Category Archives: Disciplinary Issues

Christmas for Employers – Naughty or Nice?

Naughty or niceEmployment law dos and don’ts at Christmas-time for parties and presents.

Yes it’s that time of the year again: hyperactive children, unsuitable presents and parties where guests outstay their welcome. And that’s just the staff! In fact the Christmas spirit (and I’m not referring to the alcoholic one) can be found in the workplace and with some careful planning it can be a “nice” time of the year.  It is however useful to remember the employment law implications of festive activities. With this in mind, we have set out below some of the dos and don’ts at Christmas-time in terms of employment law.

PARTIES

When parties are going with alcohol flowing, the risk of injury to employees both physically and mentally increases.  Below are some pointers to help mitigate these risks so that everyone enjoys this time of the year.

BEFORE/DURING THE EVENT

DO   DO NOT  
Consider sending a memo/email to employees about standards of conduct required at office functions and the disciplinary sanctions which could result from breaches of these standards. Encourage drunkenness, drugs or violence at the party.  A free bar for the whole evening may encourage heavy drinking.
Ensure that all employees are invited to an office party, even if they are off sick or some form of family friendly leave. Deliberately leave out any employee from participating in festive events.
Ensure the company’s policy on harassment is up to date and remind employees of its existence well in advance.  Guidance may be needed on appropriate “secret santa” gifts (for example, nothing lewd which could be perceived as offensive!). Hold the party at a venue which would not be suitable for some employees to attend due to, for example, disability or religious reasons.
   
Ensure that the venue for the party is accessible by disabled employees. Assume that everyone will eat the same food or refuse to accommodate dietary requests.
Ask employees about dietary requirements  – employees who have certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat beef or pork for example. Leave junior employees to organise a large office party without guidance as to the necessary health and safety requirements.
Ensure there are sufficient security measures in place at the venue. Assume that all partners will be of the opposite sex.
If partners are invited to the party, ensure that the invitation is to any partners, heterosexual or homosexual. Discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at a social event – these conversations can be taken out of context and are open to misinterpretation.
Warn managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with subordinates at the party – words of encouragement and good intentions can end up being misinterpreted.
Remember that employer-provided annual parties are not taxable as employee benefits so long as the employer spends less than £150 a head.
AFTER THE EVENT 
Consider warning staff that unauthorised absence the day after the party may result in disciplinary action. Use lateness/absence the day after the party as an excuse to instigate disciplinary proceedings against a particular employee, when other employees have been allowed to get away with similar lateness/absence.
Consider how employees will get home from the venue.  Consider booking taxis or sending out train times. Allow employees to drive home after over-indulging.
Follow up any grievances or complaints raised following a party. Ignore complaints or grievances, particularly in relation to sexual harassment.
Investigate any incident as soon and as fully as possible.  If any serious incidents occur (for example violence or sexual harassment), invoke the disciplinary procedure. Encourage gossip after the office Christmas party.
Try to stamp out any gossip after a social event.  It could for example be interpreted as harassment.  

 

PRESENTS

And here are a couple of notes on present giving:

DO DO NOT
Include all employees if you are intending to give gifts. Discriminate against any individual employees when giving gifts.  For example by giving alcohol to an employee whose religious beliefs require abstinence.
Check the examples given by HMRC of “trivial” gifts which may be given to employees without a tax charge.  For example, a turkey, a bottle of wine, chocolates…  

Contact Details

For more details about Christmas parties or company policies please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172  93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice. 

When The Office Party Packs a Punch….

Xmas PunchSUMMARY: MBNA Limited v Jones considers the issue of consistent treatment in relation to dismissal where employees are involved in the same misconduct incident.

The office Christmas party season is looming and no doubt plans will already be underway for staff to be able to celebrate the end of the year together; the party season will also be a great opportunity to thank staff for their hard work during 2015.

Undeniably an office party can boost morale. Improved morale can be beneficial to the business but employers are more aware than ever of the potential pitfalls that can arise from their generosity. Previously well behaved employees can become uninhibited and reckless after consuming too much alcohol, forgetting that the same standards of workplace behaviour need to be adhered to at work functions or social events.

How would you deal with an employee who punches a colleague at the office social event? Dismissal will usually be reasonable for this type of behaviour, even if it occurred outside the workplace. Here’s the twist though, the victim subsequently sends threatening texts to their assailant. Would you still dismiss the assailant? Would you also dismiss the victim?

Many employers are aware of the need to treat employees consistently when it comes to dismissal. Otherwise, the dismissal could give rise to a costly unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal.

In the recent case of MBNA Limited v Jones, the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to consider the scenario described above and whether the dismissal of the assailant was unfair due to inconsistent treatment; the victim was only given a final written warning. The employer was found to have acted reasonably when deciding to dismiss the assailant as the leniency shown to the victim was irrelevant. The justification for this conclusion was that it would have been perverse to have treated a deliberate unprovoked punch as sufficiently similar to the texts subsequently sent as a response to being hit.

Recommendations for dealing fighting and violence in the workplace

When dealing with disciplinary issues and particularly those relating to fighting and violence, employers should be mindful of the following:

  • Ensure that employees know the type of behaviour which is unacceptable in the workplace; violent behaviour should be prohibited. Make it clear that conduct rules are equally applicable at work related functions and social events, even if off site.
  • Whilst it may be tempting to take short cuts where violence is involved and move straight to dismissal without further enquiry, always follow the Disciplinary Procedure. A thorough investigation is essential, particularly where a number of employees are involved in the incident.
  • If considering dismissing only some of the individuals involved, ensure that the difference in treatment can be justified. In the case described above there was a clear distinction.
  • When considering whether dismissal is an appropriate sanction, take into account long service, previous good conduct and provocation.

Case

MBNA Limited v Jones UKEAT/0120/15

Contact details

If you would like advice on any of the issues raised in this article, please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172  93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.

Christmas for employers – naughty or nice?

Xmas for Employees

Employment law dos and don’ts at Christmas-time for parties and presents.

Yes it’s that time of the year again: hyperactive children, unsuitable presents and parties where guests outstay their welcome.  And that’s just the staff!  In fact the Christmas spirit (and I’m not referring to the alcoholic one) can be found in the workplace and with some careful planning it can be a “nice” time of the year.  It is however useful to remember the employment law implications of festive activities.  With this in mind, we have set out below some of the dos and don’ts at Christmas-time in terms of employment law.

PARTIES

When parties are going with alcohol flowing, the risk of injury to employees both physically and mentally increases.  Below are some pointers to help mitigate these risks so that everyone enjoys this time of the year.

BEFORE/DURING THE EVENT

DO   DO NOT  
Consider sending a memo/email to employees about standards of conduct required at office functions and the disciplinary sanctions which could result from breaches of these standards. Encourage drunkenness, drugs or violence at the party.  A free bar for the whole evening may encourage heavy drinking.
Ensure that all employees are invited to an office party, even if they are off sick or some form of family friendly leave. Deliberately leave out any employee from participating in festive events.
Ensure the company’s policy on harassment is up to date and remind employees of its existence well in advance.  Guidance may be needed on appropriate “secret santa” gifts (for example, nothing lewd which could be perceived as offensive!). Hold the party at a venue which would not be suitable for some employees to attend due to, for example, disability or religious reasons.
   
Ensure that the venue for the party is accessible by disabled employees. Assume that everyone will eat the same food or refuse to accommodate dietary requests.
Ask employees about dietary requirements  – employees who have certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat beef or pork for example. Leave junior employees to organise a large office party without guidance as to the necessary health and safety requirements.
Ensure there are sufficient security measures in place at the venue. Assume that all partners will be of the opposite sex.
If partners are invited to the party, ensure that the invitation is to any partners, heterosexual or homosexual. Discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at a social event – these conversations can be taken out of context and are open to misinterpretation.
Warn managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with subordinates at the party – words of encouragement and good intentions can end up being misinterpreted.
Remember that employer-provided annual parties are not taxable as employee benefits so long as the employer spends less than £150 a head.
AFTER THE EVENT 
Consider warning staff that unauthorised absence the day after the party may result in disciplinary action. Use lateness/absence the day after the party as an excuse to instigate disciplinary proceedings against a particular employee, when other employees have been allowed to get away with similar lateness/absence.
Consider how employees will get home from the venue.  Consider booking taxis or sending out train times. Allow employees to drive home after over-indulging.
Follow up any grievances or complaints raised following a party. Ignore complaints or grievances, particularly in relation to sexual harassment.
Investigate any incident as soon and as fully as possible.  If any serious incidents occur (for example violence or sexual harassment), invoke the disciplinary procedure. Encourage gossip after the office Christmas party.
Try to stamp out any gossip after a social event.  It could for example be interpreted as harassment.  

 

PRESENTS

And here are a couple of notes on present giving:

DO DO NOT
Include all employees if you are intending to give gifts. Discriminate against any individual employees when giving gifts.  For example by giving alcohol to an employee whose religious beliefs require abstinence.
Check the examples given by HMRC of “trivial” gifts which may be given to employees without a tax charge.  For example, a turkey, a bottle of wine, chocolates…  

 

Contact Details

For more details about Christmas parties or company policies please contact:

fgmedia@floydgraham.co.uk

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice. 

Right to be Accompanied – ACAS Code to be amended

FG Solicitors - Right to be accompaniedSUMMARY: An Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that the choice of companion is absolute when an employee has the right to be accompanied and, subject to the companion being a fellow worker or trade union official, does not need to be reasonable.  The ACAS Code will be amended accordingly.

Legal Background

Most employers are aware that employees have the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union official at a disciplinary or grievance meeting.

The ACAS Code currently suggests that it would not be reasonable for an employee to be accompanied by a companion whose presence would compromise the hearing or who was based in a remote geographical location.

However, the ACAS Code does not have statutory force.  It is the wording of the legislation that should always take precedence as can be seen by this case.

Facts of this case

The employees requested to be accompanied by Mr L, a union official, at a grievance meeting.  The employer refused the request, so they were accompanied by a different companion at the meeting.

The employees subsequently brought claims that their right to be accompanied had been breached.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s (EAT) decision

The EAT, overturning the Employment Tribunal’s decision, held that the employees could not waive their right to be accompanied and that they had an absolute right to choose their companion, so long as the companion was a trade union official or fellow worker.  By not permitting the employees to be accompanied by their choice of companion, the employer had breached their rights which were set out in legislation.  This was the case even though the employees had agreed to be accompanied by a different companion and despite the ACAS Code indicating that there were circumstances in which an employer could reject an employee’s choice of companion due to unreasonableness.

The EAT however considered that the effect of the breach was minimal and that compensation should reflect this; it suggested that the employees could be awarded a nominal sum of around £2.  The legislation states that a failure to allow a worker to be accompanied attracts an award of compensation of up to 2 weeks’ pay (which is currently capped at £450 per week).  It will be for the Employment Tribunal to decide the exact amount of compensation on the above facts.

Subsequently, ACAS has announced that it intends to amend the ACAS Code to reflect the EAT’s decision.

What does this mean for employers?

Employers should always ensure that they permit employees to be accompanied at grievance or disciplinary meetings by their choice of companion, so long as the companion is a trade union official or fellow worker.  If the companion may prejudice the hearing, employers should not generally insist on the employee having a different companion.

Employees have a free-standing right to bring a claim for a breach of their right to be accompanied.  However, given that the compensation for such claims is likely to be low, and that a tribunal fee will need to be paid before such a claim can be brought, such claims are likely to be an unattractive for most employees.  Employees may take their chances in rolling such a breach into a decision to bring a claim for unfair dismissal or constructive unfair dismissal instead, where the potential compensation awards are significantly higher.

We would therefore always advise taking legal advice if an employer is considering rejecting an employee’s choice of companion.

Case: Toal and another v GB Oils Ltd UKEAT/0569/12, 22 May 2013.

Contact Details

For more details about this case or the right to be accompanied please contact:

fgmedia@floydgraham.co.uk

+44 (0) 1604 871143

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice. 

FGazette April 2013

Website-ImageWelcome to the latest edition of FGazette! The quarterly newsletter of Floyd Graham & Co – Lawyers for today’s employers.

Our second edition of 2013 focuses on disciplinary issues. Click the FGazette image to read more.

If you have any problems viewing this link, please contact us on 01604 871143 or fgmedia@floydgraham.co.uk