Employment Law Newsletter – November 2021
- Disability Discrimination: Dismissal for poor performance was not disability discrimination
- Whistleblowing: It is not automatically unfair to dismiss for redundancy based on reasons materially influenced by protected disclosures
- Unfair Dismissal: Employee must be allowed chance to respond to allegation relied upon in disciplinary hearing
- Unfair Dismissal: Tribunal cannot impose reason for dismissal not raised by parties
- Human Rights: Conduct at preliminary hearing held in private does not form part of claimant’s private life and engage Article 8
- Autumn Budget: Key employment law points
- Contracts: Government blocks “fire and rehire” bill but encourages ACAS to produce guidance instead
- Working From Home: Employer monitoring of homeworkers prompts calls for strengthened regulation
- Artificial Intelligence: New AI legislation proposed to counter negative impacts of use of surveillance technologies on workers
- Gender Pay Gap: Analysis of 2021 GPG figures shows slight narrowing of gap
- Mental Health: Conflicted workers struggling with childcare responsibilities can be more productive with support and flexibility
Disability Discrimination: Dismissal for poor performance is not disability discrimination
In Stott v Ralli Ltd  UKEAT 2019-000772, the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s decision that the dismissal of a paralegal for poor performance was not an act of discrimination arising from disability (a mental health impairment) contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).
The claim had been brought solely in relation to the claimant’s dismissal and the tribunal had been entitled to find that the respondent did not have knowledge (actual or constructive) of the claimant’s disability before the dismissal. Further, the tribunal had correctly directed itself in relation to the justification defence and had made sufficient findings of fact to support its conclusion that the defence had been made out.
In relation to knowledge, the claimant argued that the tribunal should have regarded the grievance she brought after her dismi ssal, and her appeal from the outcome of the grievance, as an integral part of the dismissal process. She submitted that the tribunal should have found that, by the end of that process, the respondent had knowledge of her disability. She relied on the EAT’s decision in Baldeh v Churches Housing Association of Dudley and District Ltd UKEAT/0290/18, which held that, where an employer had not known about an employee’s disability at the time of their dismissal but had been told about it at an appeal hearing, the dismissal could be discriminatory under section 15 of the EqA 2010.
The EAT noted that, for the purposes of an unfair dismissal claim, dismissal is regarded as a process which includes the appeal stage. It held that Baldeh does not establish any legal principle to the effect that the same approach universally applies in a discrimination claim. The approach in Baldeh was in fact similar to that in CLFIS (UK) Ltd v Reynolds  ICR 1010 in which it was held that a claim that a decision to dismiss was discriminatory, and a claim that a decision on appeal was discriminatory, were distinct claims which must be raised and considered separately. The claimant in this case had not brought a claim of disability discrimination in relation to her grievance; her claim was limited to the respondent’s dismissal decision.
Whistleblowing: It is not automatically unfair to dismiss for redundancy based on reasons materially influenced by protected disclosures
In Secure Care UK Limited v Mott  EA-2019-000977-AT, the EAT had to consider whether a dismissal by reason of redundancy (carried out after the employee had made protected disclosures) would be automatically unfair if the decision to dismiss had been ‘materially influenced’ by such disclosures. The EAT held that it would not.
The claimant was employed by the respondent as a logistics manager, providing transport services for NHS patients with mental health issues, including those detained under the Mental Health Act. He made nine protected disclosures about his employer (including insufficient staffing levels), who subsequently made him redundant. The claimant claimed under section 103A Employment Rights Act 1996 that he had been unfairly dismissed by reason of making protected disclosures. The tribunal, finding that three of the nine communications relied upon by the claimant were protected disclosures, upheld his claim, stating that while there was a genuine redundancy situation, the disclosures made by the claimant had had a material impact on his selection.
At appeal the case was remitted on the issue of causation as the EAT found that the tribunal had erred in two respects. Firstly, in applying the wrong causation test, namely the ‘materially influences’ test applicable to section 47B claims for detriment by reason of making a protected disclosure (Fecitt v NHS Manchester  ICR 372), rather than the ‘sole or principal reason’ test required by the terms of section 103A. Secondly, in failing to distinguish the impact of the three protected disclosures, from the impact of all nine of the claimant’s communications about staffing levels, when considering the reason for the dismissal.
Unfair Dismissal: Employee must be allowed chance to respond to allegation relied upon in disciplinary hearing
In London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham v Keable  UKEAT 2019-000733 the EAT had to consider a Council employee who had been dismissed for serious misconduct arising out of comments he made in a conversation with another individual when they each attended different rallies outside Parliament in his time off. The employee was pulled into a disciplinary process because, although his role at the Council was non-political, the conversation had been about events around the time of the Haavara Agreement of 1933 prior to WWII. Not only had the words spoken included reference to anti-Semitism, Nazis and the Holocaust, but it had been filmed and made its way around social media, resulting in an MP tweeting about it and identifying the claimant as a Labour Party member and Momentum organiser. Once identified as a Council employee, the MP caused the respondent to investigate and a disciplinary process was begun, following which, the claimant was dismissed for serious misconduct. The claimant had never known about the video or been told which specific allegation had led to his dismissal. He brought a claim of unfair dismissal.
At tribunal, the judge determined that the dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair. She made an order for reinstatement. The respondent employer appealed.
In dismissing the appeals, the EAT found that the tribunal judge was entitled to conclude that the dismissal was unfair. She concluded that there were relevant and significant errors in the procedure adopted by the Council employer, including the fact that the claimant was not informed of the specific allegation which led to his dismissal and the fact that the possibility of a lesser sanction, a warning, was not discussed with him. In reaching her conclusions the Judge did not substitute her own views for that of the employer. Whilst the Judge should have raised a relevant authority with the parties, on the facts of this case, that did not vitiate the decision. As to remedy, on the evidence before her, the Judge was entitled to conclude that reinstatement was practicable and to make the order she did. It was noted that in conduct cases, re-instatement can be ordered even if the dismissing manager genuinely believed misconduct had occurred; a conduct dismissal does not automatically mean that re-instatement is impracticable.
Unfair Dismissal: Tribunal cannot impose reason for dismissal not raised by parties
In Stone v Burflex (Scaffolding) Ltd  UKEAT 2019 001183 the appellant raised a grievance about his level of pay; following a meeting with the respondent’s management he was summarily dismissed. The appellant brought a claim for unfair dismissal under s.104 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). The respondent’s primary case had been that he was not dismissed but had resigned. The employment judge found that the appellant had been dismissed. The employment judge decided that he had not asserted a statutory right (namely the right not to suffer unauthorised deductions from pay) and that the principal reason for his dismissal was not such an assertion but related to the availability of work and was the withdrawal of a concession to provide him with alternative work and was therefore redundancy or some other substantial reason.
The EAT considered that, on all the evidence, the finding that the appellant had not asserted a statutory right was perverse and so it substituted a finding to the contrary. The finding as to the reason for dismissal involved errors of law in that (a) the employment judge had not asked himself why the respondent had decided to withdraw the concession, and (b) the employment judge had identified a reason for dismissal which neither party had contended for without raising the matter with the parties before making a decision, when there were a number of submissions the appellant might have made if the matter had been raised (in particular relating to s.105 ERA).
Human Rights: Conduct at preliminary hearing held in private does not form part of claimant’s private life and engage Article 8
In Ameyaw v PricewaterhouseCoopers Services Ltd  UKEAT 2019-000480, the EAT held that a tribunal had not erred in law by refusing a claimant’s application for an anonymity or restriction order under rule 50 of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure 2013 (ET Rules) and had correctly held that her rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were not engaged.
The claimant had previously brought another rule 50 application as part of wide-ranging litigation against her former employer. This appeal concerned her application for an order that her identity be anonymised or that the contents of the reasons for an order made by an employment judge at a private preliminary hearing not be disclosed to the public. The reasons recorded the disruptive behaviour of her and her mother, and she was concerned about harm to her reputation. The EAT agreed with the tribunal that the claimant’s Article 8 rights were not engaged, for the following reasons:
- The claimant was not relying on conduct external to the legal proceedings and forming part of her private life, but conduct at a hearing recorded in writen reasons issued by the tribunal.
- Conduct at a tribunal hearing must not be taken to form part of a claimant’s private life protected by Article 8, even if members of the public are excluded from the hearing. A private hearing should not be conflated with the sphere of a claimant’s private life; the two are not the same.
- The claimant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to her conduct at the hearing. A reasonable person of oridnary sensibilities would not consider the public disclosure of the nature of their conduct at a hearing, even a private one, to be offensive. It was a foreseeable conseuqence that a claimant who misconducts themselves at a hearing will have the nature andextent of their misconduct set out in the tribunal’s decision.
The EAT concluded that, even if Article 8 were engaged, the tribunal was correct to find that the balancing exercise was against the making of an order under rule 50 and in favour of the open justice principle.
Autumn Budget: Key employment law points
On 27 October 2021, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered the Autumn 2021 Budget. The government has wound down much of the emergency support it put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the budget announcements address the government’s shift in focus to economic recovery. We set out below the salient points in relation to employment.
Ongoing risks from COVID-19
It is noted that risks remain from COVID-19, especially through the coming months. On 14 September 2021, the government published COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan which sets out how, through use of Plans A and B, it intends to address the challenges that may be posed by COVID-19 over the autumn and winter period. It is suggested that the government is monitoring the data closely and will only introduce further measures if needed.
Skills and apprenticeships
On 4 October 2021, the Chancellor announced a £500 million expansion of the government’s Plan for Jobs initiative which would target support to workers leaving the furlough scheme, the unemployed aged over 50, the lowest paid and young people. The Chancellor announced further investment intended to boost opportunities for people to upskill and retrain, and an increase in apprenticeships funding. In particular, there will be increased funding for the National Skills Fund to expand the Lifetime Skills Guarantee so more adults in England can access funding for in-demand Level 3 courses and Skills Bootcamps will be scaled up.
As a result of increased apprenticeships funding, the government will continue to meet 95% of the apprenticeship training cost for employers who do not pay the apprenticeship levy and will deliver apprenticeship system improvements for all employers. These include:
- An enhanced recruitment service by May 2022 for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), helping them hire new apprentices.
- Supporting flexible apprenticeship training models to ensure that apprenticeship training continues to meet employers’ needs. By April 2022, the government will consider changes to the provider payment profiles aimed at giving employers more choice over how the apprenticeship training is delivered and explore the streamlining of existing additional employer support payments so that they go directly to employers.
- Introducing a return-on-investment tool in October 2022 to ensure employers can see the benefits apprentices create in their business.
The Chancellor confirmed the extension of the £3,000 apprentice hiring incentive for employers until 31 January 2022 and announced investment in the Sector Based Work Academy Programme (SWAPs) which give unemployed people the opportunity to undertake work experience, learn new skills and retrain into high-demand sectors in their local area.
National minimum wage
On 3 March 2021, the government published its remit for the Low Pay Commission (LPC) for 2021. The remit asks the LPC to make recommendations for the National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates that should apply from April 2022. The LPC submitted its recommendations on 22 October 2021 and these were accepted by the government.
The Chancellor announced that the following rates (per hour) will apply from 1 April 2022:
- NLW for those over 23: from £8.91 to £9.50.
- NMW for those aged 21 to 22: from £8.36 to £9.18.
- NMW for those aged 18 to 20: from £6.56 to £6.83.
- NMW for those aged under 18: from £4.62 to £4.81.
- Apprentice Rate: from £4.30 to £4.81.
- Accommodation offset rate: from £8.36 to £8.70.
Workers who live in their employer’s family home, are treated as a member of the family and are not charged for food or accommodation do not qualify for the NMW (regulation 57, National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/621)). In submitting its recommendations, the LPC noted that this exemption, which was introduced to facilitate au pair placements, has given rise to longstanding concerns that it has provided a loophole for the exploitation of migrant domestic workers. The LPC recommends that the exemption is removed.
Contracts: Government blocks “fire and rehire” bill but encourages ACAS to produce guidance instead
The BBC reported on 22 October that the government has blocked a Private Member’s Bill which aimed to curb the practice of “fire and rehire” that has been the subject of recent high-profile disputes. Employers who wish to make detrimental changes to employees’ terms and conditions will, in the absence of employees agreeing to those changes, dismiss them and offer to re-engage them on the detrimental terms.
On 8 June 2021, responding to a report published by ACAS, the government stated that it would not yet legislate to prevent this practice but had requested that ACAS prepare more detailed guidance on how and when dismissal and re-engagement should be used.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner sponsored the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill which would discourage the use of fire and rehire practices and grant additional protection to those affected by it. The government ordered Conservative MPs to oppose the Bill at its second reading on 22 October 2021, as reported in Hansard. While it regards the practice as “unacceptable as a negotiating tactic“, the government intends to await the ACAS guidance. ACAS duly obliged by publishing this new guidance on 11 November 2021.
Working From Home: Employer monitoring of homeworkers prompts calls for strengthened regulation
On 5 November 2021, the BBC reported how some employers are monitoring their employees at home. The trade union, Prospect, has called for the regulation of employer’s use of technology to monitor employees to be strengthened. This comes as new polling suggests that nearly a third (32%) of employees working from home are being monitored by their employers, rising to nearly half (48%) for younger employees aged 18 to 34. The poll also shows that monitoring of homeworkers by camera has more than doubled since April 2021, from 5% to 13%. In addition to strengthened regulation, Prospect has called for the monitoring of employees through webcams to be made illegal, except during calls and meetings. This follows a recent consultation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for views to inform new data protection and employee practices guidance, including to reflect changes in the way employers use technology, which will replace the existing Employment Practices Code.
Artificial Intelligence: New AI legislation proposed to counter negative impacts of use of surveillance technologies on workers
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the future of work published a report on 11 November 2021 that calls for an “Accountability for Algorithms Act (the AAA)” to curb employers’ use of technologies that monitor workers and setting performance targets determined by algorithms. The AAA is proposed to counter the negative impacts of the use of surveillance technologies which has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report found that workers’ experience of these technologies amounts to “extreme pressure of constant, real-time micro-management and automated assessment“, and the APPG is particularly concerned about the impact this has on workers’ mental health and wellbeing. The report suggests the AAA would create a new corporate and public duty to undertake an “Algorithmic Impact Assessment“. It would also update digital protection for workers, offer additional collective rights for unions and specialist third sector organisations, and extend enforcement powers to the joint Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF).
On 19 November 2021, People Management published its exploration of the contents of the proposed Accountability for Algorithms Act, and what it might mean for employers. For a more in depth review, read the full article here: How new artificial intelligence legislation affects businesses.
Gender Pay Gap: Analysis of 2021 GPG figures shows slight narrowing of gap
On 15 November Personnel Today reported that PwC’s analysis of the most recent gender pay gap statistics shows a minimal decline of the gap from 13.3% in 2019/2020 to 13.1% in 2020/2021. According to PwC, the changes to the reporting deadline, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, impacted the disclosure rate significantly. Only a quarter of the employers that reported this year did so by the original reporting deadline of 5 April 2021. Analysis of those figures showed a decrease in the gender pay gap to 12.5%. By the extended deadline of 5 October 2021, 80% of the employers that reported in 2018/2019 had submitted their figures and the gap had risen to 13.1%. When the figures were released by ONS they noted comparisons ought be treated delicately due to the impact the pandemic had on wages and hours worked. PwC repeated this concern and added that the slight decrease in the gap, while positive, may be “masking other workforce patterns that are detrimental to gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace“.
Mental Health: Conflicted workers struggling with childcare responsibilities can be more productive with support and flexibility
Research carried out by Dr Deng at Durham Business School, and colleagues from other universities around the world, has found that parents who feel ashamed when something at work calls into question their parenting role, are less productive than those who do not feel ashamed. It also showed that staff struggling to balance work and parental responsibilities inevitably prioritise family commitments, at the expense of their work commitments. Those parents who already had lower levels of emotional stability were more likely to feel that their identity as a parent was under threat.
“Working parents not only experience pressure to exemplify an ‘ideal’ worker role, but they are also expected to engage in intensive parenting practices to raise successful children. Although the roles can complement each other, many find achieving this balance challenging, and therefore end up prioritising childcare as it is deemed more important.”Dr Deng
Dr Deng and colleagues explained that in today’s remote working world, the lines between professional and personal responsibilities are becoming blurred. More often than not, working parents are struggling to cope with the pressure of juggling the two, something which has been highlighted by the pandemic.
All is not lost though, as more and more organisations are finding out, good mental health is the cornerstone to a healthy and productive workforce. To help working parents tackle this imbalance, Dr Deng suggests organisations can, and should, be doing more to help their workers balance both their working role and their parental role too, saying:
“Organisations can train managers to recognise when employees are struggling with these issues, and work through those vulnerabilities by helping them to identify ways to proactively bounce back from their self-despair without withdrawing from their work roles.”Dr Deng
Dr Deng also suggests employers can also help employees further by giving them more flexibility to attend to their children’s needs, in exchange for employers gaining more focused and hardworking employees whilst on the job.
Speaking to People Management, Simon Kelleher, head of policy and influencing at Working Families said that flexible working practices are often beneficial for productivity and talent retention, but called on the government to deliver on the recent flexible working consultation.
“We continually hear from working parents and carers who are denied even modest flexible working requests and are having to make unenviable trade-offs to manage from going into debt to pay for childcare or leaving careers they had worked hard to build due to inflexibility,” he said.Simon Kelleher, Working Families
Currently, the law only allows for employees to take a ‘reasonable’ (which is undefined) amount of unpaid time off for unexpected events involving dependents. Some employers may provide further contractual benefits but this is entirely at the employer’s discretion.Simon
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