Employment Law Newsletter – March 2021
- COVID-19: Driver who refused to wear face mask was fairly dismissed
- Discrimination: Christian’s removal from office for being publicly outspoken against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption was not discriminatory
- Working time: When standby periods can count as working time
- TUPE: Tribunal erred in ordering re-engagement by new service provider it identified as successor employer
- Workers: Uber commits to paying drivers a minimum hourly wage during trips
- Spring Budget: Employment issues
- COVID-19: Temporary tax and NICs exemptions extended and vehicle benefit charges increased
- COVID-19: ACAS updates working safely guidance regarding testing and vaccination
- COVID-19: EHRC suspends enforcement of 2020-21 gender pay gap reporting deadlines for six months
- Gender Pay Gap: Female financial services directors earn 66% less than male counterparts
- Equality: Fifth Hampton-Alexander report on gender balance in FTSE leadership
- Racism: Rise in BME unemployment is double that of white Britons
- Flexible working: Minister for Women and Equalities calls for flexible working to be normalised
COVID-19: Driver who refused to wear face mask was fairly dismissed
In Kubilius v Kent Foods Ltd  UKET 3201960/2020 Mr Kubilius was employed as a delivery driver by Kent Foods Ltd (Kent). Kent’s employee handbook required courteous treatment of clients and that employees take all reasonable steps to safeguard their own health and safety and that of others as a result of their actions at work. Its driver’s handbook required customer instruction regarding PPE to be followed. Mr Kubilius worked at Kent’s Basildon depot where the majority of the work involved travel to and from the Thames refinery site of Tate & Lyle (Tate).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tate required face masks to be worn at the Thames refinery site and all visitors were issued with a face mask on arrival. On 21 May 2020, despite being asked by two Tate employees, Mr Kubilius refused to wear a face mask while he was in the cab of his vehicle. He was told that without one, droplets from his mouth were going to land on peoples’ faces due to his elevated position in his cab and that Tate’s rules required him to wear a face mask until he left its site. Mr Kubilius maintained his refusal, arguing that his cab was his own area and that wearing a face mask was not a legal requirement. Tate reported the incident to Kent and banned Mr Kubilius from its site. Following an investigation, Mr Kubilius was invited to a disciplinary hearing into the allegation that, in refusing to comply with Tate’s instruction regarding PPE, he had breached the requirements to maintain good relationships with clients and to co-operate to ensure a safe working environment. Mr Kubilius was summarily dismissed.
An employment tribunal held that the dismissal had been fair. Kent had a genuine belief that Mr Kubilius had been guilty of misconduct having carried out a reasonable investigation into facts that were not in significant dispute. It had acted reasonably in treating the alleged misconduct as a sufficient reason for dismissal. While another employer might have chosen to issue a warning, dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses. Kent had been entitled to take account of the importance of maintaining good relationships with its clients, Mr Kubilius’s continued insistence that he had done nothing wrong (which caused concern as to his future conduct) and the practical difficulties arising from his being banned from Tate’s site.
Discrimination: Christian’s removal from office for being publicly outspoken against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption was not discriminatory
Two cases were brought before the Court of Appeal based on the same sequence of events and with the same Appellant, Mr Richard Page. The appeals were heard consecutively at the same hearing but two separate judgments were given. (Page v NHS Trust Development Authority  EWCA Civ 255 and Page v Lord Chancellor and another  EWCA Civ 254.) Mr Page was a Non-Executive Director of the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, which is responsible for the delivery of mental health services in Kent. He gave media interviews, including two on national television, in which he expressed his personal views based on his devout Christianity that, it is always in the best interests of every child to be brought up by a mother and a father, and therefore he did not consider it was appropriate for a child to be adopted by a single parent or same sex couple. He also made it clear that he thought that homosexual activity was wrong and that he did not agree with same-sex marriage.
His appointment with the NHS Trust was for a four-year term. Following an investigation the authority that dealt with terminations made findings which would normally have led to the termination of Mr Page’s appointment as a Director. In fact, by the time that it made its decision his current term had expired, but the practical effect of its findings was to prevent him from applying to serve a further term or serving as a Non-Executive Director of a different Trust.
Mr Page was also a magistrate, sitting on the Central Kent bench, where he was a member of the family panel. In December 2014, following a formal disciplinary process, he was reprimanded by the Lord Chief Justice as a result of an incident in which he declined to agree to the adoption of a child by a same-sex couple. The reprimand was reported in the press, and it is clear that Mr Page had spoken to reporters about it and expressed his views about same-sex adoption. Mr Page did not inform the NHS Trust or the authority about the disciplinary action taken against him by the Lord Chief Justice or about his contacts with the press.
Mr Page commenced proceedings against the authority on the basis that the termination decision, and the suspension and investigation which led to it, constituted unlawful discrimination and harassment by reference to his religion or belief, and also victimisation, contrary to Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010.
The Court of Appeal held that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that the authority did not discriminate against a Christian non-executive director, Mr Page, on religious grounds when it decided not to renew his term after he spoke out in public against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption. The Court also held that the tribunal had been entitled to find that Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (freedom of religion) was not engaged but, if it had been, it would not have been breached because any limitation placed on the right to freedom of religion in this case was justified as being necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. There was no direct discrimination because Mr Page was removed for repeatedly speaking to the media without first informing the Trust, despite repeated requests to seek permission, and not because of his religious belief. There had been no indirect discrimination because however a provision, criterion or practice may have been formulated, it was hard to see how the tribunal’s conclusion on justification in relation to Article 9 would not similarly apply to the indirect discrimination claim. There had been no victimisation because the protected acts relied on by Mr Page had not been the reason for the action taken against him.
In concluding remarks, the court observed that there are circumstances in which it is right to expect Christians (and those of other faiths) who work for an institution, especially if they hold a high-profile position, to accept some limitations on how they express their beliefs in public on matters of particular sensitivity. Whether such limitations are justified in a particular case can only be judged by a careful assessment of all the relevant circumstances in order to strike a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the legitimate interests of the institution they work for.
In the other case before the Court of Appeal, Mr Page argued he had suffered victimisation when he was removed from office as a magistrate following his media interviews. The Court, however, found that the only issue on the appeal was whether Mr Page had been removed as a magistrate because he had complained about potential religion and belief discrimination in relation to earlier disciplinary proceedings against him. The Court upheld the finding that this had not been the reason for his removal. He had been removed because he had declared publicly that, in dealing with cases involving adoption by same-sex couples, he would proceed not on the basis of the law and the evidence, but on the basis of his own preconceived beliefs about such adoptions. His removal was lawful under the Equality Act 2010 and involved no breach of his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court reached its decision without needing to hear the respondents’ submissions. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused.
Working time: When standby periods can count as working time
In DJ v Radiotelevizija Slovenija (Case C-344/19) EU:C:2021:182 the ECJ has held that a period of standby would not, in its entirety, be working time under the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) only because a worker was required to be contactable by telephone and able to return to their workplace, if necessary, within a time limit of one hour, while being able (but not required) to stay in accommodation provided by their employer. However, it would be for the referring national court to assess the facts of the case, including the consequences of the time limit and the average frequency of activity during standby periods, since these might establish that the constraints imposed on the worker objectively and very significantly affected their ability to manage their time and devote that time to their own interests. Limited opportunities to pursue leisure activities within the immediate vicinity of the workplace was not relevant to that assessment.
The constraints that may be taken into account when deciding whether a period of standby is working time are those imposed on the worker by national law, a collective agreement or by the employer pursuant to either the worker’s contract or the employer’s system of dividing standby time between workers. By contrast, organisational difficulties that a period of standby may generate for the worker, which are not the result of such constraints but are, for example, the consequence of natural factors or of the worker’s own free choice, may not be taken into account.
In this case, a worker who spent time at two television transmission centres situated in mountains in Slovenia argued that time he spent on standby during which he had to be contactable by telephone and able to return to the transmission centre within one hour was working time. While he was not required to remain at the workplace, the geographical location of the transmission centres meant that he had to do so while he was on standby. Consequently, he had limited opportunities for leisure activities and stayed in on-site accommodation provided by his employer that he was entitled (but not required) to use.
TUPE: Tribunal erred in ordering re-engagement by new service provider it identified as successor employer
In Greater Glasgow Health Board v Neilson  UKEATS/0013/20 the EAT has held that a tribunal made a number of errors when, in a claim for unfair dismissal in the context of a TUPE transfer, it ordered re-engagement of the claimant by the new service provider who had not been a party to proceedings on the basis that it was a successor employer.
Given the tribunal’s finding that the claimant had been assigned to an organised grouping that had transferred to the new service provider, there was no basis in law on which the tribunal could have properly ordered any remedy against the respondent in respect of the claimant’s dismissal. The case was remitted for a fresh tribunal to consider remedy in connection with which the claimant would need to consider whether to apply to join the new service provider as a respondent.
The tribunal had also erred when it made an order that the claimant should be re-engaged by the new service provider as a successor employer as defined by the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Referring to the EAT’s decision in Dafiaghor-Olomu v Community Integrated Care and Cornerstone Community Care UKEATS/0001/17, the EAT noted that the circumstances in which there is a successor employer following a TUPE transfer will be very limited.
Workers: Uber commits to paying drivers a minimum hourly wage during trips
Following last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that its drivers are workers under UK employment legislation, Uber has announced that from 17 March 2021 all of its drivers, irrespective of their age, will receive at least the National Living Wage (NLW), after expenses, once they have accepted a trip request (see February’s newsletter). No mention has been made of compensation for past entitlements and drivers will not be paid at this rate when they are not carrying out trips.
The pay rate, amounting to £8.72 per hour, will create an earnings floor (not an earnings ceiling) and has been introduced alongside automatic enrolment into a pension plan, which both Uber and its drivers will contribute to. All drivers will receive paid holiday time based on 12.07% of their earnings, paid on a fortnightly basis, as well as free insurance to cover sickness, injury and parental payments. This insurance cover was introduced in 2018. Uber has confirmed that drivers will still be able to choose when and where they drive.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is calling on HMRC to enforce the Supreme Court ruling and ensure that drivers receive a minimum rate of pay from the moment they log onto the app, not only when they are carrying out trips.
Spring Budget: Employment issues
On 3 March 2021, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered the Spring 2021 Budget. The announcements relevant to those involved in employment law mainly concern ongoing support during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is being extended until the end of September 2021. Furloughed employees will continue to receive 80% of their salary for hours not worked but employers will be required to make a contribution towards the cost of unworked hours of 10% in July and 20% in August and September.
- The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is also being extended with a fourth grant covering the period February to April 2021 and a fifth and final grant covering May to September 2021.
- The Chancellor also announced investment in a Taxpayer Protection Taskforce to combat fraud within COVID-19 support packages, including the CJRS and SEISS.
- There will be temporary continuation of tax exemptions for COVID-19 tests and home office expenses (see below), and of the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Rebate Scheme while sickness levels remain high.
- Looking to the future, the Chancellor made announcements about increased support for traineeships and apprenticeships.
COVID-19: Temporary tax and NICs exemptions extended and vehicle benefit charges increased
As promised in the Spring 2021 Budget, on 8 March 2021, Regulations were made extending the temporary tax exemption for employer reimbursement of home office expenses to the tax year 2021-22. The exemption covers the cost of equipment purchased by the employee for the sole purpose of enabling the employee to work from home due to COVID-19. Corresponding Regulations (NICs Regulations), ensuring that such reimbursement is disregarded for NICs purposes, were also made on 8 March 2021.
The NICs Regulations also extend the temporary disregard of employer-reimbursed coronavirus antigen test costs to the tax year 2021-22. The corresponding income tax exemption for that reimbursement will be introduced in the Finance Bill 2021.
Additionally, as anticipated following the government’s written statement on 4 March 2021, an Order was made to increase the van benefit charge and fuel benefit charges for company vehicles. The increased charges take effect from 6 April 2021 as follows:
- Flat-rate van benefit charge: £3,500 (increased from £3,490).
- Multiplier for the car fuel benefit charge: £24,600 (increased from £24,500).
- Flat-rate van fuel benefit charge: £669 (increased from £666).
COVID-19: ACAS updates working safely guidance regarding testing and vaccination
ACAS has updated its “Working Safely During Coronavirus” guidance to provide further information about workplace testing and vaccination for COVID-19. The page entitled “Testing staff for coronavirus” contains a new section setting out what it would be good practice for employers to discuss with staff when agreeing to implement workplace testing. This includes how testing would work, how staff will get their test results and how the employer plans to use and store testing data in line with the UK GDPR. If staff are concerned about testing, the guidance suggests that it may help for employers to consider paying them their usual rate of pay for time off after a positive test or furloughing them. However, some have suggested it is unclear whether the CJRS can be used in this way.
The guidance now also contains a page dedicated to “Getting the coronavirus vaccine for work” which includes a section on how to support staff to get the vaccine. This highlights similar points for discussion as in relation to workplace testing and suggests that employers could consider offering paid time off for vaccination appointments and full pay (rather than SSP) if staff are off sick because of vaccine side effects. The guidance advises that, in most circumstances, it is best for employers to support staff to get the vaccine without making it a requirement. However, if an employer feels it is important for staff to be vaccinated, they should consult with staff. Where further steps are necessary, these should be recorded in writing (for example, in a policy).
Interestingly, several points which were previously contained in the guidance have now been removed. In particular, the guidance no longer states that:
- Employers cannot force staff to be vaccinated.
- Employers should only make getting the vaccine mandatory if it is necessary for someone to do their job.
- That, if an employer believes that an employee’s reason for refusing a vaccine is unreasonable, this may in some circumstances be a disciplinary issue.
The removal of these points perhaps suggests an acknowledgement that they are not straightforward. Nevertheless, these are still likely to be issues that employers will need to grapple with over the coming months.
COVID-19: EHRC suspends enforcement of 2020-21 gender pay gap reporting deadlines for six months
In light of the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has confirmed that gender pay gap enforcement action for the reporting year 2020-21 will be suspended until 5 October 2021.
Under the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2260) and the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/172), public sector bodies and private sector employers would have been required to submit their gender pay gap reports by 30 March and 4 April respectively. The suspension of enforcement action effectively means that employers have an additional six months to meet their reporting obligations for 2020-21.
The EHRC has described the delay as striking a balance between supporting businesses through challenging times and enforcing the important gender pay gap reporting obligations. Employers are encouraged by the EHRC to report before October 2021 where possible.
Gender Pay Gap: Female financial services directors earn 66% less than male counterparts
Research conducted by law firm Fox & Partners has revealed that female directors working in the UK’s biggest financial services firms earn an average yearly wage of £247,100, 66% lower than the £722,300 earned by male directors.
The research suggests that the significant gender pay gap is indicative of the limited opportunities open to women looking to secure higher paid executive roles at FTSE 100 and 250 firms. According to the data, 86% of the female company directors accounted for were in non-executive roles which receive lower pay and encompass fewer daily responsibilities.
Equality: Fifth Hampton-Alexander report on gender balance in FTSE leadership
On 24 February 2021 the Hampton-Alexander Review published its fifth and final annual report on improving gender balance in FTSE leadership.
The report states that as at 11 January 2021:
- Women held 36.2% of FTSE 100 board positions (up from 32.4% in 2019), but 32 FTSE 100 companies had not yet achieved the 33% target.
- Women held 33.2% of FTSE 250 board positions (up from 29.6%), but 139 FTSE 250 companies had not yet achieved the 33% target.
- Across the FTSE 350 there were only 39 female chairs (11 in the FTSE 100), 89 female SIDs (23 in the FTSE 100) and 17 female CEOs (8 in the FTSE 100). There were only 76 female executive directors (31 in the FTSE 100), being 12.1% of executive directors in the FTSE 350.
As of 28 January, the FTSE 350 no longer had any all-male boards, but still had 16 companies with only one woman on the board.
Racism: Rise in BME unemployment is double that of white Britons
The TUC’s analysis, as reported by the Guardian, of recently published ONS data has revealed that the overall unemployment rate for BME (black and minority ethnic) groups rose from 5.8% in the final quarter of 2019 to 9.5% in 2020. This growth rate is double that recorded for white people whose unemployment figures rose from a much lower 3.4% to 4.5% in the same period. It argues that the data serves as a “mirror to the structural racism” currently at play in Britain.
Charitable trust ‘Hope Not Hate’ has emphasised the role of COVID-19 in escalating the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) unemployment crisis. According to a poll it recently conducted, one in five BAME people had lost their jobs, with 22% blaming the pandemic for their unemployment.
Flexible Working: Minister for Women and Equalities calls for flexible working to be normalised
The Government Equalities Office has published a report by the government-backed Behavioural Insights Team and jobs website Indeed, Encouraging employers to advertise jobs as flexible, which revealed that job adverts which offer flexible working increase applications by up to 30%.The research, which analysed nearly 20 million applications and is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the UK, shows greater transparency in job adverts would create at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy per year.
Almost 40% of employees worked from home in 2020, and the appetite for flexibility hit new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that 9 out of 10 jobseekers want increased flexibility, be it remote working (60%), flexitime (54%) or reduced hours (26%).
Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss MP, called for employers to make flexible working a standard option for employees. She argues this would boost productivity and morale and improve the employment prospects of women (who are twice as likely as men to work flexibly) and those who live outside major cities.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Employment Law Newsletter – February 2021
- Worker Status: Supreme Court rules Uber drivers ARE workers
- Sex discrimination: Maternity charity’s application for judicial review of SEISS dismissed
- Harassment: No defence of taking all reasonable steps to prevent harassment as equality and diversity training was “stale”
- Indirect discrimination: Tribunal failed to consider whether more women than men were put to a particular disadvantage by a PCP
- Discrimination: Clear words required for allegation to amount to protected act under Equality Act 2010
- Whistleblowing: EAT holds tribunal misapplied public interest test in detriment case
- Unfair Dismissal: Employer not entitled to dismiss employee for conducting surveillance in workplace
- Intellectual Property: Employer owned copyright relating to software
- COVID-19: EHRC urged to investigate government’s pandemic response amid growing concern of disproportionate gender equality impact
- COVID-19: Survey finds apprenticeship starts fell by 45.5% during pandemic
- Flexible Working: CIPD calls for flexible working to be day-one right for employees
- Mental Health: Commission reveals £8,400 mental health income gap in the UK
- Discrimination: Over 40% of LGB+ workers experienced conflict at work last year
- Pensions: Pension Schemes Act 2021 gains Royal Assent
Worker Status: Supreme Court rules Uber drivers ARE workers
As we reported last month, the Supreme Court heard the case of Uber BV and others v Aslam and others on 21 and 22 July 2020 but has only recently published its judgment. The two questions before the initial tribunal were:
- Do the drivers whose work is arranged through the Uber app work for Uber under workers’ contracts (and so qualify for the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and other workers’ rights), or do they work for themselves as independent contractors, performing services under contracts made with passengers through Uber as their booking agent (and therefore do not qualify for any of these rights)?
- If drivers work for Uber under workers’ contracts, then were the drivers/claimants working under such contracts whenever they were logged into the Uber app within the territory in which they were licensed to operate and ready and willing to accept trips; or were they working only when driving passengers to their destinations?
The Court of Appeal had upheld the decision of the tribunal and found, by a majority, that Uber drivers were workers, and not independent contractors, and therefore were entitled to the statutory rights afforded to workers for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the Working Time Regulations 1998. The Supreme Court judges unanimously upheld this decision. It also found that they were working from the time they switched on the app.
In reaching their conclusion, the Judges highlighted the following points which all indicated that Uber was in the more dominant position, like an employer, and unlike in a self-employed contractor situation where there is more equality:
- Uber sets the fares for each ride the drivers carry out and the drivers are not permitted to set their own prices as they would if they were self-employed.
- Uber sets the terms and conditions of using its service.
- Drivers face penalties for cancelling or not accepting rides – sometimes preventing them from working, such as being unable to access the app for a limited time.
- Uber has significant control over the way that drivers work, as they face a rating system. Should a driver’s Uber rating fall below a certain level they face penalties or termination of their contract.
- Uber takes active steps to prevent drivers and passengers from having an agreement outside of the Uber app.
Additionally, the case once again highlights that in determining whether a worker or self-employed contractor situation exists, it will always examine the reality of the actual relationship between the parties over whatever documentation may have been prepared between them.
The Court also decided that the drivers became ‘workers’ from the time they switched on the app and were available to work in their designated area, to the time they switched off the app. This means there will now be a significant number of minimum wage, backpay and holiday pay claims made against Uber. It will undoubtedly open the floodgates for other ‘gig-economy’ workers to make claims against employers.
Sex discrimination: Maternity charity’s application for judicial review of SEISS dismissed
An application for judicial review of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) on the basis that it was indirectly discriminatory has been rejected by the High Court. Under the SEISS, grants were awarded to self-employed individuals based on average trading profits in the three full tax years preceding 2019/20. The application was brought by a self-employed mother and a maternity rights charity, The Motherhood Plan. They argued that the SEISS breached Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, read with Article 1 of Protocol 1, in two ways:
- It was indirectly discriminatory to calculate grants based on average trading profits in previous tax years, since women on maternity leave during those years received smaller payments than they would otherwise have been entitled to.
- 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 was not persuaded that there was any indirect discrimination. The disadvantage complained of was not caused by the SEISS itself; rather, it flowed from an absence of or reduction in past income. There were no hidden barriers to eligibility and it was not harder for women on maternity leave to quantify their earnings than for others. The fact that some claimants received lower grants than others reflected the fact of lower earnings in past years; in the context of the SEISS with its stated purpose, the reasons for the lower earnings in past years were irrelevant.
In relation to Thlimmenos, the Court noted that the claimants’ arguments would be to demand redress under the SEISS in relation to their unique situation in the past. There was no authority to support the proposition that uniqueness or difference in the past is a basis on which to require different treatment in the present, such that failure to accord that different treatment amounts to unlawful discrimination. Even if there had been discrimination, the court found that this would have been justified. The government had a broad margin of appreciation in this context and the design of the SEISS was not manifestly without reasonable foundation. Additionally, the government had not breached the public sector equality duty in section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010.
Harassment: No defence of taking all reasonable steps to prevent harassment as equality and diversity training was “stale”
In Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen  UKEAT/0031/20 the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s finding that an employer failed to take all reasonable steps to avoid an employee being racially harassed by another and could not rely on section 109(4) of the Equality Act 2010. The employment tribunal was entitled to find that the equality and diversity training delivered to employees 20 months prior to the harassment was “stale“, there was evidence that the training was insubstantial and that employees had forgotten it. It was also appropriate to find that a further reasonable step could have been to offer refresher training. Therefore, the employer could not show that all reasonable steps had been taken.
There are few reported cases that consider the reasonable steps defence. This case illustrates that in determining whether the defence is made out, tribunals will consider the steps that have been taken by the employer in some detail, including the quality of any training, together with how recently it was provided. Ultimately, it confirms that an employer must clear a high threshold if it is to establish that it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.
Indirect discrimination: Tribunal failed to consider whether more women than men were put to a particular disadvantage by a PCP
In, Cumming v British Airways plc  UKEAT/0337/19 the EAT has held that, when determining whether a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) was indirectly discriminatory against women due to their greater childcare responsibilities, the tribunal should consider whether the PCP put women at a particular disadvantage, not whether the PCP applied to all employees in the pool equally. British Airways plc had a policy that aircrew who took three days’ unpaid parental leave would lose one paid rest day that month. Ms Cumming argued that the PCP was indirectly discriminatory against women, as a higher proportion would take parental leave than men. It was common ground that the correct pool for comparison was all aircrew with childcare responsibilities. An employment tribunal rejected her claim on the basis that the PCP applied equally to all aircrew so there was no particular disadvantage to women.
The EAT held that this was an error of law. The fact that the PCP affected all employees who took parental leave in the same way did not mean that there was no particular disadvantage to women. Not all employees with childcare responsibilities would take parental leave. There was statistical evidence to show that more female than male aircrew took parental leave and therefore more women were adversely impacted by the PCP. Further, in Essop v Home Office (UK Border Agency) and Naeem v Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 27, Lady Hale observed that women tended to “bear the greater responsibility for caring for the home and family than…men“. The tribunal had therefore failed to consider whether more women were put to a particular disadvantage by the PCP than men in the same circumstances. The EAT remitted the case to a fresh tribunal.
Discrimination: Clear words required for allegation to amount to protected act under Equality Act 2010
In Chalmers v Airpoint Ltd and others  UKEATS/0031/19 the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s decision that an employee’s comment in her written grievance that the employer’s actions “may amount to discrimination” was not sufficient in the circumstances to amount to a protected act under section 27(2)(d) of the Equality Act 2010 for the purposes of her victimisation claim. The employee’s statement related to the fact that the employer had arranged a Christmas event on a date she could not attend. The EAT held that the tribunal was entitled to take into account the factual context surrounding the allegation. The employee worked in the human resources field and was articulate and well-educated. The use of the word “may“, and the failure to refer explicitly to sex discrimination, could be contrasted with the fact that the employee had complained in clear terms about other matters. Further, the tribunal had found that no discrimination had occurred in relation to the Christmas event and, on the day of the event, the employee had expressed her dissatisfaction to the managing director but had not complained of discrimination.
While a tribunal was not required to interpret the words used by an employee literally and there would be circumstances in which the use of equivocal language would amount to a protected act, this would depend on the context and the tribunal’s assessment of the evidence, including whether the employee was the type of person likely to express themselves cautiously. On the evidence before it, the tribunal was entitled to conclude that an allegation of sex discrimination had not been made, the word “may” usually signifying doubt or uncertainty, and given her background and experience, the employee’s failure to refer to sex discrimination was intentional.
Whistleblowing: EAT holds tribunal misapplied public interest test in detriment case
The EAT has overturned an employment tribunal’s finding that two disclosures made by a consultant solicitor about alleged overcharging by the firm for which he worked, had not, in the solicitor’s reasonable belief, been made in the public interest, and so were not protected disclosures under the whistleblowing legislation.
In Dobbie v Felton t/a Feltons Solicitors  UKEAT/0130_20_1102 the EAT found that the guidelines set out by the Court of Appeal in Chesterton Global Ltd (t/a Chestertons) v Nurmohamed  EWCA Civ 979 had not been properly considered. If the solicitor held a genuine and reasonable belief that his disclosures were in the public interest, that did not have to be his predominant motive in making them. If he reasonably believed that he was disclosing information that tended to show the firm was overcharging the client, in breach of the Solicitors Accounts Rules or other regulatory obligations, the disclosures did not cease to be protected merely because they were made in the context of concerns about the client’s prospects of recovering litigation costs from its opponent. The tribunal had limited its reasoning to consideration of only one of four relevant factors in Chesterton: the numbers in the group whose interests the disclosure served. This had led the tribunal to determine that it was a private matter between the client and the firm. The tribunal had not considered whether the protection of one client alone could have constituted the protection of a “section of the public“.
A disclosure of information relevant to only one person can be a matter of public interest, such as in the case of a one-off error in the medical treatment of a patient. In this case, the disclosures could have advanced the general public interest in solicitors’ clients not being overcharged, and solicitors complying with their regulatory requirements.
The tribunal had also applied the wrong legal test for causation in concluding that the solicitor’s disclosures had had little influence on the firm’s decision to terminate his consultancy agreement. The correct test was whether the disclosure had a material influence on the firm’s decision to terminate the agreement. If the making of one or both of the protected disclosures was an effective cause of the termination, a detriment would be made out, even if the agreement would have been terminated in any event.
Unfair Dismissal: Employer not entitled to dismiss employee for conducting surveillance in workplace
In Northbay Pelagic Ltd v Anderson  UKEATS/0029/18 the EAT has held that an employer was not entitled to dismiss an employee who was conducting surveillance in the workplace, noting that the employer had failed to conduct a balancing exercise between the right to privacy and the employee’s desire to protect his confidential information. The employee had set up a camera to monitor whether anyone had entered his office to access his computer. However, the case was remitted to a fresh tribunal to consider whether it was fair to dismiss the employee on the basis he failed to follow a management instruction.
The EAT also held that if an employer is conducting disciplinary investigations into multiple employees whose cases are related, there is no need for the investigation of the employees to be “sealed off” from one another. It further highlighted the need to ensure evidence is adduced from relevant witnesses, suggesting the employer’s failure to do so in this case may have led to the tribunal preferring the employee’s evidence over that of the employer.
Intellectual Property: Employer owned copyright relating to software
In Penhallurick v MD5 Ltd  EWHC 293, the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court found in favour of the defendant, MD5 Ltd, in copyright infringement proceedings, granting a declaration that MD5 was the owner of copyright in various literary works relating to software created by the claimant, Mr Penhallurick, who was MD5’s employee from November 2006 until April 2016.
The works in issue were various versions of the software, a graphical user interface and a user guide. The judge’s decision on ownership, and therefore infringement, turned on whether each of the works was created in the course of Mr Penhallurick’s employment with MD5.
Judge Hacon said that it was clear from the evidence that making the software was the central task for which MD5 was paying Mr Penhallurick at the relevant times. Where there was such a strong and primary indication, the fact that some of the work was done in his home and using his own computer would not make any difference to the fact that it formed part of his employment duties. All versions of the software were created by Mr Penhallurick with the knowledge and encouragement of MD5 and in return for payment, and all were directed to making and improving the software product sold by MD5. MD5 was therefore also the first owner of copyright in all the versions. Copyright in these (along with copyright in the other works in issue) was also assigned to MD5 under an intellectual property clause in an agreement between the parties made in November 2008. MD5 was therefore the owner of copyright in all the works. The fact that Mr Penhallurick had identified himself as the copyright owner on each version of the software and in the user guide did not create any presumption of ownership under section 104 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The judge granted a declaration of MD5’s copyright ownership in relation to all the works in issue, other than two pleaded works which he had found to be of doubtful existence and of no relevance to the claim.
COVID-19: EHRC urged to investigate government’s pandemic response amid growing concern of disproportionate gender equality impact
The TUC, Amnesty International and dozens of other organisations have called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate the alleged disproportionate equality impact of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on women and minority groups. In response, the EHRC said that “While government focuses on the current crisis we do not consider it appropriate to use our legal powers“. However, it added that it will seek input and monitor the government’s response to the ongoing inequality and human rights issues, and “where necessary take the appropriate action“.
This follows a report entitled ‘Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact‘ published this month by the Women and Equalities Committee. The report addresses a number of areas including labour market and employment, benefits and social security, young people, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, childcare, the extent to which gender equality has been embedded into policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to improve equality data.
The report made wide-ranging recommendations, including that the government should:
- Remove the 26 weeks’ service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements.
- Publish the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021 and that the Bill must take into account the recommendations of the report.
- Introduce legislation in this parliamentary session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers.
The committee made further recommendations in relation to pay gap reporting. It urged that gender pay gap reporting be reinstated with reporting for the financial years 2019/20 and 2020/21 required in April 2021, and that the government should publish proposals for introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting within six months.
The report highlights the need for equality impact analyses to be undertaken in relation to key schemes, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
COVID-19: Survey finds apprenticeship starts fell by 45.5% during pandemic
Personnel Today reports that a survey conducted by Small Business Prices, to mark this year’s partnership week (8-14 February), has revealed that apprenticeship starts fell by 45.5% overall since the beginning of the initial lockdown compared to the same period in 2019, with health and social care suffering the biggest blow with 11,063 (46%) fewer starts. Starts in administration, business management, and hospitality and catering apprenticeships were also adversely affected by the pandemic, suffering a fall in starts of 9,783 (62%), 7,031 (40%) and 5,411 (70%) respectively.
Flexible Working: CIPD calls for flexible working to be day-one right for employees
The CIPD has launched a new campaign calling for the right to request flexible working to be a day-one right for all employees and for employers to advertise jobs as flexible. This comes after its research found that 50% of employees surveyed did not have flexible working arrangements, such as flexitime and part-time working. Furthermore, 20% of respondents revealed that their organisation did not offer any flexible working arrangements.
While the survey also saw a huge increase in working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CIPD noted that more than two in five employees were not able to work from home, largely due to the nature of their employment.
The CIPD’s proposal echoes calls previously made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the TUC for the right to request flexible working to be a day-one right.
Mental Health: Commission reveals £8,400 mental health income gap in the UK
The Mental Health and Income Commission, a collaboration of businesses, trade unions and charities led by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, has published a report revealing that the UK’s current mental health income gap is £8,400. The Commission’s report, ‘Closing the gap‘, also found that one in five people with mental health problems in the UK have faced workplace discrimination.
In response, the Commission calls on employers and the government to introduce ameliorative measures and systemic reforms to reduce the pay gap and improve working conditions for workers with mental health problems. These include the right to flexible working for all employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in Statutory Sick Pay and a broadening of its eligibility criteria, as well as introducing a legal pay gap reporting requirement for larger companies to reveal the inequalities and discrimination faced by employees with mental health problems.
Notably, three in ten people with mental health problems experienced an income reduction during the pandemic. More generally, the Commission found that one in five respondents with mental health problems said that they had suffered workplace discrimination due to their condition, including being passed over for promotion or being made redundant. Further, more than two-thirds had their requests for reasonable adjustments rejected or only partly met.
Discrimination: Over 40% of LGB+ workers experienced conflict at work last year
A research report published by the CIPD entitled ‘Inclusion at work: Perspectives on LGBT+ working lives’, has revealed that, over a twelve-month period, more than 40% of LGB+ workers and 55% of trans workers faced conflict in the workplace (use of the term LGB+ in the report’s findings relates to specific ways in which the research was conducted).
The report’s classifications of “conflict situations” include those in which workers were humiliated or undermined, faced discriminatory behaviour, or experienced physical or sexual assault. 18% of trans workers reported feeling psychologically unsafe at work (unable to be accepted, valued, or voice their concerns) and 16% of LGB+ workers felt the same way. This figure fell to 10% for heterosexual workers. The data revealed that trans workers are particularly unsafe in the workplace, with 12% of trans workers experiencing unwanted sexual attention at work and 2% experiencing sexual assault, and at least 50% of workplace conflicts experienced by trans people remaining unresolved.
The CIPD has suggested a range of steps that organisations can take to improve support for LGBT+ staff in the workplace, including initiating company-wide education on inclusion, and the creation of safe spaces and networks for LGBT+ employees and allies.
Pensions: Pension Schemes Act 2021 gains Royal Assent
The Pension Schemes Act 2021 has completed its progress through the parliamentary procedure and received Royal Assent on 11 February 2021 in what the government has called “the biggest shakeup of UK pensions for decades”. The Act contains major changes for both defined benefit and defined contribution pension schemes, including new powers for the Pensions Regulator, and the regulatory frameworks for collective defined contribution schemes and pensions dashboards.
The majority of the Act’s provisions will be brought into force following subsequent statutory instruments and consultations that are expected in the coming months, although several sections containing regulation-making powers take effect from 11 February 2021. The headline issues are tougher powers for the Pensions Regulator, with two new criminal offences with a wide scope and include unlimited fines and up to seven years in jail. There will shortly be a consultation on how it will apply these new powers, with the aim for these to be in use by the autumn. Companies and trustees may need to seek legal advice to ensure they don’t fall foul of any of these new powers. There will also be a new regime for defined benefit contributions with detailed regulations aimed to be published in the second quarter of the year. Certain occupational schemes will need to address climate change risks and opportunities. Again, regulations are to be published. For individuals, there will be a new pensions dashboard. The aim is for this to be provided by the Money and Pensions Service by 2023.
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