Employment Law Newsletter – January 2022
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.
Brexit and data protection – an ongoing saga.
Many businesses who either transfer personal data from the UK to the EU, or in the other direction, have been concerned that the post-Brexit data protection landscape is unclear or more complex than before. The particular concern has been than doing business across borders would require extra steps or additional contracts to be entered into.
When the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020, the UK became a “third country” for GDPR purposes, meaning that transfers of personal data from the EU to the UK would be treated as transfers out of the EU. Those transferring data from inside the EU to the UK would have an obligation to ensure that adequate protections for data subjects were in place before a transfer could be made. This means that transfers or personal data into the UK would require additional mechanisms to protect individuals, such as “standard contractual clauses”, with which business in the UK would only be familiar if they were previously transferring personal data to non-EU countries.
However, the trade and co-operation agreement of 24 December 2020 includes an interim provision dealing with personal data transfer from the EU to the UK. This bridging mechanism provides that during the interim period, the UK will not be deemed a third country, and personal data transfers from the EU to the UK can continue without additional safeguards. The interim period lasts for four months, but is automatically extended for another two months unless either the EU or the UK objects to an extension.
GDPR has been adopted wholesale into UK law in the Data Protection Act 2018, which means that data transfers from the UK to the EU can continue seamlessly, as long as the EU has been given a finding of adequacy by the UK authorities – the UK has already made that decision, so for the time being, and unless the UK position changes in the future, data transfers out of the UK into the EU are dealt with as before.
In the short term, therefore, for most purposes it is business as usual for data transfers in both directions between the UK and the EU. However, this only applies until the end of the interim period referred to above, unless the EU Commission makes a finding of adequacy in respect of the UK’s data protection environment.
Regarding the longer term picture, on 19 February 2021, the European Commission made a draft finding of adequacy in respect of the UK. The Commission issued a press release, stating that it had considered UK law and practice and had concluded that the UK provides an “essentially equivalent” level of protection to that available in the EU.
The finding of adequacy is not yet binding, as it must be approved by the European Data Protection Board and ratified by EU member states. If the finding is adopted, it will last for a period of four years and will be subject to ongoing review of the UK’s continuing data protection environment.
It cannot be guaranteed that the European Data Protection Board and member states will approve the finding of adequacy, and they may ask for additional safeguards in the UK (particularly around the access to personal data by public authorities, such as law enforcement agencies), but the draft findings are a step in the right direction which, if ratified, will ensure that data can continue to flow smoothly between the UK and EU.
If you have any questions and/or would like advice on any Commercial Law matter, please speak to Ben Habershon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or to your usual Dixcart contact.
Employment Law Newsletter – September 2020
- Breach of Contract: £1 damages for copyright infringement and breach of contract by former consultant
- Unfair Dismissal: Teacher suspected of possession of indecent images of children but not prosecuted was unfairly dismissed
- Unfair Dismissal: Lack of trust and confidence may be relevant to practicability of re-engagement
- Unfair Dismissal: No procedure, no problem – where the working relationship has broken down
- Disability Discrimination: Paranoid delusions not sufficient for definition of disability under Equality Act
- Equal Pay: Material factor needs to explain but not justify pay disparity
- COVID-19: HMRC publishes updates to CJRS guidance and template for large employers
- COVID-19: DHSC publishes new guidance for employers on COVID-19 testing
- COVID-19: Amended guidance on working safely, including mandatory Test and Trace
- COVID-19: New HMRC guidance on calculating furlough pay for employees who come off furlough partway through a claim period
- COVID-19: Pandemic leads to backlog of 45,000 employment tribunal cases
- ACAS: Updated ‘Guidance on Managing Staff Redundancies’ published
- Data Protection: ICO launches accountability framework
Breach of Contract: £1 damages for copyright infringement and breach of contract by former consultant
In DPA (London) Ltd v D’Aguanno and others  EWHC 2374 (IPEC) the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) has ruled against the claimant in proceedings for copyright infringement and breach of contract in relation to all but one head of claim, which the defendant admitted. It awarded a nominal sum of £1 in damages.
The claim was brought by a firm of architects against three defendants: two individuals who had worked for it as self-employed contractors, and the company those individuals set up after they stopped working for the claimant. The judge found that the pair had worked for the claimant as consultants rather than employees under a verbal agreement containing certain implied terms.
The first defendant admitted that he had copied and stored three three-dimensional models from the claimant’s projects onto his laptop in order to use them in his portfolio to show the quality of work he had carried out for the claimant. His actions amounted to a breach of the claimant’s requirements to return all copies of the claimant’s works to it when he stopped working for the claimant, and not to remove documents from the claimant’s possession. However, as the models were specific to the sites and jobs done for the claimant, and at least two of the three were from completed projects, it was hard to see what other use the defendant could have made of them, and the judge accepted that he did not in fact put them to any use other than moving them from his laptop to a storage device (which he had since surrendered to the claimant). The evidence did not convince the judge that the defendants had infringed any other copyright works belonging to the claimant, nor was there any evidence that the other defendants had authorised the infringement relating to the models.
Due to the limited scope of the infringement, the judge considered that it would be disproportionate to have a full quantum trial, so he went on to assess damages. The defendant’s actions had not given rise to any need to re-create the models, and as he had not put the material to commercial use, his retention of the material had not caused the claimant any commercial loss either. Since no loss had been suffered, the judge awarded nominal damages of £1 for copyright infringement and breach of contract.
Unfair Dismissal: Teacher suspected of possession of indecent images of children but not prosecuted was unfairly dismissed
In K v L  UKEAT 0014_18_2404 the EAT has held that a teacher was unfairly dismissed for misconduct after he was charged with possession of indecent images of children, but not prosecuted. The teacher admitted that a computer in his home was found to contain indecent images but denied that he was responsible for downloading them. The school found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the teacher was responsible for the images but decided that he should be dismissed in any event because allowing the teacher to return to his post would pose an unacceptable risk to children. In its dismissal letter, the school also referred to the “serious reputational damage” which would be caused if the teacher was subsequently found guilty of this kind of offence and the school had been aware of the allegations.
Allowing an appeal, the EAT held that the complaint as set out in the disciplinary invitation was based solely on misconduct and gave no notice that reputational damage was a potential ground of dismissal. In these circumstances, the employer was bound to make a decision on whether the misconduct had been established. Had it done so, it would have been bound to conclude that misconduct had not been established. The EAT could not accept that an employee could be dismissed on the basis of a matter that was only mentioned in an investigatory report, not in the actual complaint. Although reputational damage may be regarded as a separate ground of dismissal (that is, dismissal for ‘some other substantial reason’), it raises separate considerations to those in a misconduct dismissal, and this must be made clear from the outset. In this case, the teacher had not been given an opportunity to address the reputational issue in any detail at the disciplinary hearing.
Considering whether a fair dismissal would have been possible, had the school referred to reputational damage in the original complaint as set out in the disciplinary invitation, the EAT found that the scant evidence available meant that the teacher was dismissed in the absence of any information about the nature or seriousness of the images, or the reasons why no prosecution was brought. In the EAT’s view, the evidence was insufficient to support a dismissal based on reputational damage.
Unfair Dismissal: Lack of trust and confidence may be relevant to practicability of re-engagement
In Kelly v PGA European Tour  UKEAT 0285_18_2608 the EAT has held that a tribunal erred in ordering re-engagement to a position for which an employee did not meet an essential requirement of the role and had impermissibly reached its own view on whether concerns about the employee’s capability and integrity had undermined trust and confidence.
Mr Kelly began employment with PGA in 1989 as Marketing Director, eventually becoming Group Marketing Director. A new Chief Executive was appointed in 2015. Within two months, he decided to dismiss Mr Kelly over concerns about his performance and willingness to “buy in” to his ideas. Exit terms could not be agreed. Mr Kelly was dismissed, subsequently bringing an unfair dismissal claim (among other claims). PGA conceded that the dismissal was unfair as a fair procedure had not been followed. When considering remedy, the tribunal decided that Mr Kelly should be re-engaged to the role of Commercial Director, China PGA European Tour. It considered that, while speaking Mandarin was an essential requirement of the role, Mr Kelly’s willingness to learn Mandarin and his proficiency in languages meant that re-engagement was practicable. Moreover, any trust and confidence issues arising from doubts about Mr Kelly’s capability and integrity (he had covertly recorded several meetings) were not so significant as to make re-engagement impracticable.
PGA appealed, arguing that the tribunal had impermissibly considered for itself whether trust and confidence had been damaged instead of asking whether PGA had a rational basis for believing that it had. The EAT allowed the appeal. The question for the tribunal was whether it was practicable to order PGA to re-engage Mr Kelly. It is the employer’s view of trust and confidence, tested by the tribunal as to its genuineness and rational foundation, that matters. The tribunal had therefore erred in reaching its own view. The EAT rejected the argument that trust and confidence is only relevant to practicability where dismissal is based on an employee’s conduct, not capability. The EAT also held that the tribunal had erred in substituting its own view on whether the ability to speak Mandarin was an essential requirement of the role. Requiring PGA to engage someone in a role for which they did not meet one of the essential requirements (genuinely and cogently determined by them and accepted by the tribunal) overstepped the mark and failed to give weight to the employer’s commercial judgment.
Unfair Dismissal: No procedure, no problem – where the working relationship has broken down
In Gallacher v Abellio Scotrail Limited  UKEATS/0027/19/SS the ETA has upheld a decision of a tribunal that, in rather unusual circumstances, an employee can be fairly dismissed without any procedure (including an appeal), after a breakdown in working relations.
The Claimant was a senior manager in the Respondent’s business. Her relationship with her line manager deteriorated at a critical juncture for the business of the Respondent. The Claimant’s manager decided, after consulting with HR, to dismiss her at an appraisal meeting with no procedure, forewarning or right of appeal as the reason for her dismissal was “some other substantial reason” (namely a breakdown of working relations between the two of them). The tribunal found the dismissal was not unfair and also that the Respondent did not know (and could not reasonably have been expected to have known) of her disability (symptoms related to the menopause and depression). The Claimant appealed.
The EAT dismissed the appeal, holding that although any contention by an employer that following a procedure would be futile would be approached with caution, this was one of those rare cases where it was open to the tribunal to conclude that dismissal without any procedure was within the band of reasonable responses. The Claimant was a senior manager whose continued good working relationship with her manager was critical during a difficult period for the Respondent’s business. Moreover, the evidence was that the Claimant recognised the breakdown in relations herself and was not inclined to retrieve the situation. The tribunal found that any procedures at this time would not only have served no purpose but would in fact have worsened the situation.
Disability Discrimination: Paranoid delusions not sufficient for definition of disability under Equality Act
In Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Limited  UKEAT 0317_19_0909 the EAT has upheld a tribunal decision that the Claimant’s disability of paranoid delusions was not sufficiently within the ‘long-term’ definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 as it was not likely to recur, and therefore his claim for disability discrimination failed.
The Claimant was a sales executive with a small finance company. From about July 2013, following a split with a Ukrainian girlfriend, the Claimant suffered paranoid delusions that he was being followed and stalked by a Russian gang. These delusions affected his timekeeping, attendance and record-keeping (which were already a matter of concern even before 2013). However, things improved after September 2013. Whilst there were sporadic references to the Claimant’s poor attitude in that period, it was not until April 2017 that there was a worsening of the effect of the paranoid delusions on his day-to-day activities. The Claimant’s employment was terminated on 8 September 2017, ostensibly for reasons to do with capability and attitude. The Claimant lodged a claim complaining of unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and deduction of wages (amongst others). The tribunal held that he did not have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. However, his claim of unfair dismissal was upheld.
In dismissing the appeal, the EAT held that the tribunal did not err in concluding that the long-term requirement in the definition of disability was not met. It found that the tribunal was entitled to conclude on the evidence that, although there was a substantial adverse effect in 2013 and again in 2017, in neither case was it likely that the adverse effect would last for 12 months or that it would recur. The tribunal had correctly applied “likely” as if it meant “could well happen”, and had approached the question of the likelihood of recurrence correctly. The tribunal also did not err in deciding that the Respondent did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know of the disability.
Equal Pay: Material factor needs to explain but not justify pay disparity
In Walker v Co-Operative Group and another  EWCA Civ 1075 the Court of Appeal has held that an employment tribunal adopted the wrong test when deciding whether an employer could establish a material factor defence to a pay differential between a female HR executive and other male executives. In this case, the tribunal had found that explanations for the differential were no longer material when a job evaluation study was carried out 12 months after their pay had been set and which determined that, at some point during that period, the value of the HR executive’s work had become equal to that of her comparators. This lack of materiality, in the tribunal’s view, led it to conclude that the pay differential could no longer be justified and that the employer could not establish a material factor defence.
However, the test is not whether the employer can prove that the pay disparity is justified, but whether the reason for the difference is causative and whether it is material. The court said that the tribunal’s conclusion overlooked the fact that in respect of each of the comparators there was at least one material factor which remained causative of or which explained the difference in pay at the end of the period in question. Whether the factor justified the difference was not a question for the tribunal.
The court also criticised the tribunal’s decision to leave the exact point at which the claimant’s work became equal to that of her comparators to be determined at the remedy hearing. This was unsatisfactory since it left the starting point of the claim unresolved. The tribunal should either have made a finding as to the date as from which the claimant was doing equal work or found that she had failed to prove this at any stage before February 2015.
Government guidance is being updated frequently and so we would strongly recommend that you check the current guidance at the point when you are making decisions on such guidance.
COVID-19: HMRC publishes updates to CJRS guidance and template for large employers
HM Revenue and Customs has further updated its guidance, Claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and the accompanying claims form template for employers claiming through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for 100 or more employees. The guidance and the “Details” section of the template now require employers to state whether an employee has returned from statutory leave before being put on furlough.
COVID-19: DHSC publishes new guidance for employers on COVID-19 testing
On 10 September 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published Guidance for employers and third-party healthcare providers on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. The guidance advises employers wanting to test non-symptomatic staff against using NHS Test and Trace, and to consider private alternatives. However, there is no obligation on employers to run testing programmes.
The guidance provides information about the types of testing available, as well as summarising relevant legal obligations (including when using apps) in Annex A. The following sections will be of particular interest to employers:
- Before deciding to test staff. Employers are advised, among other things, to consider the scope of any testing programme (for example, whether contractors will be tested), the frequency of testing, arrangements for individuals who refuse to be tested and how test results will be used.
- Communicating the intention to test staff. Employers are advised that any communications should be transparent and outline how any testing programme will operate in practice. Employers are “strongly advised” to consult with staff associations or unions before implementing any policy. They are also reminded of the need to comply with the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018, by ensuring that all data is processed lawfully, fairly and transparently and that staff are aware of how their personal data will be used, shared and kept.
- Contact tracing staff. The guidance anticipates that, although not compulsory, employers may want to introduce internal tracing systems alongside testing programmes. It states that any individual who has been identified as a contact by an internal tracing system, but not by NHS Test and Trace, will not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Provision should be made for them to work from home where possible. If this is not possible, the guidance advises that the individual may remain entitled to full pay unless their employment contract provides otherwise. Individuals do not have to self-isolate unless they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace but are advised to avoid contact with those at “high increased risk” of severe illness resulting from COVID-19.
The guidance also provides information on how to communicate test results and with whom, and what employers can and cannot do with the results. It encourages employers to keep staff informed about potential or confirmed COVID-19 cases but advises that individuals should not be named. The guidance applies to England only, but it states that “equivalent guidance” will be published for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
COVID-19: Amended Government guidance on working safely, including mandatory Test and Trace
The government has recently made several updates to its guidance on ‘Working safely during corona virus (COVID-19)’ for different types of workplace. The guidance applies to businesses in England.
The key changes address the following:
- The rule of six. New regulations restricting indoor or outdoor gatherings of more than six people (with some exceptions, including where the gathering is “reasonably necessary” for work or education) came into force on Monday 14 September.
- Test and Trace. The guidance on NHS Test and Trace has been strengthened. Whereas it previously advised that employers “should” keep records of staff working patterns for a period of 21 days, it now mandates that employers “must” do so. Some employers whose customers attend their premises, such as restaurants, hair salons, sports clubs and heritage locations (but not shops or banks), must now ask at least one member of each customer party visiting the site to provide contact details, “to ensure that businesses are able to remain open“.
- Priority actions. Each guidance document now starts with a list of “priority actions” and further key points to be aware of. Priority actions cover such things as risk assessments, cleaning, face coverings, social distancing, ventilation, Test and Trace records, and turning away anyone with symptoms of COVID-19.
Importantly, the guidance refers to “new regulations” on Test and Trace, with financial penalties for non-compliance, which came into force on 18 September 2020, as set out in a Press release on 10 September.
COVID-19: New HMRC guidance on calculating furlough pay for employees who come off furlough partway through a claim period
On 11 September 2020, HMRC amended its guidance on how employers should calculate the amount of a claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to include a new method of calculation for employees whose furlough or flexible furlough ceases partway through a claim period.
To calculate how many furloughed hours they can claim for in respect of each employee, an employer must work out the employee’s usual working hours in the claim period as well as the number of these hours that the employee has worked and has not worked.
The guidance now states that, when claiming in respect of an employee who comes off furlough or flexible furlough partway through a claim period, an employer should:
- Only calculate the employee’s usual hours up to the last day of furlough, instead of to the end of the claim period.
- Not include any working hours after the last day of furlough.
This applies even if the claim period includes days after the employee’s last day of furlough (for example, because the employer is claiming for multiple employees and some of them stay on furlough).
The amended calculation should be used from 14 September 2020 but employers do not need to amend claims submitted prior to this date.
HMRC’s worked example of how to calculate 80% of wages for a fixed-rate employee who returns to working their usual hours during the claim period (set out in a document containing multiple worked examples based on different scenarios) has been updated to reflect the new method of calculation.
COVID-19: Pandemic leads to backlog of 45,000 employment tribunal cases
According to the Law Society Gazette, Ministry of Justice data shows a backlog of cases waiting to be heard at employment tribunal level that reached 45,000 in August 2020. This represents a 26% increase from the start of March. The Office for National Statistics revealed that the UK’s unemployment rate also rose during this period from 3.9% to 4.1% from April to July 2020. The growing tribunal backlog may be due in part to the increase in redundancies, and in part due to listing difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACAS: Updated ‘Guidance on Managing Staff Redundancies’ published
ACAS has updated its ‘Guidance on Managing Staff Redundancies’. It covers matter such as how to make a redundancy plan, avoiding compulsory redundancies, carrying out consultations, how to select employees for redundancy and given them notice, and working out redundancy pay. It also includes a section on supporting your staff and planning for the future.
Data Protection: ICO launches accountability framework
On 10 September 2020 the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published its accountability framework, designed as a practical tool to help organisations of every size understand what good accountability looks like. It has been launched in beta with the ICO keen to hear feedback on the tool.
The framework includes expectations and examples of how to demonstrate accountability. It also includes an accountability self-assessment tool. It is divided into ten categories which cover topics such as leadership and oversight, policies and procedures, training and awareness, individuals’ rights, transparency, record keeping, contracts and data sharing, risk assessments, record management and security, and breach response and monitoring.
The ICO notes that embedding accountability in an organisation will help to enhance its reputation as a business that can be trusted with personal data.
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