Category Archives: Case

All Men Are Created Equal Unless Their Comparators Are Female!

SJB18305THE CURRENT LAW

The law as it currently stands provides that a woman is entitled to take up to 52 weeks Maternity Leave and to receive up to 39 weeks Maternity Pay, set at a minimum level by the Government each year. Some employers choose to enhance this pay in accordance with internal policies.

Since 2015, fathers are only entitled to 2 weeks Paternity Leave, but can opt to share the Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay with a child’s mother under the Shared Parental Leave (“ShPL”) Scheme.

THIS CASE

The question for employers, and specifically that raised by Mr. Ali in this case is this…should an employer who has an internal policy of paying enhanced Maternity Pay to female employees, pay this enhanced rate of pay to a father who takes ShPL, or should the father simply be paid the statutory minimum level of pay under the Shared Parental Pay (“ShPP”) scheme?

In this specific case, female employees employed by Capita Customer Management (“Capita”) who had transferred into the business via TUPE, were entitled to Maternity Pay comprising 14 weeks’ pay at the level of their basic salary, before moving to 25 weeks’ pay at the statutory minimum level (currently £140.98 per week). Transferring male employees were entitled to 2 weeks paid Paternity Leave.

Mr Ali, took 2 weeks’ Paternity Leave immediately following the birth of his daughter, but then took the decision to request further time off work to care for his daughter. Capita advised that he was entitled to take a period of ShPL, but informed him that he would be paid ShPP only – he would not be entitled to the 14 weeks’ pay at the level of his basic salary as his partner would have been if she had decided to continue Maternity Leave.

Mr. Ali objected to this, alleging that it was open to parents to choose which one of them should be the primary caregiver, and for an employer to elect to pay a mother more than a father in respect of the necessary leave taken for this purpose was direct sex discrimination.

The Tribunal upheld Mr. Ali’s argument. It confirmed that he could compare himself to how a hypothetical female colleague who had taken Maternity Leave would have been treated, and the denial of full pay to Mr. Ali was unfavourable treatment due to his sex.

CONTRASTING DECISION

However, employers should be aware that this is only a first instance Tribunal decision and is currently being appealed.

In another recent case based on similar circumstances, the Tribunal reached a different decision (Hextall v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police), where it was held that Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay are “special treatment” afforded to women in connection with pregnancy and childbirth, which did not go any further than “reasonably necessary” on the basis that women suffer disadvantages in work due to pregnancy and maternity, which typically detrimentally affects a mother’s finances more than a fathers.

Capita and Hextall also conflict on whether a valid comparison can be made between a mother taking Maternity Leave and parents taking ShPL. Both men and women can take ShPL, whereas only a female can take Maternity Leave. Maternity leave is also different in that women can choose to start this before their child’s birth, whereas ShPL cannot start until 2 weeks’ after birth, and it is impossible to take ShPL without both parents agreeing to this, whereas Maternity Leave can be taken as of right.

The Hextall Tribunal concluded that the correct comparator for the father in question was a woman taking ShPL, and as the woman would receive ShPP on the same terms as the man, there was no less favourable treatment and accordingly no discrimination.

WHAT NOW?

The question as to which case is the correct interpretation of the law will now be left to the Appeal Tribunals. Therefore, before employers rush to change their policies, they may wish to review the business reasons behind their current family policies, whilst keeping abreast of the final decisions in these cases.

If you would like more advice about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact a member of our team on 01604 871143.

Your Company’s Liability For Unexpected Employee Shenanigans

SUMMARY:Naughty or nice

With the Christmas party season in full swing the courts have recently issued a judgment which proves a timely reminder of liabilities owed by employers when the festive frolics move from fun to violence.

The law:

Organisations are liable for reckless acts committed by their employees where it can be shown that the acts are so closely connected to their employment. The legal definition refers to employers being vicariously liable for such acts which are carried out in the “course of employment”.

The facts of the case:

In the case in question, the company – Northampton Recruitment Limited, held its Christmas party at a golf club. The party was attended by the Managing Director – John Major, its employees and their partners. After the party at the golf club had ended, some of the attendees, decided to return to the hotel at which some of their number were staying so that they could continue the festivities at an impromptu after-party.

The company paid for the taxis to take those guests to the hotel. It was also expected that the company would pay for some of their drinks at the hotel.

As the impromptu party at the hotel continued, conversation moved to work matters and a heated discussion ensued between Mr Major and one of the managers – Clive Bellman. At around 3am the heated discussion erupted into violence when Mr Major twice punched Mr Bellman. Mr Bellman was knocked unconscious, fell and suffered a serious brain injury as a result of the punches.

The court was asked to consider whether the company was vicariously liable for Mr Bellman’s injuries despite the assault happening after the company’s official Christmas party had ended. The court considered whether it could be said that, at the time Mr Major punched Mr Bellman, he was ‘acting in the course or scope of his employment”. In coming to its decision the court took account of the fact that:

  • Mr Major was authorised to act on the company’s behalf with a wide remit and that things were done ‘his way’.
  • An element of Mr Major’s role was  to motivate his employees – one such form of motivation being the company’s Christmas party, and
  • In his role as the Managing Director, Mr Major had sufficient discretion to authorise the company’s payment of taxis to, as well as accommodation and drinks at, the hotel.

However, the court decided that the fact that the offender was the Managing Director did not mean he should always be considered to be on duty when in the company of other employees. The court also made it clear that, although the subject of conversation giving rise to the assault was work –related, this in itself did not bring it the incident into “the course of employment”. The court concluded that, as the incident happened after the company’s official party ended without incident and at a time when the employees each took a personal decision to continue drinking heavily (albeit to some extent at the company’s expense), the incident was so far removed from Mr Major’s employment that the company could not be treated as vicariously liable.

Although a sad story, the court’s decision in this instance will come of some relief to employers. To ensure that your company’s parties and festivities can be enjoyed by all in the spirit in which they are intended, now may be the time to issue a gentle reminder to all that conduct rules are equally applicable at work related functions and social events regardless of whether they take place on/off site or in/out of normal working hours.

Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] EWHC 3104 (QB) 

CONTACT DETAILS

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

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 1604 871143

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

Settlement Agreements – A Perfect Ending!

160519 Settlement AgreementSUMMARY: Learn more about settlement agreements with the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.  

Q: When can we use a settlement agreement?

A:   Settlement agreements are often used to resolve workplace disputes, and to give the employer the certainty that once the agreement is signed there will be no subsequent employment tribunal claim from a disgruntled employee.  More often than not, the employment relationship will have broken down. The focus then is usually on avoiding unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. A whole raft of statutory employment rights and breach of contract claims can also be compromised.

There does not necessarily need to be a dispute as settlement agreements can be used in a variety of other circumstances where the employment will end.  For example, where there are performance or ill health issues, a voluntary exit or a restructure.

Settlement agreements are not however always about the employment relationship ending, as they can be used at any time during the employment relationship to resolve workplace disputes. For example, if there has been a complaint about how holiday pay has been calculated.

We would recommend that where a settlement agreement is being contemplated, legal advice is taken before any discussions take place with the employee so that any legal risks are identified and then can be properly managed.

Q: What are the benefits of using a settlement agreement?

A:  A settlement agreement allows an employer to manage legal, commercial and reputational risks all in one go in the knowledge that there will be no tribunal claim.  Significant management time, stress and expense can be saved.

Terms can also be agreed on issues that a tribunal would be unable to address. For example, the offer of a positive reference; or the introduction of post termination restrictions, where the existing contract is silent on the employee’s activities once they have left.

Settlement can also keep a dispute out of the public eye and be subject to strict confidentiality provisions.

These benefits need to be balanced with the fact the employee will want something in return, no matter how at fault they may be. Money is usually the main consideration but the circumstances may dictate an entirely different exit package.  There are also restrictions on an employer’s ability to compromise personal injury and accrued pension rights claims.

Q: Are there any essential requirements which need to be complied with to make the deal binding?

A: The following are essential to ensure that the employee is not able to bring an employment tribunal claim:

  • The settlement agreement must:
    – be in writing;
    – identify the complaints to be compromised; and
    – state that it satisfies certain legal requirements.
  • The employee must also have received independent legal advice.

A poorly drafted agreement or one which has been incorrectly signed may leave the door open for an employee to bring a tribunal claim, even if they have already been paid a sum of money.

Q: How long should we give an employee to consider a settlement agreement?

A: An employee should generally have at least 10 days to consider the settlement agreement and obtain legal advice. A shorter period could lead to allegations of undue pressure, permitting reference to the settlement offer in a subsequent tribunal claim, if settlement is not reached.

If there is a commercial imperative requiring a shorter period, legal advice should be taken.

Q: Do we have to pay for the employee’s legal advice?

A: An employer is not obliged to pay the employee’s legal costs.  To get the job done, an employer will often choose to make a contribution.  A good starting point is £250 plus VAT. The following factors may demand a higher contribution: locality, seniority of the employee and the complexity of the case.

Q: Can we recycle a settlement agreement used in the past for a different employee?

A: We would caution against recycling for two reasons:

  • Each employee’s circumstances are different; and these circumstances need to be taken into account in the agreement. A one size fits all approach will not provide the employer with the best possible protection; and may give no protection at all.
  • Any changes to the law may require amendments being made to the agreement.

Contact Details

If you would like to explore whether a settlement agreement may be the best option for your business where you have a workplace problem – 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.

Does “Discretionary” Commission Mean Employers Can Pay Whatever They Want?

CommissionSUMMARY: Many employers give their employees discretionary bonuses or commission. However, “discretionary” does not mean that employers can pay whatever amount they choose.

In a recent case, the Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court that the amount of “discretionary” commission paid to an employee should be increased.

This case is a useful reminder that an employer should be able to show that the way in which it has exercised its discretion is not irrational or perverse.

Here are our top tips for employers who want to avoid challenges by employees about how they have exercised their discretion:

  1. Have in place an appropriately worded clause in the contract of employment setting out that a bonus/commission is discretionary.
  1. Consider the reason(s) for the amount of bonus/commission you are giving to an employee.
  1. Record your reason(s) in writing at the date the bonus/commission decision is made so that you have evidence ready in the event of a challenge.  Your record should show why and how you have reached a decision.  Flipping a coin is not a rational decision-making process!
  1. If you want a bonus/commission scheme in place, ensure that this is suitably worded to give you flexibility.  For example, the flexibility to vary or withdraw a scheme can be a useful tool.
  1. If you tell employees there are factors that will be taken into account in decision making (for example, in a commission scheme), ensure these factors are taken into account.  If the factors change, tell employees in advance of them carrying out the work.
  1. Treat staff consistently.  If an employee feels that they have been awarded a lower commission/bonus than others, they may claim this is on the basis of a protected characteristic (such as age, sex or disability).  This could leave an employer facing a discrimination, as well as a breach of contract, claim.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to motivate your workforce with the possibility of a bonus/commission payment, but avoid claims from employees when you want or need to pay less.

Case

Hills v Niksum Inc [2016] EWCA Civ 115

Contact Details

For more details about how to set up and implement bonus or commission schemes 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.