers collectively decided that Ms Kong should be dismissed because her manner meant that colleagues did not want to work with her.
Ms Kong brought claims for unlawful detriment and automatic unfair dismissal for having raised protected disclosures. The claim for unlawful detriment as a result of Ms Harding’s treatment would have succeeded, but was out of time. The claim for automatic unfair dismissal failed: the tribunal found that the decision makers dismissed Ms Kong because of her conduct, not her protected disclosures.
Ms Kong appealed to the EAT in relation to the automatic unfair dismissal claim. She argued that Ms Harding had sought her dismissal because of the protected disclosures, and that Ms Harding’s motivation should therefore be attributed to GIB pursuant to Royal Mail Group Ltd v Jhuti  UKSC 55.
The EAT held that:
- The tribunal had been right not to attribute Ms Harding’s motivation to GIB. The principle in Jhuti will rarely apply. Ms Harding’s complaint that Ms Kong had criticised her integrity, as opposed to her legal awareness, was not sufficient manipulation for Jhuti purposes. Further, there was no finding that Ms Harding had sought Ms Kong’s dismissal.
- The tribunal was clear that what motivated the decision makers was not the content or fact of Ms Kong’s disclosures, but the way in which she conveyed her personal criticisms to Ms Harding. The former was properly separable from the latter.
COVID-19: Adjusted Right to Work checks extended until April 2022
The government announced at the end of August that the end date for the temporary adjusted checks has now been deferred to 5 April 2022. Given positive feedback on the ability to carry out checks remotely, the government has decided to continue using the following temporary changes (originally introduced on 30 March 2020) until 5 April 2022 (inclusive):
- checks can currently be carried out over video calls;
- job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals;
- employers should use the Home Office Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents.
You can be fined up to £20,000 for employing illegal workers so this is very important to get right.
See our Immigration note for more information on this: Checking a job applicant’s right to work.
COVID-19: Government publishes Autumn and Winter Plan: employment aspects
On 14 September 2021, the government published COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan. The Plan sets out how the government intends to address the challenges that may be posed by COVID-19 through autumn and winter while ensuring that the National Health Service is not put under unsustainable pressure.
Plan A is described as a comprehensive, five-point approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter. In addition to continued use of pharmaceutical interventions (including further vaccine deployment), managing pressures on the NHS and social care and managing risks at the border, the government intends to continue with Test, Trace and Isolate and to provide guidance on how people can protect themselves. Existing requirements and support for self-isolation will remain in place. The government intends to review these by the end of March 2022. Guidance on how employers can reduce risks in their workplaces will be kept up to date.
Plan B is provided in outline and will only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS. The steps anticipated here involve advising the public of the need to behave more cautiously given an increased level of risk, introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings, legally mandating face coverings in certain settings (which would be determined at the time) and instructing those who can to work from home. The Plan concludes that beyond Plan B “more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort“.
National Insurance: Increase to pay for health and social care
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 7 September 2021 a new UK wide ‘health and social care levy’ to address the funding crisis in this sector. See our full article on this for more detail: National Insurance increase to pay for health and social care.
Immigration: Changes to UK Immigration Rules announced
On 10 September 2021, the government published Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules: HC617, most of which comes into force on 1 October 2021. The statement:
- Introduces coronavirus (COVID-19) concessions on Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), Skilled Worker and Tier 2 Sportsperson routes into the Immigration Rules.
- Extends the Youth Mobility Scheme to include nationals of Iceland and India.
- Introduces a dedicated International Sportsperson route to replace the T2 and T5 Temporary Worker routes for professional sporting workers.
- Expands the list of eligible prizes under the Global Talent route.
- Makes changes to the EUSS to allow a joining family member to apply to the EUSS while in the UK as a Visitor.
Gender Pay Gap: EHRC and CMI publish toolkit to help employers tackle gender pay gap
People Management has reported how the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is preparing to restart “enforcing gender pay gap reporting requirements again next month as a temporary suspension of enforcement, put in place to help employers through the coronavirus crisis, comes to an end”. With this in mind, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has partnered with the EHRC to create a practical toolkit to support organisations drive action in tackling their gender pay gap. The publication of practical guidance follows a warning from the ECHR that the gender pay gap disparity has widened during the pandemic, and that employers risk de-prioritising the issue close to the extended deadline of pay gap reporting of 5 October 2021. Government figures indicate that currently, only 5,000 employers of around 12,500 that meet the reporting requirements have filed figures for the year.
The toolkit itself contains case studies, recommended actions for employers, and tried and tested “how to” guides from the Behavioural Insights team.
Flexible Working: Consultation published on making flexible working a “day one” right for employees
The government has published a consultation document, Making flexible working the default, proposing various reforms to the right for employees to request flexible working, taking into account changes in working practices brought about during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposals do not introduce an automatic right for employees to work flexibly. Instead, the proposals include a number of measures to broaden the scope of the right, while retaining the basic system involving a conversation between employer and employee about how to balance work requirements and individual needs. The main change would be making the right a “day one” right, removing the requirement for 26 weeks’ qualifying service. The consultation also considers:
- Making changes, if necessary, to the eight business reasons for refusing a request to work flexibly.
- Requiring the employer to suggest alternatives to the arrangement suggested by the employee.
- Changing the administrative process underpinning the right to request flexible working. In particular, the government wants to explore whether to allow employees to make more than one statutory request each year.
- Raising awareness of the existing right of employees to request a temporary flexible working arrangement.
The government has decided not to proceed with the proposal, put forward in an earlier consultation, to introduce a requirement for large employers to publish their flexible working policies.
You can complete the online survey here. The consultation will remain open until 1 December 2021.
Home Working: ONS figures suggest that older workers and disabled workers may retire later if they can work from home
Website, peoplemanagement.co.uk, reported on 31 August 2021 that figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show how working from home has affected the older generation. For example, in June and July 2020, workers aged 50 and over who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of in their usual workplace were more than twice as likely to say they planned to retire later (11%) than those in the same age category who did not work from home (5%). Similarly, the statistics show that workers with a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity who work from home are nearly twice as likely to say they plan to retire later (10.9%) than those who do not work from home (5.9%). Jonathan Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, suggested that working from home could extend working lives and may be appreciated more by older workers than younger ones.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Constructive Dismissal: EAT holds constructive dismissal can amount to an act of unlawful harassment under the Equality Act 2010
- Indirect Discrimination: Headscarf ban capable of justification only if it applies to all visible signs of political, philosophical or religious belief
- COVID-19: Employee who remained in Italy at outbreak of pandemic was automatically unfairly dismissed
- Employment Status: Deliveroo riders do not fall within scope of trade union freedom right under Article 11 ECHR given lack of employment relationship with Deliveroo
- COVID-19: ET3 accepted out of time when employer argued it had not received notification of ET1 submitted in first lockdown
- Compensation: Tribunal entitled to assess discrimination compensation on basis of career-long loss where claimant suffered from PTSD, depression and paranoia
- Disability Discrimination: Tribunal erred in law by failing to consider claimant’s challenge to employer’s justification defence
- Ethnic Pay Gap: CBI, TUC and ECHR sign letter calling for mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting
- Data Protection: European Commission adopts UK adequacy decisions
- Flexible Working: CIPD warns there is a risk of developing a ‘two-tier’ workforce over access to flexible working
- Low Pay: In-work Progression Commission report on removing barriers faced by those on low pay
- COVID-19: Treasury direction extending Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to 30 September 2021
- ACAS: New guidance published on hybrid working
- Flexible Working: SMF survey reveals that 80% of workers would be against a four-day working week in exchange for lower pay
Constructive Dismissal: EAT holds constructive dismissal can amount to an act of unlawful harassment under the Equality Act 2010
In Driscoll (née Cobbing) v V & P Global Ltd and another EA-2020-000876, the EAT has held that a constructive dismissal can constitute an act of unlawful harassment under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act), departing from its earlier contrary decision, Timothy James Consulting Ltd v Wilton  ICR 764.
The harassment provisions in the Act must be construed purposively, so as to conform with all relevant EU directives, on which the original legislative wording was based. However, in Wilton, the EAT had not referred to the European law, simply holding that harassment in the context of employment, as prohibited by section 40 of the Act, did not expressly include resignation amounting to constructive dismissal. Having examined the relevant directives, the EAT was satisfied that each of them proscribes harassment on the grounds of their respective protected characteristics, including in relation to dismissals. It was notable that, under the directives, harassment is expressly deemed to be a form of direct or indirect discrimination, and should be treated as such. Further, the ECJ has long held that the term “dismissal” is to be construed widely to include, for example, termination as part of a voluntary redundancy scheme and reaching an age limit under an employer’s general retirement policy. There was therefore no principled basis for excluding constructive dismissal from the scope of the applicable directives.
The EAT also drew support from domestic case law, namely Meikle v Nottinghamshire County Council  ICR 1, where the Court of Appeal held that a constructive dismissal could amount to a discriminatory act for the purpose of a disability discrimination claim.
In light of its analysis, the EAT held that Wilton was not correctly decided. As the decision was “manifestly wrong”, it was appropriate for the EAT to depart from its earlier decision. Accordingly, where an employee resigns in response to repudiatory conduct which constitutes or includes unlawful harassment related to a protected characteristic, the constructive dismissal is itself capable of constituting “unwanted conduct” for the purpose of section 26 of the Act.
Indirect Discrimination: Headscarf ban capable of justification only if it applies to all visible signs of political, philosophical or religious belief
In IX v WABE eV (Cases C‑804/18 and C‑341/19) EU:C:2021:594, the ECJ has bolstered existing case law on religious dress bans in the workplace, holding that an employer’s policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality may justify indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief caused by a rule prohibiting the wearing of any visible sign of such beliefs. An employer’s aim of preventing social conflicts may also be a legitimate aim.
However, a dress ban limited to conspicuous, large-sized signs of political, philosophical and religious belief is likely to be directly discriminatory, which cannot be justified. As such, an employer’s ban must apply to all such signs if its indirectly discriminatory effects are to be capable of objective justification.
To objectively justify indirect discrimination on the ground of religion or belief caused by an employer’s dress code, it is necessary for the employer to show that the rule meets a genuine need, taking account of the rights and legitimate wishes of customers or users as well as the adverse impact to the employer in the absence of such a policy. The aim must be appropriate for the purpose of achieving the aim pursued and limited to what is strictly necessary. In the context of a policy of neutrality, this requires it to be applied in a consistent and systematic manner, to include all visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs and to be limited in application to only those workers who come into contact with customers or users.
When examining whether indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief resulting from an employer’s rule is objectively justified, the rights and freedoms recognised by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights must be taken into account. In addition, a national rule that lays down an additional requirement for justifying an employer’s rule must also be considered.
COVID-19: Employee who remained in Italy at outbreak of pandemic was automatically unfairly dismissed
The employment tribunal in Montanaro v Lansafe Ltd ET/2203148/2020 held that an employee is automatically unfairly dismissed if the reason (or, if more than one, the principal reason) for their dismissal is that, in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, they took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from the danger (section 100(1)(e), Employment Rights Act 1996).
Mr Montanaro (M) was employed by Lansafe Ltd (L) Ltd from 17 February 2020 and provided services to L’s client, B. M believed he had permission to take holiday on 9 and 10 March for his sister’s wedding in Italy. On 9 March, Italy went into lockdown and UK government guidance stipulated 14 days’ isolation on return from Italy. On 10 March, M was told to keep his mobile and laptop on and wait for instructions. On 11 March, L sent a letter to M in London (despite knowing he was in Italy) advising that he had been dismissed with effect from 6 March for failing to follow company procedures and taking unauthorised leave. In absence of communication from L, M was told by B to continue working remotely and M sent information to L about travel restrictions in Italy. On 1 April, L sent M’s P45 and final payslip by email. M successfully claimed automatic unfair dismissal under section 100(1)(e).
The tribunal held that there were circumstances of danger, given the declaration of a pandemic and the risk of catching a contagious virus which could lead to serious illness and death, and that M reasonably believed the danger was serious and imminent. M had taken appropriate steps to protect himself and others. He had asked L for advice, instructions and assistance with documentation had L initially wanted him to fly to London. He had forwarded appropriate information about the situation in Italy. He was ready to receive communication and instructions for work on his mobile and laptop. When he didn’t hear from L he communicated direct with B and continued his work on a day-to-day basis. The purported dismissal letter had not been relevant to M’s circumstances and L’s evidence as to the reason for dismissal had not been credible. M had been dismissed because he had communicated the difficulties posed by the pandemic and proposed to work remotely from Italy until circumstances changed.
Employment Status: Deliveroo riders do not fall within scope of trade union freedom right under Article 11 ECHR given lack of employment relationship with Deliveroo
The Court of Appeal in Independent Workers Union of Great Britain v Central Arbitration Committee and another  EWCA Civ 952 has unanimously held that Deliveroo riders do not fall within the scope of the trade union freedom right under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights because they are not “in an employment relationship” with Deliveroo. The Central Arbitration Committee had been entitled to reach the conclusion it did given that Deliveroo riders are, genuinely, not under an obligation to provide their services personally and have a “virtually unlimited” right of substitution.
In reaching its decision, the court confirmed that the question of whether Article 11 is engaged in respect of the right to form and join trade unions should be determined having regard to the International Labour Organisation Recommendation 198 (2006). This broadly reflects the position taken in domestic law in identifying the characteristics not only of a contract of service but also a “worker contract”. In particular, it refers to the fact that work “must be carried out personally by the worker”. The absence of such an obligation, as in the case of Deliveroo riders, must therefore point away from worker status and an employment relationship. The decision reiterates the importance of personal service and the value of genuine and unfettered rights of substitution when seeking to argue that an individual is neither an employee nor a worker.
COVID-19: ET3 accepted out of time when employer argued it had not received notification of ET1 submitted in first lockdown
If a respondent wishes to defend an employment tribunal claim, it must present its response (using the prescribed ET3 form) to the tribunal office within 28 days of the date on which it was sent a copy of the claim by the tribunal. If the 28-day deadline has expired the respondent must make a written application for an extension of time, copied to the claimant, setting out the reason why the extension is sought and stating whether it requests a hearing. The application must be accompanied by either a draft of the response, or an explanation of why it is not possible to attach a draft.
In Fyfe v Arcadis Human Resources Ltd ET/4102033/2020 Mr Fyfe submitted an ET1, claiming breach of contract and age discrimination, during the initial phase of the first COVID-19 lockdown. The tribunal’s notification of the claim was not received by Arcadis Human Resources Ltd despite it having an operational post room with skeleton staff throughout lockdown. On 15 July 2020, Mr Fyfe sent Arcadis an email attaching his evidence prior to a final hearing on 17 July 2020. Arcadis immediately instructed a solicitor who contacted the tribunal to put himself on the record, request copies of the ET1 and indicate that Arcadis wished to defend the claim and apply for an extension of time to do so. On 16 July 2020, a written application and draft ET3 were sent to the tribunal. The hearing on 17 July 2020 was converted to a preliminary hearing to hear the application.
The tribunal accepted that these events occurred at an unprecedented time, when many individuals and organisations were adjusting to new working practices, and that Arcadis had not received notification of the claim. It noted the guidance on the exercise of discretion given by the EAT in Kwik Save Stores Ltd v Swain  ICR 49. Arcadis had acted swiftly once it knew of the claim. Considering the balance of prejudice, while Mr Fyfe would not now succeed on a “default judgment” basis, he might still prove his case. By contrast, if Arcadis was precluded from participating, it might have judgment against it in relation to serious matters. Given the overriding objective and interests of justice, the extension of time was allowed and the ET3 was accepted.
Compensation: Tribunal entitled to assess discrimination compensation on basis of career-long loss where claimant suffered from PTSD, depression and paranoia
The EAT, in Secretary of State for Justice v Plaistow UKEAT/0016/20 and UKEAT/0085/20, has upheld an employment tribunal’s decision to calculate compensation for direct sexual orientation discrimination and harassment on the basis of career-long loss. The employee suffered from PTSD, depression and symptoms of paranoia, as well as other functional impairments, and his conditions were likely to be life-long. His case was one of the rare cases where a career-long basis for assessment of financial loss was appropriate.
However, the EAT allowed appeals against various other aspects of the calculation, including the employment tribunal’s decision to apply only a 5% discount to reflect the possibility of employment being cut short for another reason (for example, due to early death, disability or other unforeseen circumstances) and its award of a 20% uplift for failure to comply with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. The EAT accepted that the employment tribunal had not demonstrated that it had considered the absolute financial value of the award it was making, despite having evidence that would have given it a clear indication of the probable level of award in issue (likely to be over £2 million).
The case is a rare example of an individual being treated so badly in their employment that the resulting injury was likely to be permanent, meaning that it was very unlikely that they would be able to return to any work before retirement age and therefore justifying compensation on a career-long basis.
Disability Discrimination: Tribunal erred in law by failing to consider claimant’s challenge to employer’s justification defence
In Brightman v TIAA Limited  UKEAT/0318/19 the EAT has held that a tribunal erred in law by failing to consider a claimant’s challenge to her employer’s justification defence in respect of her discrimination arising from disability claim.
Mrs Brightman had various long-term conditions and was disabled for the purpose of the Equality Act 2010. This was not in dispute. On 11 January 2017, she was dismissed by reason of capability on the basis of the available medical evidence, the fact that no further adjustments were possible, her unacceptable level of attendance (which her employer concluded was likely to continue) and the lack of alternative roles. She unsuccessfully appealed and brought various claims, including unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability. The tribunal dismissed her claims. She appealed to the EAT.
The EAT noted the following:
- Mrs Brightman’s last day of sickness absence was 24 October 2016 (two and a half months before her dismissal was confirmed), and she attended work throughout the dismissal and appeal processes.
- By the date of her dismissal, her GP report was over a year old and her OH report was based on a consultation from six months earlier (the referral being to assess her fitness to work).
- At the time of dismissal, she had a new central line, was under the care of a new medical team and was optimistic about the future.
The case was not about dismissing an employee on long-term sickness absence but dismissing a working employee because of the risk that she would have further periods of sickness absence in the future. The EAT concluded that the tribunal had impermissibly relied on employer medical evidence that post-dated the dismissal, which it had allowed to be introduced to fill the evidential “gap” and was irrelevant to the liability hearing. Regarding the discrimination arising from disability claim, Mrs Brightman’s absence record was the “something arising“. Her employer’s legitimate aim seemingly concerned the “unpredictable nature” of her absence and the need for other employees to provide cover. However, the tribunal erred by not adequately engaging with her arguments on justification (notably, in circumstances where her employer had been sustaining her absence levels for years). Employers must tread carefully before dismissing, even where an employee has had multiple periods of prolonged absence. Medical evidence relied on should be current, and the employee’s condition and prognosis at the time of dismissal considered.
Ethnic Pay Gap: CBI, TUC and ECHR sign letter calling for mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting
The Guardian reports that in a letter addressed to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have called for a clear timetable for the introduction of mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting. Citing the potential of data collection to solve racial inequality in the workplace, the signatories argue that mandatory reporting would highlight pay disparities and the lack of minority representation in senior positions with the hope that this would push employers towards action.
A government spokesperson indicated that the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities were still being considered and that the government would respond in due course. The Commission’s report did not recommend mandatory reporting.
Data Protection: European Commission adopts UK adequacy decisions
On 28 June 2021, the European Commission adopted the two UK adequacy decisions under the General Data Protection Regulation ((EU) 2016/679) and the Law Enforcement Directive. This means that personal data can now flow freely from the EU to the UK as the UK offers an equivalent level of protection to personal data as under EU law. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has updated its guidance to confirm the decisions.
The decisions include sunset clauses that limit the decisions to four years, after which they will be reviewed.
The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has welcomed the decisions as a positive result for UK businesses and organisations and a testament to the strength of the UK’s data protection regime, noting that “adequacy is the best outcome as it means organisations can carry on with data protection as usual“.
Flexible Working: CIPD warns there is a risk of developing a ‘two-tier’ workforce over access to flexible working
Website, People Management, has reported on a league table prepared by the CIPD over access to flexible working using analysis by the HR body of the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey data. It reports that “the UK is at risk of becoming a two-tier workforce when it comes to who has access to flexibility with some regions of the country already becoming flexible ‘notspots’”, because some areas of the country have much better access to flexible working than others.
Flexibility was measured by looking at 1) where employees were permitted to work, 2) how informally flexible working policies were operated, including how start and end times were determined and 3) whether employees were able to take leave on short notice.
It turns out employees in the south-east of England have the best access to flexible working options, followed by the east of England and Northern Ireland, which the CIPD states reflects the predominance of certain sectors in different parts of the country, as well as areas with a higher concentration of higher-skilled and higher-paid jobs, which are concentrated in London and the south east.
Low Pay: In-work Progression Commission report on removing barriers faced by those on low pay
On 12 October 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched a call for evidence seeking views on challenges to progression in low-pay sectors, benefits of progression to employers and localities, and examples of good practice across the country. On 1 July 2021, the DWP published the In-Work Progression Commission’s report ‘Supporting progression out of low pay: a call to action’. The report notes that people in low-pay sectors find it very hard to progress to, and stay in, higher earning work. The reasons for this include a lack of skills, logistical challenges, such as a lack of suitable transport or childcare arrangements, as well as confidence and motivational barriers. It recommends that employers play their role in minimising and removing these barriers and in establishing a culture of lifelong learning to support their workforces. Developing skills and an understanding of the value of continual learning is essential to help people in low pay sustainably progress in work.
Employers should adopt the “5-point progression checklist“:
- an individualised progression and learning plan,
- shadowing and work experience, and
- supporting professional development.
They should also develop transparent progression pathways to ensure that entry-level jobs are a stepping-stone. An appropriate senior leader should be responsible for embedding support for progression into management practice. Employers should know about the transport and childcare options available to their staff and use this to inform business practice.
The report recommends that the government works with employers to consider how employers can be supported to accurately monitor individual progression over time, increasing transparency around in-work progression, with particular focus on those in the lowest-skilled roles. This could include developing an appropriate metric to track individual progression and looking at whether, in the longer term, pay reporting data should be part of annual company reports. The report recommends that care workers in England should be registered under a central body (as in the Devolved Administrations) which can manage and certify their registration, training and ongoing professional and skills development.
COVID-19: Treasury direction extending Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to 30 September 2021
On 6 July 2021, HM Treasury issued a further Treasury direction under sections 71 and 76 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, modifying and extending the terms of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) to cover the period beginning on 1 May 2021 and ending on 30 September 2021. In particular, the Treasury direction provides for claims for the fifth SEISS grant (SEISS 5) to be submitted on or before 30 September 2021 in respect of that period. A claim cannot be amended after 30 September 2021. Applications for SEISS 5 will open from late July 2021.
The amount of the grant will be determined by a turnover test. Individuals whose turnover has fallen by 30% or more will receive 80% of three months’ average trading profits, capped at £7,500. However, individuals whose turnover has fallen by less than 30% will receive a 30% grant, capped at £2,850.
ACAS: New guidance published on hybrid working
On 13 July 2021, ACAS published new guidance on hybrid working to help employers consider whether it could be an option for their workplace and how to fairly introduce it. ACAS has also published the results of a survey showing that over half of employers expect an increase in employee requests for flexible working. The advice includes tips for employers on how to:
- Consult with staff on the practical considerations regarding introducing hybrid working.
- Support and manage staff who are hybrid working and ensure all hybrid workers are treated fairly.
- Create a hybrid working policy.
- Handle hybrid working requests from staff.
It advises employers to consider whether technology could assist hybrid working, and issues such as health and safety, data privacy, cybersecurity, onboarding new joiners, and how teams will communicate remotely.
The guidance was developed after consultation with the government’s Flexible Working Taskforce which previously recommended that flexible working should be the default position for all workers.
Flexible Working: SMF survey reveals that 80% of workers would be against a four-day working week in exchange for lower pay
Personnel Today reports that a briefing paper published by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) records that 80% of workers surveyed would not be in favour of a four-day working week, if it meant that they earned less. While workers in banking (14%), energy & water (13%), manufacturing (13%), transport & communication (13%), and construction (12%) were most likely to say they wanted to work less, those working in the hospitality (14%), other services (12%), and public administration sectors (8%) were most likely to say they wanted to work more hours.
The survey also found that the workers who stood to benefit most from a four-day week were more likely to be higher earners, those in higher occupational classes, and men.
The introduction of a four-day working week is one of the proposals currently being considered by the government’s flexible working taskforce following a call from cross-party MPs.
- Contracts: Prior period of illegal performance did not prevent subsequent enforcement of contract
- Discrimination: Gender critical belief was a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2020
- Discrimination: Absence of interim relief remedy for discrimination cases not incompatible with ECHR
- Vicarious Liability: Both original employer and company to whom employees loaned held vicariously liable for traders’ tortious acts
- Fiduciary Duties: No-conflict rule and fully informed consent
- COVID-19: Solicitor unfairly dismissed for refusing to agree changes to employment contract during pandemic
- COVID-19: Dismissal of employee who expressed concerns about commuting and attending the office during lockdown and asked to be furloughed was not automatically unfair
- COVID-19: Dismissal automatically unfair for raising concerns about lack of COVID-secure workplace measures
- Worker Status: Employment tribunal to decide whether postmasters are workers
- COVID-19: Employers join pledge to promote vaccine uptake amongst staff
- Gender Inequality: Government publishes response to Women and Equalities Committee report on gendered economic impact of COVID-19
- Flexible Working: Government to commence consultation on flexible working while National Rail catches up with the times
- Parental Leave: Maternity Action publishes proposals to reform shared parental leave and John Lewis leads the way
- Diversity: Report suggests firms with targeted support for ethnic minority workers have higher revenues
- Legislation: Skills and Post-16 Education Bill introduced in Parliament
- Employment Rights: Government publishes response to consultation on single enforcement body
- ACAS Update: In response to ACAS report, government confirms no current intention to ban “fire and rehire” practices
Contracts: Prior period of illegal performance did not prevent subsequent enforcement of contract
In Robinson v His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Saqr Al Qasimi  EWCA Civ 862, the Court of Appeal has restated the correct approach for common law illegality as a defence to claims for unfair dismissal. This case arose out of a dispute as to who was responsible for paying tax and national insurance contributions. For seven years Ms Robinson had received an income from the Sheikh and neither party had paid the necessary taxes due. From 2014, the money was paid less deductions equal to what was due if Ms Robinson were self-employed but the parties continued to dispute the preceding seven years. This continued until 2017 when the Sheikh dismissed Ms Robinson for failing to account for her taxes (an illegal act). She brought claims for automatic unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal.
The law is that parties to an employment contract that is affected by illegality may be prevented from bringing claims in an employment tribunal or elsewhere. The effect of illegality on an employment contract will depend on the way in which the illegality arises. Where an employment contract is lawful when made but is illegally performed, the contract’s enforceability will depend on the knowledge and participation of the parties; this is referred to as “common law illegality”. “Statutory illegality” is where the employment contract has been expressly or impliedly prohibited by statute; it is void and unenforceable in line with the statutory prohibition, and the parties’ knowledge and intentions are not relevant.
The Court of Appeal relied upon the Supreme Court’s judgment in Patel v Mirza  UKSC 42, where it held that tribunals should have regard to the three considerations set out below and whether there was a sufficient causal link between the illegal conduct and the claim being made to the tribunal. The Supreme Court held that, to determine if the defence of illegality will succeed, a court should consider the policy factors involved and the nature and circumstances of the illegality:
- The underlying purpose of the prohibition which had been breached and whether the purpose would be enhanced by denial of the claim.
- Any other relevant public policy on which the denial of the claim may have an impact.
- Whether denial of the claim would be a proportionate response to the illegality.
The mere fact that one of the parties to the contract had performed it illegally was not a sufficient test for the doctrine of illegality to apply.
Discrimination: Gender critical belief was a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2020
In Forstater v CGD Europe and others  UKEAT/0105/20, the EAT has overturned an employment tribunal’s decision that a gender critical belief (including a belief that sex is immutable and should not be conflated with gender identity, and that trans women are men) was not a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The tribunal had held that the claimant’s belief failed the fifth criterion in Grainger v Nicholson  IRLR 4 (EAT) that the belief must be “worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others“. In the EAT’s view, taking account of the European Convention on Human Rights, a belief would have to be akin to Nazism or totalitarianism, or espouse violence and hatred in the gravest of forms, to fall foul of that part of the test. It is only in extreme cases involving the “gravest violation of other Convention rights” that a belief would fail to qualify for protection at all. The claimant’s gender critical beliefs, which were widely shared in society and did not seek to destroy the rights of trans persons, clearly did not fall into that category.
The EAT also held that the tribunal had failed to follow the principle that courts and tribunals should not inquire into the validity of a belief and must remain neutral as between competing beliefs. Furthermore, the tribunal had been wrong to rely on the “absolutist” nature of the claimant’s belief. The firmness with which a belief is held (even if others might think it irrational or offensive) is not a reason to deny protection.
This appeal was only about the preliminary issue of whether the claimant’s belief qualified for protection. The merits of the claim (including the question of whether her treatment amounted to unlawful discrimination) remain to be determined. Mr Justice Choudhury was at pains to point out that the judgment was not to be taken as expressing any view as to the merits of the transgender debate. Nor did the judgment mean that trans individuals have no protection from discrimination or harassment, which may include misgendering.
Discrimination: Absence of interim relief remedy for discrimination cases not incompatible with ECHR
In Steer v Stormsure Ltd  EWCA Civ 887, the Court of Appeal has dismissed a claim that the lack of interim relief remedy for discrimination cases is incompatible with the right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) read with Article 14 of the ECHR (which prohibits discrimination). The court held that the claimant did not have the necessary status for protection under Article 14. The fact that interim relief is available to a dismissed whistleblower but not to a discrimination claimant who has been dismissed does not constitute discrimination on the ground of sex, and the status of being a litigant in a particular type of case is not a protected status. Even if that was not the case, the court found that the available remedies for discrimination cases, taken as a whole, are not any less favourable than those available to a dismissed whistleblower. Even if they were less favourable, the difference in treatment as regards the availability of interim relief is objectively justified.
Vicarious Liability: Both original employer and company to whom employees loaned held vicariously liable for traders’ tortious acts
In Natwest Markets Plc and another v Bilta (UK) Ltd and others  EWCA Civ 680, the Court of Appeal has held that, due to a 19 month delay in the giving of judgment at first instance, it could not be satisfied that the trial judge had reached the right conclusions. It allowed an appeal against the decision of Justice Snowden and ordered a re-trial. In this case, the claimants alleged that the defendants were liable for dishonestly assisting a large VAT fraud relating to the sale of carbon credits.
The second defendant (formerly RBS SEEL) also brought a discrete ground of appeal, arguing that the judge was wrong to find that it was vicariously liable for the wrongdoing of the individual traders, alongside the first defendant (formerly RBS). The traders were originally employed by RBS SEEL but had been loaned to RBS. The Court of Appeal dismissed this ground of appeal, on the basis that the traders were so much a part of the work, business and organisation of both companies that it was just to make both employers answer for their tortious acts and omissions in the course of their employment.
Regarding the test for “blind eye knowledge“, the Court of Appeal agreed, obiter, that it was not enough that the defendant merely suspected something to be the case, or that he negligently refrained from making further inquiries.
The re-trial is no surprise here, given the general rule that judgments should be delivered within three months of the hearing. More significant is the decision about vicarious liability, rejecting the bold argument that the shift to the organisation to whom the employee was loaned was so complete that the original employer should have no liability at all.
Fiduciary Duties: No-conflict rule and fully informed consent
In Reader v SPIE Ltd & another  EWHC 1221, the High Court has considered whether an employee director of a target company had breached his fiduciary duty when negotiating an enhanced bonus for a transferring employee when moving him onto the buyer’s standard employment terms.
G had sold his company, G&L, to S. Under the Share Purchase Agreement, G would be liable if a key employee, R, did not agree to S Group’s employment terms, including its less favourable bonus scheme. R moved onto S Group’s standard terms as part of a contract negotiated by G on behalf of G&L. A side letter enhanced R’s bonus for the relevant financial year. G&L did not pay the enhancement and R started proceedings in the County Court. S claimed that G would be liable to it in respect of any award in R’s favour. S settled R’s claim, but proceedings continued between S and G. Judgment was entered for S on the basis that, as part of his fiduciary duty not to act in a position of conflict of interest, G should have done more to draw the enhanced bonus to the attention of Y, the director of G&L making the decision. G appealed.
The High Court allowed G’s appeal holding, among other things, that:
- It is an inflexible rule of equity that a fiduciary must not act in a position where his interest and duty conflict, or may possibly, conflict. There are few exceptions, but one is that there can be no breach where there is fully informed consent. The burden of proving informed consent is on the fiduciary.
- The judge had erred in holding that, as part of the no-conflict<a id=”contract”></a>duty, G was obliged to explicitly invite Y’s attention to the enhanced bonus provision. No such obligation existed. Having decided that the enhanced bonus term was plainly disclosed by G, the correct conclusion was that there was no breach.
- The only thing Y needed to know from G, to make a fully informed decision, was the set of terms proposed for R (including the enhanced bonus). Y had been aware of the bonus due to R under his previous employment terms, and of G’s personal interest in getting R to accept the new terms. By authorising G to sign the documents on behalf of G&L, Y must be taken to have understood what they meant.
COVID-19: Solicitor unfairly dismissed for refusing to agree changes to employment contract during pandemic
In Khatun v Winn Solicitors Ltd ET/2501492/2020 the employment tribunal has found that a solicitor was unfairly dismissed for refusing to agree to changes to her employment contract as part of the firm’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The firm had required all staff to agree to a variation giving it the freedom to place them on furlough or to unilaterally reduce their pay and hours to 80%, potentially for up to nine months. The claimant, who was not among the employees earmarked for immediate furlough, was the only one to refuse. She told the firm that, if it became necessary to furlough her or to reduce her hours at some point in the future, she would consider a variation then.
The tribunal accepted that the firm had “sound, good business reasons” for the variation, and therefore had the potentially fair “some other substantial reason” for dismissing an employee who would not agree to it. However, the tribunal considered the dismissal unfair in the circumstances of this case, due to lack of consultation and failure to reasonably consider solutions other than dismissal.
The firm’s directors had decided at the outset that the new terms were non-negotiable and that anyone refusing to sign would be dismissed. The claimant’s attempts to discuss the matter had not resulted in any meaningful discussion, simply a re-stating of the firm’s position. The firm had acted too quickly in dismissing the claimant only two days after sending her the new terms. It had also failed to offer any right of appeal, which might have provided an opportunity for both sides to cool off and reach an agreement.
COVID-19: Dismissal of employee who expressed concerns about commuting and attending the office during lockdown and asked to be furloughed was not automatically unfair
In Accattatis v Fortuna Group (London) Ltd 3307587/2020 an employment tribunal has found that an employee who said he felt uncomfortable commuting and attending the office during lockdown and asked to be furloughed was not automatically unfairly dismissed under section 100(1)(e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996).
Mr Accattatis worked for Fortuna Group (London) Ltd, a company which sells and distributes PPE. During March and April 2020, Mr Accattatis repeatedly asked to work from home or be placed on furlough, explaining that he was uncomfortable using public transport and working in the office. Fortuna told Mr Accattatis that his job could not be done from home, and that furlough was not possible because the business was so busy, but that he could instead take holiday or unpaid leave. Mr Accattatis declined and asked three more times to be furloughed. After the final request on 21 April 2020, he was dismissed by email the same day.
Mr Accattatis did not have sufficient service to claim ordinary unfair dismissal. He instead alleged he had been automatically unfairly dismissed under section 100(1)(e) of the ERA 1996 for having taken steps to protect himself from danger.
The tribunal observed that the government had announced on 14 February 2020 that COVID-19 posed a serious and imminent threat to public health. This, together with Mr Accattatis’ emails expressing concern about commuting and attending the office, showed he reasonably believed there were circumstances of serious and imminent danger.
However, it was a requirement under section 100(1)(e) for Mr Accattitis to have taken appropriate steps to protect himself from danger or to have communicated the circumstances of danger to Fortuna. Fortuna had reasonably concluded that Mr Accattatis’ job could not be done from home and that he did not qualify for furlough but had instead suggested taking holiday or unpaid leave. Mr Accattatis’ response was not only that he wanted to stay at home (which was agreed), but also to demand that he be allowed to work from home (on full pay) or be furloughed (on 80% of pay). These demands were not appropriate steps to protect himself from danger, so his claim failed.
Although not binding, this case is a reminder that the pandemic may not on its own justify a refusal to attend work under section 100(1)(e) if employers have reasonably tried to accommodate employees’ concerns and reduce transmission risk.
COVID-19: Dismissal automatically unfair for raising concerns about lack of COVID-secure workplace measures
In the case of Gibson v Lothian Leisure ET/4105009/2020, the claimant, Mr Gibson, worked as a chef in a restaurant owned by Lothian Leisure. The restaurant closed temporarily in March 2020 due to the first COVID-19 lockdown, and Mr Gibson was furloughed. Before re-opening the restaurant, the employer asked Mr Gibson to come into work. Mr Gibson was concerned about catching COVID-19 at work and passing it onto his father, who was clinically vulnerable. When Mr Gibson raised concerns about the lack of PPE or other COVID-secure workplace precautions, the employer’s response was robustly negative, and he was told to “shut up and get on with it“.
With no prior discussion, the employer dismissed Mr Gibson summarily by text message on 30 May 2020. It did not pay him any notice pay or accrued holiday pay. The message said that Lothian Leisure was changing the format of the business and would be running it with a smaller team after the lockdown.
An employment tribunal held that Mr Gibson had been unfairly dismissed under section 100(1)(e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) because he had taken steps to protect his father in what he reasonably believed to be circumstances of serious and imminent danger. Alternatively, since the wording of the employer’s text message suggested a possible redundancy situation, Mr Gibson had been unfairly selected for redundancy under section 105(3) because he had taken those steps. The circumstances of danger were the growing prevalence of COVID-19 and the potential significant harm to Mr Gibson’s father if he contracted the virus. Mr Gibson reasonably believed that this was a serious and imminent danger, leading him to raise concerns regarding the lack of PPE. Until Mr Gibson had raised those concerns, he had been a successful and valued member of staff.
The tribunal also awarded Mr Gibson pay in lieu of notice and untaken holiday, underpaid furlough pay, and pension contributions that had been deducted but not paid into the pension scheme. It dismissed his claim under the whistleblowing provisions of the ERA 1996. His concern had only been for the health of his father and the tribunal was not satisfied that this met the public interest test under section 43B, although the point was arguable.
Worker Status: Employment tribunal to decide whether postmasters are workers
Website Personnel Today, has revealed that over 100 postmasters and sub-postmasters are bringing an employment tribunal claim against the Post Office in a bid to be classified as workers under the Employment Rights Act 1996, entitling them to benefits including holiday and sick pay. The claimants, who run Post Office franchises, will deploy arguments based on the level of control exerted by the Post Office, in a similar vein to those raised in Uber and others v Aslam and others  UKSC 5.
The case will be heard at the London Central employment tribunal later this month and will have an impact on thousands of postmasters and sub-postmasters across the country.
COVID-19: Employers join pledge to promote vaccine uptake amongst staff
Employers of over one million workers have pledged to promote a positive safety message and signpost staff to NHS providers in a bid to improve the UK’s vaccine uptake. Nine of the UK’s biggest employers, including IKEA, Asda and Nationwide, have signed the pledge which will also mean that employees will be able to get their vaccines during working hours. Interestingly, this announcement follows the publication of a poll by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) which found that 78% of employers had no plans to implement “vaccine certification” for employees returning to the office.
Gender Inequality: Government publishes response to Women and Equalities Committee report on gendered economic impact of COVID-19
On 14 May 2021, the government published its response to the Women and Equalities Committee report ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact’. The report found that government policies had consistently overlooked women’s caring responsibilities and the employment inequalities experienced by them and made wide-ranging recommendations.
The government’s response, however, rejects many of the recommendations, including a review of the adequacy of Statutory Sick Pay, amendments to Form HR1 to capture protected characteristic information, funding of training schemes aimed at women in certain fields and the publication of a gender equality plan for apprenticeships. However, it does state the following:
- Amendments to the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/1398), removing the 26-week service requirement for making a flexible working request, will be considered. The government wants to make it easier for people to work flexibly and is committed to encouraging flexible working. It will consult on making flexible working the default position, with a consultation to be issued in due course.
- The government is committed to bringing forward an Employment Bill “when parliamentary time allows“. However, there was no mention of an Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech of 11 May 2021. Consequently, the government will not publish the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021, as the report recommends.
- The government still intends to extend the redundancy protection period afforded to mothers on maternity leave. This protection will apply to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work, and will cover those taking adoption and shared parental leave. The measures will be brought forward “as soon as Parliamentary time allows“. No specific timeframe is provided. Notably, the measures were mentioned in the 2019 Queen’s Speech following a BEIS consultation in January 2019. The government is also considering proposals to require large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies, with its formal response to a consultation from July 2019 awaited.
Finally, while calls for disability pay gap reporting are rejected, the government states that it is continuing to analyse relevant data and will respond to the ethnicity pay gap consultation in due course.
Flexible Working: Government to commence consultation on flexible working while National Rail catches up with the times
The Guardian reports that the government has confirmed it plans to commence a consultation which would consider whether flexible working would become the default option unless there are good reasons not to (a proposal originally set out in the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto and subsequently included in the Employment Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech). According to The Guardian, a government spokesperson has stated that this would not go as far as giving staff a legal right to work from home.
The government has stated on numerous occasions that it intended to consult on flexible working, including in its recent response to the Women and Equalities Committee report on gendered economic impact of COVID-19. A government advisory group, made up of business associations, charities and trade unions from ACAS to the CBI, has also recently recommended that flexible working should be the default position.
Following hot on the heels of this, National Rail recently announced a new ‘Flexi Season ticket’ which offers 8 days of peak time travel Monday to Fridayin a 28 day period, any time between two stations. The tickets will be on-sale from 21 June 2021, for use from 28 June 2021.
Parental Leave: Maternity Action publishes proposals to reform shared parental leave and John Lewis leads the way
Maternity Action has published a report recommending reform of shared parental leave (SPL). The report follows the campaign it started in April 2021 with other groups including the TUC and the Fawcett Society, and the government’s failure to include the long-awaited Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech which could have included proposals for SPL reform (see our May newsletter).
Maternity Action considers that the current scheme is not fit for purpose. Data provided by business minister Paul Scully, in response to a parliamentary question in February 2021, indicated that take-up among eligible fathers was just 3.6% in 2019/20, well below the government’s 25% target, and only 2% of all new fathers took SPL in 2019. The pandemic has only increased the problem, with the Women and Equalities Committee February 2021 report on the gendered impact of COVID-19 finding that the gender childcare gap increased during the pandemic (see above).
The report proposes that a new system should be introduced that provides individual, non-transferable, rights for each parent, as sharing or transferring of leave between parents has not worked, being too complex and poorly understood by parents and employers. A “6+6+6” model is proposed, replacing both the existing statutory maternity leave and SPL schemes. The first six months of leave being reserved for the mother, and then six months of non-transferable parental leave for each parent. This could be taken concurrently or consecutively, all in one go, or in smaller blocks of weeks or months, up to 18 months after the birth.
The report also recommends that:
- Maternity, paternity and parental leave and pay should be day one rights for all working parents, regardless of employment status.
- The right to return to the same job after any period of leave should be strengthened.
- Statutory leave pay should be increased to at least the national minimum wage level, and should in time be increased to the real living wage level and then wage-replacement levels.
In autumn 2021, John Lewis will introduce what is thought to be the UK’s first equalised parental pay policy, offering 26 weeks’ paid leave to all employees who have been at the company for a year when they have a baby. This will constitute 14 weeks of full pay and 12 weeks of 50% contractual pay. Employees who lose pregnancies will also receive greater support; being granted two weeks of paid leave alongside emotional support provisions including free counselling and mental health services.
John Lewis’ new policies come as part of efforts to redefine its responsibilities towards equality, one of its founding principles.
Diversity: Report suggests firms with targeted support for ethnic minority workers have higher revenues
People Management reports that Henley Business School has published a report revealing that businesses with targeted measures to support their ethnic minority workers have an average revenue of £5.6 billion; 58% higher than the £3.6 billion made by firms that do not.
The report, which analysed the earnings of 100 firms in the FTSE 350, also found that the market capitalisation for companies who have targeted measures was an average of £4.3 billion higher than companies that have failed to introduce any. In the introduction to the report, lead researcher Dr Naeema Pasha suggests that the research demonstrates that adopting an inclusive culture can help organisations improve wellbeing, engagement, sustainability and innovation, leading to better outcomes for all employees.
Legislation: Skills and Post-16 Education Bill introduced in Parliament
On 18 May 2021, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill 2021-22 (the Bill) was introduced in Parliament. It contains measures aimed at creating more routes into skilled employment and ensuring that the training on offer meets the needs of local areas.
The Bill provides the legislative underpinning for the reforms set out in the ‘Skills for Jobs White Paper’. It is intended to improve the functioning of the post-16 education system and support the introduction of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, aimed at transforming the training and skills system to ensure more people gain skills to progress their employment prospects.
The following measures introduced by the Bill are likely to be of interest to employers:
- A power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of local skills improvement plans.
- A duty for education and training providers to co-operate with employer representative bodies to develop and review local skills improvement plans, and to have regard to them when making decisions on the provision of post-16 education and training.
- Additional functions for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in relation to new categories of technical qualifications that relate to employer-led standards and occupations.
The Bill is scheduled to have its second reading on 15 June 2021.
Employment Rights: Government publishes response to consultation on single enforcement body
On 8 June 2021, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published the government’s response on the proposal to create a single enforcement body for employment rights. The proposal was made in the government’s Good Work Plan policy paper published in December 2018 and consulted upon in the latter half of 2019.
As a result of the consultation responses received, the government proposes to create a single enforcement body which will bring three existing bodies into one organisation with a significant remit to enforce employment rights and improve employers’ compliance. The body will have an extensive remit to protect workers in relation to national minimum wage, labour exploitation and modern slavery, holiday pay for vulnerable workers and statutory sick pay. The government will legislate to implement the single enforcement body “when parliamentary time allows”.
ACAS Update: In response to ACAS report, government confirms no current intention to ban “fire and rehire” practices
On 8 June 2021, ACAS published its report into so-called “fire and rehire” practices. The report was commissioned by BEIS and delivered to minsters in February 2021.
Intended as a fact-finding exercise, rather than to recommend reforms to the practice, the report notes a wide range of opinions amongst participants over the use by employers of fire and rehire. Although use of the practice has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, participants did not agree over whether this was because employers were using the pandemic opportunistically as a “smokescreen” to diminish employees’ rights or whether it was merely a response to the scale of the challenges faced by businesses during this time.
There was a similar divergence of views amongst participants over whether reform to the practice was needed and, if so, what these reforms should be. Some participants in the report felt that fire and rehire is never reasonable and should be outlawed by legislation. Others felt that the practice can be reasonable if used as a genuine and unavoidable last resort. Concerns were also expressed that any reform could lead to less flexibility for employers, resulting in more businesses failing, and consequently to more redundancies.
Responding to the report in the House of Commons, Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for BEIS, confirmed that the government does not propose to devise “heavy-handed legislation” to ban fire and rehire at this stage. Instead, Mr Scully confirmed that the government has instructed ACAS to prepare clearer guidance on when fire and rehire should be used and good practice for employers. However, Mr Scully said the government will continue to work with ACAS on this issue, and confirmed that “nothing is off the table“.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: email@example.com.
- Worker Status: Court of Appeal refuses permission to appeal against finding that Addison Lee Drivers were workers
- Worker Status: Does worker status require a minimum degree of obligation or commitment?
- Disability Discrimination: Mental health of gym trainer not properly accounted for
- Collective Agreements: Despite being incorporated into individual contracts collectively agreed terms may not confer individual rights
- Contract: Directors jointly and severally liable for aggravated damages and unpaid wages after inducing breaches of contract
- COVID-19: Dismissal of employee who left workplace over concerns about infecting his children not automatically unfair
- COVID-19: Regulations on calculating a week’s pay for furloughed employees extended to 30 September 2021
- COVID-19: Updated HMRC guidance to address operation of CJRS from May 2021
- COVID-19: Adjusted right to work check measures extended to 20 June 2021
- National Minimum Wage: Low Pay Commission publishes fourth NMW non-compliance and enforcement report
- National Minimum Wage: BEIS updates guidance on calculating NMW for sleep-in workers
- Parental Leave: Campaigners push for reform of “deeply flawed” shared parental leave scheme
Worker Status: Does worker status require a minimum degree of obligation or commitment?
In Nursing & Midwifery Council v Somerville  UKEAT 0258_20_0505 the EAT has dismissed the Nursing & Midwifery Council’s (NMC) appeal against a tribunal’s finding that Mr Somerville was a worker. Somerville was a panel member chair of its Fitness to Practice Committee, and he made a claim against the NMC for unpaid statutory holiday pay, contending that he was either an employee or worker.
At first instance, the tribunal judge found that:
- there were a series of individual contracts between the parties each time Mr Somerville agreed to sit on a hearing, for which the NMC agreed to pay him a fee, and also an overarching contract between them in relation to the provision of his services as a panel member chair;
- these written materials correctly represented the parties’ true agreement;
- there was no contractual obligation on Mr Somerville to offer / accept a minimum amount of sitting dates and he was free to withdraw from dates he had accepted;
- Mr Somerville agreed to provide his services personally to the NMC and there was no right of substitution;
- the NMC was not a client or customer of a profession or business carried on by Mr Somerville.
Accordingly, there was insufficient mutuality of obligation to give rise to an overarching employment contract or an employment contract in relation to individual assignments that he accepted. Therefore, in rejecting this alternative contention that he was an employee, the tribunal decided that there was no irreducible minimum of obligation, as Mr Somerville was not obliged to offer a minimum amount of sitting dates and he was free to withdraw from dates he had accepted. In light of the contract that existed between the parties, the personal service involved and the client/customer finding, the tribunal instead found Mr Somerville to be a worker within the meaning of section 230 Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) and regulation 2(1) Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR).
The NMC appealed this conclusion on the basis that: (i) the tribunal had misdirected itself in law, since an absence of mutuality of obligation in the sense of an absence of an irreducible minimum of obligation as identified in the employee caselaw was incompatible with a finding of worker status; and (ii) in finding the NMC was not a client or customer of a business carried on by Mr Somerville, the tribunal had failed to consider relevant factors and had taken into account irrelevant considerations.
The EAT dismissed the appeal holding thata review of the authorities (including the Supreme Court’s decision in the recent Uber case) and the statutory language indicated that an irreducible minimum of obligation in the sense relied upon by the NMC was not a prerequisite for satisfying the ERA and WTR definitions of worker status, in circumstances where, as here, an overarching contract existed between the parties under which the individual agreed to perform services personally to the NMC and had done so in respect of a series of separate contracts. The absence of an irreducible minimum of obligation could be relevant to the question of whether the client/customer exception applied, but it was not necessarily fatal to a conclusion of worker status. Further, that in considering the client/customer exception in this case, the tribunal had made no error of law; the weight that it attached to particular factors was a matter for its evaluation.
Worker Status: Court of Appeal refuses permission to appeal against finding that Addison Lee Drivers were workers
The Court of Appeal has refused permission to appeal from the EAT (Addison Lee Ltd v Lange and others  EWCA Civ 594) against a finding that Addison Lee minicab drivers were “limb (b)” workers*, and that time in which drivers were logged onto the Addison Lee portal, and had not notified the company that they were taking a rest break, was working time under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR 1998). The court had previously given permission on the papers, but had stayed the appeal pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Uber BV and others v Aslam and others  ICR 845. Following the Uber decision, the court had set aside its original grant of permission and held an oral hearing to re-consider the matter. It held, in the light of Uber, that the appeal in this case has no reasonable prospect of success.
The employer sought to distinguish Uber on the basis of differences in the contractual documentation (specifically, that there was an express contract between Addison Lee and its drivers that negated any mutuality of obligation). However, the Supreme Court in Uber had re-affirmed the principle in Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher and others  IRLR 820 (SC) that, in deciding limb (b) worker status, the tribunal is interpreting the statute rather than interpreting the contract, and should disregard any contractual provisions that do not reflect reality. The tribunal’s factual finding that, when a driver was logged on, they were undertaking to accept jobs allocated to them, was, in the court’s view, “unappealable”.
The court also held that, following Uber, there was no arguable error of law in the employment tribunal’s conclusion that when drivers were logged on, this satisfied the definition of working time as they were at the employer’s disposal.
(* “Limb b” means working under any other contract (other than a contract of employment) where the person agrees to do the work personally, and the relationship between the parties to the contract is not akin to a client or customer of any profession or business relationship.)
Disability Discrimination: Mental health of gym trainer not properly accounted for
A case from London South employment tribunal (Burton v Nuffield Health V 2300147/2019) has recently hit the headlines because the judge found in favour of the claimant, Ali Burton, who claimed disability discrimination and victimisation against her employer Nuffield Health. Burton worked at a branch of the fitness chain Nuffield Health.
The tribunal heard that Burton disclosed her mental health condition (generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and a phobia of coming into contact with bodily fluids) at the interview stage, and again to Nuffield’s in-house occupational health team during her induction. Occupational health passed her as fit to do the job with agreed modifications (such as avoiding hygiene-related tasks which could trigger her GAD; exempt from undertaking health appointments involving blood tests; and that her shift hours should be reduced and consecutive to ensure “ample time off” to manage her condition).
It began with a senior general manager who, unaware of Burton’s condition, asked her to pick up used towels from the floor in the gym. She refused, explaining it was due to her mental health, and was told “we all have to do things that are unpleasant” and advised to use gloves. The manager apparently made mocking remarks and questioned how this might affect her working in the gym, making her feel pressured and embarrassed.
What followed was a series of different managers, who clearly demonstrated they had been given no training in how to either have appropriate discussions with her or simply be able to deal with such a condition, treating her in such a way as to upset her to the point where she raised a grievance. She was questioned over her reduced hours, asked to explain her condition, and asked to provide her medical notes to show her latest diagnosis. Following a meeting, the grievance was not upheld and again she was asked to provide her GP notes and medical history. Following a protracted process of trying to challenge the grievance, it was still not upheld and so Burton lodged a tribunal claim alleging direct discrimination and victimisation.
Her claim of victimisation was not successful but the complaint of direct discrimination succeeded in part, as did her complaint of discrimination because of something arising in consequence of disability; of harassment; and of failure to make reasonable adjustments. The tribunal found Nuffield Health lacked “adequate arrangements” for communicating important information about Burton’s condition, and that this formed part of an “ongoing discriminatory state of affairs”. There was clearly a limited understanding of her condition and a failure to appropriately train managers to deal with such conditions.
Collective Agreements: Despite being incorporated into individual contracts collectively agreed terms may not confer individual rights
In Hamilton v Fife Council UKEATS/0006/20/SS (V) the claimant was a teacher whose department had surplus staff. She was told that as the member of staff with the shortest length of service she could be transferred to another school as a result of a collective agreement, meanwhile the school advertised a vacancy for a full-time position in her department. The relevant term of the collective agreement said that where a teacher has been designated surplus, a permanent post would not be advertised. The claimant resigned, claiming (among other things) constructive unfair dismissal on the basis that the school was in repudiatory breach of this term. The tribunal disagreed, finding on the facts that the events said to constitute breaches of the underlying contract either had not been proved to have happened or, to the extent that they had been proved to have happened, did not constitute breaches of the contract. Where there had been one single breach the tribunal found, however, that such breach had not caused the her resignation. The claimant appealed.
The EAT dismissed the appeal. It held that whilst collectively agreed terms may be incorporated into individual employment contracts, tribunals must consider whether
“any particular part of the collective agreement founded upon is apt to be a part of an individual contract of employment or whether, alternatively, it is essentially collective in nature between the employer and the relevant union”.(para. 28)
The judge went on to say that collectively agreed terms incorporated into individual contracts which regulate certain matters such as pay, holiday entitlement and hours of work, etc, are all capable, of giving rise to enforceable individual rights on the part of employees. On the other hand, collectively agreed terms which are truly collective in their nature are not (e.g. redundancy procedures). The term in question was vague and lacked specification as to when it could be invoked demonstrating that it was not intended to confer individual rights, but simply a broad statement of agreement about what was expected to happen in a surplus situation. Therefore, there was no breach of contract and the appeal failed.
Contract: Directors jointly and severally liable for aggravated damages and unpaid wages after inducing breaches of contract
The High Court in Antuzis and others v DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd and others  EWHC 971 (QB) has ordered two company directors to pay aggravated damages to a group of exploited migrant workers whose employer failed to pay them overtime, holiday pay and the applicable minimum wage under the Agricultural Wages Act 1948 and associated Orders.
The claimants had been employed as chicken catchers by DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd. They brought High Court claims against the company for breach of contract relating to unpaid wages, unlawful deductions from wages and unpaid holiday pay. They also claimed against the company directors for the tort of inducing the breaches of their employment contracts by the company. In 2019, the court upheld the claims and ordered the assessment of damages at a separate quantum trial.
Following the quantum trial, the court awarded damages of the full amounts claimed by the employees for wages, overtime and holiday pay. However, since the claims against the directors were based in tort, the employees also asked the court to award aggravated and exemplary damages.
The court noted that aggravated damages are compensatory in nature. In this case, the court accepted that recovery of the monies due under the employment contracts would not compensate the employees for the exploitation, manipulation and abuse carried out by the employer and its directors that had been inflicted by the systematic denial of the employees’ statutory righ
ts. In respect of aggregated damages, the court therefore uplifted by 20% the damages awarded to the employees. Conversely, the court noted that exemplary damages are punitive in nature. Given the substantial aggravated damages already awarded and the lack of evidence that the profit made by the directors had exceeded this sum, the court declined to award exemplary damages.
This case is an interesting example of how employees could use tort claims to seek redress for breach of contract or certain statutory rights from the directors of their employer and to achieve compensation exceeding their actual financial loss. However, the underlying facts of this case are extreme and the circumstances in which such a claim may be brought are therefore likely to be limited.
COVID-19: Dismissal of employee who left workplace over concerns about infecting his children not automatically unfair
In Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd ET1803829/2020, an employment tribunal found that the dismissal of an employee who told his manager he would not return to work until after lockdown because he feared he would infect his children with COVID-19, was not automatically unfair.
An employment tribunal has considered a COVID-19 related claim under sections 100(1)(d) and (e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) which provide employees with protection from dismissal for exercising their rights to leave the workplace and take steps to protect themselves where they reasonably believe there is serious and imminent danger.
Mr Rodgers messaged his manager on 29 March 2020 to state that he would be staying away from his workplace “until the lockdown has eased” because he was worried about infecting his vulnerable children (a baby and a child with sickle-cell anaemia) with COVID-19. A month later, he was dismissed.
Mr Rodgers did not have sufficient service to claim ordinary unfair dismissal. Instead, he alleged that he had been automatically unfairly dismissed for exercising his rights under sections 100(1)(d) and (e) of the ERA.
The tribunal found that a reasonable belief in serious and imminent workplace danger had to be judged on what was known when the relevant acts took place. On the facts, such a belief could not be established, so sections 100(1)(d) and (e) were not engaged and the claim failed. In particular:
- Despite Mr Rodgers’ concern about COVID-19, he had breached self-isolation guidance to drive a friend to hospital on 30 March 2020 (the day after leaving work).
- Mr Rodgers’ message to his boss did not mention concerns about workplace danger and he could not show there had been any such danger. In March 2020, government safety guidance advised hand washing and social distancing. The employer had implemented both precautions.
- Mr Rodgers had not taken any steps to avert danger or raised concerns with his manager before absenting himself from work. This was not appropriate.
The tribunal rejected Mr Rodgers’ argument that COVID-19 created circumstances of serious and imminent workplace danger regardless of the employer’s safety precautions. It found that accepting this submission could lead to any employee being able to rely on sections 100(1)(d) and (e) to leave the workplace, simply by virtue of the pandemic.
This decision is not binding and turned on the specific facts. However, it demonstrates the importance of implementing appropriate COVID-19 secure measures. Employers who do so may reduce the risk of successful claims under sections 100(1)(d) and (e) by making it harder for employees to establish that the workplace is dangerous.
COVID-19: Regulations on calculating a week’s pay for furloughed employees extended to 30 September 2021
On 31 July 2020, the Employment Rights Act 1996 (Coronavirus, Calculation of a Week’s Pay) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/814) (Week’s Pay Regulations) came into force, requiring employers to calculate various statutory payments, including redundancy and notice pay, with reference to a furloughed employee’s normal week’s pay.
The Week’s Pay Regulations were amended in November 2020 and February 2021 to extend their duration to reflect subsequent extensions of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
On 20 April 2021, the Employment Rights Act 1996 (Coronavirus, Calculation of a Week’s Pay) (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/487) were made. They came into force on 30 April 2021 and ensure that the Week’s Pay Regulations will continue to operate until 30 September 2021, reflecting the further extension of the CJRS announced in the Spring 2021 Budget.
COVID-19: Updated HMRC guidance to address operation of CJRS from May 2021
HMRC has updated various guidance notes, in particular in relation to the calculation of furlough pay for non-fixed rate employees with a relevant reference day of 2 March 2021.
On 8 April 2021, HMRC made minor changes to various guidance notes relating to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Some notable changes include:
- New guidance on how to identify whether an employee’s relevant reference day is 19 March 2020, 30 October 2020 or 2 March 2021.
- New guidance and worked examples on calculating usual working hours and 80% of wages for non-fixed rate employees with a relevant reference day of 2 March 2021. As with non-fixed rate employees with a relevant reference day of 30 October 2020, only the averaging method may be used where an employee has a relevant reference day of 2 March 2021.
- When using the averaging method to calculate average wages for non-fixed rate employees for claim periods starting on or after 1 May 2021, days spent on family-related statutory leave, “statutory sick pay leave” or “reduced rate paid leave” following the leave, and related wages, should not be taken into account. The exception to this rule is where an employee was on one of these types of leave throughout the entire period used to calculate their average wages. In this case, such days and related wages should be included.
- Multipliers for use when calculating grant amounts for July, August and September 2021, when the government contribution reduces. In addition, daily maximum wage amounts are provided for May 2021 to September 2021 inclusive.
The updated guidance also notes that, in the event of a TUPE transfer, employers should ensure that information needed for future claims under the CJRS is passed on to the new employer (including an employee’s relevant reference day and details of 80% of the employee’s wages).
COVID-19: Adjusted right to work check measures extended to 20 June 2021
The temporary COVID-19 adjusted right to work check measures will now end on 20 June 2021, not 16 May 2021 as previously announced by the Home Office (Home Office and Immigration Enforcement: Coronavirus (COVID-19): right to work checks (updated 12 May 2021).) This new date is the planned date for bringing in step four of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown and allows employers to continue with digital right to work checks while social distancing is still in place.
The temporary changes, in place since 30 March 2020, have allowed right to work checks to be carried out over video calls and for job applicants and existing workers to send scanned documents or a photo of their documents to employers via email or a mobile app, rather than sending the originals.
From 21 June 2021, employers must once again either:
- Check the applicant’s original documents.
- Check the applicant’s right to work online, if they have provided the employer with their share code.
Employers will maintain a statutory defence against a civil penalty if the right to work check undertaken was done in the prescribed manner or as set out in the COVID-19 adjusted checks guidance. No further retrospective checks on employees who had a COVID-19 adjusted check will be required.
National Minimum Wage: Low Pay Commission publishes fourth NMW non-compliance and enforcement report
The Low Pay Commission (LPC) has published its fourth standalone report, Non-compliance and enforcement of the National Minimum Wage 2021. The LPC has adapted its approach to reflect the existence of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which has prevented it from carrying out its usual analysis. In addition, the data it would normally consider only covers the period up to April 2020. Rather than looking at flawed data, the report attempts to assess the immediate challenges for National Minimum Wage (NMW) enforcement. It also considers the likely challenges that will affect enforcement over the coming year.
The report does not, on the whole, make new recommendations. It instead reviews progress in key areas identified in previous years. The following points may be of particular interest:
- The LPC notes that the government consulted in 2019 on proposals to create a single enforcement body. While the report mentions that legislation is expected to be brought forward in an Employment Bill, there is no current timetable for this. The Queen’s Speech of 11 May 2021 did not mention an Employment Bill.
- The LPC will continue to monitor emerging case law (noting, in particular, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Uber and Mencap) and their implications for NMW enforcement.
- As the CJRS is phased out, the LPC anticipates that shifts in the economy and labour market will make it more important than ever to ensure NMW compliance. The report notes that the complexity of the CJRS, coupled with a refocusing of HMRC’s targeted enforcement regime, is likely to have increased the risk of underpayment. HMRC has advised the LPC that complaints from workers have declined since April 2020, although the precise reasons for this are unknown.
The LPC anticipates that the impact of the CJRS on workers’ hours and pay will be a recurring feature for many years, noting that the low volume of complaints represents a serious barrier to an effective enforcement system. Consequently, it recommends a pro-active approach from the government to build confidence in the complaints process. It also considers that HMRC’s limited resources must be targeted effectively.
National Minimum Wage: BEIS updates guidance on calculating NMW for sleep-in workers
On 23 April 2021, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) updated its guidance on calculating the national minimum wage (NMW) to clarify the position for sleep-in workers in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Royal Mencap Society v Tomlinson-Blake and others  UKSC 8.
The revised guidance on ‘Sleep-in’ shifts (which appears under the heading Special situations in the section entitled Working hours for which the minimum wage must be paid) confirms that, following Royal Mencap, sleep-in workers are only entitled to the NMW when they are awake for the purposes of working and not when they are permitted to sleep. However, the guidance explains that the position is different for workers who are expected to perform activities for all or most of a shift, and are only permitted to sleep between tasks where possible. In such cases, it is likely that the NMW must be paid for the whole of the shift, including for any time spent asleep, on the basis that the worker is in effect working all of that time. The guidance also confirms that the NMW will be payable for time spent asleep if the employer does not provide workers with suitable sleeping facilities.
To illustrate how the principles outlined by the Supreme Court in Royal Mencap may apply to particular scenarios, the guidance now includes five short examples which explain whether a worker would be entitled to the NMW if:
- They spend time awake but are woken only occasionally to perform tasks.
- They take night calls on a nightshift.
- They are permitted to nap during a work shift.
- They are woken to deal with an emergency but not required.
- They are woken frequently, contrary to original expectation.
The updated guidance and examples are a helpful starting point for employers grappling with the recent changes to this complex area of law. Nevertheless, as the guidance itself reiterates, to determine whether the NMW should be paid to sleep-in workers, employers will need to apply the relevant principles to the specific facts of the situation they are dealing with.
Parental Leave: Campaigners push for reform of “deeply flawed” shared parental leave scheme
The Guardian reports that campaign groups including the TUC, Maternity Action and the Fawcett Society have joined forces in a bid for governmental reform of the “deeply flawed” and underused shared parental leave (SPL) scheme introduced in 2015. The campaigners are urging the government to reform SPL in its long-awaited Employment Bill, and to replace it with a new model of parental leave which would give both parents non-transferable paid leave to care for their child, encouraging fathers to share the burden of childcare which still falls largely on new mothers.
The groups also pushed for the publication of the government’s evaluation of the SPL scheme, which was due in 2019 and is now scheduled to be published in late 2021.
- Equal pay: Retail employees can compare themselves to distribution employees working at different establishments
- Sex Discrimination: An employer who pays a man on shared parental leave less than a woman on statutory adoption leave is not discriminating
- Equality Act: How to determine substantial adverse effect of disability using Equality Act 2010 definition
- COVID-19: Calculation of a Week’s Pay Regulations do not have retrospective effect
- Unfair Dismissal: Failing to receive ACAS early conciliation certificate did not mean time limit should have been extended
- COVID-19: Government launches four roadmap reviews including consultation on workplace social distancing measures
- COVID-19: Updated HMRC guidance to address operation of CJRS from May 2021
- COVID-19: TUC survey reveals that employers are failing to follow COVID-secure rules
- Racial Equality: Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities publishes its first report
- Racial Equality: Competition and Markets Authority publishes ethnicity pay gap data for 2019-2020
- Discrimination: Number of trans people hiding identity at work rises to 65%, survey says
- Discrimination: Dress code prohibiting large-scale signs of political, philosophical or religious belief indirectly discriminatory but allowing small-scale signs can be justified
- Technology: TUC pushes for restrictions on use of artificial intelligence in workplace
Equal pay: Retail employees can compare themselves to distribution employees working at different establishments
The Supreme Court has upheld the decisions of the tribunal, the EAT and the Court of Appeal in Asda Stores Ltd v Brierley and others  UKSC 10 that a group of predominantly female retail employees could compare themselves to a group of mainly male distribution employees for the purposes of an equal pay claim.
Even though the two groups worked at completely separate establishments, such that no distribution worker would have done distribution work at a retail site, and no retail worker would have done retail work at a distribution depot, a comparison could be made because the employer observed broadly common terms and conditions for the relevant groups across its sites.
When claimants and comparators are based at different establishments, determining whether the statutory requirement for common terms is satisfied boils down to asking a single question: would the comparator have been employed on the same or substantially the same terms if they had been employed in the same role at the claimants’ establishment? Cases that do not pass this threshold test will likely be exceptional.
For the benefit of future cases, the court provided a comprehensive summary of the current law relating to the common terms requirement under section 79(4)(c) of the Equality Act 2010. The court also provided guidance for future equal pay cases involving similar preliminary issues over the common terms requirement, confirming that:
- It is a threshold test only. Tribunals should not tolerate a prolonged enquiry into it and appeals are to be discouraged.
- Inference from the facts and circumstances may more readily provide an answer to the test than the opinions of individuals employed in the business. There is no requirement for any form of line-by-line comparison of different sets of terms and conditions.
- The threshold test should not be elevated into a major hurdle nor used as a proxy for other elements of an equal pay claim.
The case can now proceed to the next stage to determine whether the work of the two groups was of equal value.
Sex Discrimination: An employer who pays a man on shared parental leave less than a woman on statutory adoption leave is not discriminating
In Price v Powys County Council UKEAT/0133/20/LA (V), the EAT has upheld the decision of an employment tribunal that it is not discriminatory for an employer to provide enhanced adoption pay but no enhanced shared parental pay.
The claimant, a man, alleged that such a policy was direct discrimination on the grounds of sex, since a man on shared parental leave (SPL) would receive less pay than a woman on statutory adoption leave (SAL).
However, the EAT found that the underlying purpose of SPL and SAL is materially different. SPL is aimed at the facilitation of childcare and giving parents greater choice, whereas the purpose of SAL goes well beyond childcare alone and includes matters such as encouraging the formation of a parental bond and the taking of steps to prepare and maintain a safe environment for the child.
In addition, the EAT held that the tribunal had been correct to find that SPL and SAL operated in materially different ways. For example, SAL could only be taken in one continuous period, could begin before the placement of a child and was an immediate entitlement on the placement of a child, all of which contrasted with the regime for SPL.
Taking all the above into account, the EAT concluded that the tribunal had been right to determine that a woman on SAL was not an appropriate comparator for a man on SPL. The correct comparator was a woman on SPL. Since a woman on SPL would have received the same pay as a man on SPL under the employer’s policy, there was no sex discrimination.
Equality Act: How to determine substantial adverse effect of disability using Equality Act 2010 definition
In Elliott v Dorset County Council  UKEAT/0197/20, the EAT has allowed an appeal against an employment tribunal’s finding that a claimant was not disabled, holding that the tribunal had failed to adopt the correct approach to determining whether the admitted impairment had a substantial adverse effect on the claimant’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Section 6(1) of the Equality Act 2010 sets out the statutory definition of disability:
“A person (P) has a disability if P has a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.
The EAT held that the statutory definition of “substantial” meaning “more than minor or trivial”, as set out in section 212 of the Equality Act 2010, prevails over any guidance. If the adverse effect has a more than minor or trivial effect on the ability of a person to carry out day to day activities, the definition is met. A tribunal should only consider the guidance in the Equality Act 2010: Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability (“the Guidance”) and the EHRC Employment Statutory Code of Practice (“the Code”) if the statutory definition fails to provide a conclusive answer.
If it is necessary for the tribunal to take into account the Guidance or the Code, the suggestion they contain that “substantial” means that an impairment has a greater effect than the “normal differences in ability which might exist among people” requires a comparison with people who are broadly similar to the claimant, other than not having the alleged disability.
The EAT encouraged consideration of the context of the whole provision, and statute, in order to properly analyse and apply individual sections. The focus of the test of whether an impairment has a “substantial” adverse impact is to look at what a person cannot do, or can do only with difficulty, rather than on the things that the person can do. To assess whether an impairment has a substantial adverse effect on day-to-day activities, the employment judge must first determine what the day-to-day activities are.
The EAT remitted the question of whether the claimant was disabled to a new tribunal.
COVID-19: Calculation of a Week’s Pay Regulations do not have retrospective effect
An employment tribunal in Bayliff v Fileturn Ltd ET/2304837/20 has held that the Employment Rights Act 1996 (Coronavirus, Calculation of a Week’s Pay) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/814) did not apply retrospectively to the calculation of an employee’s notice pay for the period before the regulations came into force. Where an employee was given notice before the regulations came into force on 31 July 2020, and their notice continued after that date, their notice pay only had to be calculated in accordance with the regulations after that date.
We believe that this is the first available decision on this issue. Although the decision will not be binding on other employment tribunals, it provides some helpful clarification for employers who only had one day’s notice of the regulations coming into force, and had to quickly determine how to calculate employees’ notice pay in the light of them.
Unfair Dismissal: Failing to receive ACAS early conciliation certificate did not mean time limit should have been extended
In Stratford on Avon District Council v Hughes  UKEAT/0163/20, the EAT has allowed an appeal against an employment tribunal’s finding that it was not reasonably practicable for a claimant to have presented his claim in time, where he had not received the early conciliation certificate by the expiry of the relevant limitation period.
The claimant was dismissed on 29 March 2019 and contacted ACAS on 25 June 2019. ACAS informed him on 2 August 2019 that the employer did not wish to continue with the conciliation process and emailed him a certificate that day. However, the claimant did not receive the certificate. Under section 207B(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the primary limitation period expired on 2 September 2019, that is “one month after day B”. By the time the claimant had obtained a copy of the certificate and presented his claim, on 5 September 2019, it was three days out of time.
An employment tribunal extended time on the basis that it had not been reasonably practicable for the claimant to have presented his claim in time because he needed the early conciliation certificate in order to lodge the claim. The EAT found that this reasoning was flawed. The question which the tribunal should have asked was whether, in all the circumstances, it would have been reasonably practicable for the claimant to have obtained the early conciliation certificate sooner, not whether he behaved reasonably in waiting until after the expiry of the primary limitation period to contact ACAS. The concept of “reasonable practicability” involves a heavier onus than just behaving reasonably, but is not to be equated with what is physically possible.
COVID-19: Government launches four roadmap reviews including consultation on workplace social distancing measures
On 5 April 2021, the government updated its Roadmap Reviews policy paper to provide clarity on how the COVID-19 pandemic will be managed after the final step of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown is reached on 21 June 2021. The four roadmap reviews are as follows:
- The COVID-Status Certification Review will consider the possibility of COVID-status certification as a way of reopening the economy and reducing social distancing restrictions.
- The Global Travel Taskforce will explore how and when the re-opening of non-essential international travel will take place.
- The Events Research Programme will work with national and local public health authorities to develop approaches to social distancing, ventilation, test-on-entry protocols and COVID-status certification in different venues.
- The Social Distancing Review will establish how social distancing measures can be reduced in different settings, including the workplace. The government’s ability to relax social distancing measures will be tied to decisions made by the COVID-Status Certification Review, particularly whether COVID-status certification could enable changes to social distancing.
As part of the Social Distancing Review, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced that it is consulting with businesses about the introduction of long-term social distancing measures to bring workers back into the office. Possible strategies include the implementation of six months of social distancing each year and the longer-term use of masks and see-through plastic screens. On 8 April 2021, business department officials hosted a conversation with professional services to discuss potential strategies.
COVID-19: Updated HMRC guidance to address operation of CJRS from May 2021
On 8 April 2021, HMRC made minor changes to various guidance notes relating to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Some notable changes include:
- New guidance on how to identify whether an employee’s relevant reference day is 19 March 2020, 30 October 2020 or 2 March 2021.
- New guidance and worked examples on calculating usual working hours and 80% of wages for non-fixed rate employees with a relevant reference day of 2 March 2021. As with non-fixed rate employees with a relevant reference day of 30 October 2020, only the averaging method may be used where an employee has a relevant reference day of 2 March 2021.
- When using the averaging method to calculate average wages for non-fixed rate employees for claim periods starting on or after 1 May 2021, days spent on family-related statutory leave, “statutory sick pay leave” or “reduced rate paid leave” following the leave, and related wages, should not be taken into account. The exception to this rule is where an employee was on one of these types of leave throughout the entire period used to calculate their average wages. In this case, such days and related wages should be included.
- Multipliers for use when calculating grant amounts for July, August and September 2021, when the government contribution reduces. In addition, daily maximum wage amounts are provided for May 2021 to September 2021 inclusive.
The updated guidance also notes that, in the event of a TUPE transfer, employers should ensure that information needed for future claims under the CJRS is passed on to the new employer (including an employee’s relevant reference day and details of 80% of the employee’s wages).
A further Treasury Direction in respect of the extension of the CJRS from 1 May to 30 September 2021 dated 15 April 2021 was published on 19 April 2021 and can be found here.
See the updated guidance for more information:
- HMRC: Guidance, Check which employees you can put on furlough to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (updated 8 April 2021);
- Calculate how much you can claim using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (updated 8 April 2021);
- Steps to take before calculating your claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (updated 8 April 2021).
COVID-19: TUC survey reveals that employers are failing to follow COVID-secure rules
The TUC’s biennial survey of over 2,100 workplace safety representatives has revealed that workers are being placed at risk by employers who are failing to meet COVID-secure rules.
Despite there being a legal obligation for employers to consult with safety representatives, more than a quarter (27%) of those surveyed were not involved at all in their employer’s risk assessments. In relation to COVID-19 risk assessments in particular, 34% of representatives said that neither they nor other safety representatives were consulted.
The survey also revealed that only 31% of representatives believe that social distancing rules and physical barriers between colleagues in the workplace were being implemented by their employer all of the time. Only 29% said that their employers were implementing appropriate distancing measures between employees and customers, clients or patients all of the time. 40% of representatives said that adequate PPE was either not always provided or not provided at all to workers.
Alarmingly, the survey states that 65% of workplace safety representatives have had to respond to growing numbers of mental health concerns since the pandemic began, with70% citing stress as a workplace hazard.
Racial Equality: Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities publishes its first report
On 31 March 2021, The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published. The Commission was set up by the Prime Minister in 2020 to identify racial disparities and inequalities in Britain and ways to address them. A number of its recommendations will have a direct impact on the work of employment lawyers. These include:
- Recommendation 1: challenge racist and discriminatory actions by funding the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to use its compliance, enforcement and litigation powers to address policies or practices which cause racial disadvantage or are produced by racial discrimination.
- Recommendation 3: improve the transparency and use of artificial intelligence by publishing guidance on applying the Equality Act 2010 to algorithmic decision-making and requiring transparency from public sector bodies when it is used.
- Recommendation 8: advance fairness in the workplace by developing resources and evidence-based approaches readily available to employers.
- Recommendation 9: investigate what causes existing ethnic pay disparities by requiring the publication of a diagnosis and action plan for organisations who voluntarily publish ethnicity pay figures. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has been tasked with producing guidance for employers to draw on. The government’s response to its consultation on introducing mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting is still awaited. It had been expected that the Commission would call for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting to be introduced.
- Recommendation 16: open up access to apprenticeships by creating a targeted apprenticeships campaign to inform marginalised young people of the career pathways open to them.
- Recommendation 17: encourage innovation by creating an enterprise programme for entrepreneurs from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds across the UK.
The report also flagged the term BAME as “unhelpful”, stating that it is more productive to consider the disparities and outcomes of specific ethnic, rather than homogenous, groups.
The EHRC has recognised the report as a step towards targeting Britain’s “sources of inequality” and has welcomed the prospect of additional funding. However, the report has also been widely criticised for downplaying institutional racism in the UK.
Racial Equality: Competition and Markets Authority publishes ethnicity pay gap data for 2019-2020
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has voluntarily published its Competition and Markets Authority: Ethnicity Pay Gap Report: 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020, using the same principles that apply to statutory gender pay gap reporting. The report, which contains data recorded as at 31 March 2020, shows that the ethnicity profile of CMA staff was 22% BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and 69% non-BAME. Acknowledging that there are too few BAME employees in senior roles, the median pay gap (difference between the midpoints of the average hourly pay of BAME and non-BAME staff) was reported as 34.8%. By contrast, the equivalent gender pay gap figure reported for the same snapshot date was 2.9%
The CMA’s ethnicity bonus gap (calculated using the median average) was 44.2%. By contrast, the gender bonus gap calculated using the median average was -2.5%. The high ethnicity bonus gap can be explained by a number of factors, including the lack of BAME employees in senior roles. In addition, a number of key individuals attracted pivotal role allowances during the year, and all recipients of such allowances were non-BAME.
The report sets out a number of action points to close the ethnicity pay gap at the CMA, which include the creation of an internal development programme for under-represented groups, using data to challenge and check progress on improving diversity in recruitment, and the creation of a Positive Action Steering Group. This group will oversee the implementation of the CMA’s Race Action Plan.
The government consultation on introducing mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting was launched in 2018. The consultation closed on 11 January 2019 and a response has yet to be issued. However, it is expected that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was set up by the Prime Minister in 2020, will shortly call for annual ethnicity pay reporting to be made mandatory for larger employers.
Discrimination: Number of trans people hiding identity at work rises to 65%, survey says
65% of trans employees feel they need to hide their trans status at work according to a survey published by YouGov on behalf of Totaljobs. The figure, which represents a pool of 410 people, signals a 13% increase compared with statistics published in 2016, and corresponds with a 7% rise in the number of trans employees who quit their jobs as a result of an unwelcoming work environment in the same period, reaching 43% this year.
Katie Budd, head of indices and resources at LGBT+ charity Stonewall, has urged employers to take a zero-tolerance approach to trans exclusion, recommending the development of transitioning at work policies, as well as ensuring that organisations become public trans allies.
Discrimination: Dress code prohibiting large-scale signs of political, philosophical or religious belief indirectly discriminatory but allowing small-scale signs can be justified
Advocate General Rantos has given an Opinion in IX v WABE eV (Cases C‑804/18 and C‑341/19) EU:C:2021:144 that a German employer’s rule prohibiting the wearing of any visible sign of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace is not direct discrimination based on religion or belief. Direct discrimination cannot occur where all religions or beliefs are covered in the same way by the rule.
Indirect discrimination caused by such a rule can be justified by the employer’s intention to pursue a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality in the workplace in order to take account of the wishes of its customers. This is distinguished from the situation where an employer imposes such a rule in direct response to a request from a customer.
The potential to justify indirect discrimination is not limited to rules prohibiting the wearing of any visible sign of political, philosophical or religious belief; a rule limited to the prohibition of wearing conspicuous, large-scale signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs can also be justified if it is implemented in a consistent and systematic manner.
When examining whether indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief resulting from an employer’s rule is appropriate and necessary, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion recognised by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights may not be taken into account. However, a national court may apply national constitutional provisions that protect the freedom of religion which, in effect, lay down an additional requirement for justifying an employer’s rule, provided those provisions do not undermine the principle of non-discrimination laid down in the Equal Treatment Framework Directive (2007/78/EC).
Technology: TUC pushes for restrictions on use of artificial intelligence in workplace
On 25 March 2021, the TUC published a report urging the government to introduce new legal protections for workers exposed to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. The report, based on a study by the AI Law Consultancy, claims that workers are currently at risk of being “hired and fired” by potentially discriminatory algorithms. Indeed, the TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady has warned that algorithms, which have been used more widely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, could lead to “widespread discrimination and unfair treatment”, particularly for gig economy workers and those in insecure work.
This issue was highlighted recently when Uber was criticised after its AI software for facial identification reportedly failed to accurately identify dark-skinned faces, resulting in many workers being unable to access its app and find jobs. The software uses a photo comparison tool to compare pictures of drivers with photos held on its database when the contractors open the app, to prove they are the person who has logged on. Tests have shown that the software used by Uber has a failure rate of 20.8% for darker-skinned female faces and 6% for males.
- COVID-19: Driver who refused to wear face mask was fairly dismissed
- Discrimination: Christian’s removal from office for being publicly outspoken against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption was not discriminatory
- Working time: When standby periods can count as working time
- TUPE: Tribunal erred in ordering re-engagement by new service provider it identified as successor employer
- Workers: Uber commits to paying drivers a minimum hourly wage during trips
- Spring Budget: Employment issues
- COVID-19: Temporary tax and NICs exemptions extended and vehicle benefit charges increased
- COVID-19: ACAS updates working safely guidance regarding testing and vaccination
- COVID-19: EHRC suspends enforcement of 2020-21 gender pay gap reporting deadlines for six months
- Gender Pay Gap: Female financial services directors earn 66% less than male counterparts
- Equality: Fifth Hampton-Alexander report on gender balance in FTSE leadership
- Racism: Rise in BME unemployment is double that of white Britons
- Flexible working: Minister for Women and Equalities calls for flexible working to be normalised
COVID-19: Driver who refused to wear face mask was fairly dismissed
In Kubilius v Kent Foods Ltd  UKET 3201960/2020 Mr Kubilius was employed as a delivery driver by Kent Foods Ltd (Kent). Kent’s employee handbook required courteous treatment of clients and that employees take all reasonable steps to safeguard their own health and safety and that of others as a result of their actions at work. Its driver’s handbook required customer instruction regarding PPE to be followed. Mr Kubilius worked at Kent’s Basildon depot where the majority of the work involved travel to and from the Thames refinery site of Tate & Lyle (Tate).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tate required face masks to be worn at the Thames refinery site and all visitors were issued with a face mask on arrival. On 21 May 2020, despite being asked by two Tate employees, Mr Kubilius refused to wear a face mask while he was in the cab of his vehicle. He was told that without one, droplets from his mouth were going to land on peoples’ faces due to his elevated position in his cab and that Tate’s rules required him to wear a face mask until he left its site. Mr Kubilius maintained his refusal, arguing that his cab was his own area and that wearing a face mask was not a legal requirement. Tate reported the incident to Kent and banned Mr Kubilius from its site. Following an investigation, Mr Kubilius was invited to a disciplinary hearing into the allegation that, in refusing to comply with Tate’s instruction regarding PPE, he had breached the requirements to maintain good relationships with clients and to co-operate to ensure a safe working environment. Mr Kubilius was summarily dismissed.
An employment tribunal held that the dismissal had been fair. Kent had a genuine belief that Mr Kubilius had been guilty of misconduct having carried out a reasonable investigation into facts that were not in significant dispute. It had acted reasonably in treating the alleged misconduct as a sufficient reason for dismissal. While another employer might have chosen to issue a warning, dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses. Kent had been entitled to take account of the importance of maintaining good relationships with its clients, Mr Kubilius’s continued insistence that he had done nothing wrong (which caused concern as to his future conduct) and the practical difficulties arising from his being banned from Tate’s site.
Discrimination: Christian’s removal from office for being publicly outspoken against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption was not discriminatory
Two cases were brought before the Court of Appeal based on the same sequence of events and with the same Appellant, Mr Richard Page. The appeals were heard consecutively at the same hearing but two separate judgments were given. (Page v NHS Trust Development Authority  EWCA Civ 255 and Page v Lord Chancellor and another  EWCA Civ 254.) Mr Page was a Non-Executive Director of the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, which is responsible for the delivery of mental health services in Kent. He gave media interviews, including two on national television, in which he expressed his personal views based on his devout Christianity that, it is always in the best interests of every child to be brought up by a mother and a father, and therefore he did not consider it was appropriate for a child to be adopted by a single parent or same sex couple. He also made it clear that he thought that homosexual activity was wrong and that he did not agree with same-sex marriage.
His appointment with the NHS Trust was for a four-year term. Following an investigation the authority that dealt with terminations made findings which would normally have led to the termination of Mr Page’s appointment as a Director. In fact, by the time that it made its decision his current term had expired, but the practical effect of its findings was to prevent him from applying to serve a further term or serving as a Non-Executive Director of a different Trust.
Mr Page was also a magistrate, sitting on the Central Kent bench, where he was a member of the family panel. In December 2014, following a formal disciplinary process, he was reprimanded by the Lord Chief Justice as a result of an incident in which he declined to agree to the adoption of a child by a same-sex couple. The reprimand was reported in the press, and it is clear that Mr Page had spoken to reporters about it and expressed his views about same-sex adoption. Mr Page did not inform the NHS Trust or the authority about the disciplinary action taken against him by the Lord Chief Justice or about his contacts with the press.
Mr Page commenced proceedings against the authority on the basis that the termination decision, and the suspension and investigation which led to it, constituted unlawful discrimination and harassment by reference to his religion or belief, and also victimisation, contrary to Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010.
The Court of Appeal held that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that the authority did not discriminate against a Christian non-executive director, Mr Page, on religious grounds when it decided not to renew his term after he spoke out in public against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption. The Court also held that the tribunal had been entitled to find that Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (freedom of religion) was not engaged but, if it had been, it would not have been breached because any limitation placed on the right to freedom of religion in this case was justified as being necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. There was no direct discrimination because Mr Page was removed for repeatedly speaking to the media without first informing the Trust, despite repeated requests to seek permission, and not because of his religious belief. There had been no indirect discrimination because however a provision, criterion or practice may have been formulated, it was hard to see how the tribunal’s conclusion on justification in relation to Article 9 would not similarly apply to the indirect discrimination claim. There had been no victimisation because the protected acts relied on by Mr Page had not been the reason for the action taken against him.
In concluding remarks, the court observed that there are circumstances in which it is right to expect Christians (and those of other faiths) who work for an institution, especially if they hold a high-profile position, to accept some limitations on how they express their beliefs in public on matters of particular sensitivity. Whether such limitations are justified in a particular case can only be judged by a careful assessment of all the relevant circumstances in order to strike a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the legitimate interests of the institution they work for.
In the other case before the Court of Appeal, Mr Page argued he had suffered victimisation when he was removed from office as a magistrate following his media interviews. The Court, however, found that the only issue on the appeal was whether Mr Page had been removed as a magistrate because he had complained about potential religion and belief discrimination in relation to earlier disciplinary proceedings against him. The Court upheld the finding that this had not been the reason for his removal. He had been removed because he had declared publicly that, in dealing with cases involving adoption by same-sex couples, he would proceed not on the basis of the law and the evidence, but on the basis of his own preconceived beliefs about such adoptions. His removal was lawful under the Equality Act 2010 and involved no breach of his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court reached its decision without needing to hear the respondents’ submissions. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused.
Working time: When standby periods can count as working time
In DJ v Radiotelevizija Slovenija (Case C-344/19) EU:C:2021:182 the ECJ has held that a period of standby would not, in its entirety, be working time under the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) only because a worker was required to be contactable by telephone and able to return to their workplace, if necessary, within a time limit of one hour, while being able (but not required) to stay in accommodation provided by their employer. However, it would be for the referring national court to assess the facts of the case, including the consequences of the time limit and the average frequency of activity during standby periods, since these might establish that the constraints imposed on the worker objectively and very significantly affected their ability to manage their time and devote that time to their own interests. Limited opportunities to pursue leisure activities within the immediate vicinity of the workplace was not relevant to that assessment.
The constraints that may be taken into account when deciding whether a period of standby is working time are those imposed on the worker by national law, a collective agreement or by the employer pursuant to either the worker’s contract or the employer’s system of dividing standby time between workers. By contrast, organisational difficulties that a period of standby may generate for the worker, which are not the result of such constraints but are, for example, the consequence of natural factors or of the worker’s own free choice, may not be taken into account.
In this case, a worker who spent time at two television transmission centres situated in mountains in Slovenia argued that time he spent on standby during which he had to be contactable by telephone and able to return to the transmission centre within one hour was working time. While he was not required to remain at the workplace, the geographical location of the transmission centres meant that he had to do so while he was on standby. Consequently, he had limited opportunities for leisure activities and stayed in on-site accommodation provided by his employer that he was entitled (but not required) to use.
TUPE: Tribunal erred in ordering re-engagement by new service provider it identified as successor employer
In Greater Glasgow Health Board v Neilson  UKEATS/0013/20 the EAT has held that a tribunal made a number of errors when, in a claim for unfair dismissal in the context of a TUPE transfer, it ordered re-engagement of the claimant by the new service provider who had not been a party to proceedings on the basis that it was a successor employer.
Given the tribunal’s finding that the claimant had been assigned to an organised grouping that had transferred to the new service provider, there was no basis in law on which the tribunal could have properly ordered any remedy against the respondent in respect of the claimant’s dismissal. The case was remitted for a fresh tribunal to consider remedy in connection with which the claimant would need to consider whether to apply to join the new service provider as a respondent.
The tribunal had also erred when it made an order that the claimant should be re-engaged by the new service provider as a successor employer as defined by the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Referring to the EAT’s decision in Dafiaghor-Olomu v Community Integrated Care and Cornerstone Community Care UKEATS/0001/17, the EAT noted that the circumstances in which there is a successor employer following a TUPE transfer will be very limited.
Workers: Uber commits to paying drivers a minimum hourly wage during trips
Following last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that its drivers are workers under UK employment legislation, Uber has announced that from 17 March 2021 all of its drivers, irrespective of their age, will receive at least the National Living Wage (NLW), after expenses, once they have accepted a trip request (see February’s newsletter). No mention has been made of compensation for past entitlements and drivers will not be paid at this rate when they are not carrying out trips.
The pay rate, amounting to £8.72 per hour, will create an earnings floor (not an earnings ceiling) and has been introduced alongside automatic enrolment into a pension plan, which both Uber and its drivers will contribute to. All drivers will receive paid holiday time based on 12.07% of their earnings, paid on a fortnightly basis, as well as free insurance to cover sickness, injury and parental payments. This insurance cover was introduced in 2018. Uber has confirmed that drivers will still be able to choose when and where they drive.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is calling on HMRC to enforce the Supreme Court ruling and ensure that drivers receive a minimum rate of pay from the moment they log onto the app, not only when they are carrying out trips.
Spring Budget: Employment issues
On 3 March 2021, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered the Spring 2021 Budget. The announcements relevant to those involved in employment law mainly concern ongoing support during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is being extended until the end of September 2021. Furloughed employees will continue to receive 80% of their salary for hours not worked but employers will be required to make a contribution towards the cost of unworked hours of 10% in July and 20% in August and September.
- The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is also being extended with a fourth grant covering the period February to April 2021 and a fifth and final grant covering May to September 2021.
- The Chancellor also announced investment in a Taxpayer Protection Taskforce to combat fraud within COVID-19 support packages, including the CJRS and SEISS.
- There will be temporary continuation of tax exemptions for COVID-19 tests and home office expenses (see below), and of the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Rebate Scheme while sickness levels remain high.
- Looking to the future, the Chancellor made announcements about increased support for traineeships and apprenticeships.
COVID-19: Temporary tax and NICs exemptions extended and vehicle benefit charges increased
As promised in the Spring 2021 Budget, on 8 March 2021, Regulations were made extending the temporary tax exemption for employer reimbursement of home office expenses to the tax year 2021-22. The exemption covers the cost of equipment purchased by the employee for the sole purpose of enabling the employee to work from home due to COVID-19. Corresponding Regulations (NICs Regulations), ensuring that such reimbursement is disregarded for NICs purposes, were also made on 8 March 2021.
The NICs Regulations also extend the temporary disregard of employer-reimbursed coronavirus antigen test costs to the tax year 2021-22. The corresponding income tax exemption for that reimbursement will be introduced in the Finance Bill 2021.
Additionally, as anticipated following the government’s written statement on 4 March 2021, an Order was made to increase the van benefit charge and fuel benefit charges for company vehicles. The increased charges take effect from 6 April 2021 as follows:
- Flat-rate van benefit charge: £3,500 (increased from £3,490).
- Multiplier for the car fuel benefit charge: £24,600 (increased from £24,500).
- Flat-rate van fuel benefit charge: £669 (increased from £666).
COVID-19: ACAS updates working safely guidance regarding testing and vaccination
ACAS has updated its “Working Safely During Coronavirus” guidance to provide further information about workplace testing and vaccination for COVID-19. The page entitled “Testing staff for coronavirus” contains a new section setting out what it would be good practice for employers to discuss with staff when agreeing to implement workplace testing. This includes how testing would work, how staff will get their test results and how the employer plans to use and store testing data in line with the UK GDPR. If staff are concerned about testing, the guidance suggests that it may help for employers to consider paying them their usual rate of pay for time off after a positive test or furloughing them. However, some have suggested it is unclear whether the CJRS can be used in this way.
The guidance now also contains a page dedicated to “Getting the coronavirus vaccine for work” which includes a section on how to support staff to get the vaccine. This highlights similar points for discussion as in relation to workplace testing and suggests that employers could consider offering paid time off for vaccination appointments and full pay (rather than SSP) if staff are off sick because of vaccine side effects. The guidance advises that, in most circumstances, it is best for employers to support staff to get the vaccine without making it a requirement. However, if an employer feels it is important for staff to be vaccinated, they should consult with staff. Where further steps are necessary, these should be recorded in writing (for example, in a policy).
Interestingly, several points which were previously contained in the guidance have now been removed. In particular, the guidance no longer states that:
- Employers cannot force staff to be vaccinated.
- Employers should only make getting the vaccine mandatory if it is necessary for someone to do their job.
- That, if an employer believes that an employee’s reason for refusing a vaccine is unreasonable, this may in some circumstances be a disciplinary issue.
The removal of these points perhaps suggests an acknowledgement that they are not straightforward. Nevertheless, these are still likely to be issues that employers will need to grapple with over the coming months.
COVID-19: EHRC suspends enforcement of 2020-21 gender pay gap reporting deadlines for six months
In light of the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has confirmed that gender pay gap enforcement action for the reporting year 2020-21 will be suspended until 5 October 2021.
Under the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2260) and the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/172), public sector bodies and private sector employers would have been required to submit their gender pay gap reports by 30 March and 4 April respectively. The suspension of enforcement action effectively means that employers have an additional six months to meet their reporting obligations for 2020-21.
The EHRC has described the delay as striking a balance between supporting businesses through challenging times and enforcing the important gender pay gap reporting obligations. Employers are encouraged by the EHRC to report before October 2021 where possible.
Gender Pay Gap: Female financial services directors earn 66% less than male counterparts
Research conducted by law firm Fox & Partners has revealed that female directors working in the UK’s biggest financial services firms earn an average yearly wage of £247,100, 66% lower than the £722,300 earned by male directors.
The research suggests that the significant gender pay gap is indicative of the limited opportunities open to women looking to secure higher paid executive roles at FTSE 100 and 250 firms. According to the data, 86% of the female company directors accounted for were in non-executive roles which receive lower pay and encompass fewer daily responsibilities.
Equality: Fifth Hampton-Alexander report on gender balance in FTSE leadership
On 24 February 2021 the Hampton-Alexander Review published its fifth and final annual report on improving gender balance in FTSE leadership.
The report states that as at 11 January 2021:
- Women held 36.2% of FTSE 100 board positions (up from 32.4% in 2019), but 32 FTSE 100 companies had not yet achieved the 33% target.
- Women held 33.2% of FTSE 250 board positions (up from 29.6%), but 139 FTSE 250 companies had not yet achieved the 33% target.
- Across the FTSE 350 there were only 39 female chairs (11 in the FTSE 100), 89 female SIDs (23 in the FTSE 100) and 17 female CEOs (8 in the FTSE 100). There were only 76 female executive directors (31 in the FTSE 100), being 12.1% of executive directors in the FTSE 350.
As of 28 January, the FTSE 350 no longer had any all-male boards, but still had 16 companies with only one woman on the board.
Racism: Rise in BME unemployment is double that of white Britons
The TUC’s analysis, as reported by the Guardian, of recently published ONS data has revealed that the overall unemployment rate for BME (black and minority ethnic) groups rose from 5.8% in the final quarter of 2019 to 9.5% in 2020. This growth rate is double that recorded for white people whose unemployment figures rose from a much lower 3.4% to 4.5% in the same period. It argues that the data serves as a “mirror to the structural racism” currently at play in Britain.
Charitable trust ‘Hope Not Hate’ has emphasised the role of COVID-19 in escalating the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) unemployment crisis. According to a poll it recently conducted, one in five BAME people had lost their jobs, with 22% blaming the pandemic for their unemployment.
Flexible Working: Minister for Women and Equalities calls for flexible working to be normalised
The Government Equalities Office has published a report by the government-backed Behavioural Insights Team and jobs website Indeed, Encouraging employers to advertise jobs as flexible, which revealed that job adverts which offer flexible working increase applications by up to 30%.The research, which analysed nearly 20 million applications and is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the UK, shows greater transparency in job adverts would create at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy per year.
Almost 40% of employees worked from home in 2020, and the appetite for flexibility hit new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that 9 out of 10 jobseekers want increased flexibility, be it remote working (60%), flexitime (54%) or reduced hours (26%).
Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss MP, called for employers to make flexible working a standard option for employees. She argues this would boost productivity and morale and improve the employment prospects of women (who are twice as likely as men to work flexibly) and those who live outside major cities.
- Worker Status: Supreme Court rules Uber drivers ARE workers
- Sex discrimination: Maternity charity’s application for judicial review of SEISS dismissed
- Harassment: No defence of taking all reasonable steps to prevent harassment as equality and diversity training was “stale”
- Indirect discrimination: Tribunal failed to consider whether more women than men were put to a particular disadvantage by a PCP
- Discrimination: Clear words required for allegation to amount to protected act under Equality Act 2010
- Whistleblowing: EAT holds tribunal misapplied public interest test in detriment case
- Unfair Dismissal: Employer not entitled to dismiss employee for conducting surveillance in workplace
- Intellectual Property: Employer owned copyright relating to software
- COVID-19: EHRC urged to investigate government’s pandemic response amid growing concern of disproportionate gender equality impact
- COVID-19: Survey finds apprenticeship starts fell by 45.5% during pandemic
- Flexible Working: CIPD calls for flexible working to be day-one right for employees
- Mental Health: Commission reveals £8,400 mental health income gap in the UK
- Discrimination: Over 40% of LGB+ workers experienced conflict at work last year
- Pensions: Pension Schemes Act 2021 gains Royal Assent
Worker Status: Supreme Court rules Uber drivers ARE workers
As we reported last month, the Supreme Court heard the case of Uber BV and others v Aslam and others on 21 and 22 July 2020 but has only recently published its judgment. The two questions before the initial tribunal were:
- Do the drivers whose work is arranged through the Uber app work for Uber under workers’ contracts (and so qualify for the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and other workers’ rights), or do they work for themselves as independent contractors, performing services under contracts made with passengers through Uber as their booking agent (and therefore do not qualify for any of these rights)?
- If drivers work for Uber under workers’ contracts, then were the drivers/claimants working under such contracts whenever they were logged into the Uber app within the territory in which they were licensed to operate and ready and willing to accept trips; or were they working only when driving passengers to their destinations?
The Court of Appeal had upheld the decision of the tribunal and found, by a majority, that Uber drivers were workers, and not independent contractors, and therefore were entitled to the statutory rights afforded to workers for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the Working Time Regulations 1998. The Supreme Court judges unanimously upheld this decision. It also found that they were working from the time they switched on the app.
In reaching their conclusion, the Judges highlighted the following points which all indicated that Uber was in the more dominant position, like an employer, and unlike in a self-employed contractor situation where there is more equality:
- Uber sets the fares for each ride the drivers carry out and the drivers are not permitted to set their own prices as they would if they were self-employed.
- Uber sets the terms and conditions of using its service.
- Drivers face penalties for cancelling or not accepting rides – sometimes preventing them from working, such as being unable to access the app for a limited time.
- Uber has significant control over the way that drivers work, as they face a rating system. Should a driver’s Uber rating fall below a certain level they face penalties or termination of their contract.
- Uber takes active steps to prevent drivers and passengers from having an agreement outside of the Uber app.
Additionally, the case once again highlights that in determining whether a worker or self-employed contractor situation exists, it will always examine the reality of the actual relationship between the parties over whatever documentation may have been prepared between them.
The Court also decided that the drivers became ‘workers’ from the time they switched on the app and were available to work in their designated area, to the time they switched off the app. This means there will now be a significant number of minimum wage, backpay and holiday pay claims made against Uber. It will undoubtedly open the floodgates for other ‘gig-economy’ workers to make claims against employers.
Sex discrimination: Maternity charity’s application for judicial review of SEISS dismissed
An application for judicial review of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) on the basis that it was indirectly discriminatory has been rejected by the High Court. Under the SEISS, grants were awarded to self-employed individuals based on average trading profits in the three full tax years preceding 2019/20. The application was brought by a self-employed mother and a maternity rights charity, The Motherhood Plan. They argued that the SEISS breached Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, read with Article 1 of Protocol 1, in two ways:
- It was indirectly discriminatory to calculate grants based on average trading profits in previous tax years, since women on maternity leave during those years received smaller payments than they would otherwise have been entitled to.
- Applying Thlimmenos v Greece  ECHR 162, grants for women on maternity leave in the calculation period should have been calculated differently to remove the disadvantage they suffered if treated the same as everyone else.
The Court was not persuaded that there was any indirect discrimination. The disadvantage complained of was not caused by the SEISS itself; rather, it flowed from an absence of or reduction in past income. There were no hidden barriers to eligibility and it was not harder for women on maternity leave to quantify their earnings than for others. The fact that some claimants received lower grants than others reflected the fact of lower earnings in past years; in the context of the SEISS with its stated purpose, the reasons for the lower earnings in past years were irrelevant.
In relation to Thlimmenos, the Court noted that the claimants’ arguments would be to demand redress under the SEISS in relation to their unique situation in the past. There was no authority to support the proposition that uniqueness or difference in the past is a basis on which to require different treatment in the present, such that failure to accord that different treatment amounts to unlawful discrimination. Even if there had been discrimination, the court found that this would have been justified. The government had a broad margin of appreciation in this context and the design of the SEISS was not manifestly without reasonable foundation. Additionally, the government had not breached the public sector equality duty in section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010.
Harassment: No defence of taking all reasonable steps to prevent harassment as equality and diversity training was “stale”
In Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen  UKEAT/0031/20 the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s finding that an employer failed to take all reasonable steps to avoid an employee being racially harassed by another and could not rely on section 109(4) of the Equality Act 2010. The employment tribunal was entitled to find that the equality and diversity training delivered to employees 20 months prior to the harassment was “stale“, there was evidence that the training was insubstantial and that employees had forgotten it. It was also appropriate to find that a further reasonable step could have been to offer refresher training. Therefore, the employer could not show that all reasonable steps had been taken.
There are few reported cases that consider the reasonable steps defence. This case illustrates that in determining whether the defence is made out, tribunals will consider the steps that have been taken by the employer in some detail, including the quality of any training, together with how recently it was provided. Ultimately, it confirms that an employer must clear a high threshold if it is to establish that it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.
Indirect discrimination: Tribunal failed to consider whether more women than men were put to a particular disadvantage by a PCP
In, Cumming v British Airways plc  UKEAT/0337/19 the EAT has held that, when determining whether a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) was indirectly discriminatory against women due to their greater childcare responsibilities, the tribunal should consider whether the PCP put women at a particular disadvantage, not whether the PCP applied to all employees in the pool equally. British Airways plc had a policy that aircrew who took three days’ unpaid parental leave would lose one paid rest day that month. Ms Cumming argued that the PCP was indirectly discriminatory against women, as a higher proportion would take parental leave than men. It was common ground that the correct pool for comparison was all aircrew with childcare responsibilities. An employment tribunal rejected her claim on the basis that the PCP applied equally to all aircrew so there was no particular disadvantage to women.
The EAT held that this was an error of law. The fact that the PCP affected all employees who took parental leave in the same way did not mean that there was no particular disadvantage to women. Not all employees with childcare responsibilities would take parental leave. There was statistical evidence to show that more female than male aircrew took parental leave and therefore more women were adversely impacted by the PCP. Further, in Essop v Home Office (UK Border Agency) and Naeem v Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 27, Lady Hale observed that women tended to “bear the greater responsibility for caring for the home and family than…men“. The tribunal had therefore failed to consider whether more women were put to a particular disadvantage by the PCP than men in the same circumstances. The EAT remitted the case to a fresh tribunal.
Discrimination: Clear words required for allegation to amount to protected act under Equality Act 2010
In Chalmers v Airpoint Ltd and others  UKEATS/0031/19 the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s decision that an employee’s comment in her written grievance that the employer’s actions “may amount to discrimination” was not sufficient in the circumstances to amount to a protected act under section 27(2)(d) of the Equality Act 2010 for the purposes of her victimisation claim. The employee’s statement related to the fact that the employer had arranged a Christmas event on a date she could not attend. The EAT held that the tribunal was entitled to take into account the factual context surrounding the allegation. The employee worked in the human resources field and was articulate and well-educated. The use of the word “may“, and the failure to refer explicitly to sex discrimination, could be contrasted with the fact that the employee had complained in clear terms about other matters. Further, the tribunal had found that no discrimination had occurred in relation to the Christmas event and, on the day of the event, the employee had expressed her dissatisfaction to the managing director but had not complained of discrimination.
While a tribunal was not required to interpret the words used by an employee literally and there would be circumstances in which the use of equivocal language would amount to a protected act, this would depend on the context and the tribunal’s assessment of the evidence, including whether the employee was the type of person likely to express themselves cautiously. On the evidence before it, the tribunal was entitled to conclude that an allegation of sex discrimination had not been made, the word “may” usually signifying doubt or uncertainty, and given her background and experience, the employee’s failure to refer to sex discrimination was intentional.
Whistleblowing: EAT holds tribunal misapplied public interest test in detriment case
The EAT has overturned an employment tribunal’s finding that two disclosures made by a consultant solicitor about alleged overcharging by the firm for which he worked, had not, in the solicitor’s reasonable belief, been made in the public interest, and so were not protected disclosures under the whistleblowing legislation.
In Dobbie v Felton t/a Feltons Solicitors  UKEAT/0130_20_1102 the EAT found that the guidelines set out by the Court of Appeal in Chesterton Global Ltd (t/a Chestertons) v Nurmohamed  EWCA Civ 979 had not been properly considered. If the solicitor held a genuine and reasonable belief that his disclosures were in the public interest, that did not have to be his predominant motive in making them. If he reasonably believed that he was disclosing information that tended to show the firm was overcharging the client, in breach of the Solicitors Accounts Rules or other regulatory obligations, the disclosures did not cease to be protected merely because they were made in the context of concerns about the client’s prospects of recovering litigation costs from its opponent. The tribunal had limited its reasoning to consideration of only one of four relevant factors in Chesterton: the numbers in the group whose interests the disclosure served. This had led the tribunal to determine that it was a private matter between the client and the firm. The tribunal had not considered whether the protection of one client alone could have constituted the protection of a “section of the public“.
A disclosure of information relevant to only one person can be a matter of public interest, such as in the case of a one-off error in the medical treatment of a patient. In this case, the disclosures could have advanced the general public interest in solicitors’ clients not being overcharged, and solicitors complying with their regulatory requirements.
The tribunal had also applied the wrong legal test for causation in concluding that the solicitor’s disclosures had had little influence on the firm’s decision to terminate his consultancy agreement. The correct test was whether the disclosure had a material influence on the firm’s decision to terminate the agreement. If the making of one or both of the protected disclosures was an effective cause of the termination, a detriment would be made out, even if the agreement would have been terminated in any event.
Unfair Dismissal: Employer not entitled to dismiss employee for conducting surveillance in workplace
In Northbay Pelagic Ltd v Anderson  UKEATS/0029/18 the EAT has held that an employer was not entitled to dismiss an employee who was conducting surveillance in the workplace, noting that the employer had failed to conduct a balancing exercise between the right to privacy and the employee’s desire to protect his confidential information. The employee had set up a camera to monitor whether anyone had entered his office to access his computer. However, the case was remitted to a fresh tribunal to consider whether it was fair to dismiss the employee on the basis he failed to follow a management instruction.
The EAT also held that if an employer is conducting disciplinary investigations into multiple employees whose cases are related, there is no need for the investigation of the employees to be “sealed off” from one another. It further highlighted the need to ensure evidence is adduced from relevant witnesses, suggesting the employer’s failure to do so in this case may have led to the tribunal preferring the employee’s evidence over that of the employer.
Intellectual Property: Employer owned copyright relating to software
In Penhallurick v MD5 Ltd  EWHC 293, the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court found in favour of the defendant, MD5 Ltd, in copyright infringement proceedings, granting a declaration that MD5 was the owner of copyright in various literary works relating to software created by the claimant, Mr Penhallurick, who was MD5’s employee from November 2006 until April 2016.
The works in issue were various versions of the software, a graphical user interface and a user guide. The judge’s decision on ownership, and therefore infringement, turned on whether each of the works was created in the course of Mr Penhallurick’s employment with MD5.
Judge Hacon said that it was clear from the evidence that making the software was the central task for which MD5 was paying Mr Penhallurick at the relevant times. Where there was such a strong and primary indication, the fact that some of the work was done in his home and using his own computer would not make any difference to the fact that it formed part of his employment duties. All versions of the software were created by Mr Penhallurick with the knowledge and encouragement of MD5 and in return for payment, and all were directed to making and improving the software product sold by MD5. MD5 was therefore also the first owner of copyright in all the versions. Copyright in these (along with copyright in the other works in issue) was also assigned to MD5 under an intellectual property clause in an agreement between the parties made in November 2008. MD5 was therefore the owner of copyright in all the works. The fact that Mr Penhallurick had identified himself as the copyright owner on each version of the software and in the user guide did not create any presumption of ownership under section 104 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The judge granted a declaration of MD5’s copyright ownership in relation to all the works in issue, other than two pleaded works which he had found to be of doubtful existence and of no relevance to the claim.
COVID-19: EHRC urged to investigate government’s pandemic response amid growing concern of disproportionate gender equality impact
The TUC, Amnesty International and dozens of other organisations have called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate the alleged disproportionate equality impact of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on women and minority groups. In response, the EHRC said that “While government focuses on the current crisis we do not consider it appropriate to use our legal powers“. However, it added that it will seek input and monitor the government’s response to the ongoing inequality and human rights issues, and “where necessary take the appropriate action“.
This follows a report entitled ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact‘ published this month by the Women and Equalities Committee. The report addresses a number of areas including labour market and employment, benefits and social security, young people, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, childcare, the extent to which gender equality has been embedded into policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to improve equality data.
The report made wide-ranging recommendations, including that the government should:
- Remove the 26 weeks’ service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements.
- Publish the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021 and that the Bill must take into account the recommendations of the report.
- Introduce legislation in this parliamentary session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers.
The committee made further recommendations in relation to pay gap reporting. It urged that gender pay gap reporting be reinstated with reporting for the financial years 2019/20 and 2020/21 required in April 2021, and that the government should publish proposals for introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting within six months.
The report highlights the need for equality impact analyses to be undertaken in relation to key schemes, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
COVID-19: Survey finds apprenticeship starts fell by 45.5% during pandemic
Personnel Today reports that a survey conducted by Small Business Prices, to mark this year’s partnership week (8-14 February), has revealed that apprenticeship starts fell by 45.5% overall since the beginning of the initial lockdown compared to the same period in 2019, with health and social care suffering the biggest blow with 11,063 (46%) fewer starts. Starts in administration, business management, and hospitality and catering apprenticeships were also adversely affected by the pandemic, suffering a fall in starts of 9,783 (62%), 7,031 (40%) and 5,411 (70%) respectively.
Flexible Working: CIPD calls for flexible working to be day-one right for employees
The CIPD has launched a new campaign calling for the right to request flexible working to be a day-one right for all employees and for employers to advertise jobs as flexible. This comes after its research found that 50% of employees surveyed did not have flexible working arrangements, such as flexitime and part-time working. Furthermore, 20% of respondents revealed that their organisation did not offer any flexible working arrangements.
While the survey also saw a huge increase in working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CIPD noted that more than two in five employees were not able to work from home, largely due to the nature of their employment.
Mental Health: Commission reveals £8,400 mental health income gap in the UK
The Mental Health and Income Commission, a collaboration of businesses, trade unions and charities led by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, has published a report revealing that the UK’s current mental health income gap is £8,400. The Commission’s report, ‘Closing the gap‘, also found that one in five people with mental health problems in the UK have faced workplace discrimination.
In response, the Commission calls on employers and the government to introduce ameliorative measures and systemic reforms to reduce the pay gap and improve working conditions for workers with mental health problems. These include the right to flexible working for all employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in Statutory Sick Pay and a broadening of its eligibility criteria, as well as introducing a legal pay gap reporting requirement for larger companies to reveal the inequalities and discrimination faced by employees with mental health problems.
Notably, three in ten people with mental health problems experienced an income reduction during the pandemic. More generally, the Commission found that one in five respondents with mental health problems said that they had suffered workplace discrimination due to their condition, including being passed over for promotion or being made redundant. Further, more than two-thirds had their requests for reasonable adjustments rejected or only partly met.
Discrimination: Over 40% of LGB+ workers experienced conflict at work last year
A research report published by the CIPD entitled ‘Inclusion at work: Perspectives on LGBT+ working lives’, has revealed that, over a twelve-month period, more than 40% of LGB+ workers and 55% of trans workers faced conflict in the workplace (use of the term LGB+ in the report’s findings relates to specific ways in which the research was conducted).
The report’s classifications of “conflict situations” include those in which workers were humiliated or undermined, faced discriminatory behaviour, or experienced physical or sexual assault. 18% of trans workers reported feeling psychologically unsafe at work (unable to be accepted, valued, or voice their concerns) and 16% of LGB+ workers felt the same way. This figure fell to 10% for heterosexual workers. The data revealed that trans workers are particularly unsafe in the workplace, with 12% of trans workers experiencing unwanted sexual attention at work and 2% experiencing sexual assault, and at least 50% of workplace conflicts experienced by trans people remaining unresolved.
The CIPD has suggested a range of steps that organisations can take to improve support for LGBT+ staff in the workplace, including initiating company-wide education on inclusion, and the creation of safe spaces and networks for LGBT+ employees and allies.
Pensions: Pension Schemes Act 2021 gains Royal Assent
The Pension Schemes Act 2021 has completed its progress through the parliamentary procedure and received Royal Assent on 11 February 2021 in what the government has called “the biggest shakeup of UK pensions for decades”. The Act contains major changes for both defined benefit and defined contribution pension schemes, including new powers for the Pensions Regulator, and the regulatory frameworks for collective defined contribution schemes and pensions dashboards.
The majority of the Act’s provisions will be brought into force following subsequent statutory instruments and consultations that are expected in the coming months, although several sections containing regulation-making powers take effect from 11 February 2021. The headline issues are tougher powers for the Pensions Regulator, with two new criminal offences with a wide scope and include unlimited fines and up to seven years in jail. There will shortly be a consultation on how it will apply these new powers, with the aim for these to be in use by the autumn. Companies and trustees may need to seek legal advice to ensure they don’t fall foul of any of these new powers. There will also be a new regime for defined benefit contributions with detailed regulations aimed to be published in the second quarter of the year. Certain occupational schemes will need to address climate change risks and opportunities. Again, regulations are to be published. For individuals, there will be a new pensions dashboard. The aim is for this to be provided by the Money and Pensions Service by 2023.
- Redundancy: How a redundancy situation arises doesn’t affect whether it arises or not
- Freedom of Information: Employer withheld qualifications and training information from FOIA disclosure under personal data exemption
- COVID-19: Occupational Health teams urged to consider cold working environments a transmission risk factor
- DBS Checks: New filtering rules for Standard and Enhanced DBS checks
- ACAS: Change to Early Conciliation Rules
- Diversity: Two-thirds of students and graduates do not believe employers recruit a truly diverse workforce
- Race Discrimination: First employer signs up to code of practice on race-based hair discrimination
- Minimum Wage: Just Eat couriers to receive NMW and other benefits
- Contracts: Government consultations on extending the ban on exclusivity clauses, and reforming post-termination non-compete clauses
- Human Rights: Government launches independent review of Human Rights Act 1998
Redundancy: How a redundancy situation arises doesn’t affect whether it arises or not
In Berkeley Catering Limited v Jackson  UKEAT/0074/20/LA(V) the EAT looked at the effect of how the redundancy situation arises on whether a redundancy situation exists or not. In this case, the owner manager of a company named himself CEO and took over management decision-making and operations. As there was already a Managing Director (the claimant), it undermined her position, and the company claimed it no longer had a requirement for her and therefore the need to carry out work of that particular kind had diminished, and she was made redundant. As a result, Mrs Jackson claimed unfair dismissal.
The tribunal found that, as a matter of law and fact, there was no redundancy, and also that there was no business reorganisation constituting some other substantial reason for dismissal. The EAT disagreed and instead held that the tribunal erred in finding that there was no “genuine redundancy” where the employer had arranged matters so that its Director took over the claimant’s duties in addition to his own duties, because those facts established a redundancy situation under section 139(1)(b) Employment Rights Act 1996. The test was whether “one employee was now doing the work formerly done by two, [then] the statutory test of redundancy had been satisfied”, even where the amount of work to be done was unchanged. There was no error in the tribunal’s rejection of the employer’s alternative case of some other substantial reason, holding that if there was a business reorganisation it was not the employer’s true reason for dismissing the claimant. Justice Bourne said “A redundancy situation under section 139(1)(b) either exists or it does not. It is open to an employer to organise its affairs so that its requirement for employees to carry out particular work diminishes. If that occurs, the motive of the employer is irrelevant to the question of whether the redundancy situation exists.” (p.8 para E) He went on to say that even where a redundancy situation exists, it does not necessarily follow that the redundancy was the reason for the dismissal. Additionally, even if the employer proves that the reason was a potentially fair reason such as redundancy, section 98(4) ERA requires the tribunal to decide whether in the circumstances the employer acted reasonably or unreasonably in treating it as a sufficient reason for dismissing the employee. A claim may succeed on the basis of substantive and/or procedural unfairness.
In this case, Berkeley arranged its affairs so that Mr Patel took over the work of the MD, there was a diminution in the requirement for employees to carry out work of that kind, ergo, a redundancy situation. That part of the appeal failed. The next question was whether the dismissal had been fair. A redundancy or some other substantial reason (such as business re-organisation) can be fair, however, the tribunal had not properly considered the unfair dismissal elements of this case because it had found no redundancy so the EAT remitted the questions regarding the fairness of the dismissal back to a new tribunal to be considered.
Freedom of Information: Employer withheld qualifications and training information from FOIA disclosure under personal data exemption
In Kol v Information Commissioner and another (EA/2020/0017P) (6 October 2020) the applicant asked Reigate and Banstead Borough Council (council), the second respondent, for information concerning four specified council officers (including its Head of Planning, a Conservation Officer, a Senior Enforcement Officer and a Graduate Planning Officer). This included their relevant professional qualifications, recent professional development training and training attendance record.
The council withheld the information under section 40(2) (with section 40(3A)(a)) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) (the personal data exemption). The relevant academic qualifications of two of the officers were already in the public domain. The Information Commissioner (IC) rejected the applicant’s complaint.
On appeal, the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) (FTT(IR)) upheld the IC’s decision, holding that the council had been permitted to withhold the information. Disclosure was not necessary to meet the applicant’s (undisputed) legitimate interest in ensuring that council officers were appropriately qualified. Without satisfying the lawful basis in Article 6(1)(f) of the GDPR, disclosure would have breached the first data protection principle of lawful, fair and transparent processing (Article 5(1)(a), GDPR). The FTT(IR) considered that:
- If the applicant’s legitimate aim could be achieved “by something less” than disclosure, disclosure was not necessary. The IC had correctly adopted this approach and was not required to consider Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life).
- When considering the alternatives available, however, the IC was wrong to place much weight on the council’s complaints procedure for challenging the actions of individual officers. This was not a forum for challenging officers’ qualifications or training.
- Together with the publicly available information on two of the officers, the fact that the council required proof of qualifications from would-be employees as part of its recruitment process and that training was provided to officers as required, meant that the applicant’s legitimate interests were met (“by something less”).
The FTT(IR) also held that the IC had been permitted to take a different approach than in Decision notice FS50146907, in which section 40(2) did not prevent disclosure of the professional qualification details, among other information, of all lawyers in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department.
Employee information is commonly requested under FOIA and this decision presents a straightforward but relevant analysis of the framework under section 40 and the GDPR.
COVID-19: Occupational Health teams urged to consider cold working environments a transmission risk factor
Researchers at the St John’s Institute of Dermatology at Guy’s Hospital in London have written an article published in the Occupational Health Medical Journal which suggests that environmental factors including low temperatures, low air exchange rates and metal surfaces increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
In response to the data, the researchers recommend that employers and occupational health teams consider working in cold environments to be an independent occupational risk factor for developing COVID-19. Employers are advised to conduct risk assessments and individual health risk appraisals to identify staff who have pre-existing health conditions and may be predisposed to developing infections. They also noted that additional interventions should be implemented to protect against the cold and that airborne transmission can be reduced by improving ventilation.
DBS Checks: New filtering rules for Standard and Enhanced DBS checks
With effect from 28 November 2020, the criminal records disclosure regime has been amended by the catchily named ‘The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Record Certificates: Relevant Matters) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2020’ (SI 2020/1364) (the Order). The changes were brought about following the decision by the Supreme Court in R (on the application of P) v Secretary of State for the Home Department 2019 UKSC 3. The Supreme Court identified that some elements of the existing filtering rules were disproportionate: the multiple conviction rule, and the warnings and reprimands given to young offenders.
A Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) check enables employers to check the criminal records of current and potential employees in order to ascertain whether or not they are suitable to work with vulnerable adults and children based on the applicant’s criminal record history. For certain positions, a valid DBS disclosure is a legislative requirement. The information disclosed by the DBS check is governed by Part V of the Police Act 1997 (in England and Wales), which sets out when a criminal record certificate (CRC) or an enhanced criminal record certificate (ECRC) must be issued. Both certificates must include any ‘relevant matter’ recorded on the Police National Computer as defined in S.113A(6) of the 1997 Act. The Order has narrowed the definition of ‘relevant matter’ by removing youth cautions (including youth warnings and reprimands) from the scope of the definition, as well as the ‘multiple conviction rule’, which provided that where a person had more than one conviction all their convictions (regardless of their nature) had to be disclosed. Neither of these two matters are now subject to mandatory disclosure.
This means that certificates produced after 28 November will be processed under the new filtering rules, and those issued prior to that date will be in line with the previous rules.
You can read the updated DBS guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-filtering-rules.
ACAS: Change to Early Conciliation Rules
The ACAS Early Conciliation Rules have been updated from 1 December to allow for a standard six weeks for the early conciliation talks. Prior to this, the provisions were one month with a possible extension of a further two weeks.
Diversity: Two-thirds of students and graduates do not believe employers recruit a truly diverse workforce
In a poll recently published by Milkround, 66% of 1,000 students and graduates revealed that they do not believe that employers recruit a truly diverse workforce. Interestingly, the majority stated that, from their perspective, recruitment decisions are based largely on physical appearance (58%), ethnicity (52%) and nationality (52%). These figures are a stark contrast with the fact that 59% of employers see their efforts to recruit a diverse workforce as sufficient.
Looking forward, 62% of students and graduates agreed that the introduction of blind recruitment practices could be effective in reducing unconscious bias. Although the poll revealed that only 14% of employers currently practice blind recruitment, 37% were planning to do so in the near future. For more information on how the blind recruitment process works, read the Milkround blog here.
Race Discrimination: First employer signs up to code of practice on race-based hair discrimination
Unilever is the first employer to sign up to the Halo Collective’s new pledge and code of practice to end race-based hair discrimination in schools and the workplace. It is hoped that the new Halo Code will tackle statistics which reveal that one in five Black women feel societal pressure to straighten their hair for work even though race-based hair discrimination is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.
Minimum Wage: Just Eat couriers to receive NMW and other benefits
Food delivery company, Just Eat, has announced that it will be introducing a range of measures designed to support its couriers and ensure that they receive the national minimum wage. This has been an ongoing issue with rival companies such as Uber and Deliveroo, whose drivers have been found to be workers, rather than self-employed contractors, by the courts. Just Eat will start its new policy in London, with a nationwide roll out in 2021, paying couriers by the hour rather than by the job. It will also pay pension contributions, holiday pay, sick pay and maternity and paternity pay. The move is intended to create a thousand jobs including full-time, part-time and zero-hour work, with couriers being given the choice to opt-in or out of the scheme.
Just Eat’s initiative follows a series of recent cases that have considered the employment status of drivers, couriers and other gig economy workers. The decision of the Supreme Court in Uber v Aslam, which was heard in June 2020, is awaited.
Contracts: Government consultations on extending the ban on exclusivity clauses, and reforming post-termination non-compete clauses
On 4 December 2020, BEIS opened two consultations: one on measures to extend the ban on exclusivity clauses in employment contracts to cover those earning under the Lower Earnings Limit, currently £120 a week, and the other on measures to reform post-termination non-compete clauses in employment contracts.
The extension of the ban on exclusivity clauses in contracts would prevent employers from contractually restricting low earning employees from working for other employers. The government previously consulted on this proposal but decided to only introduce a ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts in 2015. It is revisiting the measure again as it is mindful that low earners have been particularly adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many employers are currently unable to offer their employees sufficient hours for them to make ends meet.
The consultation on reform of post-termination non-compete clauses in employment contracts seeks views on proposals to require employers to continue paying compensation to employees for the duration of a post-termination non-compete clause, requiring employers to confirm in writing to employees the exact terms of a non-compete clause before their employment commences, introducing a statutory limit on the length of non-compete clauses, or banning the use of post-termination non-compete clauses altogether. The consultation follows a call for evidence on the use of non-compete clauses in 2016 which found that they worked well and were a valuable and necessary tool for employers in protecting their business interests.
Both consultations close on 26 February 2021.
Human Rights: Government launches independent review of Human Rights Act 1998
On 7 December 2020, the government announced the launch of an independent review of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) and whether it requires reform.
The review will be undertaken by a panel headed by Sir Peter Gross (a former Court of Appeal judge) and will consider:
- The relationship between the domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), including how the duty to take account of ECtHR case law has been applied in practice, and whether dialogue between domestic courts and the ECtHR works effectively.
- The impact of the HRA 1998 on the relationship between the judiciary, executive and Parliament, and whether domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy.
- The implications of the way in which the HRA 1998 applies outside the territory of the UK and whether there is a case for change.
The government states that the UK remains committed to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the review is limited to examining the structural framework of the HRA 1998, rather than the rights themselves.
The review is expected to report its recommendations in summer 2021. It runs alongside the independent review of judicial review as part of the government’s commitment to examine the constitution and relationship between the government, Parliament and the courts. Ultimately the reviews of the HRA 1998 and judicial review (alongside other workstreams) will deliver their findings to the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission.
- Age discrimination: Establishing group and individual disadvantage for indirect discrimination
- Vicarious Liability: Employee’s practical joke in the workplace goes too far for vicarious liability
- Equality Act: Christian employee’s beliefs against gender fluidity were protected beliefs
- Equality Act: Gender fluid employee awarded £180,000 in compensation following landmark discrimination case
- Whistleblowing: Imposing new contract was a one-off act, not an act extending over a period
- COVID-19: New regulations make self-isolation legal requirement and introduce fines
- COVID-19: Two-thirds of employers see rising interest in flexible working from male employees and better relationships all round
- HR Guidance: CIPD and EHRC publish guide on supporting employees suffering domestic abuse
- Gender Pay Gap: UK Gender Pay Gap legislation much less ”robust” than in other countries, report finds
- Equality: The number of executive positions occupied by women remains “stubbornly low”
- Anti-racism: MHFA England guidance on creating anti-racist workplaces published
- Ethnic diversity: CBI sets new targets to increase racial and ethnic diversity while Legal & General use their vote to force boardroom change
- Data Protection: H&M fined EUR35 million in Germany for GDPR breach after storing “extensive” employee data
Age discrimination: Establishing group and individual disadvantage for indirect discrimination
In Ryan v South West Ambulance Services NHS Trust  UKEAT/0213/19 the EAT has held that an employee was indirectly discriminated against on grounds of age on the basis that she was excluded from applying for a promotion because, while it was open to her to apply, she was not in the employer’s “talent pool“. The pool had been established as a quick way of finding talented employees to fill vacancies at short notice and without having to advertise externally.
The employee established that there had been a group disadvantage since there were statistics to show that there was a reduced likelihood, due to age, of employees aged 55 and above being in the pool. The EAT also held that she was personally disadvantaged because she was not considered for roles that she would otherwise have been considered for because the employer had looked to fill the vacancies from the pool. The employer argued that she had not tried to access the pool by all routes available to her, but having failed to adduce evidence of this, could not prove that the discriminatory effect of the rule was not at play in her particular case.
The EAT also reminded the parties of the importance of accuracy in how discrimination claims are articulated and of the need to identify group disadvantage before considering individual disadvantage. In this case, neither of the parties had identified in the case management summary or at any time after, that there was inconsistency between the group and the individual disadvantage which was the subject of the complaint.
Vicarious Liability: Employee’s practical joke in the workplace goes too far for vicarious liability
In Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd  EWHC 2613 (QB) the High Court has upheld a county court decision that an employer was not negligent or vicariously liable for the actions of an employee whose practical joke unintentionally caused injury to a contractor at work. The court held that it was expecting too much of an employer to devise and implement a health and safety policy, or other policy or site rules, which descend to the level of horseplay or the playing of practical jokes. It accepted that the contractor had previously made his supervisor aware that there were rising tensions between employees and contractors on-site. However, there was no foreseeable risk of injury as tensions were not so serious as to suggest the threat of violence or confrontation. Increased supervision to prevent horseplay, ill-discipline or malice was therefore not a reasonable step to expect this employer to have identified and taken.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in WM Morrison Supermarkets plc v Various Claimants  UKSC 12 (in which the Supreme Court held that Morrisons was not vicariously liable for the actions of an employee who, without authorisation and in a deliberate attempt to harm his employer, uploaded payroll data to the internet using personal equipment at home) the court held that, although the incident happened in the workplace, the employer was not vicariously liable for the employee’s actions. Those actions were unconnected with any instruction given to the employee in connection with his work and did not in any way advance the purpose of his employer. The workplace merely provided the opportunity to carry out the prank, rather than it being within the employee’s work activities.
Equality Act: Christian employee’s beliefs against gender fluidity were protected beliefs
In the case of Higgs v Farmor’s School ET/1401264/19 an employment tribunal has held that a Christian employee’s beliefs that gender cannot be fluid and that an individual cannot change their biological sex or gender were worthy of respect in a democratic society and could therefore be protected beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. However, the tribunal held that the employee had not been directly discriminated against or harassed because of those protected beliefs. Mrs Higgs worked as a pastoral administrator and work experience manager at Farmor’s School. She had been disciplined and dismissed for gross misconduct for breaching the school’s conduct policy because of the inflammatory language used in her Facebook posts which could have led readers to believe that she held homophobic and transphobic beliefs. Mrs Higgs claimed that she had been directly discriminated against and harassed on the ground of religion and that her beliefs had resulted in her mistreatment.
The tribunal considered that it could distinguish this case from the earlier tribunal decisions of Forstater v CGD Europe and others ET/2200909/2019 and Mackereth v Department for Work and Pensions and another ET/1304602/18 because the employee’s beliefs in this case were not likely to result in discrimination against members of the trans community. In the Mackereth case, the tribunal held that a Christian doctor’s beliefs that God only created males and females and that a person cannot choose their gender, his lack of belief that an individual can be trans, and his conscientious objection to the concept of trans people, were views incompatible with human dignity which conflicted with the fundamental rights of others and so were not protected religious or philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. In the Forstater case, the tribunal held that similar beliefs held by a consultant were not worthy of respect in a democratic society and therefore failed the test in Nicholson (i.e. guidance as to what beliefs should be protected, such as genuinely held, a belief not an opinion or viewpoint, weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others).
The tribunal noted that those decisions were not binding on it and considered that it was a major consideration of the tribunal in both of those cases that the belief held could result in the claimant unlawfully discriminating against a trans person. The tribunal held that it “could see no reason why the belief professed by Mrs Higgs should necessarily result in unlawful action by her” and that “there was no reason to believe she would behave towards any person in a way such as to deliberately and gratuitously upset or offend them”.
Equality Act: Gender fluid employee awarded £180,000 in compensation following landmark discrimination case
In Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover Limited  UKET 1304471/2018, Ms Taylor was an engineer at Land Rover who underwent gender reassignment and became a gender fluid employee. Gender Reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. She was treated so badly as a result of this, she subsequently made claims of harassment, direct discrimination, victimisation, and constructive unfair dismissal against Land Rover.
In his judgment for the Claimant, Judge Hughes said it was appropriate
to award aggravated damages in this case because of the egregious way the claimant was treated and because of the insensitive stance taken by the respondent in defending these proceedings. We are also minded to consider making recommendations in order to alleviate the claimant’s injury to feelings by ensuring the respondent takes positive steps to avoid this situation arising again. The claimant’s compensation shall be uplifted by 20% because of respondent’s complete failure to comply with the ACAS Code of Practice in relation to the claimant’s grievance about short term measures to assist her transitioning.Judge Hughes in Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover Limited  UKET 1304471/2018
On 2 October 2020, Ms Taylor was awarded £180,000 in compensation at a remedy hearing following the judgment where it was held that gender fluid and non-binary people were protected from discrimination in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010. Jaguar Land Rover has apologised to Ms Taylor and stated that it will use the outcome to inform its diversity and inclusion strategy.
Whistleblowing: Imposing new contract was a one-off act, not an act extending over a period
In Ikejiaku v British Institute of Technology Ltd  UKEAT/0243/19 the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s finding that imposing a new contract on a senior lecturer following a protected disclosure he had made about suspected tax evasion was a “one-off” act with continuing consequences, rather than an act extending over a period. This meant that time started to run on the whistleblowing detriment claim at the point when the contract was imposed, not when the lecturer was dismissed. The EAT considered the authorities on what constitutes a continuing act, which showed that a typical, but not exhaustive, example is where the employer’s act constitutes a policy or rule. It concluded that the “act” in the present case did not constitute a policy or rule, nor was there any basis for concluding that it was an act “extend[ing] over a period” under section 48(4)(a) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
However, the EAT allowed an appeal against the tribunal’s finding that the lecturer was not entitled to an uplift on the compensatory award for an automatic unfair dismissal claim, because disciplinary procedures, both generally and those contained in the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, have no application to a dismissal on the ground of a protected disclosure. While the tribunal had been correct insofar as the application for an uplift related to disciplinary procedures, on a fair reading the application also extended to the grievance section of the ACAS Code, which refers to “concerns, problems or complaints” raised by employees. The employer had accepted that a protected disclosure made the day before dismissal fell into this category and so potentially engaged the provisions of section 207A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
COVID-19: New regulations make self-isolation legal requirement and introduce fines
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1045) came into force on 28 September. The Regulations (which only apply in England) require anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or has been officially notified by NHS Test and Trace that they have been in contact with someone who has, to self-isolate for ten or 14 days respectively.
Self-isolating workers (including agency workers) who are due to go into work must notify their employer (or the employment business or client in the case of an agency worker) that they are required to self-isolate, as soon as reasonably practicable and not later than their next working day. In the case of agency workers, the recipient of the notification must inform others in the agency chain.
Where an employer of a self-isolating worker or self-isolating agency worker is aware of the worker’s requirement to self-isolate, they must not knowingly allow them to come into work.
Anyone who unreasonably fails to self-isolate is liable to be fined between £1,000 and £10,000 for repeat offences and serious breaches. Employers also risk the same level of fines where they knowingly allow self-isolating staff to come to work without reasonable excuse.
COVID-19: Two-thirds of employers see rising interest in flexible working from male employees and better relationships all round
Two-thirds of employers have noticed a growing interest in flexible working from their male employees since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is according to a poll conducted by Working Families, which collected data from a small sample of 26 UK employers in September 2020. Experts say that increased homeworking during the pandemic may have reduced the negative stigma sometimes associated with men requesting less conventional, flexible working arrangements.
The data also suggests a longer-term shift in working practices, with more employees likely to be working flexibly or remotely for at least part of their working week, even after the pandemic has ended. The vast majority of employers also found that productivity had either remained at the same level or even improved with employees working from home. All of the employers found that relationships had improved with employees following lockdown as they now had a better understanding of their employees’ lives. In addition, all employers had offered employees with children the opportunity to work from home and flex their hours, as well as offering wellbeing support, paid leave, acceptance of children appearing on video calls, and changed deadlines and objectives to reflect caring responsibilities. It seems there can be a positive stance to be found out of these tough times, after all.
HR Guidance: CIPD and EHRC publish guide on supporting employees suffering domestic abuse
On 29 September 2020, the CIPD and EHRC published ‘Managing and supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse: a guide for employers’. The guide recommends that employers have a clear policy in place to support employees and a framework of support made up of four steps: recognise the problem, respond appropriately to disclosure, provide support and refer to the appropriate help. It calls for an empathetic, non-judgmental approach and flexibility (for example in working hours or concerning work tasks) as two key areas for employers to focus on. In particular, as many more people are working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, employers will need to consider how to maintain support when escape routes or time apart from an abuser may be dramatically curtailed.
The guide notes that it is not for employers to solve the problem, but they should enable their employees to access professional support, whether in the form of legal or financial advice, housing support, counselling or arranging childcare. It calls for employers to provide paid leave for those struggling to do their work or who need to access essential services. The guide addresses the need for open workplace cultures to break the silence around domestic abuse and for roles and responsibilities, such as those of HR and line management, to be clear when it comes to providing support.
On 9 June 2020, BEIS launched a review of how employers and the government could better support domestic abuse survivors in the workplace. Submissions were required by 9 September 2020 and the review is expected to report by the end of 2020.
Gender Pay Gap: UK Gender Pay Gap legislation much less ”robust” than in other countries, report finds
A report entitled ‘Gender Pay Gap Reporting: a comparative analysis‘ has been published by the Fawcett Society and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, which analysed the gender pay gap reporting legislation of ten countries. The report has revealed that the UK is “unique in its light-touch approach” to tackling the gender pay gap. In particular, the related research highlighted the UK’s failure to require private employers to produce action plans for reducing their gender pay gap, with only one other country, Austria, also not requiring this.
Interestingly, the report placed the UK ahead of its peers in terms of transparency and compliance; in 2019, 100% of eligible employers reported their statistics. However, the report did call for the pay gap reporting requirement currently applicable in England, Scotland and Wales to be extended beyond companies with 250 employees or more.
Equality: The number of executive positions occupied by women remains “stubbornly low”
The ‘Female FTSE Board Report 2020’, published by Cranfield School of Management and EY, which looks at trends in female representation on FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 boards each year, has found that the record number of women on boards is failing to translate into genuine equality in senior roles. Despite significant progress in the number of non-executive directors on FTSE 100 boards (where women now account for a record 40.8% of non-executive directors), the increase in the number of executive positions being awarded to women remained “stubbornly low“. In June 2020, less than one in seven executive director roles (13.2%) were held by women, with women filling just five out of 100 chief executive roles. Women fared worse in the FTSE 250, where they held 11.3% of executive director roles.
The report warns that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse gender equality progress and notes that the unequal burden of care placed on working women during the lockdown was likely to exacerbate existing gender inequalities and the gender pay gap.
Anti-racism: MHFA England guidance on creating anti-racist workplaces published
Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA England) has collaborated with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Business in the Community (BITC) to publish guidance as part of the ‘My Whole Self campaign’. The guidance promotes the mental health and wellbeing of People of Colour and Black people in the workplace through the creation of an anti-racist environment. The guidance provides practical advice on how organisations, managers and colleagues can be better allies to People of Colour and Black people.
Ethnic diversity: CBI sets new targets to increase racial and ethnic diversity while Legal & General use their vote to force boardroom change
On 12 October 2017, the Parker Review Committee published its final report into the ethnic diversity of UK boards. It recommended that there should be at least one racially and ethnically diverse director on each FTSE 100 board by 2021 and on each FTSE 250 board by 2024. On 5 February 2020, in an update report, the Committee noted that, while companies were not yet up to speed, there had been movement and it might still be possible to meet the targets.
On 1 October 2020, the CBI announced that at the end of October it will be launching ‘Change the Race Ratio’ campaign, a campaign to increase racial and ethnic participation in British businesses. The campaign will identify four Commitments to change which are to:
- Increase racial and ethnic diversity among board members by taking action to ensure that FTSE 100 companies have at least one racially and ethnically diverse board member by the end of 2021 and FTSE 250 companies do so by 2024.
- Increase racial and ethnic diversity in senior leadership by setting clear and stretching targets and publishing them within 12 months of making the commitment.
- Be transparent by publishing a clear action plan to achieve targets and sharing progress through Annual Reports or on company websites. This should include disclosing ethnicity pay gaps by 2022 at the latest.
- Create an inclusive culture through recruitment and talent development processes, fostering safe, open and transparent dialogue, provision of mentoring, support and sponsorship, working with a more diverse set of suppliers and partners (including minority owned businesses) and through data collection and analysis.
Following this announcement, in a letter to FTSE 100 companies, Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), the UK’s biggest fund manager with a 2% to 3% stake in nearly every FTSE 100 listed company, has warned firms that there will be “voting and investment consequences” for companies who fail to diversify their senior leadership team by 2022. Currently, approximately 37% of FTSE 100 companies have all-white boards. LGIM wants all FTSE 100 boards to include at least one black, Asian or other minority ethnic (BAME) member by January 2022. If companies fail to meet that target, it has said that it would openly vote against the re-election of their chairperson or the head of their nomination committee.
Data Protection: H&M fined EUR35 million in Germany for GDPR breach after storing “extensive” employee data
On 2 October 2020, H&M received a fine of EUR35 million for monitoring and recording “extensive details” about hundreds of its employees in Nuremburg, in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Hamburg Commission for Data Protection and the Freedom of Information revealed that the information included details of absences for vacations and sick leave, symptoms of illness and diagnoses, family issues and religious beliefs.
The Commission found that the data was able to be read by up to 50 managers and that this data was used to “obtain a detailed profile of employees for measures and decisions regarding their employment“.
H&M has also agreed to pay out compensation to employees who worked at the Nuremburg site for at least a month since May 2018.