As we welcome in the fresh new year, there is a need to focus on helping employees with health issues as the NHS struggles more than ever. We highlight three areas where employers can make a real difference. Other challenges this year come from union strikes, and the government looks to balance the rights of strikers with continuing to provide minimum levels of service in specified public services in a new bill before the Commons, along with an update on the Neonatal Care Bill which covers parental leave. With people working more flexibly consultations have started on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers.
- Employee Health: Three wellbeing challenges employers will need to tackle in 2023
- Trade Unions: House of Commons library publishes briefing on Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
- Parental Leave: House of Commons publishes update on Neonatal Care Bill
- Holiday Pay: BEIS consults on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers
Employee Health: Three wellbeing challenges employers will need to tackle in 2023
Website, People Management, published an article on 20 January 2023 by Imogen Cardwell (Clinical Operations Director at PAM OH) promoting a proactive approach from employers to address health challenges facing employees including soaring cancer rates, increasing work-related illness and NHS delays. You can read the full article [here] but below is a summarised version.
She reports that with an NHS backlog of more than 7.2 million, it will impact more than a million employees, with 15 per cent of employees affected being forced to go on long-term sick leave, and 40 per cent of cancer patients are having to wait more than the 62-day target for life-saving cancer treatment . At the same time, two-fifths of employees believe work has made them sick, primarily due to work-related stress and musculoskeletal (MSK) issues. All of which means the NHS backlog, rising cancer cases and increasing work-related illness are the three major wellbeing challenges employers will need to address in 2023.
Challenge 1: Supporting employees with cancer
Employers will need to do more to support terminally ill employees to stay in work, so long as it is safe to do so. This is both a legal duty, under the Equality Act 2010, but also a moral duty. Integral to this is supporting employees by making the reasonable adjustments needed to allow them to remain in work, such as allowing flexible working or changing working hours for a period to account for someone’s needs.
Managers should be encouraged to talk to employees about what they think would help them and an occupational health clinician can also advise on appropriate adjustments that would work for the individual and business, both now and as the employee goes through important milestones and treatments.
Challenge 2: Ongoing NHS delays
Before the pandemic, employees would typically get signed off work by their GP until after they had been treated and had some post-surgery rehabilitation, which might have been around 6 weeks. With wait times of up to a year, this might not be acceptable going forward. Be aware of the risk of financial hardship, and long-term absence which has been shown to lead to lack of confidence, isolation and an increased risk of future worklessness.
Again, reasonable adjustments to help keep people in work will be critical going forward. Workplace wellbeing initiatives or occupational health advisors might also be able to support the individual with linked conditions, for example, losing weight to reduce joint pain and need for an operation.
Challenge 3: Soaring work-related illness
Days lost to work-related ill health cost billions per year, primarily work-related stress, depression or anxiety and MSK issues. What drives these issues? Employers should review their health data, including referrals to occupational health and health screening insights. As well as conduct ‘employee listening’ with surveys designed to uncover the root causes of work-related stress. This can often be addressed with workshops and manager training based on the HSE’s Management Standards for reducing stress, which look at everything from workload to working relationships.
In the case of soaring MSK issues, workplace risk assessments can be used to identify where employees are setting themselves up for future injury. While body mapping workshops, where employees place stickers on body maps to reveal where they have injuries or niggles, can also be used. These encourage employees to share tips and advice with one another on how they’re using the same equipment, or doing the same job, in a way that prevents injury. As it’s often the smallest behavioural changes that make the biggest difference.
A free guide to Health at Work is available from PAM Wellbeing here.
Trade Unions: House of Commons library publishes briefing on Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
The House of Commons (HoC) Library has published a research briefing on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which was introduced to the House of Commons and given its first reading on 10 January 2023. The Bill enables regulations to be made by the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (after consultation) setting minimum levels of service in specified public services so that those services do not completely shut down when there are strikes. For these purposes a strike does not include an overtime ban or a call-out ban. The Bill would grant the Secretary of State the power to set ‘minimum service regulations’ that could set minimum service levels for workers during strikes in the following sectors:
• health services
• fire and rescue services
• education services
• transport services
• decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel
• border security.
The Bill grants employers the power to give a ‘work notice’ to a trade union about any strike that affects a service subject to the Bill. The notice would have to specify which workers the employer to continue work in order to ensure service levels required by the minimum service regulations. Where a union fails to ‘take reasonable steps’ to ensure compliance with the work notice it loses protection from liability. Furthermore, the Bill removes automatic protection from unfair dismissal for any employee who strikes contrary to a valid work notice.
The second reading of the Bill was due to take place on 16 January 2023.
Parental Leave: House of Commons publishes update on Neonatal Care Bill
The House of Commons (HoC) has published a briefing paper on the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill 2022–23, which was introduced by Stuart C McDonald MP as a Private Member’s Bill on 15 June 2022.
The Bill would introduce neonatal care leave and statutory neonatal care pay. As these are both new rights, they require the Minister to pass regulations to bring them into force. Parents whose children spend at least one week in neonatal care would qualify for the day one right to neonatal leave. The duration of the leave and when it must be taken would be set by regulations. It would be a minimum of one week and the period in which it could be availed of would last a minimum of 67 weeks starting from the date of the child’s birth. Employees with at least 26 weeks continuous service can avail of neonatal care pay during periods of neonatal leave. While limit and duration of pay would be set by regulations the minimum limit that could be claimed would be a minimum of 12 weeks.
There have been calls since 2014 for such a bill to be introduced. Following a consultation, the Government committed to introduce neonatal care and pay in March 2020. This was reiterated by the then Labour Markets Minister Paul Scully when he was responding to a parliamentary question on 25 May 2022. All MP’s who spoke during the second reading of the Bill were in favour of it passing. Similarly, all contributions at committee stage were in favour of the Bill and all amendments were accepted. However, concerns over the length of time the government were taking to implement the Bill were also raised.
Holiday Pay: BEIS consults on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is conducting a consultation on proposals to pro-rata holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers based on the annual hours they work. The consultation follows the recent Supreme Court judgment in Harpur Trust v Brazel  IRLR 67.
As part of the consultation, BEIS proposes to introduce a holiday entitlement reference period for part-year and irregular hours workers. BEIS wants to ensure that holiday pay and entitlement is directly proportionate to the time part-year and irregular hours staff are working. The consultation also aims to understand how entitlement is currently calculated for agency workers and how the consultation proposal could be implemented.
The consultation may be of interest and impact employers, workers, business representative groups, unions, and those representing the interests of groups in the labour market.
Further information regarding the Calculating holiday entitlement for part-year and irregular hours workers Consultation can be accessed here. The Proposal to simplify Holiday Pay and Entitlement Consultation Impact Assessment can be accessed here.
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