Employment Law Newsletter – December 2021
- COVID-19: SEISS was indirectly discriminatory against new mothers but was justified
- Equal Pay: Morrisons’ retail workers employed on common terms with distribution centre workers
- Disability Discrimination: Tribunal erred in focusing on adverse effects of claimant’s avoidance behaviours rather than impairments
- Disability Discrimination: Tribunal reasoning in disability case did not show critical evaluation of justification issue
- Wrongful Dismissal: Tribunal should have weighed claimant’s oral testimony against opposing hearsay evidence
- Flexible Working: Agreeing to appeal hearing outside the three month decision period does not mean the decision period is extended
- Equal Pay: Fawcett Society urges employers to stop asking about previous salary to reduce pay inequality
- Guidance: CIPD publishes new Effective Hybrid Working guidance
- Flexible Working: Study shows refusing to accommodate flexible working requests costs UK businesses almost £2 billion a year
- Workers: Government call for evidence on umbrella company market
- Support for Women: Employment Minister calls on employers to provide stronger career support to stop menopause affecting careers
- Parental Leave: Survey reveals prospect of better parental leave policies would lead six in ten employees to switch jobs
- Statutory Pay Rates: April 2022 proposed increases to statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and sick pay announced
COVID-19: SEISS was indirectly discriminatory against new mothers but was justified
Under the SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme), grants were awarded to self-employed individuals based on average trading profits (ATP) in the three full tax years preceding 2019/20. The scheme was amended in July 2020 to include those who had not qualified because of the effect of childcare, pregnancy or maternity on their trading profits or total income for the tax year 2018-2019.
In R (on the application of Motherhood Plan) v HM Treasury  EWCA Civ 1703 an application for judicial review of the scheme was brought by a self-employed mother and a maternity rights charity. They argued that, contrary to the ECHR, it was indirectly discriminatory to calculate grants based on ATP in previous tax years, since women on maternity leave during those years received smaller payments than they would otherwise have been entitled to. Alternatively, applying Thlimmenos v Greece  ECHR 162, grants for women on maternity leave in the calculation period should have been calculated differently to remove the disadvantage they suffered if treated the same as everyone else.
The Court of Appeal held that the High Court had been wrong to find that the use of ATP did not constitute prima facie indirect discrimination. The judge had found that the disadvantage to new mothers was not “caused by the scheme itself” but by their reduced earnings while on maternity leave. However, that mis-identified the alleged disadvantage, which was that recent mothers’ earnings in the measured period would be disproportionately unrepresentative of their hypothetical earnings had there been no pandemic, resulting in lower payments under the scheme for recent mothers as a group. That disadvantage was caused by the use of ATP as the relevant measure.
However, the High Court had reached the correct conclusion on justification. The indirect discrimination was justified because the SEISS was devised in the extreme and unique circumstances of the pandemic, where time was of the essence. Obtaining additional information from recent mothers would have significantly delayed the implementation of the scheme and the information would have been difficult to verify. In addition, the choice of ATP to assess profits had legitimate aims, namely: effectiveness; speed of delivery; ease of verification to reduce the risk of fraud; and the need to avoid perverse effects and costs. The requirements of speed and simplicity meant that the government was justified in introducing the scheme in a form which did not contain special provision for new mothers.
Equal Pay: Morrisons’ retail workers employed on common terms with distribution centre workers
In Abdar and others v Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc and another (2021) ET/1811283/18 an employment tribunal has held that retail workers in Morrisons and Safeway supermarkets could compare themselves for equal pay purposes with logistics workers in their employer’s regional distribution centres. At a preliminary hearing, the tribunal held that the majority of the claimants were employed on common terms with the logistics workers for the purposes of section 79(4) of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010). Further, the terms on which they were employed had a single source for the purposes of their directly effective rights under Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
Subject to any appeal, the next stage will be for the tribunal to determine whether the retail workers’ roles are of equal value to those of the logistics workers. The tribunal noted that there is a dispute between the parties as to whether the ECJ’s decision in K and others v Tesco Stores Ltd  IRLR 699 is binding in this case, by virtue of Articles 86 and 89 of the Withdrawal Agreement and sections 6, 7A and 7C of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Withdrawal Act). In Tesco, the ECJ held that Article 157 of the TFEU extends to equal value claims. However, although the referral was made pre-Brexit, the decision was handed down after the UK left the EU. It is not disputed that if Tesco is not binding, the tribunal may have regard to it to the extent that it considers it relevant. It was accepted that the tribunal was bound by section 6 of the Withdrawal Act and the EAT’s judgment in Asda Stores Ltd v Brierley and others  ICR 384 that Article 157 of the TFEU has direct effect in equal value cases. The supermarkets did not therefore advance any arguments as to the binding effect of Tesco in the tribunal proceedings, but may do so on any appeal.
Disability Discrimination: Tribunal erred in focusing on adverse effects of claimant’s avoidance behaviours rather than impairments
In Primaz v Carl Room Restaurants Ltd t/a McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd and others  UKEAT 2020-000110, the EAT has held that a tribunal erred in focusing on the behaviour adopted by a claimant in an attempt to manage her conditions when considering whether those conditions had an adverse effect on her day-to-day activities. The claimant suffered from epilepsy and vitiligo and avoided coffee, alcohol, cosmetics, cleaning products, sunlight and all medications (including those prescribed by her physicians to manage her conditions), believing that they would adversely trigger her conditions. However, there was no medical evidence to support the claimant’s beliefs, and she was acting contrary to medical advice in refusing to take medication.
The EAT held that the question of whether a claimant’s impairments had an adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities was an objective one and could not be determined by a claimant’s subjective beliefs about how to manage their conditions. In this case, the claimant only relied on physical, not mental, impairments. The tribunal had to disregard the claimant’s coping mechanisms, even though her belief that they were necessary was strongly held. It should have considered the impact the actual conditions had on the claimant’s day-to-day activities, leaving aside the impact of her avoidance behaviours. The EAT remitted the question of disability to a fresh tribunal, noting that this was a novel point of law on which it believed there was no previous case law.
Disability Discrimination: Tribunal reasoning in disability case did not show critical evaluation of justification issue
In Gray v University of Portsmouth  UKEAT 2019-000891, the EAT has allowed an appeal where a tribunal failed to provide sufficient reasoning in its judgment to demonstrate that it caried out a critical ev aluation on the question of objective justification in respect of a claim for discrimination arising from disability under section 15 of the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Gray was employed by a University in its Information Service department from 2009. He was dismissed in 2017 following a two-year sickness absence related to his disability. He complained to an employment tribunal that he had suffered discrimination arising from his disability, alleging that the University had treated him unfavourably by initiating a formal meeting under their absence process, stopping his sick pay, dismissing him and rejecting his appeal against dismissal.
The tribunal rejected the claim. It determined that the University had a legitimate aim in ensuring the efficient running of the Information Service department as part of its provision to students. The Tribunal considered each of Mr Gray’s complaints and held that the actions taken were a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim.
Mr Gray appealed to the EAT, arguing that the tribunal had erred in its approach to objective justification under section 15 and had not adequately explained its conclusions. The EAT noted that the critical evaluation required for the purpose of section 15 means the tribunal must carry out its own assessment of objective justification. Further, the tribunal is required to make clear how it had undertaken its assessment by demonstrating that critical evaluation in its reasoning.
The EAT took issue with the tribunal’s findings on Mr Gray’s dismissal and the decision to uphold that dismissal on appeal. In its judgment, the tribunal had stated that it was “obvious” that continuing to hold Mr Gray’s job open was significantly disruptive for the University but, critically, failed to explain why it reached that finding. The judgment had not included findings about how Mr Gray’s job was being covered, whether his absence was actually causing any disruption or whether the University incurred additional cost. The EAT allowed the appeal and remitted the matter to the original tribunal.
Wrongful Dismissal: Tribunal should have weighed claimant’s oral testimony against opposing hearsay evidence
In Hovis Ltd v Louton  UKEAT 2020-000973, the claimant, a lorry driver for Hovis, was summarily dismissed for smoking while driving his company vehicle, which was a serious breach of the company’s smoking policy and a criminal offence. He denied smoking, and the investigator found no physical evidence of smoking in the vehicle. However, the evidence at his disciplinary hearing, which was accepted by the employer, included written statements by two eyewitnesses (a Hovis manager and his wife, who alleged that they saw the claimant smoking when they overtook him on the motorway). It also included dashcam footage confirming that it was indeed his vehicle.
A tribunal found the dismissal fair but wrongful. On the wrongful dismissal point, the tribunal noted that it had to undertake its own assessment of whether the claimant had been smoking. Neither of the eyewitnesses gave oral testimony, although their written statements from the internal investigation were put in evidence. The tribunal held that, without being able to assess their testimony, it could not conclude that the claimant was guilty on the balance of probabilities.
The EAT rejected Hovis’s first ground of appeal, that the tribunal had impermissibly fallen back on the burden of proof rather than making a positive finding. This was not a case where the evidence both ways had been equally compelling, leaving the tribunal unable to make a decision. Rather, the tribunal had held that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the claimant had been smoking.
However, the EAT upheld the second ground of appeal, namely, that the tribunal had wrongly attached no weight to the hearsay and documentary evidence. The employment judge had said that, without the eyewitnesses in attendance, she was “unable” to evaluate their credibility against that of the claimant, and therefore “cannot find” that the claimant had been smoking. In the EAT’s view the judge was wrong to say that she was “unable” to assess the credibility of the statements or that it was not open to her to find against the claimant. The statements were admissible as hearsay, and there was no rule that oral testimony must necessarily trump opposing hearsay or documentary evidence if the judge finds it more reliable or compelling.
For those reasons the EAT overturned the finding of wrongful dismissal and remitted it to a fresh tribunal.
Flexible Working: Agreeing to appeal hearing outside the three month decision period does not mean the decision period is extended
In Walsh v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited  UKEAT 2020-000724, the claimant submitted a flexible working request in February 2019, which the employer rejected in March and the claimant appealed. Following much correspondence causing a delay in arranging the date of the appeal hearing, it was eventually agreed between the parties in late June 2019 to hold the hearing on 1 July. However, this meant the appeal hearing was outside the three-month ‘decision period’ for resolving the request.
Before the appeal hearing, on 25 June, the claimant submitted a tribunal claim alleging breaches of the flexible working legislation, including that the process had not been concluded within the decision period. The tribunal held that by agreeing to attend the appeal hearing he had, by implication, agreed to extend the decision period itself meaning his claim was made prematurely and therefore the tribunal did not (yet) have jurisdiction to hear the claim.
The EAT disagreed, holding that in order to extend the decision period it must be clear that there is an agreement to extend the decision period. Agreeing to attend an appeal hearing does not necessarily mean that the employee also agrees to extend the decision period.
Equal Pay: Fawcett Society urges employers to stop asking about previous salary to reduce pay inequality
The BBC reported on 18 November 2021 that The Fawcett Society is urging employers to stop asking jobseekers about their previous salaries. The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life and this is part of their “Equal Pay Day 2021 Briefing” campaign.
The question about past salaries is faced by almost half of working adults (47%) and affects 61% of women’s confidence to negotiate better pay. The Fawcett Society is calling on employers to stop this practice which contributes to pay inequality by replicating gaps from other organisations. Only a quarter of people surveyed believe their salary should be based on their previous rate of pay, but more than half (58% of women and 54% of men) think they have been offered a reduced salary because of this question.
Guidance: CIPD publishes new Effective Hybrid Working guidance
The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) has published new guidance on 3 December 2021 around Effective Hybrid Working. The guidance was produced in partnership with the government’s Flexible Working Taskforce. The guidance focuses on the key areas of:
- People management
- Recruitment and induction
- Inclusion and fairness
- Health, safety and wellbeing.
They explain that hybrid working is a form of flexible working where workers spend some of their time working remotely (usually, but not necessarily, at home) and some of their time at their employer’s workplace. The Taskforce, which was relaunched earlier this year, is a partnership across unions, businesses, and government departments, and aims to improve public policy around flexible working. Members include the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Working Families.
The guidance was published on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and is intended to encourage employers to train managers on how to ensure best practice in hybrid working. Inclusivity in the key to making hybrid working effective, allowing all employees access to flexible arrangements who are then treated equally regardless of how they work. It is also important to take into account people’s individual working preferences and personal circumstances. There could be unintended consequences for non-office based employees as they may miss out on things which happen in the office (such as training or learning opportunities), likewise promotions or other business opportunities may not be so obvious for those who choose to work from home more, leading to inequality. As such, hybrid working policies should be kept under regular review, with input from employees being key to maintaining working relationships.
The guidance also covers performance management, remote communication and effective collaboration, as well as ways to improve recruitment processes in order to accommodate flexible working practices.
Flexible Working: Study shows refusing to accommodate flexible working requests costs UK businesses almost £2 billion a year
Personnel Today reports that, according to a study conducted by Flexonomics, refusing to accommodate flexible working requests is costing UK businesses £2 billion a year. The cost is attributed to the link between flexible working and employee morale, boosted productivity and lower employee absence. The study found that flexible working is currently contributing £37 billion to the UK economy and a 50% increase in flexible working could result in a net contribution of £55 billion to the UK economy and create 51,200 new jobs.
The report also looks at removing the myths around flexible working only being suitable for a few sectors and highlights how the construction and other “hard-to-flex” sectors could embrace flexibility through methods such as self-rostering.
Ahead of the government’s response to the consultation into flexible working, the report calls for more to be done to ensure businesses are being clear about flexible working opportunities in its job adverts and to be more proactive about communicating the benefits of flexible working to businesses.
Workers: Government call for evidence on umbrella company market
On 30 November 2021, HM Treasury, HMRC and BEIS published a call for evidence on the umbrella company market. It follows concerns about the tax and employment rights risks posed by umbrella companies. An umbrella company is a company that employs a temporary worker (an agency worker or contractor) on behalf of an employment agency. The agency will then provide the services of the worker to their clients.
Umbrella companies currently fall outside the regulation of the recruitment sector (Employment Agencies Act 1973, Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/3319) and Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/93)). In April 2020, the government sought to address transparency on employer identity and pay for assignments of agency workers supplied through umbrella companies by introducing the Key Information Document (KID). The government proposes a multi-stage process of further action. Primary legislation will bring umbrella companies into the regulatory framework. Regulations will then set out minimum requirements and address common issues, including:
- Non-payment of wages and payroll skimming (where umbrella companies “skim” money from payslips or inflate deductions to retain money that should be received by a worker).
- Non-payment of holiday pay (by failing to inform workers of their entitlement or failing to pay the correct amount).
The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate will continue to ensure compliance with the KID and enforce the regulations. Workers are invited to share their experiences of working through umbrella companies and the KID, to identify means of better protecting workers based on the most up-to-date market practices. Specifically, views are invited on the reasons for the increased use of “joint-employment” contracts in which an umbrella company and employment business both employ the worker (making it more difficult for workers to understand the nature of their relationship with either entity).
HMRC gives examples of tax (direct and indirect) non-compliance and evasion by umbrella companies and the steps that it has taken to combat such activities. However, HMRC seeks more evidence about the specific tax risks posed by umbrellas and how these risks might be mitigated. Evidence is sought from, among others, umbrellas and entities contracting with them, on their experiences, the steps they take to ensure tax compliance in their labour supply chains and the further steps HMRC and the government should take to prevent and tackle non-compliance.
Responses are requested, where possible by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 11.45 pm on 22 February 2022.
Support for Women: Employment Minister calls on employers to provide stronger career support to stop menopause affecting careers
In a press release issued on 25 November 2021, the Minister for Employment called on employers to strengthen their support of the careers of women who suffer from serious menopause symptoms. The press release was issued alongside the publication of findings from the independent report commissioned by the government in July 2021, which found that almost one in four women are forced to leave work as a result of menopause symptoms and those who experience serious symptoms take an average of 32 weeks of leave. Without the support of employers, this could limit progression and lead to long-term unemployment. The Minister for Employment has urged employers to use a national network of advisors, “50 Plus Champions”, to support and retain their workers over the age of 50, including women experiencing the menopause.
The government will be responding to the recommendations of the report in the coming months. The recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into menopause in the workplace are also awaited.
As we have previously reported, ACAS now has guidance for employers on how to help women at work dealing with the menopause, which you can view here: Menopause at Work.
Parental Leave: Survey reveals prospect of better parental leave policies would lead six in ten employees to switch jobs
According to a survey conducted by Virgin Money, six in ten parents or expectant parents would change jobs if offered better parental leave benefits, reports Personnel Today. Virgin Money The survey revealed that employees were also worried that they would miss out on promotions or career opportunities while on maternity leave (58%) or lose their job (52%). Most of those who responded believed that parental leave policies are an important factor when considering roles at a new organisation (92%) and one in seven (14%) had already left roles due to poor parental leave entitlements, whilst almost a third (29%) of working parents feel maternity and paternity leave in the UK is generally outdated. Virgin Money goes on to report on other benefits workers and parents expect their company to offer include 30 days annual leave (55%), wellbeing days (39%), private medical insurance (31%) and the opportunity to work remotely abroad each year (28%).
The survey coincides with the launch of Virgin Money’s new parental leave policy, which offers equal family leave to all employees from the first day of employment. David Duffy, CEO of Virgin Money, said: “The pandemic has permanently changed our approach to working life. It’s clear to us that by taking a purpose-driven approach to how we work, we can help colleagues achieve a work-life balance that brings out their best.”
Statutory Pay Rates: April 2022 proposed increases to statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and sick pay announced
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published its proposed increases to a number of statutory benefit payments. The following rates are expected to apply from April 2022:
- The weekly rate of statutory sick pay (SSP) will be £99.35 (up from £96.35).
- The weekly rate of statutory maternity pay (SMP) and maternity allowance will be £156.66 (up from £151.97).
- The weekly rate of statutory paternity pay (SPP) will be £156.66 (up from £151.97).
- The weekly rate of statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) will be £156.66 (up from £151.97).
- The weekly rate of statutory adoption pay (SAP) will be £156.66 (up from £151.97).
The rates will be confirmed once an Order is made and are due to come into effect on 11 April 2022. The national minimum wage rates that will apply from April 2022 were announced in the Autumn Budget.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: email@example.com