Employment Law Newsletter – September 2021
- COVID-19: Employee able to proceed with victimisation claim concerning employer’s failure to furlough him
- COVID-19: Employment tribunal cases consider alleged discrimination of pregnant worker and dismissal of employee who refused to attend self-isolating manager’s home
- Contract: Employer liable to pay income protection payments not covered by insurance
- Unfair Dismissal: EAT confirms narrow scope of Jhuti principle
- COVID-19: Adjusted Right to Work checks extended until April 2022
- COVID-19: Government publishes Autumn and Winter Plan: employment aspects
- National Insurance: Increase to pay for health and social care
- Immigration: Changes to UK Immigration Rules announced
- Gender Pay Gap: EHRC and CMI publish toolkit to help employers tackle gender pay gap
- Flexible Working: Consultation published on making flexible working a “day one” right for employees
- Home Working: ONS figures suggest that older workers and disabled workers may retire later if they can work from home
COVID-19: Employee able to proceed with victimisation claim concerning employer’s failure to furlough him
An employment tribunal has allowed an employee’s victimisation claim that his employer subjected him to a detriment contrary to section 27 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) by not furloughing him under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to proceed, as amended. The employee’s other claims and proposed amendments were struck out or not allowed.
In Jimenez v Firmdale Hotels Plc ET/2203194/2020 (12 February 2021) Mr Jimenez had previously brought various claims against his employer, Firmdale Hotels Plc (Firmdale). These claims were dismissed following a final hearing in March 2021. The outcome of that hearing was unknown at the time that the preliminary judgment in the present case was handed down. However, it was not disputed that presentation of the earlier claims was a protected act within the meaning of section 27 EqA 2010. It was also not disputed that Mr Jimenez was excluded from the group of employees furloughed by Firmdale under the CJRS, whether in late March 2020 or subsequently. His exclusion was because he was on long-term sick leave and not in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay, meaning that Firmdale considered him “ineligible” under the CJRS. It subsequently considered it too late to furlough him because he had not been furloughed before June 2020.
Without purporting to make a judicial determination of the point, the employment judge at the preliminary hearing considered that Firmdale was mistaken in its understanding of the CJRS and could have furloughed Mr Jimenez. In addition, despite his requests, it had not explained to him in sufficient detail why it considered him ineligible for furlough. Firmdale submitted that other employees on long-term sick leave were treated in the same way as Mr Jimenez. The judge noted that if this was correct and there was no other indication of differential treatment, it would be compelling evidence that Mr Jimenez had not been subjected to a material detriment because of the protected act. However, with sufficient evidence to shift the burden of proof to Firmdale, his claim could proceed given that he had also attempted to present it in time. The judge advised Mr Jimenez to consider any comparator documents disclosed by Firmdale, as they were likely to inform his decision on whether to pursue his claim to a final hearing or apply to amend it to a discrimination arising from disability claim.
COVID-19: Employment tribunal cases consider alleged discrimination of pregnant worker and dismissal of employee who refused to attend self-isolating manager’s home
Two non-binding employment tribunal decisions have provided guidance on how measures taken to protect pregnant workers during the height of the pandemic might be viewed and when dismissing an employee who refuses to obey a management instruction due to COVID-related risks might be automatically unfair.
In Prosser v Community Gateway Association Ltd ET/2413672/2020 (13 May 2021), Ms Prosser, a pregnant zero hours worker, was sent home at the start of the pandemic because her employer viewed her as clinically vulnerable. Her return to work was delayed following a risk assessment and while her employer implemented social distancing measures (spacing of desks and Perspex screens). She was advised that she would not be asked to undertake night shifts, which involved lone working, unaccompanied travelling to tenants’ homes and the provision of physical support. This was deemed unsafe for her as a pregnant worker. During her absence, she was paid “generously” in excess of her contractual entitlement and was not left out of pocket. A payment was mistakenly made late but not because of her pregnancy. A tribunal dismissed her discrimination and victimisation claims, noting that her treatment was appropriately informed by the available public health advice and relevant COVID regulations. A formal risk assessment had been completed and the employer’s motive was to protect her and her unborn baby.
In Ham v Esl Bbsw Ltd ET/1601260/2020 (14 April 2021), Mr Ham was dismissed from his cleaning service job when he refused to deliver equipment to his self-isolating manager’s home, who had COVID-19 symptoms and was unvaccinated because it was the start of the pandemic. He offered to bring the equipment to another location, where it could be stored securely. In his internal appeal against his dismissal, he expressed concern for his and his family’s health. A tribunal concluded that his dismissal was for the principal reason that he had raised health and safety concerns, making it automatically unfair contrary to section 100(1)(c) and (e) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. While his inexperienced manager was dealing with huge uncertainty at the start of the first lockdown, when a lot was unknown, her reaction to his legitimate concerns was not excusable. It was inconceivable that an employee being instructed to go to the home of two self-isolating individuals (his manager and her daughter) during late March 2020 was not raising legitimate health and safety concerns or taking appropriate steps to protect himself.
Contract: Employer liable to pay income protection payments not covered by insurance
In Amdocs Systems Group v Langton UKEAT/0093/20 and UKEAT/0210/20 (24 August 2021), the EAT has held that an employer was liable to pay an employee the level of income protection payments (IPP) set out in an offer letter and summary of benefits provided by his original employer prior to a TUPE transfer. The EAT held that those documents had contractual force as they contained clear and certain terms and were intended to be incorporated. The employer was bound to pay the additional “escalator” payment of 5% per annum that they referred to, regardless of the fact that this was not covered by its insurance. From a review of the relevant authorities the EAT held that it was clear that, if there was any ambiguity or uncertainty as to whether an employer’s obligation to provide benefits was limited by reference to the specific terms of its insurance cover, any such ambiguity would be resolved against the employer and in favour of the employee. To be effective, any limitation of the employer’s exposure should have been unambiguously and expressly communicated to the employee. However, the employee had not been given, nor given access to, the insurance policy terms, or any other document setting out the specifics of what those terms were.
This case is a reminder to transferee employers on a TUPE transfer to carefully check the level of permanent health insurance benefits provided by the transferor to any transferring employee, and whether this will be fully covered by their existing insurance policy.
Unfair Dismissal: EAT confirms narrow scope of Jhuti principle
In Kong v Gulf International Bank (UK) Ltd  EA-2020-000357-JOJ and EA-2020-000438-JOJ (10 September 2021) the EAT has clarified that, when determining the reason for dismissal in an unfair dismissal claim, it will rarely be possible to attribute to the employer the motivation of any person other than the one who decided to dismiss.
Ms Kong was employed by Gulf International Bank (UK) Limited (GIB) as Head of Audit. She raised several concerns with GIB’s Head of Legal, Ms Harding, about an agreement relating to one of GIB’s financial products. It was accepted that these concerns were protected disclosures. Ms Harding disagreed with Ms Kong and confronted her. During this conversation, Ms Kong questioned Ms Harding’s legal awareness. Ms Harding was upset and complained to GIB’s Head of HR and CEO that Ms Kong had questioned her “integrity“. She subsequently limited interaction with Ms Kong. The Head of HR and CEO informed the Group Chief Auditor of the incident. The three managers collectively decided that Ms Kong should be dismissed because her manner meant that colleagues did not want to work with her.
Ms Kong brought claims for unlawful detriment and automatic unfair dismissal for having raised protected disclosures. The claim for unlawful detriment as a result of Ms Harding’s treatment would have succeeded, but was out of time. The claim for automatic unfair dismissal failed: the tribunal found that the decision makers dismissed Ms Kong because of her conduct, not her protected disclosures.
Ms Kong appealed to the EAT in relation to the automatic unfair dismissal claim. She argued that Ms Harding had sought her dismissal because of the protected disclosures, and that Ms Harding’s motivation should therefore be attributed to GIB pursuant to Royal Mail Group Ltd v Jhuti  UKSC 55.
The EAT held that:
- The tribunal had been right not to attribute Ms Harding’s motivation to GIB. The principle in Jhuti will rarely apply. Ms Harding’s complaint that Ms Kong had criticised her integrity, as opposed to her legal awareness, was not sufficient manipulation for Jhuti purposes. Further, there was no finding that Ms Harding had sought Ms Kong’s dismissal.
- The tribunal was clear that what motivated the decision makers was not the content or fact of Ms Kong’s disclosures, but the way in which she conveyed her personal criticisms to Ms Harding. The former was properly separable from the latter.
COVID-19: Adjusted Right to Work checks extended until April 2022
The government announced at the end of August that the end date for the temporary adjusted checks has now been deferred to 5 April 2022. Given positive feedback on the ability to carry out checks remotely, the government has decided to continue using the following temporary changes (originally introduced on 30 March 2020) until 5 April 2022 (inclusive):
- checks can currently be carried out over video calls;
- job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals;
- employers should use the Home Office Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents.
You can be fined up to £20,000 for employing illegal workers so this is very important to get right.
See our Immigration note for more information on this: Checking a job applicant’s right to work.
COVID-19: Government publishes Autumn and Winter Plan: employment aspects
On 14 September 2021, the government published COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan. The Plan sets out how the government intends to address the challenges that may be posed by COVID-19 through autumn and winter while ensuring that the National Health Service is not put under unsustainable pressure.
Plan A is described as a comprehensive, five-point approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter. In addition to continued use of pharmaceutical interventions (including further vaccine deployment), managing pressures on the NHS and social care and managing risks at the border, the government intends to continue with Test, Trace and Isolate and to provide guidance on how people can protect themselves. Existing requirements and support for self-isolation will remain in place. The government intends to review these by the end of March 2022. Guidance on how employers can reduce risks in their workplaces will be kept up to date.
Plan B is provided in outline and will only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS. The steps anticipated here involve advising the public of the need to behave more cautiously given an increased level of risk, introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings, legally mandating face coverings in certain settings (which would be determined at the time) and instructing those who can to work from home. The Plan concludes that beyond Plan B “more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort“.
National Insurance: Increase to pay for health and social care
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 7 September 2021 a new UK wide ‘health and social care levy’ to address the funding crisis in this sector. See our full article on this for more detail: National Insurance increase to pay for health and social care.
Immigration: Changes to UK Immigration Rules announced
On 10 September 2021, the government published Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules: HC617, most of which comes into force on 1 October 2021. The statement:
- Introduces coronavirus (COVID-19) concessions on Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), Skilled Worker and Tier 2 Sportsperson routes into the Immigration Rules.
- Extends the Youth Mobility Scheme to include nationals of Iceland and India.
- Introduces a dedicated International Sportsperson route to replace the T2 and T5 Temporary Worker routes for professional sporting workers.
- Expands the list of eligible prizes under the Global Talent route.
- Makes changes to the EUSS to allow a joining family member to apply to the EUSS while in the UK as a Visitor.
Gender Pay Gap: EHRC and CMI publish toolkit to help employers tackle gender pay gap
People Management has reported how the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is preparing to restart “enforcing gender pay gap reporting requirements again next month as a temporary suspension of enforcement, put in place to help employers through the coronavirus crisis, comes to an end”. With this in mind, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has partnered with the EHRC to create a practical toolkit to support organisations drive action in tackling their gender pay gap. The publication of practical guidance follows a warning from the ECHR that the gender pay gap disparity has widened during the pandemic, and that employers risk de-prioritising the issue close to the extended deadline of pay gap reporting of 5 October 2021. Government figures indicate that currently, only 5,000 employers of around 12,500 that meet the reporting requirements have filed figures for the year.
The toolkit itself contains case studies, recommended actions for employers, and tried and tested “how to” guides from the Behavioural Insights team.
Flexible Working: Consultation published on making flexible working a “day one” right for employees
The government has published a consultation document, Making flexible working the default, proposing various reforms to the right for employees to request flexible working, taking into account changes in working practices brought about during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposals do not introduce an automatic right for employees to work flexibly. Instead, the proposals include a number of measures to broaden the scope of the right, while retaining the basic system involving a conversation between employer and employee about how to balance work requirements and individual needs. The main change would be making the right a “day one” right, removing the requirement for 26 weeks’ qualifying service. The consultation also considers:
- Making changes, if necessary, to the eight business reasons for refusing a request to work flexibly.
- Requiring the employer to suggest alternatives to the arrangement suggested by the employee.
- Changing the administrative process underpinning the right to request flexible working. In particular, the government wants to explore whether to allow employees to make more than one statutory request each year.
- Raising awareness of the existing right of employees to request a temporary flexible working arrangement.
The government has decided not to proceed with the proposal, put forward in an earlier consultation, to introduce a requirement for large employers to publish their flexible working policies.
You can complete the online survey here. The consultation will remain open until 1 December 2021.
Home Working: ONS figures suggest that older workers and disabled workers may retire later if they can work from home
Website, peoplemanagement.co.uk, reported on 31 August 2021 that figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show how working from home has affected the older generation. For example, in June and July 2020, workers aged 50 and over who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of in their usual workplace were more than twice as likely to say they planned to retire later (11%) than those in the same age category who did not work from home (5%). Similarly, the statistics show that workers with a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity who work from home are nearly twice as likely to say they plan to retire later (10.9%) than those who do not work from home (5.9%). Jonathan Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, suggested that working from home could extend working lives and may be appreciated more by older workers than younger ones.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org