Employment Law Case Review – February 2022
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month including a Covid-19 dismissal, worker status, business owner liability, fire and rehire injunction and misclassified worker’s right to holiday pay.
- COVID-19: Dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated was fair
- Worker Status: London cabbie also working through Mytaxi app was not a worker of the app-operator
- Liability: Dental practice owner liable for alleged negligence of self-employed dentists
- Contracts: High Court grants in junction to stop Tesco firing and rehiring employees
- Holiday Pay: Misclassified worker’s right to holiday pay for whole period of employment crystallised on termination
COVID-19: Dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated was fair
In Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Ltd ET/1803699/2021 an employment tribunal has held that the summary dismissal of a care assistant employed in a nursing home for unreasonably refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was fair.
In the context of the state of the pandemic in January 2021, a small nursing home’s decision to make vaccination mandatory for staff who were providing close personal care to vulnerable residents was a reasonable management instruction. The care assistant’s refusal to be vaccinated due to concerns about the safety of the vaccine was not reasonable in circumstances where there had been a very recent outbreak and deaths of residents at the nursing home, the pandemic was growing nationally and there was widespread publicity and advice about vaccine safety.
An employer’s instruction that an employee must be vaccinated, unless they have a reasonable excuse, interferes with the employee’s physical integrity in a manner capable of engaging Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The employer’s aims, of protecting the health and safety of the residents, staff and visitors to the care home during the pandemic and protecting itself against the increased likelihood of claims due to the withdrawal of insurance cover if staff members were unvaccinated, were legitimate.
An unvaccinated staff member would pose a significant and unjustified interference with the Article 8 rights of the residents and the other staff and visitors to the home, such that the requirement for the care assistant to be vaccinated and the dismissal for unreasonably refusing vaccination was justified. Less draconian means could not have been used.
It was within the range of reasonable responses for the employer to conclude that the refusal was due to scepticism of the vaccine and not due to religious beliefs, as had been raised at the disciplinary hearing. In the context of the recent outbreak and deaths at the nursing home, and the urgency with which measures to protect the vulnerable residents needed to be put in place, refusing to comply with the management instruction to be vaccinated amounted to gross misconduct and the dismissal was neither unfair nor wrongful.
Worker Status: London cabbie also working through Mytaxi app was not a worker of the app-operator
In Johnson v Transopco UK Ltd  EAT 6, the EAT has upheld an employment tribunal’s decision that a taxi driver working through an app was not a worker, under section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Mr Johnson worked as a self-employed London black-cab driver. He also registered with Mytaxi, an app operated by Transopco UK Ltd (TUK). During one year, he completed 282 trips via the app at a total value of £4,560.48. In the same period, he earned £30,472.45 as a self-employed driver. Employment tribunal complaints brought against TUK failed because the tribunal found Mr Johnson was not TUK’s worker. The tribunal observed that Mr Johnson could provide his services as infrequently or as often as he wanted, could dictate the timing of those services and was not subject to control by TUK. It also took into account the small proportion of work done through the app.
The EAT held that the tribunal was entitled to analyse the split of time between income earned as a self-employed cab driver and income earned via the Mytaxi app, when considering whether Mr Johnson’s work for TUK formed part of his own business, and as pointing towards its conclusion that this was not a dependent work relationship. It was not the case that the tribunal’s analysis amounted to a “numbers game” or introduced a minimum hours threshold for worker status.
The tribunal was entitled to take the view that the essence of Mr Johnson’s business was picking up passengers and driving them to where they wanted to go, however they were obtained. This was so having regard also to the tribunal’s findings on the simultaneous nature of the activities, subordination, dependency, control and integration.
The fact that some incentives and risk-sharing were offered by TUK to reflect the risks associated with using its platform (such as the risk of fraud or cancelled jobs), in order to enhance its financial attractiveness as an option, this did not point inevitably to worker status and the tribunal did not err in holding otherwise. The tribunal’s conclusions were soundly reasoned. It followed that although the driver had an obligation of personal service, the tribunal had correctly concluded that TUK was a client or customer of Mr Johnson’s taxi-driving business.
Liability: Dental practice owner liable for alleged negligence of self-employed dentists
In Hughes v Rattan  EWCA Civ 107, the Court of Appeal has held, as a preliminary issue, that a dental practice owner owed a patient a non-delegable duty of care in respect of the treatment she received from self-employed dentists who worked at the practice.
Non-delegable duties put primary liability on a person to avoid harm, to take reasonable care to avoid harm or to see that care is taken by others, rather than imposing secondary liability for the wrongdoing of another person, as with vicarious liability. While the two are conceptually distinct from each other, they may achieve a similar outcome and liability can arise as a result of negligence of an independent contractor, but with a non-delegable duty there is no defence to show that performance was delegated to a person reasonably believed to be competent.
Ms Hughes was, in law, a patient of the practice and the dental practice owner, Dr Rattan, was named as the treatment provider in the treatment plans she had signed. Patients were described as “patients of the practice” in the agreements between the practice owner and the self-employed dentists, and the dentists were subject to stringent restrictive covenants prohibiting them from treating those patients outside the dental practice.
The factors set out in the leading case, Woodland v Essex County Council  UKSC 66, were satisfied:
1. A “patient” included anyone receiving treatment from a dentist; they did not need to be especially vulnerable to qualify.
2. An antecedent relationship between the patient and the dental practice owner was established at the latest on each occasion when the patient signed the relevant treatment plan, which placed her in the practice owner’s actual care.
3. The patient had no control over whether the dental practice owner chose to perform his obligations personally or through employees or third parties.
Although the court was not required to decide whether the dental practice owner was also vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of the self-employed dentists, it expressed a view that he would not be vicariously liable because the test in Barclays Bank Plc v Various Claimants  UKSC 13 was not met.
Contracts: High Court grants in junction to stop Tesco firing and rehiring employees
In USDAW and others v Tesco Stores Ltd  EWHC 201 (QB), the High Court has granted an injunction to restrain Tesco from terminating and re-engaging a group of warehouse operatives in order to remove a contractual entitlement to enhanced pay, which had been incorporated as a result of collective bargaining. The entitlement had been negotiated as a retention incentive at a time when Tesco was reorganising its distribution centres, which involved some major relocations. A collective agreement reached in 2010 stated that the enhanced pay would be a “permanent feature” of each affected employee’s contractual entitlement, and could only be changed through mutual consent, or on promotion to a new role.
In these unusual circumstances, the court granted declaratory relief, setting out the precise contractual term relating to enhanced pay that was incorporated into the contracts of employment, and held that it was appropriate to imply a term preventing Tesco from exercising its right to terminate on notice for the purpose of removing or diminishing the right of each employee to receive the enhanced pay. The court noted that Tesco’s intention to terminate and re-engage on inferior terms would operate to remove a significant proportion of the remuneration currently payable to the affected employees, causing significant injury to their legal rights. Since damages would not have provided an adequate remedy, the court granted an injunction to restrain dismissal in breach of the implied term.
Holiday Pay: Misclassified worker’s right to holiday pay for whole period of employment crystallised on termination
In Smith v Pimlico Plumbers Ltd  EWCA Civ 70, the Court of Appeal has held that a worker who took unpaid leave, having been wrongly told that he was an independent contractor with no right to paid leave, could bring a claim in respect of his entire accrued holiday entitlement under Article 7(1) of the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC), whether taken or untaken, going back to the start of his contract.
Following the principle in King v Sash Window Workshop Ltd (Case C-214/16), annual leave under the Directive is a “single composite right” to paid leave, rather than a right to leave and a separate right to payment for that leave. As the employer had refused to grant that right, the worker’s full leave entitlement under the Directive accumulated from year to year without limitation, and his right to claim a payment in lieu of that entitlement crystallised on termination of his contract. He did not need to rely on establishing a “series of deductions” under section 23(3) of the ERA 1996, and the time limit for bringing the claim ran from the date of termination, rather than the date of the last non-payment of holiday pay. It was also not necessary for the worker to specify whether the leave in question was untaken or taken but unpaid.
Although the court did not strictly need to deal with this point, it also expressed a “strong provisional view” that the EAT’s decision in Bear Scotland Ltd v Fulton  ICR 221, that a series of deductions is broken by a gap of three months or more between deductions, was wrong.
A few days later the Court of Appeal added a postscript and an appendix.
The earlier judgment of the EAT had included suggested wording to be read into the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) (WTR 1998) in order to reflect holiday pay case law under the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC), including King v Sash Window Workshop and another (C-214/16) EU:C:2017:914. In light of the Court of Appeal’s decision that the EAT had wrongly interpreted King, it invited further submissions from the parties as to the appropriate course to adopt.
Although the court acknowledged that it had “no power to draft regulations” it suggested a form of words that would best reflect EU law, as an appendix to its earlier judgment. It includes the following additional wording to be read into the WTR 1998 at regulation 13(16):
“Where in any leave year an employer (i) fails to recognise a worker’s right to paid annual leave and (ii) cannot show that it provides a facility for the taking of such leave, the worker shall be entitled to carry forward any leave which is taken but unpaid, and/or which is not taken, into subsequent leave years.”
The case has important implications for the way time limits work in holiday pay claims, particularly for workers who have been misclassified as self-employed and therefore denied any paid holiday rights. Such workers may now be able to claim holiday pay back to the start of their employment, without having to rely on the “series of deductions” rules which would otherwise limit the value of historical claims.
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