This month’s news provides an update on the effect of the Retained EU Law Bill and the scrapping of the sunset clause, a new smart regulation from the DBT, a report on the post-pandemic economic growth in the UK labour markets, new guidance from ACAS on both managing stress at work and making reasonable adjustments for mental health at work, a new podcast from the HSE to support disabled people in the workplace and a consultation from the EBA on the benchmarking of diversity practices. Lastly, we have the results of research carried out on unfair treatment of parents following fertility treatment.
- Brexit: Government scraps the proposed sunset clause from the Retained EU Law Bill and Minister confirms effect of the Bill on equality and employment rights
- Employment Law: Department for Business and Trade – Smart regulation unveiled to cut red tape and grow the economy
- Flexible Working: House of Commons Committee report on post-pandemic economic growth in UK labour markets
- Health at Work: ACAS publishes new guidance on managing stress at work and making reasonable adjustments for mental health at work
- Disability: HSE launches podcast to support disabled people in the workplace
- Diversity: EBA publishes consultation on guidance on benchmarking of diversity practices
- Sex Discrimination: Research reveals unfair treatment at work after fertility treatment
Brexit: Government scraps the proposed sunset clause from the Retained EU Law Bill and Minister confirms effect of the Bill on equality and employment rights
On 10 May 2023, the government announced that it will scrap the proposed sunset clause from the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. As we have previously reported in our Employment Law News, the sunset clause would have meant that most retained EU law in secondary legislation would have been revoked at the end of 2023. Instead at least 600 pieces of retained EU law will be set out in a revocation schedule, which can be found here. Any laws not listed in the revocation schedule will be retained automatically.
Meanwhile, the Department for Business and Trade has published a response to a letter by the Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, requesting further explanation about the Retained EU Law Bill’s effect on equality rights and protections. The response by the Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister for Women & Equalities, confirms that the Retained EU Law Bill does not intend to undermine equality rights and protections, employment rights or maternity rights in the UK. It sets out that most equality protections will remain unaffected, as they are provided for in primary legislation, in particular the Equality Act 2010 (to which no changes are expected because of the Bill) and any relevant secondary legislation and additional instruments will be considered.
It also highlights that where additional provision is required, the Bill enables the UK Government and the devolved governments to protect the rights and protections of UK citizens. This includes a restatement power which allows departments to codify rights into domestic legislation. The response emphasises that this power will secure rights and protections, by laying them out accessibly and clearly in statute.
The response sets out that the government does not intend to amend workers’ legal rights through the Bill, that the UK provides for greater protections for workers than are required by EU law and that the government remains committed to making sure that workers are properly protected in the workplace.
The response emphasises that the repeal of maternity rights is not and has never been government policy, and that the UK is in fact further along than the EU when it comes to maternity rights.
Employment Law: Government’s “Smart regulation unveiled to cut red tape and grow the economy”
On the 10 May 2023 the Department for Business and Trade published its paper “Smarter regulation unveiled to cut red tape and grow the economy” which the government describes as “the first dynamic package of deregulatory reforms to grow the economy, cut costs for businesses and support consumers …”
The governments announcements include the following proposed amendments to employment law:
- The government is proposing to remove retained EU case law that requires employers to record working hours for almost all.
- Making rolled-up holiday pay lawful. Rolled up holiday pay is where an employer includes a sum representing holiday pay in an enhanced hourly rate rather than continuing to pay workers as normal when they actually take leave. This was ruled to be in breach of the Working Time Directive by the ECJ well over a decade ago.
- The merger of annual leave (20 days derived from the EU’s Working Time Directive) and additional leave (being the additional 8 days holiday provided under the Working Time Regulations). Whilst this appears to be sensible it will be interesting to see how the European case law which specifically applies to the 20 days annual leave, such as what constitutes holiday pay and taking such holiday in the year in which it falls, is dealt with.
- TUPE – there are proposals to do away with the need for elections of employee representatives for businesses with fewer than 50 employees or transfers of fewer than 10 employees.
The government has launched consultation on these points.
The government has also proposed limiting the length of non-compete clauses to three months. This will require the passing of legislation, which, the government says will be dealt with when parliamentary time allows.
So we wait to see exactly what legislative changes come about following these announcements.
Flexible Working: House of Commons Committee report on post-pandemic economic growth in UK labour markets
A House of Commons Committee report says the government must reconsider the need for an Employment Bill in the upcoming King’s Speech to address gaps in employment protections. The government has two months to respond to the committee’s proposals which are on topics including the machinery of government with responsibility for labour market policy; technology and skills development; workers’ rights and protection; and older workers.
The report, which follows on from a Call for Evidence on the state of play in the UK Labour market post-Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, highlights that:
- with 500,000 people having left the British workforce since the start of the pandemic, a shortage of labour weighs heavily on the potential for economic growth;
- economic inactivity has risen among people aged 50 to 64 years;
- the way in which the recommendations of the Taylor Review have been implemented has been fragmented and drawn-out;
- the enforcement of labour market rules is under-resourced.
It calls on the government to:
- consider establishing a Ministry of Labour and appoint a new Minister of State for Labour in the Cabinet, as well as a Cabinet Committee on Labour;
- take various actions in respect of technology and skills;
- reconsider the need for an Employment Bill in the upcoming King’s Speech to address gaps in employment protections;
- consider new legal structures for flexible work that include appropriate rights and protections for workers;
- provide more protection for workers from any damaging effects of night-time working;
- pursue the creation of the planned single enforcement body which would clarify rights of redress for those most in need;
- continue and expand support for older workers.
It also calls on businesses to:
- be more open to create more flexible constructions of work;
- offer more flexible working opportunities to benefit from a huge untapped pool of older workers and to assess whether their recruitment practices and workplaces are ‘ageist’.
Health at Work: ACAS publishes new guidance on managing stress at work and making reasonable adjustments for mental health at work
Managing stress at work:
ACAS has published new advice for employers on managing stress at work after YouGov revealed 33% of British workers disagreed that their organisation was effective at managing work-related stress. YouGov was commissioned by ACAS and surveyed just over 1,000 employees in Great Britain. ACAS sets out that stress can be caused by demands of the job, relationships at work, poor working conditions and life events outside of work such as financial worries. An ACAS poll in March 2023 revealed that 63% of employees felt stressed due to the rising cost of living.
Advice for employers on managing stress at work include:
- looking out for any signs of stress among staff. Signs include poor concentration, tiredness, low mood and avoiding social events;
- being approachable available and have an informal chat with staff who are feeling stressed;
- respecting confidentiality and being sensitive and supportive when talking to staff about work-related stress;
- communicating any internal and external help available to staff such as financial advice if the cost of living is a cause of stress.
ACAS states that creating a positive work environment can make employees healthier and happier at work, reduce absence levels and improve performance.
ACAS advice on managing stress can be accessed here.
Making reasonable adjustments for mental health at work:
ACAS has published new guidance for employers and workers on reasonable adjustments for mental health. ACAS states that ‘employers should try to make reasonable adjustments even if the issue is not a disability’. The guidance covers:
- what reasonable adjustments for mental health are;
- examples of reasonable adjustments for mental health;
- what reasonable adjustments can be made for mental health;
- requesting reasonable adjustments for mental health;
- responding to reasonable adjustments for mental health requests;
- managing employees with reasonable adjustments for mental health;
- reviewing policies with mental health in mind.
ACAS has also published case studies exploring how different organisations have helped staff with reasonable adjustments for mental health.
Disability: HSE launches podcast to support disabled people in the workplace
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a new podcast aiming to help employers support disabled workers and those with long-term health conditions in the workplace. The podcast features discussion by host Mick Ord, former BBC Radio journalist, Moya Woolley, Occupational Health Policy Team Leader at HSE and Rebecca Hyrslova, Policy Advisor at Federation of Small Businesses (FSB); and offers advice for employers on how to create a supportive and enabling workplace, take an inclusive approach to workplace health, understand the work barriers that impact on workers, make suitable workplace adjustments or modifications, develop skills, knowledge and understanding, use effective and accessible communication, and support sickness absence and return to work.
Diversity: EBA publishes consultation on guidance on benchmarking of diversity practices
The European Banking Authority (EBA) has launched a consultation on guidelines on the benchmarking of diversity practices including diversity policies and the gender pay gap pursuant to Articles 75(1) and 91(11) of the Capital Requirements Directive IV (Directive 2013/36/EU) (CRD IV) and Article 34(1) of the Investment Firms Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/2034). The EBA has been collecting data on diversity since 2015 based on information requests. The EBA hopes that the issuance of these guidelines will lead to a higher level of transparency regarding the EBA’s work on the topic of diversity and gender equality and will help improve the quality of the collected data as well as the awareness of all stakeholders on these topics. The new reporting format is expected to apply for the collection of data in 2025 for the financial year 2024. Responses are sought to the consultation by 24 July 2023.
Sex Discrimination: Research reveals unfair treatment at work after fertility treatment
Pregnant Then Screwed published a press release during Infertility Awareness Week revealing the unfair treatment women face in the workplace due to their reproductive health. Research has revealed that of the 43% of women who informed their employer of their fertility treatment, one in four did not receive any support from their employer. One in four women also experienced unfair treatment because of undergoing fertility treatment. Unfair treatment was also experienced by 22% of women who disclosed their pregnancy loss to their employer while 6% of partners who disclosed the same faced negative treatment.
The press release confirms Pregnant Then Screwed will be launching a new programme to help employers deal with reproductive health issues in the workplace better. They will be hosting a Women in the Workplace seminar for businesses to find out more about the new training and accreditation scheme which signals fertility friendly employers. This free event will take place in June 2023.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: email@example.com
We start off the new year with a Court of Appeal decision on whether a worker who declined to go back to work for fear of COVID-19 was unfairly dismissed or not, the first of its kind at this level. We also take a look at two discrimination cases, a Court of Justice of the European Union case about requirements on employers to provide ‘special corrective appliances’ (such as glasses), and a claim for misuse of private information concerning the reasonable expectation of privacy in private WhatsApp messages.
- COVID-19: First Court of Appeal decision on the application of ERA 1996, s.100(1)(d) to COVID-19 dismissals
- Discrimination: Whether PCP requiring disabled employee to work full-time had been applied, despite employer having part-time roles
- Discrimination: Narrow test for marital status discrimination confirmed
- Health & Safety at Work: Display screen equipment and the provision of spectacles by employers
- Data Protection: Misuse of private information and abuse of process
COVID-19: First Court of Appeal decision on the application of ERA 1996, s.100(1)(d) to COVID-19 dismissals
In Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting  EWCA Civ 1659, the claimant worked for the respondent as a laser operative in a large warehouse-type space about the size of half a football pitch in which usually only five people would be working. Following the first national ‘lockdown’ on 23 March 2020, the respondent told employees that the business would remain open, asked staff to work as normally as possible and stated ‘we are putting measures in place to allow us to work as normal’. Recommendations were made by an external risk assessment covering most of the things which were already in place before it was undertaken. The claimant left work as usual on 27 March 2020, having not made any complaint about his conditions at work. He obtained a self-isolation note until 3 April 2020 due to having a cough. On 29 March 2020, the claimant told his line manager he had to self-isolate because one child was high risk with sicklecell and a 7 month old baby. His manager agreed. Unfortunately, during this period he drove a friend who had broken his leg to hospital and at some point worked in a pub during the lockdown. On 24 April 2020 he found out he’d been dismissed and was sent his P45.
The claimant made a claim for unfair dismissal on the grounds of health and safety. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996), s.100(1)(d), any dismissal of an employee will be automatically unfair, if the reason (or, if more than one, the principal reason) for the dismissal is that, in circumstances of danger which the worker/employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which they could not reasonably have been expected to avert, the employee:
- left or proposed to leave, or
- (while the danger persisted) refused to return to
their place of work or any dangerous part of their place of work. ‘Dangers’ in this context are not limited to dangers arising out of the workplace itself, but also cover dangers caused by the behaviour of fellow employees.
The questions that the employment tribunal has to decide in a case under ERA 1996, s.100(1)(d) are:
- Did the employee believe that there were circumstances of serious and imminent danger at the workplace? If so:
- Was that belief reasonable? If so:
- Could they reasonably have averted that danger? If not:
- Did they leave, or propose to leave or refuse to return to, the workplace, or the relevant part, because of the (perceived) serious and imminent danger? If so:
- Was that the reason (or principal reason) for the dismissal?
The tribunal rejected the claim for a number of reasons, including that his evidence was inconsistent, his beliefs of serious imminent danger were not supported by his actions (driving his friend to hospital and working in a pub) and not related to his workplace but to the world at large, he had made no complaint about his specific working conditions, and the measures put in place by the employer (if followed) would make the business as safe as possible from infection.
The claimant appealed, arguing that the tribunal had erred in law by concluding that because his belief was one of a serious and imminent danger at large (i.e. in the whole community), his belief that his workplace presented a serious and imminent danger was not objectively reasonable. The Court of Appeal, like the EAT before it, dismissed the appeal because the claimant’s case failed on its own facts. While the coronavirus pandemic could, in principle, give rise to circumstances of danger that an employee could reasonably believe to be serious and imminent, this was not the situation in this particular claimant’s case in respect of his workplace.
The Court of Appeal has confirmed that, on the particular facts of this case, where the employee refused to return to work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in circumstances where the employer had put in place social distancing in the workplace and other measures like handwashing and face masks, the employment tribunal did not err in law in concluding that the claimant had not reasonably believed that there were circumstances of danger which were serious and imminent, or which could not be reasonably averted, and as result the dismissal was not automatically unfair under section 100(1)(d) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996).
Guidance was given on the interpretation of ERA 1996, s 100(1)(d) including that:
- it is sufficient that the employee had a (reasonable) belief in the existence of the danger as well as in its seriousness and imminence. They do not also have to prove that objectively such circumstances of danger did in fact exist;
- the subsection does not apply where the perceived danger arose on the employee’s journey to work. The perceived danger must arise at the workplace. However it does not follow that the danger need be present only at the workplace;
- while the paradigm case under ERA 1996, s 100 (1)(d) is where a danger arises by reason of some problem with the premises or equipment, there is nothing about the risk of employees infecting each other with a disease that takes it outside the scope of the subsection: the tribunal will have to decide whether on the particular facts of each case it amounts to a serious and imminent danger.
While the outcome of this case ultimately turned on its own particular facts, the judgment is nonetheless of interest because it is the first appeal to reach the Court of Appeal on the application of ERA 1996, s 100(1) to dismissals related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Discrimination: Whether PCP requiring disabled employee to work full-time had been applied, despite employer having part-time roles
In Davies v EE Ltd  EAT 191, the EAT considered what amounted to a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) for the purposes of a disability discrimination claim relating to an alleged failure to make reasonable adjustments.
The employee, who was employed full-time, relied on two PCPs, which she contended had left her at a substantial disadvantage: (i) a requirement for employees to complete a full-time working pattern of 40 hours per week, with each shift approximately 9½ hours in length, and (ii) a requirement for employees to complete the shifts without agreeing any reduction in hours. The employment tribunal held that because the respondent employed some employees on a part-time basis and had allowed the claimant a phased return to work, neither PCP had been made out on the facts.
The EAT held that the tribunal had erred in law in concluding that the fact that the employer had other staff who worked part-time had meant that a PCP of requiring the employee to work her contracted hours of 40 per week had not been applied to her. Also, the fact that a temporary adjustment had been made during the employee’s phased return to work did not mean that the PCP had ceased to exist.
Discrimination: Narrow test for marital status discrimination confirmed
In Ellis v Bacon  EAT 188, the EAT considered a matter of two married director/shareholders whose messy divorce impacted the divorcing wife’s income from the company. Another director, Mr Ellis, sided with the husband, Mr Bacon, in relation to the marital dispute and was compliant with him in removing the Mrs Bacon’s directorship, not paying her dividends, reporting her to the police and suspending and dismissing her on spurious grounds. The employment tribunal held that these actions involved less favourable treatment by Mr Ellis against Mrs Bacon because of her marital status as a wife to Mr Bacon. Mr Ellis appealed.
The EAT held that in a claim of direct discrimination because of the protected characteristic of marriage, the employment tribunal must consider whether it was the claimant’s marital status which was the cause of the less favourable treatment and not the fact that they were married to a particular person. Further, an appropriate hypothetical comparator is someone in a close relationship but not married, and the tribunal must consider whether such a person would have been treated differently.
A person directly discriminates against another person where they treat them less favourably than they treat or would treat others, and they do so because of a protected characteristic. Marriage and civil partnership are protected characteristics. A person has the protected characteristic of marriage if the person is married (which includes a person who is married to a person of the same sex); of civil partnership if the person is a civil partner. Note that people who are not married, or not civil partners, do not have this protected characteristic.
Cases on discrimination because of marriage are very rare. This judgment confirms that the test is to be narrowly construed, with the causative reason for the less favourable treatment being the marital status and not:
- the identity of the spouse, or
- the closeness of the relationship.
As a result, there seems very limited scope for claimants to bring successful claims in the context of modern society and the legal concept of protection on grounds of marital status looks increasingly like an outdated concept.
Health & Safety at Work: Display screen equipment and the provision of spectacles by employers
In TJ v Inspectoratul General pentru Imigrări, C-392/21, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that Article 9 of Council Directive 90/270/EEC, on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment, which is implemented in the UK by regulation 5 of the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, must be interpreted as follows:
- there is no requirement for a causal link between display screen work and potential visual difficulties;
- ‘special corrective appliances’ include spectacles aimed specifically at the correction and prevention of visual difficulties relating to work involving display screen equipment;
- those ‘special corrective appliances’ are not limited to appliances used exclusively for professional purposes, i.e. they may be used at other times too; and
- the employer’s obligation to provide the workers concerned with a special corrective appliance may be met by the direct provision of the appliance to the worker by the employer or by reimbursement of the necessary expenses incurred by the worker, but not by the payment of a general salary supplement to the worker.
Data Protection: Misuse of private information and abuse of process
In FKJ v RVT  EWHC 3 (KB), which concerned a claim for misuse of private information, the court considered the extent to which there can be a reasonable expectation of privacy in private WhatsApp messages found at work, and how such material should be dealt with in the context of ongoing legal proceedings. FKJ brought a claim in the employment tribunal against her former employers on the grounds of sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal, amid allegations of sexual harassment by the first defendant, RVT. FKJ lost that employment tribunal claim, in large part due to evidence deployed by RVT which consisted of some 18,000 of FKJ’s private WhatsApp messages. Prior to that tribunal hearing, the defendants had come to be in possession of a complete log of messages exchanged between FKJ and both her partner and her best friend, some of which were ‘of the most intimate kind’. FKJ brought a claim for misuse of private information.
While there was some dispute over how RVT came to be in possession of these messages, spanning a period of two years, FKJ only became aware of them being in his possession when she received the defendants’ grounds of resistance in the employment tribunal proceedings. FKJ chose not to seek exclusion of those messages from evidence, or to seek aggravated damages as a result of RVT’s conduct. Instead, FKJ chose to pursue a claim for misuse of private information in the High Court.
RKJ brought a counter claim grounded in the common law torts of malicious prosecution and abuse of process, and harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. RVT also sought to strike out the claim and seek summary judgment on his counterclaim. As a fall back, the defendants sought payment of significant sums into court by FKJ as a condition of the proceedings continuing.
The court gave short shrift to the defendants’ applications, reaching the ‘clear conclusion that they are without merit’. Parts of the applications were ‘not worthy of serious consideration’ and appeared to be ‘an attempt to stifle a claim that the defendants would prefer not to contest on its merits’. Both the strike out and summary judgment applications were dismissed.
[Written by Charlotte Clayson, partner at Trowers & Hamlins LLP, for Lexis+.]
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Whilst strikes were temporarily abandoned in England as a mark of respect for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and her funeral, the unions have not been resting. Several unions have started judicial review proceedings against the government in response to new regulations regarding the use of supply agency workers. The tribunals have been reviewing COVID-related employment issues, how far a belief in one’s football team can be stretched and protecting a woman’s right to a private life versus the rights of the claimant to a fair trial and freedom of expression. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has been considering the matter of confiscating earnings received by a CEO who got the job by lying about his experience.
- Strikes: Unions commence judicial review of regulations permitting supply of agency workers during strikes
- COVID-19: Two and a half weeks is not long enough for long COVID to become a disability
- COVID-19: Requirement for employees to exhaust holiday and TOIL before receiving further paid leave for COVID-related absences was not discriminatory
- Equality Act: Supporting a football club is not a protected philosophical belief
- Human Rights: EAT makes anonymity order to protect non-party and non-witness who was subject of false lurid sexual allegations
- Fraud: A confiscation order should strip the profit from fraudulently obtained employment
Strikes: Unions commence judicial review of regulations permitting supply of agency workers during strikes
Separate but similar judicial review proceedings have been issued by unions in response to new regulations that allow employment businesses to supply agency workers to replace striking staff.
The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/852) came into force on 21 July 2022 and have already resulted in a report by the TUC to the International Labour Organization over alleged infringement of workers’ rights to strike.
Unison issued proceedings in the High Court on 13 September 2022, arguing that the government’s decision is unfair and is based on unreliable and outdated evidence from a 2015 consultation. It also argues that the government has failed to consider Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which protects the right to freedom of association, and international labour standards on the right to strike.
On 20 September 2022, the TUC began similar proceedings in collaboration with 11 other unions, arguing that the Secretary of State failed to consult unions, in contravention with the Employment Agencies Act 1973, and that the regulations violate Article 11 of the ECHR. The teachers’ union, NASUWT, has also announced its intention to issue proceedings. The claims are all likely to be heard together.
A response is required from the Business Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, within 21 days of proceedings being issued.
COVID-19: Two and a half weeks is not long enough for long COVID to become a disability
In Quinn v Sense Scotland ETS/4111971/2021, an employment tribunal has determined that an employee who caught COVID-19 two and a half weeks before her dismissal did not have long COVID and was not disabled under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) at the relevant time.
Mrs Quinn was employed as Head of People. She tested positive for COVID-19 on or around 11 July 2021. She subsequently experienced fatigue, shortness of breath, pain and discomfort, headaches, and brain fog. These symptoms affected her everyday life and disrupted her sleep. She struggled with shopping and driving and stopped socialising and exercising. On 26 July, she contacted her GP to arrange an appointment. On 27 July, she was dismissed from her employment. She consulted with her GP on 2, 8 and 22 August, during which time she was deemed unfit to work due to ongoing symptomatic COVID-19. On 12 September, she was deemed unfit to work due to post-COVID-19 syndrome and diagnosed with long COVID.
Mrs Quinn brought a direct disability discrimination claim, among other claims. As a preliminary issue, a tribunal had to determine whether she was disabled at the time of her dismissal. She relied on the impairment of long COVID including having COVID-19 for longer than normal. She submitted that COVID-19 and long COVID are part of the same condition, and that other 50-year-old women with no underlying health conditions recovered more quickly than her after two weeks. Consequently, it could have been predicted that she would experience long COVID.
An employment tribunal found that she was not disabled under the EqA 2010 for the following reasons:
- At the time of her dismissal, she did not have long COVID. She was not diagnosed with long COVID until some six weeks later.
- While the impairment of COVID-19 had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, this effect had lasted only two and a half weeks at the relevant time and was not long term.
- The substantial majority of people who catch COVID-19 do not develop long COVID. Accordingly, it cannot be said that the risk of developing long COVID “could well happen“.
Mrs Quinn’s case could be distinguished from that of Mr Burke, who had been absent from work with COVID-19 for nine months at the time of his dismissal.
COVID-19: Requirement for employees to exhaust holiday and TOIL before receiving further paid leave for COVID-related absences was not discriminatory
In Cowie and others v Scottish Fire and Rescue Service  EAT 121 , the EAT (Eady P) has held that it was not discriminatory for the fire service to require employees to have used up accrued holiday and time off in lieu (TOIL) before being eligible to apply for additional paid “special leave” to cover COVID-19 related absences.
Two groups of employees brought discrimination claims in relation to this requirement. One group alleged indirect sex discrimination under section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) and the other alleged discrimination arising from disability under section 15 of the EqA 2010.
The tribunal dismissed the section 19 claims because there was no evidence of group disadvantage to women. It upheld the section 15 claims, agreeing that the requirement to exhaust holiday and TOIL was unfavourable treatment. However, it did not award any compensation since there was no evidence of any injury to feelings. The claimants and the employer appealed to the EAT.
The EAT allowed the employer’s appeal. In relation to the section 15 claims, the tribunal had identified the relevant treatment as being the requirement to use up holiday and TOIL. However, this requirement only arose when the claimants sought access to paid special leave. It was wrong to separate the conditions applicable to the benefit from the benefit itself. The relevant treatment was therefore the granting of paid special leave. This was clearly favourable treatment. The treatment could have been more favourable if the conditions were removed, but it did not become unfavourable simply because it could, hypothetically, have been more favourable.
The same error arose in relation to the section 19 claims. The PCP was defined as the requirement to exhaust TOIL or annual leave. However, the PCP only operated in the context of the paid special leave policy. Since the provision of paid special leave was clearly favourable, the PCP could only amount to a disadvantage if the conditions of entitlement were artificially separated from the benefit itself.
The EAT therefore found that neither the section 15 nor the section 19 claims could succeed. Nevertheless, it considered and rejected the claimants’ grounds of appeal, finding that the tribunal had been entitled to conclude that there was not sufficient evidence:
- To show group disadvantage in the section 19 claims.
- To justify an award of compensation for injury to feelings in the section 15 claims.
Equality Act: Supporting a football club is not a protected philosophical belief
At a preliminary hearing in McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd and others  UKET/4110538, an employment tribunal has held that supporting Rangers Football Club (Rangers) does not amount to a protected philosophical belief within the meaning of section 10(2) of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).
Mr McClung had supported Rangers for 42 years, was a member of the club and received yearly birthday cards from them. He never missed a match and spent most of his discretionary income on attendance at games, as well as watching them on television. He believed supporting Rangers was a way of life and as important to him as attending church is for religious people.
The tribunal defined Mr McClung’s belief as being a supporter of Rangers but concluded that it was not capable of being a protected philosophical belief. While it was not in dispute that the belief was genuinely held, the tribunal concluded that the remaining Grainger criteria were not satisfied for the following reasons:
- The tribunal had regard to the explanatory notes to the EqA 2010 which provide that adherence to a football team would not be a belief capable of protection. The definition of “support” (being “actively interested in and concerned for the success of” a particular sports team) contrasted with the definition of “belief” (being “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof”). Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was akin to support for a political party, which case law had made clear does not constitute a protected philosophical belief.
- Support for a football club is akin to a lifestyle choice. It did not represent a belief as to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and had no larger consequences for humanity as a whole. There was a wide range of Rangers fans with varying reasons behind their support, shown in different ways.
- There was nothing to suggest fans had to behave, or did behave, in a similar way. Support for the Union and loyalty to the Queen were not prerequisites of being a Rangers supporter as Mr McClung had submitted. The only common factor was that fans wanted their team to do well. It therefore lacked the required characteristics of cogency, cohesion and importance.
- Support for Rangers did not invoke the same respect in a democratic society as matters such as ethical veganism or the governance of a country, which have been the subject of academic research and commentary.
Human Rights: EAT makes anonymity order to protect non-party and non-witness who was subject of false lurid sexual allegations
In Piepenbrock v London School of Economics and Political Science  EAT 119, the EAT has held that the identity of a non-party and non-witness (Ms D) was entitled to the benefit of an anonymity order. False lurid allegations of a sexual nature had been made against her, and not granting the order would lead to a substantial risk of her right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) being infringed. Moreover, there was a substantial risk that the claimant, Dr Piepenbrock, who had made the allegations against Ms D, would abuse the court system in a manner contrary to the interests of justice, which would have a serious detrimental effect on Ms D.
HHJ Shanks held that these considerations substantially outweighed the principle of open justice, Dr Piepenbrock’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR and his right to freedom of expression under Article 10, as well as other parties’ rights under Article 10, including the press. Granting the order sought would not seriously impact these rights and principles, as it would remain open to anyone to describe the case in all its detail, save for the identity of Ms D. The fact that the central allegation against Ms D was lurid and found to be untrue substantially reduced the weight to be accorded to the Article 10 rights at play.
The EAT granted an indefinite order protecting Ms D’s identity from becoming public and maintaining Ms D’s anonymity in an earlier EAT judgment. The order also limited access to documents lodged with the EAT and prevented Dr Piepenbrock or anyone else from disclosing Ms D’s identity. This case serves to highlight the EAT’s power to act to protect individuals’ rights under the ECHR, even where there is no express rule of procedure in the EAT Rules to that effect.
Fraud: A confiscation order should strip the profit from fraudulently obtained employment
In R v Andrewes  UKSC 24, the appellant obtained a CEO position, falsely claiming he had qualifications and relevant experience. He was appointed in December 2004 and remained in post until March 2015. He would not have been appointed had the true position been known. During his time as CEO, he was regularly appraised as either strong or outstanding.
In January 2017, he pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and two counts of fraud. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, and the Crown sought a confiscation order against him. His net earnings during the relevant period were £643,602.91. The available amount was agreed to be £96,737.24, and the judge ordered confiscation of that sum. The Court of Appeal allowed the appellant’s appeal and made no confiscation order, holding that to impose such would be disproportionate. The Crown appealed to the Supreme Court.
Appeal allowed, and confiscation order restored, albeit for different reasons:
- It would be disproportionate to make a confiscation order of the full net earnings as not making any deduction for the value of the services rendered would amount to a further penalty.
- The legal burden of proof in respect of section 6(5) is on the prosecution who must establish that it would not be disproportionate to require the defendant to pay the recoverable amount.
- When considering proportionality, the court should seek to confiscate the difference between the higher earnings obtained through fraud and the lower earnings that would have been obtained if there had been no fraud. This approach takes away the profit made by the fraud.
- The Court held a confiscation order of £244,568 would be proportionate as this represented the 38% difference between his pre-appointment earnings (£54,000 gross) and his post appointment income (£75,000 gross and £643,000 over the course of his fraudulently obtained employment). The recoverable amount was still £96,737.24.
This decision comes across as the kind of compromise more suited to civil litigation than confiscation. The court correctly distinguishes between a job that would have resulted in illegal performance, but acknowledges the appellant stood no chance of getting the job without the falsification of his qualifications. The court was explicit as to its justification for this pragmatic approach, “This is to adopt a principled ‘middle way’ in contrast to either a ‘take all’ approach or a ‘take nothing’ approach“. One wonders if this apparently principled approach will actually lead to fewer appeals on the issue of proportionality in such CV type cases.
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This month we look at the saga of the ‘fire and rehire’ issue affecting Tesco employees and how whistleblowers can be fairly dismissed depending on their conduct. We also have two interesting cases about how direct discrimination can be viewed – the doctor who refused to address transgender people by their chosen pronouns who had not been discriminated against versus the feminist who expressed beliefs which could not be objected to (as core beliefs) even though they were capable of causing offence, and was discriminated against.
- Fire and Rehire: Court of Appeal overturns injunction restraining termination and re-engagement of Tesco employees
- Whistleblowing: Whistleblower’s dismissal not automatically unfair as decision-makers’ view of conduct when making protected disclosures separable from content or fact of disclosures
- Direct Discrimination: EAT upholds tribunal decision that Christian doctor was not discriminated against for refusing to address transgender people by their chosen pronoun
- Direct Discrimination: Gender critical feminist suffered direct discrimination for expressing her beliefs in a manner that was not “objectively offensive”
Fire and Rehire: Court of Appeal overturns injunction restraining termination and re-engagement of Tesco employees
In USDAW and others v Tesco Stores Ltd  EWHC 201, the Court of Appeal has overturned the High Court’s injunction restraining Tesco from dismissing and re-engaging a group of warehouse operatives to remove a contractual pay enhancement known as “Retained Pay“. This had been incorporated through collective bargaining with the trade union USDAW as a retention incentive during a reorganisation. The collective agreement 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.
The High Court had found that there was an implied term not to use termination and re-engagement as a means of removing Retained Pay. However, the Court of Appeal held that such an implied term was not justified. Neither could the employees rely on promissory estoppel since there had been no unequivocal promises related to termination. Furthermore, it was not “unconscionable” to remove a benefit that the employees had already received for over a decade and that far exceeded any redundancy payment to which they would have been entitled had they not accepted the Retained Pay.
In any event, even if there had been a breach, the court held that the injunction was not justified. The court was not aware of any previous cases in which a final injunction had been granted to prevent a private sector employer from dismissing an employee for an indefinite period. Moreover, the terms of the injunction had not been sufficiently clear.
Whistleblowing: Whistleblower’s dismissal not automatically unfair as decision-makers’ view of conduct when making protected disclosures separable from content or fact of disclosures
In Kong v Gulf International Bank (UK) Ltd  EWCA Civ 941, the Court of Appeal has upheld the EAT’s decision that an employment tribunal directed itself properly on the issue of the separability of the protected disclosures made by an employee and the reason in the minds of the decision-makers for her dismissal. The tribunal had properly considered and applied the guidance on the issue set out in authorities such as Martin v Devonshire Solicitors UKEAT/0086/10 and NHS Manchester v Fecitt and others  IRLR 64. Despite the fact that the tribunal had found that the employee’s conduct when making the protected disclosures had been broadly reasonable and she had not, as alleged, questioned her colleague’s professional integrity, her dismissal was not automatically unfair because the decision-makers believed that she had acted unreasonably. The reason for dismissal in the minds of the decision-makers could be properly separable from the fact of the protected disclosures being made. The court rejected the submissions of Protect as intervenor that an employee’s conduct in making a disclosure should only be properly considered separable from the making of a protected disclosure where that conduct constitutes wholly unreasonable behaviour or serious misconduct.
This decision makes it clear that even where a worker’s conduct is not objectively unreasonable when they make a protected disclosure, their employer may escape liability when it treats them detrimentally or dismisses them because it subjectively believes that the manner in which they made the disclosures was unreasonable. However, the court stressed that particularly close scrutiny of an employer’s reasons for treating them detrimentally would be needed in such a case to ensure that the real reason for adverse treatment was not the protected disclosure itself.
It is understood that the employee is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Direct Discrimination: EAT upholds tribunal decision that Christian doctor was not discriminated against for refusing to address transgender people by their chosen pronoun
In Mackereth v DWP  EAT 99, the EAT has held that a tribunal did not err in dismissing a Christian doctor’s claims of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment on grounds of religion or belief because of his refusal to address transgender service users by their chosen pronouns. He relied on his particular beliefs in the supremacy of Genesis 1:27 that a person cannot change their sex/gender at will, his lack of belief in what he described as “transgenderism” and his conscientious objection to “transgenderism“. However, Eady P, sitting with lay members, found that the tribunal had erred in several respects when applying the criteria from Grainger Plc v Nicholson UKEAT/0219/09 to determine whether these beliefs were capable of protection under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010. In particular, the tribunal had erred in holding that the beliefs were not worthy of respect in a democratic society. This threshold must be set at a low level so as to allow for the protection not just of beliefs acceptable to the majority, but also of minority beliefs that might cause offence (approving Forstater v CGD Europe UKEAT/0105/20).
The tribunal had been entitled to find in the alternative that the direct discrimination and harassment claims were not made out. It was permissible to draw a distinction between Dr Mackereth’s beliefs and the way he manifested them, finding that any employee not prepared to utilise a service user’s chosen pronoun would have been treated the same way.
The tribunal had also been entitled to reject the indirect discrimination claim. In holding that the PCPs were necessary and proportionate, it carefully considered the lack of practical alternatives to face-to-face contact with service users. In noting that Dr Mackereth had not identified any further alternatives, over and above those considered and discounted by his employer, this did not amount to the imposition of the burden of proof on him.
Direct Discrimination: Gender critical feminist suffered direct discrimination for expressing her beliefs in a manner that was not “objectively offensive”
In Forstater v CGD Europe and others ET/22200909/2019, an employment tribunal has upheld a claim of direct discrimination on ground of belief, where an individual’s contract was not renewed because she had expressed gender critical beliefs which some colleagues found offensive. This follows an earlier EAT judgment in which her gender critical beliefs had been held to be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. They included the belief that a person’s sex is an immutable biological fact, not a feeling or an identity, and that a trans woman is not in reality a woman. The claimant had described a prominent gender-fluid individual as a “part-time cross dresser” and a “man in heels” who should not have accepted an accolade intended for female executives. She had also left a gender critical campaign booklet in the office (which she later apologised for) and posted a campaign video on twitter containing ominous music and imagery, which argued that gender self-ID put women and girls at greater risk.
The respondents argued that it was the way in which the claimant had expressed her beliefs, and not the fact that she held them, that had been the reason for non-renewal. The tribunal held, following earlier case law, that the way in which a belief is manifested is only dissociable from the belief itself where it is done in a manner which is inappropriate or to which objection can reasonably be taken, bearing in mind an individual’s qualified right to manifest their belief under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this case, the claimant’s tweets and other communications were little more than an assertion of the core protected belief (which could not be objected to even though it was capable of causing offence). In some cases the claimant had been provocative or mocking but this was the “common currency of debate” and was not objectively offensive or unreasonable.
The claimant had also been victimised when her profile was taken off the respondent’s website after she talked to The Sunday Times about her discrimination case. However, her claims of indirect discrimination and harassment were dismissed.
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month including insights on dismissal cases, using without prejudice letters and when injunctive relief may be sought to enforce a non-compete clause. We also have an interesting case on ethical veganism v legality of actions.
- Equality Act: Ethical veganism encompassing an obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering was not a protected belief
- Unfair Dismissal: Statutory cap should be applied to unfair dismissal compensation after deduction of earlier payments made to employee
- Constructive Dismissal: Fundamental breach possible even where employer’s actions do not suggest intention to end employment relationship
- Dismissal: ACAS code applied to discriminatory sham redundancy dismissal
- Injunctive Relief: Interim enforcement of non-compete clauses
- Without Prejudice: Without prejudice letter inadmissible despite exaggerated allegations
Equality Act: Ethical veganism encompassing an obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering was not a protected belief
In Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College ET/2206733/2020, an employment tribunal has found that a belief in ethical veganism encompassing an obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering did not amount to a philosophical belief under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).
Ms Free Miles was a veterinary nurse employed by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). In February 2019, she was arrested by police in connection with alleged burglaries by the Animal Liberation Front. The police found a sick turkey at her flat which she said she had rescued. Following her arrest, Ms Free Miles was summarily dismissed by RVC for reasons including that RVC believed she was connected with an animal rights group that endorsed law breaking and that she had participated in activities including trespass and theft.
Ms Free Miles brought an employment tribunal claim against RVC for, among other things, direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination. She relied on her belief in ethical veganism, arguing that this belief included a moral obligation to take positive action to reduce animal suffering, including trespass on property and removal of animals. By the time of the tribunal hearing, Ms Free Miles had been charged by the police with criminal offences relating to animal rights activities.
The tribunal stated that, had Ms Free Miles’ belief in ethical veganism been limited to the belief that humans should not eat, wear, use for sport, experiment on or profit from animals, it would have had no reservation in concluding that it amounted to a philosophical belief under section 10 of the EqA 2010. It also said that it might have reached the same conclusion had the moral obligation to take positive action to reduce or prevent animal suffering been limited to lawful action.
However, Ms Free Miles’ belief included trespassing on private property and acting in contravention of the law. The tribunal concluded that a belief to take actions that are unlawful and to interfere with the property rights of others could not be worthy of respect in a democratic society, so did not satisfy the fifth element of the test in Grainger Plc v Nicholson  2 All ER 253. Laws were made by democratically elected representatives and had to be obeyed by all citizens. It was not open to individuals to decide which laws to obey and disobey. Ms Free Miles’ discrimination claims therefore failed.
Unfair Dismissal: Statutory cap should be applied to unfair dismissal compensation after deduction of earlier payments made to employee
In Dafiaghor-Olomu v Community Integrated Care  EAT 84, the EAT has held that any payments made by an employer to an employee in respect of an unfair dismissal claim must be deducted from the total compensation sum before the statutory cap is applied.
Mrs Dafiaghor-Olomu won an unfair dismissal claim against Community Integrated Care (CIC). She sought re-engagement and compensation. The tribunal refused re-engagement but awarded £46,153.55 in compensation which CIC paid in full. At a second remedies hearing following a successful appeal, the tribunal increased the compensatory award to £128,961.59. The EAT was required to determine whether the statutory cap should be applied after the earlier payment made by CIC was deducted from the sum of £128,961.59 (leaving an outstanding payment of £74,200, being the amount of the statutory cap in place at the relevant time) or whether the statutory cap should be applied to the total award before the earlier payment was deducted (leaving an outstanding payment of £28,046.45). CIC argued for the latter approach, stating that the former would mean it got no credit for the earlier payment and would be penalised for complying with the tribunal’s original order.
The EAT considered the wording of section 124(5) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. It felt that this showed that Parliament’s intention was for the tribunal to calculate the total compensation due to the employee and then subtract from it any earlier payments made by the employer before applying the cap. However, in reaching this conclusion, the EAT expressed considerable sympathy with CIC. In paying the original compensatory award, CIC had complied with what it perceived to be its duty. Had it foreseen the possibility that the tribunal would increase the award at the second remedies hearing, it would probably have declined to make any payment until the compensatory order was final. Instead, it ended up owing £74,200 plus £46,153.55 instead of just £74,200.
Additionally, the EAT upheld the employment tribunal’s decision not to reconsider its refusal to award re-engagement after the second remedies hearing on the basis that such an order was impracticable because of Mrs Dafiaghor-Olomu’s attitude towards which jobs were suitable for her. It also dismissed a cross appeal in which CIC argued that the employment tribunal had not been entitled to increase the compensatory award at the second remedies hearing.
Constructive Dismissal: Fundamental breach possible even where employer’s actions do not suggest intention to end employment relationship
In Singh v Metroline West Ltd  EAT 80 the EAT has held that, in a constructive dismissal claim, a fundamental breach of contract can be established even where the employer’s actions do not indicate an intention to end the employment relationship.
Mr Singh was invited to a disciplinary hearing by Metroline West Ltd. The next day, Mr Singh was signed off sick by his doctor. While absent, he was examined by occupational health who did not suggest his sickness was not genuine. However, Metroline believed that Mr Singh was trying to avoid the disciplinary hearing. It therefore paid him statutory sick pay only, instead of company sick pay. Mr Singh brought a claim for constructive dismissal, alleging, among other things, that the failure to pay him company sick pay was a fundamental breach of contract.
The employment tribunal found that Metroline had contractual power to suspend Mr Singh without pay if it thought his absence was not genuine, but this power had not been exercised. Separately, Mr Singh’s contract allowed company sick pay to be withheld where, after investigation, absence was found not to be genuine. There was no investigation in this case and no other relevant contractual grounds on which company sick pay could be withheld. There was therefore a breach of contract. However, the tribunal found the breach was not fundamental. By withholding pay, Metroline had not indicated an intention not to be bound by the employment relationship; rather, its aim in withholding pay was to encourage Mr Singh’s participation in a disciplinary process integral to that relationship.
However, the EAT upheld Mr Singh’s appeal on this issue. It was an error of law for the tribunal to adopt the approach that, for the breach of contract to be fundamental, there must have been an intention by the employer not to be bound by the contract in a manner that meant that it no longer wished to continue with the employment relationship. What is required is that the employer demonstrates an intention to no longer comply with the terms of the contract that is so serious that it goes to the root of the contract. In this case, there was a deliberate decision to withhold pay to which Mr Singh was entitled, resulting in a significant reduction in earnings, in circumstances where there were other contractual provisions which would have allowed Metroline to deal with suspicions about his absence. This was a fundamental breach.
Dismissal: ACAS code applied to discriminatory sham redundancy dismissal
In Rentplus UK Ltd v Coulson  EAT 81 the EAT has held that the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (ACAS Code) applied to a discriminatory dismissal purportedly by reason of redundancy. The tribunal had not erred in awarding the maximum 25% uplift available for failure to follow the ACAS Code.
The employer’s ground of appeal that the ACAS Code could not apply where their reason for dismissal was redundancy and the reason found by the tribunal was sex discrimination failed. This was because the tribunal had rejected redundancy as the reason for the dismissal and the upholding of the sex discrimination claim did not mean that it was the only reason for the dismissal. The EAT considered it was implicit in the tribunal’s reasoning that the claimant was in a “disciplinary situation” to which the ACAS Code applied, this being that she was dismissed due to dissatisfaction with her personally and/or her performance, which was tainted by sex discrimination, and a fair capability or disciplinary procedure should therefore have applied.
It was clear that the tribunal had concluded the dismissal process was a sham and there had been a total failure to comply with the ACAS Code. The breach was referred to as “egregious” and so was beyond unreasonable. While, generally, a tribunal should identify the employer’s failings for which an uplift is being made by reference to the relevant part of the ACAS Code which the employer is said to be in breach of, in this case the tribunal had concluded that the employer had acted in bad faith such that there was a total failure to apply any of the protections provided for by the ACAS Code. In these circumstances, there was no error of law in the award of an uplift of 25%.
The EAT provided guidance in the form of questions that tribunals considering an ACAS uplift should apply:
- Is the claim one which raises a matter to which the ACAS Code applies?
- Has there been a failure to comply with the ACAS Code in relation to that matter?
- Was the failure to comply with the ACAS Code unreasonable?
- Is it just and equitable to award an uplift because of the failure to comply with the ACAS Code and, if so, by what percentage, up to 25%?
Injunctive Relief: Interim enforcement of non-compete clauses
In Planon Ltd v Gilligan  EWCA Civ 642 the Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal from the High Court’s refusal to grant an interim injunction to enforce a non-compete clause.
The High Court had held that the delay between the initial exchanges of correspondence between the parties and the application being heard was not the sort of delay that would disqualify the employer from interim injunctive relief. However, the employer’s prospects of success at trial in enforcing the non-compete clause were not that good, the critical point being the non-compete clause was likely to prevent the employee from being able to work in his field for 12 months. Damages would not, or might not, be an adequate remedy for either the employer or employee in this case.
While the Court of Appeal dismissed the employer’s appeal, its reasoning differed from that of the High Court. It held that the High Court had not taken the correct approach when considering whether the non-compete clause was reasonable. However, in view of the delay by the time the matter came before it, the court did not consider it appropriate to express a preliminary view about the enforceability of the clause.
The court considered the effect of delay in the case. There was a divergence of opinion between Elisabeth Laing LJ and Bean LJ, with Nugee LJ expressing no view, on the effect of the delay between the facts becoming known to the employer and the High Court hearing. Elisabeth Laing LJ considered that the judge had reached a decision open to him on the facts while Bean LJ considered that the judge would have been entitled to refuse an injunction on the ground of delay. The court noted that there was no rule of law to the effect that damages would be an adequate remedy for the employee (if it was found that at trial that a restrictive covenant is unenforceable). Bean LJ suggested that, except in cases of very wealthy defendants, or where a claimant employer is offering paid garden leave for the whole period of the restraint, it was unrealistic to argue that damages would be an adequate remedy.
Without Prejudice: Without prejudice letter inadmissible despite exaggerated allegations
In Swiss Re Corporate Solutions Ltd v Sommer  EAT 78 the EAT has held that an employment judge erred when holding that a without prejudice letter could be admitted into evidence under the “unambiguous impropriety” exception to the without prejudice rule in proceedings brought by an employee against her former employer. The without prejudice rule prevents statements made (whether in writing or orally) in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute from being put before the court as evidence of admissions against the interest of the party that made them.
The letter referred to the employee’s actions in having copied three emails to her personal email address when sending them to her employer in pursuit of a grievance. The emails had contained personal data and matters confidential to the employer and its clients. Before offering to settle her complaints by way of termination of her employment and payment of compensation, the letter alleged that the employee’s actions breached the confidentiality obligations in her employment contract, were a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act 2018 and meant that she had acted, or might have acted, without integrity in breach of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rules. This could result in summary dismissal, criminal convictions, fines and FCA findings which could make it difficult for her to work again in the regulated sector.
In holding that the unambiguous impropriety exception applied, the employment judge found that there had been no basis at all for the employer’s assertion that the employee’s actions amounted to serious misconduct and that the severity of what she had done had been grossly exaggerated in order to put pressure on her to accept the termination of her employment.
The EAT held that the employment judge had erred in finding there was no basis at all for the allegations of serious misconduct. It considered that the high threshold for unambiguous impropriety could be met in circumstances in which a party made exaggerated allegations although it was unaware of any decided case on this point. However, exaggeration would not usually pass the threshold without findings as to the guilty party’s state of mind. The employment judge did not make such findings, and the EAT doubted that this could have validly been done at a preliminary hearing without oral evidence. The only possible outcome in this case was that the without prejudice letter was inadmissible in evidence.