This month we bring you a plethora of interesting cases centring around dismissal in all its forms – be they agreed, part of a restructure or initiated for a reason.
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month, and it’s a varied bag. We look at what lead to an interim injunction before a disciplinary hearing, whether it was lawful for the government to revoke legislation without consultation, whether a person can have two employers at the same time for the same work, whether a dismissal meeting is always needed to ensure a fair process and how a lay tribunal member could be considered to have been biased.
- Injunctions: Witnesses and disclosure of documents at disciplinary hearings
- Strikes: Could the government revoke legislation to prevent strikers being replaced by agency staff?
- Worker Status: Can a person have two different employers at the same time for the same work?
- Unfair Dismissal: Lack of dismissal meeting does not render dismissal unfair
- Tribunals: Apparent bias in case of lay member posting on social media
Injunctions: Witnesses and disclosure of documents at disciplinary hearings
In Colbert v Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 1672 (KB), the Claimant, Dr Serryth Colbert, was a consultant in oral and maxillofacial surgery, employed by the Defendant, the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust. The Claimant was the subject of disciplinary proceedings brought by the Defendant following allegations that he intimidated and bullied colleagues and other allegations of misconduct. The Claimant issued proceedings on 30 May 2023 seeking an interim injunction relating to the conduct by the Defendant of the disciplinary process.
This case involved two issues in dispute: 1) whether the Claimant had a right to require the attendance of individuals at a disciplinary hearing, who were interviewed as part of the investigation of allegations against him, but who the Defendant was not proposing to call to give evidence, and 2) whether the Claimant was entitled to disclosure of specific documents as part of the disciplinary process, and in particular to an unredacted report that had been produced into alleged misconduct in his department. The Claimant claimed that the way the Defendant had dealt with those two matters breached express contractual obligations, contained in two documents which he contended formed part of his contract: (1) “Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Modern NHS” (“MHPS”) published by the Department of Health; and (2) “Managing Conduct Policy” (“MCP”), the Defendant’s policy for dealing with allegations of misconduct.
In December 2020, the Defendant commissioned an external review to examine the department in which the Claimant worked following allegations having been raised of inappropriate workplace behaviour. A report was produced in February 2021 (“the Atkinson Report”) by the external reviewer, and considered the behaviour of a number of individuals, including the Claimant, and made recommendations, one of which was that the Claimant should be investigated for alleged bullying / inappropriate behaviour. The Claimant was excluded from work from 8 March 2021 while an investigation was carried out (conducted pursuant to the MHPS). An external report was commissioned involving the interviewing of 21 witnesses, including the claimant, and a further report submitted in December 2021 (“the Cunningham Report”). The Report made a number of critical findings about the Claimant including that he had displayed intimidating and bullying behaviour towards a number of colleagues.
On 16 December 2021 a letter was sent to the Claimant with the outcome of the investigation, concluding that the Claimant had a case to answer in relation to a series of allegations, and that the matter would proceed to a disciplinary panel, to be held in January 2023, in accordance with the Defendant’s MCP. The letter stated who would be called as witnesses for the Defendant and who else would be giving evidence, and invited the Claimant to identify who he would be calling, and enclosed a number of documents including the Cunningham Report and a redacted copy of the Atkinson Report (the redactions relating to the other individuals identified by the report).
In January the Claimant wrote back to state the Claimant required that 11 named individuals, described as “management witnesses”, should be present so they could be questioned, and that the Claimant intended to call “around 30 additional witnesses subject to their availability”, and asked for the hearing date to be rescheduled. The Defendant responded by acceding to a later hearing date (May) but declined to provide the 11 witnesses, other than Ms Cunningham who had prepared the second report, and said that he had received all the relevant documents, and the redacted parts of the Atkinson report related only to other members of staff and were not relevant to this investigation.
The Claimant sent a letter before claim setting out:
1. Grounds: The alleged Breaches of Contract by the Defendants are the failure to follow its disciplinary procedures, and to hold a disciplinary hearing in accordance with the Claimant’s contractual rights. These rights are confirmed in the doctor’s employment contract, in [the MHPS] and in the [MCP].
2. The failure to require the Defendant’s primary witnesses to attend the disciplinary hearing so that they can be cross examined by the Claimant’s chosen representative.
3. The failure to allow the Claimant to bring his chosen representative to represent him at the hearing in breach of the amended procedure.
4. The failure to disclose documents pertaining to the disciplinary case in line with MHPS.
The Defendant declined to agree and due to the tight schedule that the letters had caused prior to the rescheduled May disciplinary hearing, the Claimant issued an interim injunction for breach of the Claimant’s contract – the order sought to ensure un-redacted disclosure of all documents, to ensure that all the Defendant’s management witnesses attend the disciplinary hearing and the Claimant’s chosen representative was allowed to represent him at the disciplinary hearing and conduct cross-examination.
In the High Court, (King’s Bench Division) the judge held that, on the correct reading of the Defendant employer’s policy for dealing with allegations of misconduct (the MCP), the employee did not have an unqualified right to insist that any ‘management witness’ could be required to attend a disciplinary hearing to be cross-examined. Accordingly, the court dismissed the employee’s application for an interim injunction. The employee had sought the injunction to ensure unredacted disclosure of all documents, and to ensure that all the defendant’s management witnesses attended the disciplinary hearing, so that they could be cross-examined, and he had contended that the employer had breached express contractual obligations.
The court held that there was no serious issue to be tried, because: (i) the claimant had no real prospect of establishing that his interpretation of the relevant paragraph of the MCP (namely that it meant that the employer had to ensure the attendance at any rescheduled disciplinary hearing of all management witnesses, so that they can be subject to cross examination) was correct; and (ii) there was a good argument that the proceedings should run their course before it would be appropriate for the court to intervene, in circumstances where it was settled law that courts should not become involved in the ‘micromanagement’ of disciplinary proceedings. Further, the court held that the employee had no real prospect of establishing that an investigative report that a Trust had commissioned into a department at a hospital constituted ‘correspondence’, as the word was ordinarily understood or as it was intended to be used in the MHPS. Moreover, there was no real prospect of his establishing that ‘relevant’ material had been withheld from the employee and, even if the report amounted to correspondence, he would not have an unqualified right to have the unredacted report disclosed to him.
Strikes: Could the government revoke legislation to prevent strikers being replaced by agency staff?
In R (on the application of ASLEF and others) v Secretary of State for Business and Trade  EWHC 1781 (Admin) the High Court considered whether it was lawful for the government, without consultation, to revoke legislation which prevented workers on strike being replaced by agency workers. From 1976 it was unlawful for an employment business knowingly to introduce or supply workers to an employer to carry out the work of employees who were taking part in official industrial action. Regulations made pursuant to section 5 of the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and most recently regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/3319 – “the 2003 Regulations”), made this a criminal offence.
In 2015, the Government conducted a public consultation on a proposal to revoke regulation 7. The majority of the responses did not favour this change in the law and, in 2016, it was decided not to go ahead. In June 2022, however, the Government decided, in the context of industrial action in the rail sector and other anticipated industrial action, that regulation 7 would be revoked without further public consultation. On 27 June 2022, the draft Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/852 – “the 2022 Regulations”) were therefore laid before Parliament, regulation 2(a) of which implemented this measure. The 2022 Regulations were made by the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”), Mr Kwasi Kwarteng, on 20 July 2022 and they came into effect on 21 July 2022.
Thirteen trade unions challenged the then Secretary of State’s decision to make the 2022 Regulations. The challenge is on two grounds:
- that he failed to comply with his statutory duty, under section 12(2) of the 1973 Act, to consult before making the 2022 Regulations (“Ground 1”).
- it is contended that, by making the 2022 Regulations, the Secretary of State breached his duty, under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), to prevent unlawful interference with the rights of trade unions and their members (“Ground 2”).
The High Court confirmed that the challenge succeeded on the basis of Ground 1 and quashed the Regulations. In particular, it found that the decision to revoke the legislation preventing the use of agency workers in place of striking workers “was not informed by, or tested against, the views of and the evidence of bodies which were representative of the interests concerned”. The Secretary of State could not rely upon consultation which had taken place 7 years earlier on the same point (and was found not to have done so in any event).
The High Court, having upheld Ground 1, decided not to express a view on the more contentious Ground 2.
Worker Status: Can a person have two different employers at the same time for the same work?
In United Taxis Ltd v Comolly  EAT 93, the EAT considered Mr Comolly’s worker status. He is a taxi driver, registered with United Taxis and who then did work driving United Taxis’ passengers, through one of its shareholders, Mr Parkinson, using his taxi. After that relationship came to an end he did work driving United Taxis’ passengers, through another shareholder, Mr Tidman, using his taxi. After that relationship ended he brought various complaints to the employment tribunal asserting that he was either an employee or a worker of United Taxis or Mr Tidman.
The tribunal determined as preliminary issues that Mr Comolly was a worker of United Taxis and an employee of Mr Tidman. On the facts found, the tribunal properly concluded that United Taxis’ passengers’ contracts were, and were solely, with United Taxis. It also properly concluded that, under Mr Comolly’s contract with Mr Tidman, Mr Comolly provided services to him in exchange for payment. United Taxis contracted out the task of conveying its passengers to Mr Tidman, who in turn sub-contracted it to Mr Comolly.
However, the EAT noted that the key cases of Brook Street Bureau v Dacas and Cable & Wireless v Muscat had found the concept of dual employment to be “problematic” and concluded that it could not “see how [the problems] could be overcome”. It therefore found that the tribunal erred in finding that Mr Tidman had a contract with United Taxis under which he also did work for it. There was no necessity to imply such a contract, whether from the fact that he registered with United Taxis, and was required to comply with its rules and byelaws as a condition of being permitted to convey its passengers, or otherwise. The tribunal could also not properly find that he was simultaneously an employee or worker of two employers in respect of the same work.
The tribunal also erred in finding that Mr Comolly’s contract with Mr Tidman was a contract of employment, in particular in its approach to the question of control. In particular, although Mr Tidman controlled when the taxi was available to Mr Comolly, he had no control over what Mr Comolly did during the time that the taxi was available to him. Drawing on its findings of fact, a finding was substituted that Mr Comolly was a worker of Mr Tidman.
Unfair Dismissal: Lack of dismissal meeting does not render dismissal unfair
In Charalambous v National Bank of Greece  EAT 75, the EAT considered the process of dismissal. It found that the lack of a meeting between an employee and the dismissing officer will not in and of itself, in all circumstances, make a dismissal unfair. It found that the decision in Budgen & Co v Thomas  ICR 344 (EAT), was not an authority for the proposition that a dismissing officer must always have direct communication with an employee in order for a misconduct dismissal to be fair. Such a meeting is desirable and good practice but what is essential is that the employee is given the opportunity to ‘say whatever he or she wishes to say’ and there is nothing to say that this communication cannot, in principle, be in writing or by way of a report to the dismissing officer, according to the EAT. In any event, the Employment Tribunal had looked at the procedure adopted by the respondent as a whole: it found that any procedural unfairness in the initial decision to dismiss was sufficiently addressed by the internal appeal, which involved a meeting between the claimant and the decision-maker. The claimant’s appeal against the Employment Tribunal’s finding that her dismissal for misconduct had been fair was therefore dismissed.
Tribunals: Apparent bias in case of lay member posting on social media
In Aspect Windows (Western) Limited V Retter (as representative of the estate of Mrs C McCrorie)  EAT 95 following the publishing of the decision of the employment tribunal arising from a full merits hearing, one of the lay members of the tribunal posted on her LinkedIn page, a link to a report about the decision in the Mail Online. Followers of hers then responded on LinkedIn and she responded to them.
The unsuccessful Respondent in the employment tribunal appealed on the basis that the LinkedIn posts gave rise to apparent bias against it. The EAT held that whilst it is possible that what a tribunal member said about a case after the event could shed light as to their approach to the hearing of it, the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the contents of these posts and applying the guidance in Magill v Porter  UKHL 67 and other pertinent authorities, would not in the circumstances consider the lay member was biased in favour of the Claimant. The appeal was therefore dismissed.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month regarding unfair dismissal and determining the date the contract was terminated, considering how an employee’s disabilities may have affected his conduct, respecting privacy through restricted reporting at tribunals and a look at how the ICO and Easylife settled a monetary penalty for unlawful data processing.
- Unfair Dismissal: Determining the effective date of termination of the contract
- Disability Discrimination: Determining whether an employee’s disabilities had had an effect on his conduct
- Restricted Reporting: Anonymity in hearing cases in the tribunals
- Data Protection: ICO and Easylife reach agreement regarding monetary penalty
Unfair Dismissal: Determining the effective date of termination of the contract
In Meaker v Cyxtera Technology UK Ltd  EAT 17 the Employment Appeal Tribunal (the EAT) dismissed the employee’s appeal, concerning the correct approach, in law, to the calculation of the effective date of termination of employment (EDT), pursuant to s.97 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and for the purposes of a complaint of unfair dismissal. The employee appealed after his unfair dismissal claim was struck out as being out of time. The employer argued that the determination of the EDT was not governed by contractual principles and that, where an employee was dismissed in breach of contract, the EDT was the date on which the dismissal was communicated, regardless of whether he accepted it.
The EAT ruled that the employment tribunal (the ET) had not erred in holding that a letter, which the employer had sent to the employee in February 2020, was a termination letter; and that the effective date of termination, for the purposes of the unfair dismissal claim, was the date of receipt of that letter, even if it had been a repudiatory breach that had not been accepted by the claimant at common law. The EAT held that it was not bound to conclude that the meaning of the letter was rendered ambiguous by the fact that the opening paragraph of the relevant settlement agreement had referred to termination being effected by mutual agreement; and that the ET had been entitled to take the view that, even where there had been no mutual agreement, the termination (by the letter) had been clear.
The EAT ruled that there was no sign in the authorities that it was considered that the EDT would only be the date of a repudiatory breach if the contract had, in fact, been brought to an end by the employee accepting that breach. Further, the EAT held that the ET had not erred in holding that the employee had not shown that it had not been reasonably practicable for him to have presented his unfair dismissal complaint in time.
Disability Discrimination: Determining whether an employee’s disabilities had had an effect on his conduct
In McQueen v General Optical Council  EAT 36, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (the EAT) dismissed the employee’s appeal against the employment tribunal’s (the ET’s) decision, dismissing his claim which alleged unfavourable treatment by the respondent employer because of something arising in consequence of a disability, pursuant to s.15 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010). The employee had dyslexia, some symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, neurodiversity and left sided hearing loss, which had caused some difficulties with his interactions in the workplace. The employer, which was the statutory regulator of optometrists and opticians practising in the UK, had employed the employee as a registration officer. The employee had had ‘meltdowns’ at work, which had led to disciplinary proceedings. Subsequently, he had left that employment.
The employee contended that: (i) the ET had misapplied the broad test of causation required where a claim under s.15 was being considered, in that its reasoning had been contrary to the psychiatric and psychological evidence; (ii) the disability did not, necessarily, need to be the sole or even main reason for the ‘something’ that arose in consequence of it; (iii) the employer had, itself, linked the employee’s behaviour to his disabilities; and (iv) in considering whether there had been discrimination of the kind where ‘A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability’ (EqA 2010 s 15(1)(a)), the ET had failed to appreciate that the words ‘in consequence of’ were, at least, as broad as the ‘because of’ test.
The EAT held that, although it had reservations about the structure and quality of the ET’s decision and reasoning, the ET had not erred in law or principle in the application of s.15 to the facts; and that it had not adopted too strict a test of causation when considering the effects of the employee’s disabilities. The correct reading of the decision was that the ET had found that those effects had not played any part in the conduct that had led to the unfavourable treatment complained of. The EAT held that, once the ET had determined that the employee’s disabilities had not had any effect on his conduct on the occasions in question, the further question whether any unfavourable treatment had been ‘because of’ that conduct had not arisen.
Restricted Reporting: Anonymity in hearing cases in the tribunals
In A v Choice Support (Formerly MCCH Ltd)  EAT 18, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (the EAT) ruled on the respondent’s application, pursuant to r.19 of the Employment Appeal Tribunal Rules 1993, SI 1993/2854, to make permanent a temporary restricted reporting order which had been made at the EAT level, pursuant to r.23 of the 1993 Rules, and arising out of s.11 of the Employment Tribunal’s Act 1996 (the Act), and in line with an order made by the employment tribunal (the ET) pursuant to r.50 of the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations, SI 2013/1237 (r.50) and s.11 of the Act. The application arose in circumstances where the respondent provided support to vulnerable adults, and the employee alleged that an individual (EA), with whom she had worked at the same property, had raped her.
The EAT held that: (i) r.50 set out a much broader discretion beyond s.11 of the Act; (ii) the orders should make specific reference to which elements of s.11 and/or r.50 the relevant decision was applying; (iii) the distinction between anonymity orders and restrictions on reporting should clearly be separate parts of any such order, setting out whether they were made pursuant to the section or on broader grounds; (iv) if there was concern about jigsaw identification, any order should be made in terms which clearly prohibited publication of any particular detail of the case facts which it was thought might lead to identification; and (v) a restricted reporting order should only be made (and made permanent) when a less restrictive order would not suffice.
The EAT held that the employee should remain anonymised, that EA’s rights under art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been engaged and that, as ‘a person affected’, he should be anonymised and that, because of the risk of jigsaw identification, EA’s parents should remain anonymised. Further, the EAT ruled that the anonymisation should be made the subject of a permanent order.
Data Protection: ICO and Easylife reach agreement regarding monetary penalty
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reached an agreement with Easylife Ltd (Easylife) to reduce the monetary penalty notice to £250,000 for breaching the UK General Data Protection Regulation, Retained Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (UK GDPR). Easylife has accepted the ICO’s findings as set out in the monetary penalty notice and has agreed to pay the reduced fine. This follows the ICO’s fine to Easylife on 4 October 2022, where an investigation found that Easylife was making assumptions about customers’ medical conditions, based on their purchase history, to sell further health related products. This was deemed to involve processing of a special category data without a lawful basis, where Easylife has since stopped the unlawful processing of special category data.
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
A round-up of the most significant employment law cases to be published over the last month including insights on dismissal cases, using without prejudice letters and when injunctive relief may be sought to enforce a non-compete clause. We also have an interesting case on ethical veganism v legality of actions.
- Equality Act: Ethical veganism encompassing an obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering was not a protected belief
- Unfair Dismissal: Statutory cap should be applied to unfair dismissal compensation after deduction of earlier payments made to employee
- Constructive Dismissal: Fundamental breach possible even where employer’s actions do not suggest intention to end employment relationship
- Dismissal: ACAS code applied to discriminatory sham redundancy dismissal
- Injunctive Relief: Interim enforcement of non-compete clauses
- Without Prejudice: Without prejudice letter inadmissible despite exaggerated allegations
Equality Act: Ethical veganism encompassing an obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering was not a protected belief
In Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College ET/2206733/2020, an employment tribunal has found that a belief in ethical veganism encompassing an obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering did not amount to a philosophical belief under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).
Ms Free Miles was a veterinary nurse employed by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). In February 2019, she was arrested by police in connection with alleged burglaries by the Animal Liberation Front. The police found a sick turkey at her flat which she said she had rescued. Following her arrest, Ms Free Miles was summarily dismissed by RVC for reasons including that RVC believed she was connected with an animal rights group that endorsed law breaking and that she had participated in activities including trespass and theft.
Ms Free Miles brought an employment tribunal claim against RVC for, among other things, direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination. She relied on her belief in ethical veganism, arguing that this belief included a moral obligation to take positive action to reduce animal suffering, including trespass on property and removal of animals. By the time of the tribunal hearing, Ms Free Miles had been charged by the police with criminal offences relating to animal rights activities.
The tribunal stated that, had Ms Free Miles’ belief in ethical veganism been limited to the belief that humans should not eat, wear, use for sport, experiment on or profit from animals, it would have had no reservation in concluding that it amounted to a philosophical belief under section 10 of the EqA 2010. It also said that it might have reached the same conclusion had the moral obligation to take positive action to reduce or prevent animal suffering been limited to lawful action.
However, Ms Free Miles’ belief included trespassing on private property and acting in contravention of the law. The tribunal concluded that a belief to take actions that are unlawful and to interfere with the property rights of others could not be worthy of respect in a democratic society, so did not satisfy the fifth element of the test in Grainger Plc v Nicholson  2 All ER 253. Laws were made by democratically elected representatives and had to be obeyed by all citizens. It was not open to individuals to decide which laws to obey and disobey. Ms Free Miles’ discrimination claims therefore failed.
Unfair Dismissal: Statutory cap should be applied to unfair dismissal compensation after deduction of earlier payments made to employee
In Dafiaghor-Olomu v Community Integrated Care  EAT 84, the EAT has held that any payments made by an employer to an employee in respect of an unfair dismissal claim must be deducted from the total compensation sum before the statutory cap is applied.
Mrs Dafiaghor-Olomu won an unfair dismissal claim against Community Integrated Care (CIC). She sought re-engagement and compensation. The tribunal refused re-engagement but awarded £46,153.55 in compensation which CIC paid in full. At a second remedies hearing following a successful appeal, the tribunal increased the compensatory award to £128,961.59. The EAT was required to determine whether the statutory cap should be applied after the earlier payment made by CIC was deducted from the sum of £128,961.59 (leaving an outstanding payment of £74,200, being the amount of the statutory cap in place at the relevant time) or whether the statutory cap should be applied to the total award before the earlier payment was deducted (leaving an outstanding payment of £28,046.45). CIC argued for the latter approach, stating that the former would mean it got no credit for the earlier payment and would be penalised for complying with the tribunal’s original order.
The EAT considered the wording of section 124(5) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. It felt that this showed that Parliament’s intention was for the tribunal to calculate the total compensation due to the employee and then subtract from it any earlier payments made by the employer before applying the cap. However, in reaching this conclusion, the EAT expressed considerable sympathy with CIC. In paying the original compensatory award, CIC had complied with what it perceived to be its duty. Had it foreseen the possibility that the tribunal would increase the award at the second remedies hearing, it would probably have declined to make any payment until the compensatory order was final. Instead, it ended up owing £74,200 plus £46,153.55 instead of just £74,200.
Additionally, the EAT upheld the employment tribunal’s decision not to reconsider its refusal to award re-engagement after the second remedies hearing on the basis that such an order was impracticable because of Mrs Dafiaghor-Olomu’s attitude towards which jobs were suitable for her. It also dismissed a cross appeal in which CIC argued that the employment tribunal had not been entitled to increase the compensatory award at the second remedies hearing.
Constructive Dismissal: Fundamental breach possible even where employer’s actions do not suggest intention to end employment relationship
In Singh v Metroline West Ltd  EAT 80 the EAT has held that, in a constructive dismissal claim, a fundamental breach of contract can be established even where the employer’s actions do not indicate an intention to end the employment relationship.
Mr Singh was invited to a disciplinary hearing by Metroline West Ltd. The next day, Mr Singh was signed off sick by his doctor. While absent, he was examined by occupational health who did not suggest his sickness was not genuine. However, Metroline believed that Mr Singh was trying to avoid the disciplinary hearing. It therefore paid him statutory sick pay only, instead of company sick pay. Mr Singh brought a claim for constructive dismissal, alleging, among other things, that the failure to pay him company sick pay was a fundamental breach of contract.
The employment tribunal found that Metroline had contractual power to suspend Mr Singh without pay if it thought his absence was not genuine, but this power had not been exercised. Separately, Mr Singh’s contract allowed company sick pay to be withheld where, after investigation, absence was found not to be genuine. There was no investigation in this case and no other relevant contractual grounds on which company sick pay could be withheld. There was therefore a breach of contract. However, the tribunal found the breach was not fundamental. By withholding pay, Metroline had not indicated an intention not to be bound by the employment relationship; rather, its aim in withholding pay was to encourage Mr Singh’s participation in a disciplinary process integral to that relationship.
However, the EAT upheld Mr Singh’s appeal on this issue. It was an error of law for the tribunal to adopt the approach that, for the breach of contract to be fundamental, there must have been an intention by the employer not to be bound by the contract in a manner that meant that it no longer wished to continue with the employment relationship. What is required is that the employer demonstrates an intention to no longer comply with the terms of the contract that is so serious that it goes to the root of the contract. In this case, there was a deliberate decision to withhold pay to which Mr Singh was entitled, resulting in a significant reduction in earnings, in circumstances where there were other contractual provisions which would have allowed Metroline to deal with suspicions about his absence. This was a fundamental breach.
Dismissal: ACAS code applied to discriminatory sham redundancy dismissal
In Rentplus UK Ltd v Coulson  EAT 81 the EAT has held that the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (ACAS Code) applied to a discriminatory dismissal purportedly by reason of redundancy. The tribunal had not erred in awarding the maximum 25% uplift available for failure to follow the ACAS Code.
The employer’s ground of appeal that the ACAS Code could not apply where their reason for dismissal was redundancy and the reason found by the tribunal was sex discrimination failed. This was because the tribunal had rejected redundancy as the reason for the dismissal and the upholding of the sex discrimination claim did not mean that it was the only reason for the dismissal. The EAT considered it was implicit in the tribunal’s reasoning that the claimant was in a “disciplinary situation” to which the ACAS Code applied, this being that she was dismissed due to dissatisfaction with her personally and/or her performance, which was tainted by sex discrimination, and a fair capability or disciplinary procedure should therefore have applied.
It was clear that the tribunal had concluded the dismissal process was a sham and there had been a total failure to comply with the ACAS Code. The breach was referred to as “egregious” and so was beyond unreasonable. While, generally, a tribunal should identify the employer’s failings for which an uplift is being made by reference to the relevant part of the ACAS Code which the employer is said to be in breach of, in this case the tribunal had concluded that the employer had acted in bad faith such that there was a total failure to apply any of the protections provided for by the ACAS Code. In these circumstances, there was no error of law in the award of an uplift of 25%.
The EAT provided guidance in the form of questions that tribunals considering an ACAS uplift should apply:
- Is the claim one which raises a matter to which the ACAS Code applies?
- Has there been a failure to comply with the ACAS Code in relation to that matter?
- Was the failure to comply with the ACAS Code unreasonable?
- Is it just and equitable to award an uplift because of the failure to comply with the ACAS Code and, if so, by what percentage, up to 25%?
Injunctive Relief: Interim enforcement of non-compete clauses
In Planon Ltd v Gilligan  EWCA Civ 642 the Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal from the High Court’s refusal to grant an interim injunction to enforce a non-compete clause.
The High Court had held that the delay between the initial exchanges of correspondence between the parties and the application being heard was not the sort of delay that would disqualify the employer from interim injunctive relief. However, the employer’s prospects of success at trial in enforcing the non-compete clause were not that good, the critical point being the non-compete clause was likely to prevent the employee from being able to work in his field for 12 months. Damages would not, or might not, be an adequate remedy for either the employer or employee in this case.
While the Court of Appeal dismissed the employer’s appeal, its reasoning differed from that of the High Court. It held that the High Court had not taken the correct approach when considering whether the non-compete clause was reasonable. However, in view of the delay by the time the matter came before it, the court did not consider it appropriate to express a preliminary view about the enforceability of the clause.
The court considered the effect of delay in the case. There was a divergence of opinion between Elisabeth Laing LJ and Bean LJ, with Nugee LJ expressing no view, on the effect of the delay between the facts becoming known to the employer and the High Court hearing. Elisabeth Laing LJ considered that the judge had reached a decision open to him on the facts while Bean LJ considered that the judge would have been entitled to refuse an injunction on the ground of delay. The court noted that there was no rule of law to the effect that damages would be an adequate remedy for the employee (if it was found that at trial that a restrictive covenant is unenforceable). Bean LJ suggested that, except in cases of very wealthy defendants, or where a claimant employer is offering paid garden leave for the whole period of the restraint, it was unrealistic to argue that damages would be an adequate remedy.
Without Prejudice: Without prejudice letter inadmissible despite exaggerated allegations
In Swiss Re Corporate Solutions Ltd v Sommer  EAT 78 the EAT has held that an employment judge erred when holding that a without prejudice letter could be admitted into evidence under the “unambiguous impropriety” exception to the without prejudice rule in proceedings brought by an employee against her former employer. The without prejudice rule prevents statements made (whether in writing or orally) in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute from being put before the court as evidence of admissions against the interest of the party that made them.
The letter referred to the employee’s actions in having copied three emails to her personal email address when sending them to her employer in pursuit of a grievance. The emails had contained personal data and matters confidential to the employer and its clients. Before offering to settle her complaints by way of termination of her employment and payment of compensation, the letter alleged that the employee’s actions breached the confidentiality obligations in her employment contract, were a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act 2018 and meant that she had acted, or might have acted, without integrity in breach of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rules. This could result in summary dismissal, criminal convictions, fines and FCA findings which could make it difficult for her to work again in the regulated sector.
In holding that the unambiguous impropriety exception applied, the employment judge found that there had been no basis at all for the employer’s assertion that the employee’s actions amounted to serious misconduct and that the severity of what she had done had been grossly exaggerated in order to put pressure on her to accept the termination of her employment.
The EAT held that the employment judge had erred in finding there was no basis at all for the allegations of serious misconduct. It considered that the high threshold for unambiguous impropriety could be met in circumstances in which a party made exaggerated allegations although it was unaware of any decided case on this point. However, exaggeration would not usually pass the threshold without findings as to the guilty party’s state of mind. The employment judge did not make such findings, and the EAT doubted that this could have validly been done at a preliminary hearing without oral evidence. The only possible outcome in this case was that the without prejudice letter was inadmissible in evidence.