Category Archives: Discrimination

EMPLOYERS NEED TO MIND THE GAP!

Mental health has moved higher up the workplace agenda when it comes to people management over the last few years with even more focus on the support that workers with mental health conditions may need.

The current pandemic has identified how vulnerable people with mental health problems are when it comes to their jobs and money; there are still many inequalities in the workplace then comparing this group with workers without mental health problems.

How have these inequalities been identified?

The Mental Health and Income Commission’s recent report has highlighted that there is still some way to go to address the differences in treatment between workers with mental health problems and those without mental health problems:

  • A mental health income gap of £8,400 per annum.

Lower employment rates and weaker wages are the main causes of the pay difference. Those who suffer from anxiety and depression are likely to experience a pay gap of more than £8,400 per annum.

  • One in five people with mental health problems in the UK have faced discrimination at work.

The most common types of discrimination have been cited as being passed over for promotion or being made redundant. Seven per cent of working age people with mental health problems have reported being made redundant compared with four per cent without mental health concerns.

  • Three in ten people with mental health problems experienced an income reduction during the pandemic.

Many of these individuals have gone without daily living essentials such as food and heating to address the loss of pay.

  • Only 15% of people with mental health conditions have ever asked for reasonable adjustments.

Of those who had made such a request, over 66% of requests for reasonable adjustments were reported as having not been met or only partly met.

Wide ranging recommendations have been made for employers

The report discusses the improvements that will help to reduce the pay gap and improve working conditions. Employers can make a difference by:

  • Providing mental health training

The training would ensure that line managers are able to offer support when needed.  The aim would be to ensure that the working relationship becomes fairer.

If managers are better equipped, then there is likely to be an overall improvement in the quality of management, leading to lower absences rates and increased productivity

  • Offering roles flexibly

Flexibly working should be on offer to help new and existing employees to work in a way that is suited to their needs. Larger employers would be required to publish the number of applications received and the number of refusals.

Currently, only employees with more than 26 weeks’ service can apply for flexible working. However, there is some indication that in the future employers will be required to make flexible working the default position. The onus will be on the employer to show the role cannot be done on a flexible basis. The Commission suggests that this approach should be similar to the requirement under the Equality Act 2010 which creates a duty to consider reasonable adjustments to remove workplace disadvantages faced by people with physical and mental impairments

  • Developing a list of reasonable adjustments for employees

The aim of reasonable adjustments for individuals with mental health problems would allow them to remain in work. While many individuals with mental health problems have a legal right to request reasonable adjustments to their duties or workspace, the statistics show that many are not prepared to ask for assistance. This is the case even though the Equality Act 2010 provides protection for those individuals who have mental impairment that falls within the definition of a disability.  Individuals who have a disability are protected from discrimination and employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

  • Providing a mentoring and support network

Such a network would enable individuals to remain in work and progress.  The aim is to protect an individual’s income

  • Introducing a legal pay gap reporting requirement.

Larger employers would be placed under a legal obligation to report on pay to identify any inequalities between individuals with mental health conditions and those that do not suffer from them. Currently, the only legal pay reporting requirements relate to gender and apply to employers with a headcount of 250 people or more.

Employers must comply with the Equality Act 2010

The Commission’s report addresses some complex financial and social issues but the outcome is clear, those with mental health problems are not being treated fairly in the workplace.

While many employers are trying to do the right thing socially and by complying with the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that there is no disability discrimination and adjustments are made when reasonable, this is still not enough.

Employers particularly those with 250 employees or more could well feel the impact of this report in the future. The starting point is likely to be regulations which will require more transparency about pay; the objective will be to reduce the pay gap and address other inequalities.

For the time being, it is important that when it comes to mental health, risk assessments do cover mental wellbeing and are kept up to date, employees’ health issues are taken seriously and the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 are adhered to. These fundamental steps will assist to manage any legal risks and will be a good starting point to provide the support that individuals with mental health problems need.

FG Solicitors employment law specialists offers a proactive and practical approach, providing employers with confidence when it comes to managing their day-to-day employment law and HR issues.

If your business is concerned about managing ill health absences and reasonable adjustments find out what you CAN do by contacting FG Solicitors on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.

WELCOME TO A MORE CONFIDENT FUTURE!

For further details about the commercial legal services and assistance we provide to businesses, please click here. 👇

https://www.fgsolicitors.co.uk/services/

This update is for general guidance only and advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.

 

 

POST-BREXIT – THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT LAW!

… What employers can expect

After a one-year transition period, during which the UK continued to observe the legislative status quo, the country left the EU on 31 December 2021. Can we now expect a huge conflagration of statutes which emanated from Brussels? The answer in the short term, and almost in the longer term as well, is no. To understand why that should be, it is  necessary to go back to basics.

It is important to remember that since 1 January 1973, when the UK joined the EU, not all of our laws have had their origin in the EU. For example, the Employment Rights Act of 1996 is a prime example of domestic legislation which came onto the statute books without reference to or input from the EU. Although changes could be made to such statutes, it would be through the usual domestic legislative process and would depend on the agenda of the Government of the day.

Another point to remember is that it would be a brave Government indeed which sought to remove what are considered in this country to be fundamental employment rights such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed or the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. Similarly, it is impossible to believe that any political party of whatever persuasion would seek to remove or reduce the protection against discrimination on the grounds of, say, sex, race or religion or any of the other protected characteristics.

… UK has agreed to maintain all applicable EU Law!
What, then, is the position in respect of those laws which came via EU Directives which were subsequently transposed into domestic law? Can they now simply be expurgated from the UK statute book? Again, at the risk of being negative, the answer is no. Instead, from 31 December 2020, the UK has agreed to maintain all applicable EU law (the so-called “retained law”) until such time as the UK government decides, via normal legislative processes, to repeal or amend them. Such changes will be made without reference to the EU and will not be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”).

… Any legal changes will need to be in line with the Withdrawal Agreement
There is one caveat however: any amendment or appeal of the retained law which has a material impact on trade or investment may be a breach of the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. This condition reflects the EU’s demand to have a “level playing field”. In theory any such changes could be met with “balancing measures” by the EU which could be, for example, the imposition of tariffs on certain goods provided always it could be proven that any such changes did have an actual adverse effect on trade or investment. No doubt this could prove to be a fertile source of future disagreement unless both sides can reach a peaceful way of living.

… Key areas identified for change
So, having reviewed the basics, what exactly can we expect to see in the post-Brexit world of employment? There are a number of key areas that are the most likely candidates for change as, for the most part, they have been unpopular with employers, employees or trade unions or they were simply not a comfortable fit with the way workplace relations and legal requirements have developed in the UK. Not all of them came about as a result of EU directives but all are ripe for change and are discussed below.

… Discrimination rights to remain but compensation may be limited
As stated above, none of the basic entitlements in this area will change however there may well be a cap placed on financial awards in successful discrimination claims which are currently uncapped. Such a change would bring discrimination awards more into line with those where unfair dismissal has been found. In that case, the maximum compensation award for financial loss is capped at the lower of £88, 519 or 52 weeks’ pay. If discrimination awards were similarly capped there would still be the possibility of an extra award in respect of injury to feelings which are not awarded in cases of unfair dismissal. Therefore, despite any cap which might be applied to the financial award, the possibility of an injury to feelings award of between £900 and £45,000 still make discrimination cases potentially very costly for the employer.

… Trade union law to be scrutinised potentially leading to more positive outcomes for employees
The current position is that where a company does not recognise a trade union for bargaining purposes, it can be forced to do so in certain circumstances. The Central Arbitration Committee (the “CAC”) can order a company to recognise a trade union where it is satisfied that a majority of the workforce in the bargaining unit belong to that union. Where the position is not that clear, the CAC can arrange for a secret ballot of the workforce in that unit. If trade union recognition is supported by a majority of the workers voting and by at least of 40% of the total bargaining unit (whether they voted or not) recognition will be declared by the CAC. This is a low bar to reach and has been unpopular with companies who prefer to deal with their workforce directly.

In addition, trade union membership has fallen dramatically since its high of 13.2 million in 1979 to 6.35 million in 2019 (the last complete year for which figures are available). Put simply, the trade unions are not the force they were 30 years ago in most sectors particularly in the private sector and among younger employees. The ballot requirements could be increased to make forced trade union recognition more difficult.

Likewise, the right to strike may be subject to further tightening up particularly in the transport sector where strikes in 2019 and 2020 led to widespread hardship and financial losses in the sector. Such strikes, even where legal, have a paralysing effect on a crucial sector of the economy. As the country emerges from the COVID 19 crisis, the need for a dependable transport sector to enable economic recovery will be even more important.

…Working Time Regulations could evolve to suit UK labour practices
These Regulations which came into the UK statute book in 1998 were born in the EU and have, in many respects, fitted uncomfortably in the context of UK labour practices. For example, the Regulations established the requirements for the average working week to be limited to 48 hours. The UK was the only member state which failed to adopt that requirement by allowing employees to opt out. As a result it has become commonplace to offer, indeed encourage, employees to sign opt-out agreements agreeing to work those hours necessary for the performance of their job. Some sectors would have suffered more than others had they adhered to the 48 hours limit. For example, doctors in training found that that rule not only limited their working hours but, as a result, their clinical development as well.

Other provisions of these Regulations have also proven to be difficult for employers, lawyers and even judges to understand and those are the ones relating to holiday, specifically:
• the accrual of holiday during long-term sick leave;
• the right to carry over untaken holiday from one holiday year to the next and
• the calculation of holiday pay which under the Regulations includes not only basic salary or wages but also such things as overtime, commission, tips and other benefits. The most likely change here is that in the future holiday pay will be based on basic salary only.
• a new determination of what is “working time” will most likely exclude travel to and from work for peripatetic employees who travel from place to place during their working day. Travel to their first place and work and from their last place of work would not count as working time.

…Transfers of Undertakings Regulations (“TUPE”) may be due for an overhaul
Yet again, the application of these EU-born regulations has given rise to much litigation some of which has made them even more difficult to understand and apply. A prime example of this has been the limitation of the purchasing company’s (“the transferee”) ability to harmonize the terms and conditions of the transferring employees with those of the company’s existing workforce. The only lawful way to do this has been for the transferee to show that the reason for changing terms and conditions of the workforce in order to harmonise them is an “economic, technical or organisational reason entailing a change in the workforce.” Employment solicitors and judges have spent many hours seeking to determine what such reasons might include. It seems likely that changes to these regulations will facilitate such harmonisation.

The rules on collective consultation in the TUPE context are also ripe for change. The current position is that if there is even one transferring employee, collective consultation must take place. One proposed change would be to align the TUPE consultation requirements with those which apply where 20 or more employees at one establishment are made redundant.

…Agency Workers’ rights could be no more
Another very unpopular piece of EU legislation is the Agency Workers Regulations of 2010. Essentially, these grant agency workers who have worked at least 12 complete weeks for the same business the entitlement to the same terms and conditions as that business’s permanent employees including the same opportunities for promotion and training. It is likely that this legislation will be repealed in its entirety and it is difficult to see how doing so would have a detrimental effect on trade and investment with the EU.

…UK Data Protection will have to withstand EU scrutiny
General data protection principles enshrining the rights of the data subject and the duties of the data holder will remain unchanged. However, new rules governing the transfer of data to non-EEU countries may be required. The EEU countries are the 27 member states of the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The UK, not being a member of the EEU, will have to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect data flowing from the UK to these countries. The existing data protection regime is currently being scrutinised by the European Commission which will determine whether the current UK regime offers sufficient protection.

…Some EU law in the pipeline will still be adopted by the UK
So, those are some areas where the UK will almost certainly diverge from the EU in the realm of labour law. There are, however, other areas where the Government has indicated it would adopt all or parts of certain EU directives which are in the pipeline which are discussed below.

…Protection for UK whistle-blowers set to improve
A new Directive, due to come into force in the EU in December 2021 would require the employer to inform the whistle-blower of any steps it has taken or proposes to take as a result of the information provided by the whistle-blower. In addition, equivalent protection to that afforded to employees who blow the whistle would be extended to self-employed freelancers and shareholders.

…Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive will require further action to prevent the abuse of zero hours contracts
This Directive is due to come onto the EU statute book in April 2022. The UK is already ahead in this area as not only employees but also workers are entitled to written terms and conditions of employment setting out such basic information as the names of the parties, salary and other benefits, working hours, overtime arrangements, holidays etc. However, the Directive would also require a more “stable” and “predictable” contract which would, for example, prevent the abuse of zero hours contracts, require the employer to give reasonable notice of any shift change and to pay compensation to the employee where short notice has been given of a shift cancellation. It would also ban long probationary periods. Although in reality, in this country every employee could be said to be on a two-year probationary period in the sense that an unfair dismissal claim cannot be brought by anyone with less than that length of service.

…Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers Directive will shore up working parent’s rights
This Directive was passed by the European Parliament on 1 August 2019 and must be adopted by all member states by 1 August 2022. In many ways, UK legislation already provides several of the rights enshrined in the Directive such as paid paternity leave, shared parental leave and rights for carers. UK employees are also entitled in certain defined circumstances to request flexible working, to take time off for family emergencies and to take unpaid parental leave to care for a child under the age of 18. Carers are also protected from discrimination or harassment as a result of their caring responsibilities.
Therefore, only a few changes are envisaged in the area of family-friendly policies although one such change might be the removal of the length of service requirement for an employee wishing to take paternity leave. Currently, the employee must have completed 26 weeks of continuous service before he is entitled to such leave.

… Will the UK be truly free from EU Employment Law?
Overall, it is likely that the Government will proceed with caution in introducing changes in employment law. Although the freedom for the UK to make its own laws was argued to be one of the main advantages of Brexit, nevertheless the UK will need to remain a viable trading partner with the EU. In addition, measures to defeat COVID19 will dominate the legislative agenda for the foreseeable future.FG Solicitors is an expert in helping its clients navigate the everchanging employment law and people management landscape to provide greater certainty over their financial and operational outcomes. Please watch this space for further updates from the employment specialists at FG Solicitors. If you require further advice about the above, please feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.
For further details about the commercial legal service and assistance we provide to businesses, please click here. 👇

Our Services

This update is for general guidance only and advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.

  

Counting the cost of discrimination

Counting the cost of discrimination

The cost of litigation is always a concern for employers and never so more than in discrimination claims. Employers should never underestimate the cost and disruption a discrimination claim can give rise to. Discrimination claims are often complex and take more than a single day to be heard.  On top of the legal costs involved in defending a claim, there are the hidden costs of absent managers who have to attend to give evidence and reputational damage to the business itself.

In order for employers to assess their attitude towards risk and what the approach should be to preventing discrimination in the workplace it is helpful to understand the consequences of getting it wrong.   Compensation awarded in a discrimination claim is not subject to the statutory financial limit, which a standard unfair dismissal claim is subject to and is uncapped in relation to financial loss.  Compensation may also include a separate award for injury to feelings; the amount awarded depends upon the severity of the case. The maximum award usually sits at £44,000 for the most serious of cases, with cases involving one off minor incidents achieving up from £900.   Damages for personal injury can also be claimed as part of a discrimination claim; for employers who have been found to have acted in a high handed or oppressive way aggravated damages can be awarded.

This is not the end of the matter.  Since 2014, the employment tribunal has the power to impose financial penalties on employers who lose in the following specified circumstances:

  • where the employer’s breach has “one or more aggravating features“; and
  • even if a financial award has not been made.

While there are as of yet no reported cases to illustrate how the employment tribunal will determine what amounts to “aggravating features”, what is clear is it will be for the tribunal to determine this taking into account factors it considers relevant including the circumstances of the case, the size of the employer, the duration of the breach of the employment right, and the behaviour of the employee and employer.

While the financial penalty regime has not been particularly successful, employers need to be aware of the regime bearing in mind it is open to an employment tribunal to impose the penalty.

The minimum penalty is £100 and the maximum £20,000.  If a financial award has been made, the financial penalty must be 50% of the amount of the award (subject to the minimum and maximum caps).  An employer will not have to pay the full penalty if it pays 50% of the penalty within 21 days.  Employment tribunals will be required to take account of the employer’s ability to pay.

The penalty will be paid to the Secretary of State, who will pay the money into the Consolidated Fund (the government’s general bank account in the Bank of England).

Whilst financial penalties may be awarded in any type of claim, by their very nature discrimination claims are likely to present employment tribunals with the opportunity to issue the penalty.

No employer can prevent a disgruntled employee or ex-employee from pursuing a discrimination claim. Likewise, an employer does not want to have to pay a financial penalty to the government.  Whilst settlement may be one option for resolving a workplace dispute if it arises, there are many measures that can be implemented to reduce the risk of the business having to take the full force of a successful claim.  Zero tolerance on discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace, supported by clear consistently applied policies and procedures and training can go a long way to assist an employer to defeat a claim.

Criminal Finances Act 2017: How employers can protect themselves?

SUMMARY: On 30 September 2017, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 (“CFA”) came into force.

Protect Family Hands Protection Father Child

Corporate bodies and partnerships can now be convicted for tax evasion offences committed by their employees or agents, when they had no involvement or knowledge of these offences.
The Act has created an ongoing obligation for bodies to implement and maintain effective prevention procedures against tax evasion, and has seemingly opened the door for employers to be at the mercy of the actions of their employees and agents, without the protections they previously enjoyed.

However, it is important to note that businesses that successfully take steps to comply with the CFA have not been left without a defence, and can rely on their own internal procedures and policies to demonstrate an active awareness and commitment to prevention.

Key Facts

Part 3 of the CFA creates the new offence of corporate failure to prevent the facilitation of domestic and overseas tax evasion.

The new rules do not create any new offences at an individual level, they simply ascribe liability for existing tax evasion offences to the corporate bodies.

There are three elements to the offence:

1. Criminal tax evasion under the existing law, by a tax payer who is either an individual or an organisation;

2. Criminal facilitation of the tax payer’s offence by an individual associated with a corporate body or partnership; and

3. A failure by a corporate body or partnership to prevent the representative from committing the criminal act through proportionate procedures.

If a corporate body or partnership is convicted under the CFA, it can be subject to a fine and will be obliged to disclose the conviction to those they commercially engage with, which could have reputational and financial consequences.

Defence of Proportionate Procedures

The new offences under the CFA are ones of strict liability, which means that it is no longer a defence for a corporate body to deny knowledge or involvement of an offence that an associated person commits.

An associated person is defined broadly and includes employees, workers, agents acting on behalf of the company and any person who performs services for or on behalf of the body.

The aim of the CFA is to ensure that all corporate bodies become actively responsible in preventing tax evasion. In the spirit of this, the Act creates a defence in element 3, for those who have successfully implemented recommended proportionate procedures.

HMRC have issued guidance on what prevention procedures should look like. This has been split in to six main guiding principles: risk assessment; top level commitment from management; due diligence; communication across the business including training; and monitoring and review.

It is worth noting that proportionate procedures can include taking no action where appropriate, however this approach should be managed through risk assessment.

So what does this mean for Employers in Practical Terms?

Employers will need to be switched on and take steps now to implement procedures that   will offer protection. The Government has indicated that it expects initial implementation to be rapid.

It is also clear that implementation alone will not be enough, the Government expects a rolling update of prevention procedures to be in place to ensure that employers are keeping up with the development of tax evasion offences.

Employers will need to demonstrate commitment to preventing tax evasion offences through communicated awareness and ongoing review and compliance. The natural first step for an employer is to update employment contracts and policies to ensure compliance.

HMRC guidance states that a reasonable prevention procedure could include having terms in employment contracts and other contracts for services requiring employees and others providing their services not to engage in the facilitation of tax evasion and to report any concerns immediately.

It will also be important to consider whether training will be needed for those employees in managerial positions, in order to assist them to identify how tax evasion offences in their industry could be committed, monitored and prevented.

For further guidance on this topic, or for general employment law queries, contact a member of our team: fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk +44 (0) 1604 871143

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

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.

What’s Next For Employment Law – You Decide?

1622450 - thinker isolated over blueAll three major political parties have now published their manifestos ahead of the snap General Election to be held on Thursday, 8 June 2017, but what do the parties have in store for employment law?

The Labour Party was the first to divulge its plans in the document “For the Many, Not the Few,” which contains numerous pledges in relation to employment rights.

The Liberal Democrats followed closely with the release of its manifesto “Change Britain’s Future,” which includes an acknowledgement that they believe the Conservative Party will win the general election, but that the Liberal Democrats are the only effective opposition, particularly on issues such as Brexit.

Finally, the Conservative Party released “Forward Together,” which Theresa May claims “contains the “greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative Government in history.” 

We have covered some of the key points from each manifesto in relation to employment law below, but this is not a substitute for reading each manifesto in full, we also provide this update for information only and not with the aim of supporting any particular political party.

Brexit

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives pledge to maintain all rights given to workers by European Legislation post Brexit, for example working time, annual leave, TUPE legislation and anti-discrimination legislation to name a few. Labour has also included a statement that it will ensure that all rights given to workers by European Legislation post Brexit will be protected. Similarly, the Lib Dems have made a pledge to unilaterally guarantee the rights of existing EU nationals in the UK. They have also stated an intention to remain part of the single market and to retain the right to freedom of movement as far as possible due to the vital role that EU workers have to play in the UK economy.


Human Rights

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives have vowed to retain the Human Rights Act during the Brexit process, but would consider amendments to this in due course. Labour intends to preserve the Human Rights Act. The Lib Dems will oppose any attempt to withdraw from the Human Rights Act.


Workers’ Pay & Executive Pay Packages

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives aim to increase the National Living Wage (which applies to workers aged 25 and over and is currently set at £7.50 per hour), in line with the current target for this rate to reach 60% of the median earnings by 2020.They have also pledged to curb executive pay by making executive packages subject to annual votes by shareholders and to commission an investigation into share buyback to ensure that this is not being used to artificially hit companies’ performance targets with the aim of inflating executive pay. Labour pledges to increase the National Minimum Wage for all workers over the age of 18 to the same level as the National Living Wage (currently £7.50 per hour). The National Minimum Wage is expected to be £10 by 2020 for all workers over 18. Labour also proposes to increase prosecutions against employers who fail to pay the minimum wage, and to reinstate the Agricultural Wages Board to monitor wages (and employment standards) in the food manufacturing, farming and fishing industries. Labour intends to reform the pay ratios for public sector employers, and those that bid for public sector contracts, to ensure that the maximum ratio between the highest paid and lowest paid would be 20:1. Labour pledges to abolish the 1% public sector cap on pay increases. Finally, Labour intends to work to close the ethnicity pay gap by introducing equal pay audits requirements on larger employers. The Lib Dems intend to establish an independent review of how to set up a genuine living wage and roll this out across central Government and where possible, across other public sector bodies. They would also call for larger employers to publish data on the number of workers earning less than the living wage and the ratio between top and median pay. They intend to end the pay freeze in the NHS and the 1% pay cap on other areas of public sector pay and to update wages in line with inflation. Finally, the Lib Dems would require binding public votes by Board members on executive pay polices.


Employment Status

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives pledge to continue the current review of employment status and the “gig economy” with the aim to ultimately ensure that the interests of employees working in the traditional master/servant employment relationship are properly protected. Details on how this will be achieved have not been specifically defined. Labour vows to widen employment protection to provide workers with the same protection currently given to employees. In addition, Labour intends to modernise the law on employment status to include creating a statutory definition for “self-employed,” “worker” and “employee” and to crack down on the potential misuse of the self-employed status. Labour intends to ban the use of Zero Hours Contracts so that every worker will receive a minimum number of guaranteed working hours. Finally, Labour intends to support young people at work by creating a target that will see the number of completed NVQ Level 3 apprenticeships double by 2022. It intends to make apprenticeships more accessible to all, and would require the provision of annual reports on completed apprenticeships to monitor access into the workforce. Labour has pledged to maintain the current apprenticeship levy, but will aim to make this more flexible. The Lib Dems pledge to modernise employment rights to make them “fit for the age of the gig economy.” In addition they intend to stamp out the abuse of Zero Hours Contracts and create a right for workers to request a fixed-term contract. The Lib Dems intend to consult on introducing a right to make regular hours of work contractual after a period of time.


Family Friendly Rights

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives have suggested they would introduce a new right for workers to take between 13 and 52 weeks off work to care for a family member who requires full-time care, and to return to the same job afterwards. This is an extension of the current right to take Dependant Leave, which only allows employees to take very brief unpaid periods off from work to deal with unexpected incidents or emergencies. There is also an indication that the Party will introduce a new right to Child Bereavement Leave. No details have been provided about the length of this leave and whether it will be paid or unpaid. Labour intends to increase the scope of the current 30 hours of free child care to cover all 2 year olds and will consult on the possibility of extending this to 1 year olds. Labour also intends to increase the Statutory Paternity Leave period from a maximum of 2 weeks to 4 weeks, and to increase the rate of Statutory Paternity Pay (which is currently set at £140.98 per week). Labour also intends to extend the period of Statutory Maternity Pay to 12 months from the current 39 weeks. Finally, Labour intends to consult on introducing legislation on Statutory Bereavement, however the full details of the scope of this have not yet been disclosed. The Lib Dems intend to provide 15 hours a week of free childcare to all 2 year olds and to children of all working families from the end of paid Statutory Maternity/Paternity Leave or Shared Parental Leave, with an ultimate aim to increase this to 30 hours. They intend to make the right to make a flexible working request and to take Statutory Paternity Leave a “day one” right as opposed to the current legislation that requires an employee to have 26 weeks’ continuous employment with an employer before gaining these rights. In addition, the Lib Dems intend to make the right to take Statutory Shared Parental Leave a “day one” right and also introduce a one month “use it or lose it” period for fathers to encourage them to take this type of leave.


Worker Representation & Trade Unions

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives aim to improve worker representation at Board level for listed Companies by either nominating a Board Director from the workforce, creating a formal Employee Advisory Council to the Board or assigning specific responsibility for employee representation to a designated Non-Executive Director. Labour intends to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016, which covers specified turnout requirements and balloting requirements before industrial action and to replace this with a “sectoral collective bargaining regime.” Labour will also give all employees the right to receive union representation, guarantee all unions’ access to the workplace, only award public contracts to employers that recognise a union and look at introducing electronic balloting. Finally, Labour intends to launch a public enquiry on Trade Union blacklisting. The Lib Dems aim to encourage employee ownership by giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees the right to request shares to be held in trust for the benefit of the workforce. They would also continue the drive for Boardroom diversity by pushing for at least 40% of female boards in FTSE 350 companies and improving ethnic minority Boardroom representation.


Discrimination & Diversity

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives intend to extend the scope of the Equality Act 2010 to cover discrimination against those suffering from mental health conditions that are “episodic and fluctuating” to cover people suffering from depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder. Currently, the legislation provides that certain conditions are “deemed disabilities” such as blindness and cancer and protection is automatically granted. In other cases, an individual would have to demonstrate that they have a physical or mental impairment that has an adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks and that effect is long term. The suggestion is that a Conservative Government would potentially classify depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder as “deemed disabilities” so that people suffering from these conditions are automatically protected under the Equality Act 2010.There is also a reference to incentives being offered to employers to employ vulnerable workers such as 1 year’s relief from Employers National Insurance Contributions. Finally, the Conservatives propose an extension to the current gender pay gap reporting regime, which came into force on 6 April 2017, by requiring employers to publish more data than is currently required. This scope of this has not been clarified. There is also a suggestion that race gap reporting could be adopted. Labour intends to enhance the Equality Act 2010 to make it easier to challenge disability discrimination at work. It would also consult on reform to the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to better protect transgender people by changing the protected characteristic of “gender assignment” to “gender identity.” Labour intends to increase pay equality by introducing an independent body to ensure that the gender pay gap reporting obligations are complied with. The manifesto also provides a proposal to audit all proposed legislation to assess its potential impact on women before it is introduced and to strengthen protection for women against unfair redundancy. The Lib Dems aim to extend the current protection against discrimination to cover gender identity and expression and not just gender reassignment. They would also outlaw caste discrimination. The Lib Dems intend to extend the gender pay gap reporting scheme in the private sector to include a requirement to publish information on gender, ethnicity, and LGBT statistics. They would also require name blind recruitment in the public sector and encourage this in the private sector, and will aim to improve diversity in public appointments by including a presumption that every shortlist should include at least one black/ethnic minority candidate. Finally, the Lib Dems would guarantee the freedom to wear religious or cultural dress in the workplace.


Immigration & Modern Slavery

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives aim to increase the Immigration Skills Charge from £1,000 per annum to £2000 per annum, which is levied on employers employing migrant workers. They will also review the application of the Modern Slavery Act to strengthen measures against exploitation of vulnerable workers. The Labour manifesto includes a statement that Labour is committed to working with Trade Unions to ensure there are fair rules to prevent exploitation of migrant workers. The Lib Dems aim to strengthen companies’ responsibility for supply chains to assist in tackling modern slavery.


Tribunal Fees

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservative manifesto makes no reference to Employment Tribunal fees. Labour aims to abolish Employment Tribunal Fees (which were introduced in the summer of 2013) and extend the time period for bringing a maternity related claim from 3 months to 6 months. The Lib Dems also aim to abolish Employment Tribunal Fees (which were introduced in the summer of 2013).


Other Provisions

Conservatives Labour Liberal Democrats
The Conservative manifesto contains a suggestion that a Conservative Government will introduce a right to request unpaid time off work for training. It also covers protection for Occupational Pension Schemes whereby the Pensions Regulator will be given greater power to review acquisitions that could potentially have an impact on an existing Occupational Pension Scheme, and to issue fines and Director disqualifications to those wilfully leaving a pension scheme under resourced. Criminal sanctions are also being considered. Labour intends to introduce 4 new Bank Holidays to increase a worker’s statutory minimum holiday entitlement to 32 days per annum. The Lib Dems aim to provide more protection to NHS whistleblowers – specific details are lacking.

Banning the Wearing of Muslim Headscarfs by Women in the Workplace Now Lawful!

68416330_lThe power of punctuation is alive and well, and proof if it were needed that the devil is always in the detail!

It would appear that the media have, over the past few days, encouraged a view that banning the wearing of Muslim headscarfs by women in the workplace is now lawful. While this is not quite “Fake news on a Trumpian scale,” it cannot be considered an accurate statement of the law either.

The igniter for these headlines is the recent European Court of Justices’ (“ECJ”) decision in the case of Achbita. In short, the case concerned a Belgian Company’s dress code that prevented employees from wearing any visible religious, political or philosophical symbols. The dress code was used as a basis for preventing a Muslim employee from wearing an Islamic headscarf while at work. The Court decided that, as the dress code applied to all religions, Ms Achbita was not treated less favourably on the grounds of her race.

Before we begin basking in the euphoria of premature conclusions that a blow has been struck for common sense, it is worth noting that the Court, unprovoked, added that it was possible for this position of neutrality adopted by the employer to be indirect discrimination.

By way of example, if Ms Achbita had not been a customer facing employee, preventing her from wearing her headscarf at work may amount to discrimination if the employer could not objectively justify the ban.

Employers need to be alert to the fact that although having a dress code prohibiting the wearing of all religious symbols in the workplace may provide a defence against a claim of direct discrimination, it will not by itself defeat all discrimination claims associated with the wearing of religious symbols. It is also worth noting, although outside the scope of this article, that if the dismissal was because of Ms Achbita’s insistence on wearing her headscarf in a customer facing role, exploring whether she may be placed in a non-customer facing role may affect, under English Law, the fairness of the employer’s decision to dismiss.

Consider for instance the case of Bougnaoui, here the ECJ decided that it was unlawful for an employer to accept a customer’s request not to be served by an employee wearing an Islamic headscarf. The Court did not consider the wishes of a customer to be a “genuine and determining occupational requirement,” which would have justified the discrimination.

There will always be a balance to be struck between the interests of the employer and the detrimental impact on the employee. In the case of Bougnaoui the ban amounted to direct discrimination because it was imposed in response to a customer’s objection rather than being based on any existing dress code designed to achieve neutrality.

As a general approach, employers should treat employees’ requests to circumvent a dress code for religious reasons carefully, sensitively and respectfully; and should consult with the employees with a view to reaching a satisfactory solution. This may very well prevent an employer from having to defend itself against such claims.

Sports Direct: Use of Zero Hours Contracts – A Business Model With Exploitation at its Heart? (Part 2)

11578822 - 3d human charcter holding green zero, 3d render, isolated on whiteSUMMARY: The Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley faced the Business Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) Select Committee on 7 June 2016 for an evidence session into the working practices adopted by Sports Direct. A month later, it was widely reported that Sports Direct’s profits had been hit. Mr Ashley’s fortunes have not improved as, at the beginning of this month, it was announced that shareholders will be asked to vote on whether there should be an independent workplace review; and this week it was reported that Sports Direct is to pay £1million to its workers for breaches of the minimum wage legislation.

But how did it come to this?

To recap, Mr Ashley received intense criticism stemming from the Guardian Newspaper’s investigation at the end of 2015, which uncovered allegations that his Company:

1. Failed to pay its workers the minimum wage;

2. Engaged a significant proportion of staff via zero hours contracts and short term hours agency worker agreements;

3. Created a culture of fear throughout its workforce due to arbitrary and outdated disciplinary practices; and

4. Conducted daily physical security searches of employees.

In the first article of a two part series, we deal with the allegation concerning a breach of national minimum wage legislation; the first article can be accessed here.

In this second article, we explore the allegation that Sports Direct sought to increase its profit margins by engaging workers on zero hours contracts and short term hours agency agreements in order to avoid many of the legal obligations of employing staff. We also review the legal considerations that your business should take into account when using either zero hours contracts or being supplied with temporary workers via an agency.

THE ALLEGATIONS

Reports revealed that nearly 80% of Sports Direct’s workers are not employees but, instead, workers engaged via zero hours contracts or short term hours agency worker agreements. During the Select Committee’s evidence session on 7 June 2016, Steven Turner, the Assistant General Secretary of the Unite Union, remarked that this practice has created a “business model that has exploitation at its heart.”

In May 2015 the Government banned exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts; clauses that prohibit a worker from taking up work under another contract, or which require the worker to get the company’s consent beforehand can no longer be included.

However, alternative work arrangements, specifically the arrangements adopted by Transline and the Best Connection Group, who supply Sports Direct with agency workers, could be placing workers in a worse position compared to if they had been engaged via a zero hours contract post the May 2015 change.

The reason behind this claim is that the Transline and the Best Connection Group do not have an obligation to offer these agency workers any work over and above a minimum of 336 hours over a 12 month period.

However, the agency workers must accept any suitable assignment offered to them unless there is “just cause,” and if assignments are not accepted, it is likely that the worker will not be offered another.

In addition, the workers are effectively forbidden for looking for additional hours elsewhere; workers who have done so have not been offered any further assignments – this is effectively an exclusivity clause in disguise.

WHAT IS A ZERO HOURS CONTRACT?

Zero hours contracts are contracts between a company and a worker and/or an employee, which specifies that the company is not obliged to provide the worker or employee with any minimum working hours, and that the company only pays for work undertaken. Similarly, the worker or employee is not obliged to accept any of the hours offered to them.

CAN ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS STILL BE USED?

Yes, zero hours contracts can still be used by companies.

The change in the law in May 2015 did not ban companies using zero hours contracts completely, instead it prohibits zero hours contracts containing exclusivity clauses.

WHY WOULD A COMPANY USE A ZERO HOURS CONTRACT & WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE TO DO SO?

The key benefits of a zero hours contract are that a company using these contracts:

  • does not have to guarantee a minimum amount of work, and
  • only pays for work undertaken.

This is useful if your company is a start-up business and you are unsure of your people requirements. Alternatively, zero hours contracts may be useful if a company wishes to engage staff for seasonal work, or to cover absence and holidays.

The other benefit to companies is that the relationship between the company and the worker does not have to be one of employment. However, the worker will still benefit from the right to receive the National Minimum Wage, paid annual leave, rest breaks and will be protected from discrimination.

WHAT SHOULD THE BUSINESS CONSIDER WHEN ENGAGING AGENCY WORKERS?

If like Sports Direct, your company is supplied with workers via an external agency, you should be very clear as to the employment status of these workers because this will affect their rights.

Usually, the arrangement dictates that workers supplied by an agency are classed as workers of the end user client and not as their employees.

From day 1, agency workers are entitled to access to collective facilities (such as canteen facilities, child care facilities and transport facilities) and access to information about employment vacancies. Agency workers are also entitled to take rest breaks, receive the National Minimum Wage, receive Statutory Sick Pay (if they satisfy the relevant qualifying conditions set out in the legislation), take paid annual leave and benefit from protection against discrimination.

Following 12 weeks with the Company, agency workers are entitled to receive the same pay and other basic working conditions as equivalent permanent staff; this can include the auto enrolment pension obligations.

This is a relationship which often gives rise to uncertainty of employment status and, consequently, there are many reported cases on this very issue. Companies are therefore advised to ensure that, when engaging agency workers, they have in place the appropriate documentation with both the agency supplying the worker and the agency worker.

COMMENT:

Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, which could exploit the most vulnerable of workers, are now unenforceable. However, this protection does not address the real issue for zero hours workers, which is the practice of ceasing to use workers who have turned down an assignment because they have accepted an alternative assignment and are unavailable.

In addition, as is evident from the Sports Direct review, Companies are now taking advantage of other working models such as the arrangements adopted by Transline and the Best Connection Group; although these arrangements are not prohibited by law, they raise questions of morality.

Only time will tell if the ongoing review by the BIS Select Committee will result in recommendations for change. In the meantime, we would recommend carrying out a review of the arrangement that your Company adopts for the supply of its staff to ensure that any legal obligations are being met.

CONTACT DETAILS:

If you would like more information on this topic or would like to discuss a specific concern in relation to your business, please contact us:

Call: +44 (0) 808 172 93 22     Email: fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

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

FGWorks August 2016

FGWorks-Aug-16We are delighted to present the latest edition of our FGWorks newsletter! Find out how mental health at work is an issue which employers cannot afford to ignore.

Please feel free to forward FGWorks to any of your colleagues and contacts who it may be of interest to.

Your feedback is always important to us as we continually strive to improve and develop the services we offer. Please send any feedback to: fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

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.