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          Latest UK EmpLaw Newsletter

          SEPTEMBER 2018

          Here is our latest on-line Employment Law newsletter which will assist in keeping you informed of various current employment issues. The content of this newsletter is provided for general information purposes only and it is not intended to be legal or other professional advice. It should not be considered a substitute for taking professional advice in relation to specific circumstances. No responsibility can be accepted by Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. for any action taken as a result of the information provided.

          Introduction

          The holiday season might be ending, but holiday pay remains a hot topic. In Flowers v East of England Ambulance Trust, the Employment Appeal Tribunal looked at whether voluntary overtime should be included in holiday pay. Employees should be paid their 'normal remuneration' when they take holiday. But is voluntary overtime 'normal' pay? 

          This case involved ambulance workers who worked different types of overtime. Sometimes they worked compulsory 'non-guaranteed' overtime at the end of a shift, to finish a task such as caring for a patient. They could also choose to work voluntary overtime if it was offered, but they didn’t have to. Their holiday pay was based on average earnings over the 12 weeks preceding their holiday. The employer didn’t include any overtime in their holiday pay calculations. The employees brought claims for unlawful deduction from wages.

          The employment tribunal said that their holiday pay should include the non-guaranteed overtime, because it was a contractual obligation. They said voluntary overtime could be excluded because it wasn’t contractual and there was no pattern to it. It wasn’t 'normal remuneration'.

          The EAT disagreed and said both types of overtime should be included in the calculation. The important question was whether overtime payments had been made over a sufficient period on a regular or recurring basis. Whether overtime payments meet this requirement is a question for the employment tribunal to decide, based on the evidence. The case was sent back to the tribunal for this factual assessment to take place. 

          Content

          1. Unfair dismissal – appeals against dismissal
          2. Statutory notice and continuity of employment
          3. National minimum wage and 'sleeping in'
          4. Discrimination arising from disability and part time working
          5. Philosophical belief discrimination
          6. Caste discrimination
          7. Sexual harassment
          8. Increase in tribunal claims
          9. Older workers in employment
          10. Repudiatory breaches of contract
          11. And finally…

          Unfair dismissal – appeals against dismissal

          Most employees appeal against their dismissal if they think the penalty is harsh or unfair. But what happens if that appeal is successful. Does the dismissal vanish? 

          Mr Patel was a healthcare assistant for Folkestone Nursing Home. Mr Patel was accused of two different acts of misconduct and was dismissed for gross misconduct. He appealed. The appeal officer agreed that Mr Patel should not have been dismissed. However, the letter communicating the appeal outcome dealt with only one of the allegations of misconduct, to say that allegation had been wrongly decided by the dismissing officer. The letter also said that they would arrange Mr Patel's return to work.

          Mr Patel was unhappy that the appeal letter did not deal with the second misconduct allegation. He did not return to work and brought an unfair dismissal claim instead. The employment tribunal found that Mr Patel had been dismissed. The employment judge said that the employer's disciplinary procedure did not set out the consequences of a successful appeal against dismissal. They also said that the letter overturning the dismissal was unclear and left out significant issues (including the second allegation of misconduct).

          The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed. There was no need for a contractual disciplinary procedure to specify the outcome of an appeal against dismissal. Unless the contract said something different, it was obvious that a successful appeal would mean that the contract is revived. The dismissal effectively vanishes. The communication of this decision was not relevant to whether the revival had taken place. However, in this case the letter was clear that the dismissal had been revoked. [back to top]

          Statutory notice and continuity of employment

          Normally, an employer must give notice to terminate a contract of employment. Section 97(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 allows an employee dismissed without notice to add their statutory notice onto their continuous employment. If an employee is dismissed without notice for gross misconduct, can they add on their statutory period of notice to extend their effective date of termination?

          Ms Wileman was dismissed for gross misconduct from Lancaster & Duke two days before the two-year anniversary of her employment. The employer did not follow any sort of process and her complaints went unanswered. The employee brought a claim for unfair dismissal despite not having two years' continuous employment. She claimed she could add on her statutory notice period to extend her termination date. The employment tribunal allowed this. She went on to win her unfair dismissal claim.

          The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed. The tribunal had failed to consider another section of the same Act, section 86(6). This section allows an employer to dismiss without notice for conduct reasons. This would apply in gross misconduct cases. If the employer was entitled to dismiss without notice, then the employee could not add on the statutory notice to change her termination date.

          The EAT sent the case back to the tribunal to decide whether the employee was guilty of gross misconduct. If she was guilty of gross misconduct, then her original termination date must stand. She would not have the necessary 2 years' service to bring an unfair dismissal claim. If she wasn't, then she can add on the extra week's notice and she will have enough continuous service to bring an unfair dismissal claim. This case is a reminder to employers to take care with dismissals very close to the two-year qualifying period. Without gross misconduct, two years might well be 1 year and 51 weeks. [back to top]

          National minimum wage and 'sleeping in'

          Are care workers who 'sleep in' at work entitled to the national minimum wage for the whole of their shift? In Mencap v Tomlinson-Blake, care workers had to spend the night at or near their place of work. They were expected to sleep for most of that period. They might be woken if their assistance was needed. Were they entitled to the minimum wage even when they were sleeping?

          The Employment Appeal Tribunal said that a 'multifactorial' test should be applied. Courts would look at things such as the contract between employer and employee, the nature of the tasks required and the degree of responsibility the employee had. 

          The Court of Appeal disagreed. It relied on regulation 32 of the National Minimum Wage Regulations. Regulation 32 says that the minimum wage only needs to be paid during hours when the employee is awake for the purposes of working. This is the case even if sleeping arrangements are provided.

          This is a good decision for employers but caution is required. In care worker cases, the workers are expected to sleep, even though they may be disturbed. This was an important part of the judge's reasoning. There are other cases where this will not be the case. For example, a night watchman may be allowed to sleep at times but is expected to perform significant duties throughout the shift. They might be entitled to the minimum wage of the whole of their shift. Each case will be decided on its facts. This case is helpful for employers though, especially those in the care sector where budgets are tight. [back to top]

          Discrimination arising from disability and part time working

          If an employee is treated unfavourably because of something arising out of their disability, the employer must objectively justify it. 

          Dr Ali was a GP who worked for the Bedford Family Practice. He went off sick after a heart attack. His ongoing condition was considered a disability under the Equality Act. Doctors confirmed that Dr Ali was unlikely to be able to work full time but said he could work part time. He was dismissed for capability reasons. 

          He brought unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability claims. The tribunal said he had been unfairly dismissed because the Practice had not considered a return to work part time. However, it rejected his discrimination claim. The tribunal said his dismissal was unfavourable treatment but could be objectively justified by the Practice's legitimate aim of providing the best possible care to patients. Dr Ali appealed.

          The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed with Dr Ali. The Practice had considered how Dr Ali's absence impacted patient care, operational and financial costs. However, they didn’t consider whether part time working might be a better way of achieving its legitimate aim. The EAT sent the case back to the employment tribunal to consider the part time working issue afresh. The tribunal will decide whether the employer's decision to dismiss was still proportionate. This is a reminder to employers to consider all possible reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, including part time working. Failing to do so can affect the fairness of dismissals and result in discrimination claims. [back to top]

          Philosophical belief discrimination

          Can a belief that only one person holds amount to a philosophical belief? No, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has decided in Gray v Mulberry. Ms Gray refused to sign a standard contract assigning copyright in the work she produced whilst employed to Mulberry. She was scared that it would give them ownership of other written work she produced in her spare time. The contract was changed to exclude the other written work, but she still refused to sign it.

          The employee claimed that her belief in 'the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output' was a philosophical belief and protected under the Equality Act 2010. She said her dismissal for this belief was discriminatory. 

          To qualify as a philosophical belief, the belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cogency and importance. The belief must be similar in status or cogency to a religious belief. The tribunal said the belief in this case lacked the cogency needed to qualify under the Act. The Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed that the tribunal had not set the bar too high when making its decision.

          The EAT went on to say that even if this were wrong, the employee could not succeed in any indirect discrimination claim. The relevant policy or practice needs to put people sharing the protected characteristic at a disadvantage, not just the claimant. On the evidence, the employee was the only person to hold these beliefs. She would have lost her case anyway. [back to top]

          Caste discrimination

          The government has decided not to include 'caste' as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. Does this mean that caste discrimination goes unprotected?

          In 2016, the disturbing case of Tirkey v Chandok brought this issue into the public eye. An Indian woman's mistreatment at the hands of her employers was likened to modern slavery. Her treatment was due to her low hereditary caste. She brought her case under the existing provisions of the Equality Act. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that 'ethnic origin' had a wide definition. It could include characteristics determined by descent, such as caste.

          In 2017 a government consultation began to look at how best to protect against caste discrimination. The report was produced in July 2018. Caste will not become a protected characteristic. There would be difficulties in defining 'caste'. Drafted too narrowly it would not protect those who need it most. Drafted too broadly it might provide unintended protection to people whose treatment may relate to social class (between people of the same caste), rather than caste. Instead, the law will develop on a case by case basis.

          There are relatively few cases of caste discrimination that come before the courts. The government felt that people can bring a caste discrimination claim under the existing provisions of the Equality Act. Caste discrimination should not go unprotected, but the feeling is that the existing legal provisions are adequate. [back to top]

          Sexual harassment

          The #MeToo campaign has put sexual harassment into the spotlight. The original news stories involved high profile public figures. It triggered women from all backgrounds sharing their stories about sexual harassment at work. 

          The Women and Equalities Commission has produced a report on sexual harassment in the workplace. The initial commentary is fairly damning. It cites endemic sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace. It urges employers and regulators to put the same emphasis on sexual harassment as they do other high-profile issues such as data protection. The report describes the cases which come to court as representing only the tip of the iceberg. 

          The report also criticises the use of non-disclosure agreements. They can be helpful in settling claims but can mask the problem rather than resolve it. 

          The report advises that government action should include:

          • Pushing sexual harassment to the top of the agenda, by introducing new harassment prevention duties, supported by a statutory code of practice;
          • Making sure interns and volunteers are protected as well as employees;
          • Getting regulators to play a more active role, including setting out what they will do to tackle the issue and ensure enforcement;
          • Making enforcement processes work better for employees, by giving guidance in the statutory code of practice and changing some of the tribunal rules to make the process easier for claimants;
          • Cleaning up the use of non-disclosure agreements by requiring the use of standard terms with clear explanations;
          • Extending whistleblowing rules so that disclosures to the police or regulators like the Equality and Human Rights Commission are covered. [back to top]

          Increase in tribunal claims

          ACAS's  2017/2018 annual report reveals an increase in tribunal claims and with it demand for its early conciliation services. This spike is linked to the Supreme Court's decision to abolish employment tribunal fees in July 2017. 

          The report shows that requests for early conciliation have increased from around 1,700 cases per week to 2,200, overall an increase of around 19%. The number of ACAS cases involving a tribunal cases has increased by about 40%. 

          An increase in tribunal claims is never good news for employers. With fees no longer acting as a deterrent to potential claimants, employers must be even more careful to ensure they treat their employees fairly. Access to the courts no longer has an initial cost. [back to top]

          Older workers in employment

          The Women and Equalities Committee has produced a report on older people in the workplace and their access to the job market. There are about 1 million workers over 50 who are out of work but want to work and who face barriers and discrimination. 

          The Committee claims the government isn’t doing enough to tackle age discrimination. This results in the skills and experience of older workers going to waste. The report suggests that there are changes that all employers should be making. Older workers often manage heath conditions or juggle employment with other caring responsibilities. Some want to work less in the years before retirement. The Committee advocates flexible working in all jobs as a default position. They also recommend 5 days' paid carers leave per year and longer period of unpaid leave to stop older workers falling out of the job market.

          This is rather challenging as well as potentially costly for small and medium businesses. The Committee recognises this. It suggests that the government set up a mentoring system for business who might struggle to adapt due to size or resources.

          The Committee also recommends:

          • Action is taken to tackle age discrimination in recruitment and identify sectors with the worst track record;
          • Help is given to support more claims of age discrimination in employment;
          • The government research the impact of discrimination on older women, black and minority ethnic and disabled workers;
          • Introducing paid and unpaid carers' leave. [back to top]

          Repudiatory breaches of contract

          A repudiatory breach is one that is so serious that the innocent party can choose whether to end the contract or continue (‘affirm’) it. If an employee resigns in response to a breach but gives long notice, does that affirm the contract?

          In Brown v Neon Management, the employer breached the employees' contracts. The employees resigned claiming repudiatory breach of contract. Each gave either six or twelve months' notice. During the notice periods, the employer committed more repudiatory breaches. Two employees resigned immediately and brought claims for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. The third employee continued to work her notice and brought a claim for breach of contract. 

          The High Court had to decide whether resigning on a lengthy notice period meant the employees had affirmed the employment contract after the initial repudiatory breach. The Court said they had. An employee can't keep their right to act on a repudiatory breach alive for such a long period.

          Had no further breaches taken place, the employees would not have been able to bring their claims. 

          The High Court also had to decide whether making unjustified misconduct findings, alleging loss of trust and confidence and making unfounded reports to a regulator could constitute repudiation of contract by the employer. The Court said yes again. This meant that the employer could not rely on the post termination restrictions contained in the employees' contracts.

          This case is a mixed bag for employers. On one hand, it shows that breaching an employee's contract can have wide reaching effects on contractual terms such as restrictive covenants. However, it also confirms that employees who don't resign immediately in response to a repudiatory breach may lose the right to do so. [back to top]

          And finally…

          It's been a long, hot summer and it may not be over yet. The Met Office predicts that the warm weather may extend into Autumn, with some meteorologists suggesting 30 degree heat may hit some parts of the UK in September. Some jobs entail working in hot conditions every day, but many of us just aren’t used to it. Our offices are not set up to deal with high temperatures as they are on the continent.

          There isn’t a maximum office temperature in law. The advice from the Health and Safety Executive is that workplace temperatures need to be reasonable. What is reasonable depends on the type of workplace and the work being done. It is reasonable for a kitchen where a chef works to be hotter than an office where an administrator sits.

          ACAS has issued guidance on working in hot temperatures. There are common sense ways to address the heat and keep employees happy. If you have air conditioning, turn it on. Use blinds to block out sunlight and fans to keep the air moving. If your workers are outside, they should wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen. All workers should be advised to drink lots of water to keep hydrated. Vulnerable workers such as pregnant women may need extra breaks or their own fans or air cooling units. Employers may also choose to relax dress codes to make employees more comfortable.

          As always, a little goes a long way. Going out and getting your staff an ice-cold drink or buying a round of ice creams can take the edge off a hot afternoon in the office and buy a little bit of goodwill into the bargain. Click here to read best practice guidelines from ACAS. [back to top]