Category Archives: Harassment

Protected Conversations Must Remain Secret

SUMMARY: Learn more about protected conversations with your employeesPrivate conversations

In 2013 there was a welcome change, which now enables employers to have what are called protected conversations with their employees about ending the employment relationship.  Previously, employers had been nervous about having such conversations, due to the risk that an employee would later rely on what had been said as evidence in an unfair dismissal claim.

Since then employers in some circumstances have been able to speak more freely with those employees who are not considered to have a future with the organisation, usually because their performance or conduct is substandard. Once the discussions have started, there are likely to be two outcomes:

  1. The employee agrees to leave and their departure is managed with a settlement agreement to remove the risk of any tribunal claim. To learn more about settlement agreements, please click on the following link – http://www.fgsolicitors.co.uk/news/settlement-agreements-a-perfect-ending/
  2. The employee declines the offer of an agreed departure.  If that is the case, the employer can then go back to its internal procedures to manage the situation. If the employee is subsequently dismissed, the following protection arises so that there can be no reference to either:
  • the content of any settlement offer or the pre-termination discussions; and/or
  • the fact an offer has been made or pre-termination discussions have arisen. This level of protection has recently been confirmed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which explained that an employee should not be able to refer to the fact discussions have taken place pre-dismissal in an unfair dismissal claim.

Clarification was also provided that the protection extends to any internal discussions between different managers and human resources.

Protected conversations are potentially a safe way of managing straightforward people management issues. Employers however wanting to have such discussions should be aware of the following:

  • The protection is lost if either party engages in improper behaviour including for example, bullying, harassment, discrimination, victimisation, physical assault, or undue pressure.

Telling an employee that the capability or conduct procedure will be invoked if terms cannot be agreed would not be improper behaviour.  Stating that the individual would be dismissed if they do not agree to leave would be improper behaviour.

  • The employee should be given a reasonable period of time to consider any offer and take advice; ten days is usually considered to be reasonable in most cases.  Although there is no statutory right to be accompanied at any meeting where a protected conversation takes place, as a matter of good practice an employee should be entitled to be accompanied by a work colleague or a trade union representative.
  • The protection will only apply in respect of “ordinary” unfair dismissal claims. Where an employee brings proceedings for automatically unfair dismissal (for example, whistleblowing or health and safety), or any other claim such as discrimination or breach of contract, the protection afforded to pre-termination negotiations will not apply.  This does therefore create inherent uncertainty in the effect of initiating a pre-termination negotiation until an employee commences proceedings, or decides not to do so as settlement terms have been agreed.

If you consider that you may want to have a protected conversation with an employee, it is preferable to take legal advice before doing so.  This will ensure that you are confident that a protected conversation is the right way forward and if not, what other ways there are to managing the situation.

Contact Details

To explore how protected conversations and settlement agreements can provide solutions to workplace problems – 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.

Top Tips for Effective Performance Management

efficacy_levelSUMMARY: Getting the best from its greatest asset, its staff, should be every organisation’s goal. This can be achieved using a combination of strategies including recruitment and retention; training and staff development, as well as performance management strategies.

We have produced a list of some simple dos and don’ts for dealing with the performance management of staff:

DOs:

  • DO take a proactive approach and seek to resolve performance management issues at an early stage. One way for achieving this is conducting regular meetings with staff at which performance management issues (as well as other general matters) can be raised informally.
  • DO investigate why the employee’s performance is falling below the standard expected; for example, consider whether the employee is dealing with an increased workload or dealing with non-work related issues which are impacting on their performance. Always consider the employee’s explanation for performance issues and identify if other policies are triggered such as health management, stress management or bullying and harassment policies.
  • DO make sure an employee is aware of the standard expected of them and give them a reasonable opportunity to meet those standards. Any goals set to underpin performance expectations should be SMART and supported by the provision of training and/or managerial support where appropriate.
  • DO use probationary periods effectively and consider extending these periods if performance is an issue. Ensure that review meetings are scheduled at appropriate intervals throughout probationary periods.
  • DO review your procedures and processes for managing poor performance on a regular basis to ensure they are in accordance with current case law and legislation.

DON’Ts:

  • DON’T use the annual staff appraisal to address performance issues. Also ensure that, where performance is discussed as part of the staff member’s appraisal, it gives an accurate picture of their performance.
  • DON’T forget to keep records of all discussions and correspondence relating to an employee’s performance – this includes both the informal and formal elements of the performance management process.
  • DON’T confuse performance management policies and/or processes with other policies and/or processes such as sickness absence or disciplinary policies and processes. Check whether your organisation has a separate policy for performance management or take advice on which policy is adopted in these situations.
  • DON’T forget that the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures applies to dismissals for poor performance. Failures to comply with the Code can result in uplifts to compensation being made where there is a failure to follow a fair procedure and the employee successfully claims unfair dismissal.
  • Finally, DON’T be afraid of tackling poor performance but DO ensure your strategy for doing so is legally compliant.

Contact Details

If you would like more information on performance management, 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.

On the 8th Day of Christmas…

8th Day of ChristmasOn the 8th day of Christmas my employee said to me…. “I didn’t enjoy the Christmas party as one of my colleagues kept harassing me.”

With the ever increasing demands of work the Christmas party is a great way to say thank you to staff. Most employees, when entering into the party spirit, will remember that there is a need to convey some semblance of good behaviour; sometimes, however a small number of staff are forgetful of this and lose all sense of propriety. In most instances their behaviour will be mildly amusing or annoying but in some cases it can become offensive and distressing.

Regardless of whether the party is away from the workplace and/or not in work time, employment law will still apply. This means employees who behave inappropriately towards their colleagues can be held accountable for their behaviour. Additionally, employers can be held responsible for the conduct of an employee towards a colleague where bullying, harassment and discrimination is involved.

It is therefore important to take seriously complaints of this type and not treat them any differently because the behaviour complained of occurred at a social event. Ignoring such a complaint could lead to a costly employment tribunal claim and reputational damage. Key considerations for an employer wishing to minimise these risks include:

  • Ensuring the complaint is dealt with quickly and impartially under the grievance procedure – the procedure should include the usual stages such as an investigation, meetings and an appeal.
  • Taking disciplinary action if the complaint is upheld.

However, proactive employers can also take preventative steps to minimise the risk of complaints in the first place, such steps can include:

  • Implementing and communicating an equality and harassment policy.
  • Providing equal opportunities training.
  • Dealing with complaints fairly and effectively.

Implementation of these simple steps should enable everyone to focus on the true purpose of the event and have fun at this time of year.

Contact Details

For more details about the issues 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.

On the 7th Day of Christmas…

7th Day of ChristmasOn the 7th day of Christmas my employee said to me… “I’ve had too much to drink at the Christmas party.”

Many employers celebrate the festive season by providing alcohol for employees at the Christmas party. It is easy to forget that in this season of good cheer employment law still applies and if alcohol is to be served at a work event, employers should consider the following to manage any potential legal risks:

  • Having a policy in place setting out the standards of conduct expected at work social events and the consequences of breaching the policy. The policy should be brought to the attention of all employees prior to any Christmas party.
  • Ensuring that the event is as inclusive as possible to avoid complaints of discrimination. Non-alcoholic drinks should be available for employees who do not drink alcohol for religious or other reasons.
  • Keeping an eye out for younger members of staff as employers cannot serve alcohol to under 18s. This is becoming a more relevant consideration as the number of apprentices increase in the workplace.
  • Having the party at a licensed venue. Whilst this will not entirely absolve the employer from its duty of care to its staff, the venue owner will be responsible for serving the alcohol.
  • Ensuring that the health and safety obligations towards staff are satisfied. Employers need to consider how those who are worse for wear from excessive drinking will be managed and who will deal with this, particularly if there is a free bar. It may be preferable to limit the amount of alcohol that can be consumed and make non-alcoholic refreshments readily available.
  • Making clear what the arrangements are in relation to lunchtime events if alcohol is to be served where employees may be returning to work in the afternoon. Does this provide a health and safety risk for example in a factory setting, or a reputational risk in a customer facing environment?
  • Providing food and entertainment, which can be a distraction to those who may otherwise spend the evening propping up the bar.
  • Reviewing the arrangements for staff to get home safely. There should importantly be a zero tolerance message about drink driving.
  • Taking prompt action if there are conduct issues to be dealt with after the event. This applies equally if complaints are made by employees about harassment… more about this on the 8th Day of Christmas.

This guidance equally applies to other corporate social events at other times of the year.

Contact Details

For more details about the issues 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.

Thank you for attending our Seminar!

Effective Discipline & Grievance Processes

Thank you to all those who came to our Effective Discipline and Grievance Processes Seminar, which was held on 15 September in association with the CIPD Bedfordshire Branch.

The event was well attended and provided an opportunity for organisations to meet up and obtain a useful insight into effective discipline and grievance processes as well as gain practical guidance on difficult cases.

Floyd Graham was the featured speaker and struck a chord with many of the attendees from whom we have received some great testimonials via our feedback questionnaire.

If you missed the event and would like to receive a copy of the presentation slides for the event then please contact us via the details below:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

Performance Management Seminar – 15 September 2015

Performance Management

Effective Discipline and Grievance Processes for Performance Management:  Practical Guidance on Difficult Cases - in association with: CIPD Bedfordshire Group

Date: Tuesday 15th September 2015

Time: 9:30am – 13:00pm

Venue: Elstow Playing Field Association Main Hall, Wilstead Road, Elstow, Bedford, MK42 9YP/YF

Cost: Free with buffet lunch included

In association with the Bedfordshire CIPD Branch we will explore how you can apply the law effectively to support  performance management particularly focusing on dealing with difficult cases. The  session will provide insights into how investigations and disciplinary hearings should be managed when allegations of unfair discrimination, harassment or bullying are being considered. We will then explore best practice guidelines when hearing grievances arising from protected disclosures/ whistle-blowing.

To book your place at our Performance Management seminar, please contact us using the details below:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

If you feel this seminar would benefit other colleagues or companies please feel free to forward the details on.

Religious Belief v Sexual Orientation

150619 Religious belief v Sexual Orientation - Protected CharateristicsSUMMARY: When two protected characteristics clash, an employer must tread carefully. The recent case of Mbuyi v Newpark Childcare demonstrates some of the hurdles an employer must overcome before dismissing where the protected characteristics of religious belief and sexual orientation conflict.

Background

Under the Equality Act 2010, individuals are protected from detrimental treatment because of their religious belief or sexual orientation (amongst other characteristics).

Religious belief and sexual orientation are two characteristics which have the potential to conflict, as some religious groups have strong beliefs on homosexuality. An employer has the unenviable task of balancing these competing rights.

The Tribunal Decision

The tribunal held in the case of Mbuyi v Newpark Childcare that Miss Mbuyi had been discriminated against because of her religious belief.

Miss Mbuyi was dismissed for gross misconduct, being her harassment of another employee (“LP”). The dismissal letter referred to her entering into a conversation in the workplace with LP and the topic moved on to the issue of homosexuality… during that conversation Miss Mbuyi stated that homosexuality was a sin. The dismissal letter also upheld an allegation that Ms Mbuyi had, 4 months previously, made “inappropriate comments” to LP concerning her being a lesbian.

Miss Mbuyi did not have the required 2 years’ service to bring an unfair dismissal claim.

Where did the employer go wrong?

The tribunal identified a number of ways in which the employer acted, which lead to its conclusion that the employer discriminated against Miss Mbuyi. The following are key for employers to note:

  1. The employer did not conduct an investigation.

    The employer invited Miss Mbuyi straight to a disciplinary hearing without having conducted an investigation. If the employer had conducted an investigation it might, for example, have seen an email from an employee which put forward a version of events of a conversation about religion and sexual orientation. The tribunal commented that this email had not, however, found its way to a director at the disciplinary hearing by the time of the disciplinary hearing or the time of the dismissal.

    The employer could also (amongst other matters) have investigated Miss Mbuyi’s contention that the other employee had approached her, not vice versa, but it did not do so.

  2. The employer did not put all of the allegations it relied upon to dismiss Miss Mbuyi to Miss Mbuyi.

    For example, the employer asked Miss Mbuyi in the disciplinary hearing “Do you think LP is wicked?” Miss Mbuyi responded “yes we are all wicked”. The employer later linked this to homosexuality in the dismissal letter, but did not do so at the time of the disciplinary hearing. It did not appear that Miss Mbuyi was ever asked if she stated in terms that homosexuality was, in her belief, a sin.

  3. The employer did not appear to take into account the evidence that LP approached Miss Mbuyi to ask her about religion, rather than Miss Mbuyi approaching LP.  Miss Mbuyi was clear in this case that LP had:

    a. first raised Miss Mbuyi’s church;
    b. first raised her own sexuality and lifestyle;
    c. asked if she would be welcomed at church; and
    d. specifically asked what Miss Mbuyi believed God thought about her living arrangements.

  4. The employer did not take any action against LP. The tribunal commented that both could have been asked to confirm that discussing matters of religion, sex and sexuality at work was inappropriate and would not be repeated.
  5. The employer did not refer to Miss Mbuyi’s gift of another religious book to another employee, which the tribunal commented would tend to support the proposition that Miss Mbuyi would take opportunities to share her faith with anyone.
  6. The employer’s reasoning in the dismissal letter did not appear to be supported by evidence. It stated that she had specifically targeted LP because of her sexual orientation and that this constituted harassment. The tribunal commented that this was “an untenable finding on the evidence of [Miss Mbuyi], which was allegedly all the [employer] considered”. The employer should ensure that the evidence supports its conclusion.
  7. The employer did not give Miss Mbuyi a warning.
  8. The same person was heavily involved in both the dismissal and appeal.

What should an employer do?

Following this case, top tips for an employer who is considering dismissal where a protected characteristic is an issue are as follows:

  1. Carry out a reasonable investigation.
  2. Put all allegations to the employee which may be relied upon when dismissing.
  3. Do not make any stereotypical assumptions.
  4. Ensure that points in the employee’s favour, as well as those which go against the employee, are taken into account and referenced in any dismissal letter.
  5. If a response in a disciplinary hearing could be a reason for dismissing an employee, this allegation should be put to the employee before a decision to dismiss them is taken.
  6. Treat employees consistently; if two employees are involved in an inappropriate conversation, consider whether disciplinary action should be taken against both of them.
  7. Be clear about the behaviour that is expected from employees and try to seek agreement about appropriate behaviour going forwards.
  8. Consider whether a warning should be given to an employee rather than dismissing them.
  9. If dismissal is a possible outcome, ensure that the employee is aware of this before the disciplinary hearing takes place.
  10. Ensure that the reason for dismissing the employee is supported by evidence.
  11. Different people should hear the disciplinary hearing and any appeal.

Final thoughts

The reason for dismissal is absolutely key when concepts of religious belief and sexual orientation are in issue. It is interesting that the tribunal commented in this case that it may be that the employer would have been justified in dismissing for Miss Mbuyi’s refusal to actively engage in reading certain literature or otherwise promoting family units other than those formed by husband and wife. Whether this could be justified would depend on all the circumstances.

It should be noted that this case is only an employment tribunal decision and is therefore not binding. A case with similar facts could be decided in a different way.

Cases

Mbuyi v Newpark Childcare (Shepherds Bush) Ltd ET/3300656/14

Contact Details

For more details about issues of religion, belief, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics 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.

Whistleblowing Update

17663630_sSUMMARY: The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is currently progressing through Parliament and proposes three significant changes to the current whistleblowing legislation. The recent case of Onyango –v– Adrian Berkeley t/a Berkeley Solicitors has also widened the concept of a protected disclosure to include a disclosure made after an employee’s employment has terminated.

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