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23
Mar 22

Posted by
Saoirse Moloney

D Topping v Steppingstones Nursery (Hoddlesden) Limited

Darci Topping was employed by Stepping-Stones Nursery in Hoddlesden when she found out she was expecting her first child in March 2020. Her employers were informed a week after starting her new job.

The 23-year-old who was on minimum wage at the time was questioned about her pregnancy by her managers and was quizzed about the baby’s father and her intention to go through with the birth. The employment tribunal heard that she was pressured into reducing her hours as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and then made redundant unexpectedly.

The tribunal judge found the nursery liable on all counts of detriment on grounds of pregnancy; unfavourable treatment on grounds of pregnancy; and unfair dismissal on the ground of pregnancy.

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Unfair Dismissal Claims & How to avoid them

Posted in Discrimination, Dismissals, Employee Contracts, Employment Law

16
Mar 22

Posted by
Saoirse Moloney

Unfair Dismissal Claims & How to Avoid Them

An unfair dismissal can occur when your employer terminates your contract of employment with or without notice or the employee terminates their contract of employment with or without notice due to the conduct of your employer.

A dismissal is automatically considered to be unfair if you are dismissed for any of the following reasons:

  • Membership or proposed membership of a trade union or engaging in trade union activities
  • Religious or political opinions
  • Legal proceedings against an employer where you are a party or a witness
  • Race, colour, sexual orientation, age, or member of the Traveller community
  • Pregnancy, giving birth or breastfeeding or any matters connected with pregnancy or birth
  • Availing of rights under legislation to maternity leave, adoptive leave, parental leave, carer’s leave, parental leave, or force majeure leave
  • Unfair selection for redundancy

 

Steps to avoid Unfair Dismissal

Have clear policies

It is important to ensure that all new and current employees have access to the companies’ policies regarding harassment, dress code and attendance policies. The policies must be easy to read for the employee and available to them at any stage during their employment. These policies are not only to keep employees informed but they are used as important reference points to use as the employer during the disciplinary process. Failing to follow these policies can result in an unfair dismissal claim.

HR & Equality training

Employers need to make sure that the dismissal is thoroughly thought through beforehand and is not an impulsive retaliation to an employee’s actions. By providing training for all staff members involved in the dismissal process you will know that the process is being conducted legally.

Keep track of employee conduct

Terminating an employee can sometimes devolve into a he-said she-sad argument with no clear winner. Without proper documentation, it can be difficult to terminate an employee without fearing an unfair dismissal claim. When you begin to see that an employee might not be suitable for your company, start keeping track of their misconduct. Use a word document or journal to keep track of any problems the employee encounters. For example, take note of any time they showed up late or were not dressed appropriately.

Implement a performance management plan

When you first discuss with the employee about potentially dismissing them, you will need to set up a performance management plan to give your employee a chance to improve. If you still need to terminate this employee, the document plan shows that you tried to help your employee. Employers can do this by setting up parameters and goals for their improvement.

 

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Posted in Dismissals, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook

3
Feb 22

Posted by
Saoirse Moloney

Tribunal Case: Refusal to get Vaccinated

In the Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Ltd, an employment tribunal held that a care home worker was fairly dismissed when she refused to get the vaccination against Covid-19.

Background


Ms Allette worked in a nursing home that provides residential care for people with dementia. In December 2020, staff were encouraged to have their Covid-19 vaccinations to protect their staff and residents. By the middle of January 2021, the nursing home changed their approach and required that staff had to be vaccinated to continue their employment. There had been a Covid-19 outbreak in the nursing home which resulted in the deaths of multiple residents. There was nothing in Ms Allette’s contract of employment that required her to be vaccinated nor was there anything in the nursing homes disciplinary procedure about the termination of employment due to the refusal to get the vaccine.
By the middle of January 2021, it was now made mandatory for staff in the nursing home to be vaccinated, and there was a risk of disciplinary action if she refused to get vaccinated. Ms Allette did not want to be vaccinated as she was concerned over the safety of the vaccine. She was dismissed from the workplace for gross misconduct at the start of February 2021. Her Rastafarian beliefs include being opposed to any form of non-natural medication was reason for her refusal. Her appeal against the dismissal was unsuccessful.


Tribunal Claim


Ms Allette brought claims to the employment tribunal (ET) that her dismissal was unfair due to the right to respect her private life under the European Convention on Human Rights. She also argued that the dismissal was wrongful as it was in breach of the contract.


Employment Tribunal Decision


In relation to Ms Allette’s unfair dismissal claim the ET acknowledged that the employer could have:
• Given her more opportunities to change her mind
• Placed her on unpaid or paid leave
• Sought further scientific information or material to persuade her that the vaccine was safe and necessary.
The tribunal refused to conclude that no employer would have responded the same as the care home did in the circumstances of this case.


They accepted that the nursing home cannot be in direct breach of Act.8 (on the right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights because it is not a public authority. The tribunal went on to conclude that the employer's interference in Ms Allette's private life was justified in this case. The tribunal had to consider the balance between her right to a private life and this small employer's legal and moral obligation to protect its vulnerable residents.
When rejecting Ms Allette’s wrongful dismissal claim the ET accepted that the rights of the residents, staff members and visitors outweighed the impact that the requirement to be vaccinated had on Ms Allette.


In relation to her wrongful dismissal claim the ET accepted that there was nothing in her contract that required her to have the vaccine. However, the ET accepted that the nursing homes instructions to their employees that you had to be vaccinated to remain employed was within reason due to the:
• state of the COVID-19 pandemic nationally at that time
• consequences of the care home's outbreak
• advice on the virus and vaccination from public health authorities in England.


The ET found that there was mistrust between Ms Allette and the nursing home’s management team on what she was being told about the safety of the vaccine. According to the tribunal her decision was not made by any religious beliefs and the reason for her not to get vaccinated was unreasonable.

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Posted in Coronavirus, Dismissals, Employment Tribunals, Health & Safety

1
Feb 22

Posted by
Saoirse Moloney

Covid-19: The Most Recent Tribunal Cases

There is no doubt that there is a rise in tribunal cases, recent cases include the refusal of returning to the office in fear of catching the virus. It is important as an employer to understand what employees are entitled to and understanding that there is still a fear surrounding Covid-19

Two of the most recent tribunal cases, Moore v Ecoscape UK Ltd and Lewis v The Benriach Distillery Company Limited discuss the claims and outline the decision that the employment tribunal (ET) came to.

Moore v Ecoscape UK Ltd

Ecoscape required Moore to return to working from the office. Moore sought to rely on section one hundred of the Employment Rights Act 1996, to which a dismissal is automatically unfair where an employee believes that they are in ‘serious and imminent danger’ if they leave or refuse to attend the workplace while the danger persists.

Ecoscape conducted various Covid risk assessments and adjusted the office and sanitisation procedures. They also provided Moore with a separate working space with her own equipment to address the concerns that she had. She was still reluctant to return and asked if she could work from home. Based on the nature of her work, the employer refused this request as she deals with deliveries and customers. She raised a grievance and a grievance appeal, but both were unsuccessful. She resigned and brought a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.

The ET found that the claimant’s Covid concerns related to a general fear about leaving the home and not about the employer’s workplace. She failed to involve herself with the discussions with Ecoscape about the measures they implemented and refused to visit the workplace to review those measures.

The ET concluded that Ecoscape had taken appropriate steps to accommodate the concerns of the claimant and that they failed to explore any compromises proposed by Ecoscape. In a result the claimant’s claim failed.

 

Lewis v The Benriach Distillery Company Limited

Mr Lewis was a forklift driver for a whisky distillery. He served 23 years of good service and was dismissed without notice for attending work when his son informed him of having symptoms of Covid-19 and had booked a Covid test. Lewis did not believe his son’s symptoms (a cough and loss of smell) were genuine. He thought his son was faking his symptoms so he could get off work.

At the time the Scottish government’s guidance required anyone who lived with someone displaying symptoms to isolate. His sons test came back positive the next day and Lewis was dismissed for gross misconduct.

An ET found that Lewis’ dismissal was unfair. There was nothing in the government’s guidance that would require someone to self-isolate if Lewis genuinely believed that his son was not in fact displaying Covid symptoms.

While assessing the case, the employer should have taken into consideration:

his 23 years of good service

his record of compliance with Covid guidance; and

that there was no advantage to him in attending work or disadvantage in not attending work – he would be paid in either case.

The ET found that there was some contributory fault from Lewis so reduced his financial awards by 25%.

 

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17
Jan 22

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Case Law: Discriminatory Dismissal

In the recent case of Stott v Ralli Ltd the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the dismissal of an employee was not an act of discrimination arising from disability. In this case the Claimant was employed as a paralegal by Ralli Ltd for approximately three months. Ms Stott was dismissed by her employer due to poor performance and was paid lieu in notice. Following the dismissal meeting, the Claimant raised a grievance against Ralli Ltd and stated that Ralli had been informed of her mental health issues in several communications. At the grievance meeting, she stated that her disabilities were mental health issues, anxiety, depression and a heart condition which she claimed had affected her performance.

Ralli rejected her grievance, stating that they had not been informed about her disabilities. Her appeal against the rejection was also unsuccessful. The Claimant then went on to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal for discrimination arising from disability in relation to her dismissal. Ralli accepted that the Claimant had a mental impairment amounting to a disability at the time of her dismissal but argued that it had not been known about at the time and that it had only been raised after her dismissal. 

The Employment Tribunal dismissed Ms Stott's claim, finding that the Claimant had been dismissed for poor performance and that the Claimant had not disclosed her impairment to Ralli prior to her dismissal. Had the Claimant pleaded her claim more widely to include post-dismissal discrimination, relating to the grievance process and subsequent treatment (when the employer had knowledge of her disability) the outcome may have been different.

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2
Nov 21

Posted by
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Don't Get Caught Out: Discrimination Case Law

We are all aware of how it is against the law to treat someone less favourably due to their gender, race, religion, age etc, but this does not mean that discrimination does not still occur in the workplace. In a recent case, the Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled in favour of an employee who was discriminated against when she was dismissed while on maternity leave for refusing to accept a lesser role with a £20,000 pay cut.

The claimant claimed that when she informed her colleagues of her pregnancy, she was asked how the pregnancy would affect her long-term career goals and the all-male executive team subjected her to "offensive and humiliating" comments, announcing they should "put a wager" on how much weight she would gain during her pregnancy.

During her maternity leave the company went through a restructure which included the dismissal of several executives. The new chief executive excluded the claimant in the restructuring and the claimant discovered from HR that she was no longer on the company email distribution lists or on the new organisational chart and was at risk of redundancy. In response, the company sought to offer her a revised job description for the director of marketing role which was a lower-level role than marketing director and also involved a £20,000 pay reduction. The claimant refused the role and was subsequently made redundant by the company.

The ET upheld her claims of unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination as there was a stark difference in the treatment the claimant received compared to her male colleagues, with the only explanation being due to the fact that she was on maternity leave. The tribunal found that not only was the job description offered to the claimant copied from other websites but also that no such role existed and the retained executives did not have their salaries reduced in order to stay with the company.

Although, a claim of harassment on grounds of pregnancy and maternity cannot be brought under the Equality Act, the ET concluded that the claimant was subjected to a “humiliating and degrading environment” when her colleagues placed a bet on how much weight she would gain during her pregnancy and that this amounted to direct discrimination and the ET awarded her £25,000 plus £5,000 in interest for injury to feelings.

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16
Sep 21

Posted by
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Redundancy in the UK: A Guide to Avoiding Unfair Selection

As you all know the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has now entered its final month and will draw to a close on the 30th of September 2021. With this scheme coming to an end companies are now unfortunately faced with the possibility of redundancies having to be considered. The number of redundancies in the UK has accelerated at the fastest pace since the financial crisis. According to ACAS, redundancy related calls to their helpline have increased by over 160% compared to 2019.

If redundancies must occur then we see the following steps should be adhered to:

Collective Consultation

If an employer is proposing to make 20 or more employees redundant at one establishment within 90 days, collective consultation will be required with trade union or employee representatives.

For employers who collective redundancy applies to and who wish to make redundant by the end of the furlough scheme, they would have needed to commence their collective redundancy consultation by the 31st of August 2021.

Non-Collective Redundancy

If collective redundancy does not apply and your redundancies are on an individual level this is non-collective redundancy which is less than 20. In this case;

  • You should aim to avoid compulsory redundancies through: voluntary redundancies, agreed short-time working or other flexible staffing arrangements.
  • You should also carry out a consultation with every employee individually. The consultation must be meaningful and your plans must not be finalised at this stage.

Next is selecting staff for redundancy. Employers should use fair and objective criteria. Ideally, all employees at risk of redundancy should be put in a selection pool and assessed upon criteria such as: Standard of work, experience / qualifications and disciplinary record. Selecting those who have been on furlough over other employees may not necessarily be fair – these employees may have been parents with childcare issues or individuals with disabilities, so there could be a risk of a direct or indirect discrimination claim.

Notice of Termination

Once you have selected staff for redundancy, you need to give employees notice of their redundancy. The statutory redundancy notice periods are: 

  • At least one week’s notice if employed between one month and 2 years 
  • One week’s notice for each year if employed between 2 and 12 years 
  • 12 weeks’ notice if employed for 12 years or more. 

It is always advisable to check your contracts of employment as the contractual notice agreed may differ to statutory notice. Where contractual notice is greater than statutory notice, contractual notice will apply. However, where the contractual notice is less than statutory notice, statutory notice will apply. 

Statutory notice pay is protected. If the notice in the contract is the same or less than the applicable statutory notice, 100% of the employee’s normal pay should be paid during the notice period.

However, things are slightly different where contractual notice is greater than the statutory notice period. If contractual notice is greater, by at least 1 week, an employee should receive their normal full pay as long as they are working. If they are not working, they should receive what they would have normally been paid for that absence.

So, if you have an employee who is out of work due to furlough and being paid at 80%, and this employee’s contractual notice is greater than statutory notice, they may be paid at 80% for their notice period. For this reason, it is extremely important to always check the contract of employment.

Redundancy Payments

An individual is entitled to statutory redundancy pay if they are an employee and have been working for the employer for 2 years or more.

  • One week’s pay for each full year they have worked when 22 or older, but under 41 years old.
  • Half a week’s pay for each full year they have worked under 22 years old.
  • One and half week’s pay for each full year they have worked when 41 years old or older.

Redundancy pay is capped with a length of service being 20 years. For employees made redundant on or after 6 April 2021, a weeks’ pay is capped at £544, so the maximum statutory redundancy they can receive being £16,320.

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13
May 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Role Changing During Covid-19 - Can the employer require its employees to take on different roles to cover absence?

An employer can expect its employees to carry out different roles within the business where their contract of employment permits this. The employer should consider the relevant job descriptions to see if they comprise of the proposed changes, or if the contract contains a flexibility clause that allows the employer to vary the employees' roles and/or duties. If the employment contract does not allow for this, employers must be aware of the difficulties of imposing contractual changes which could potentially result in claims for constructive unfair dismissal. Any changes to the contract of employment should therefore should be undertaken with early consultation and with a view to reaching agreement with employees.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, employees may be more prepared to accept changes to their contract of employment where there is an imperative need for the work to be carried out, or where the viability of the business may be at risk. Employees may be willing to take on different roles if they are aware that it is for a brief period. The employer should be as transparent as possible with employees about the duration of any changes to their roles. An employee may be seen as having agreed to contractual changes if they carry out the varied role without any complaint.

Employers should ensure that suitable training is provided to any employees who may be required to carry out unfamiliar tasks and a risk assessment should be carried out to cover the temporary redeployment. For example, young or pregnant workers should not be substituted into inappropriate work.

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29
Apr 21

Posted by
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Probation & Covid-19

Recruiting has never been an easy task to undertake but recruiting in a pandemic has been even more of a challenge for businesses. A once thriving industry with an abundance of applicants may now find it hard to find the talent or the funds to hire an applicant may suddenly not be available.

Running a business is a challenge for every company but with the pandemic financial difficulty has been a common issue across the world and across many industries. Businesses initially had the funds to hire new employees, then the company takes an unforeseen hit and is no longer in the financial position to keep these new hires, so what can they do if this happens?

When considering terminating a contract of employment during the employees probationary period as a cost-saving measure, the company should first explore alternative options, for example, the availability of government assistance. Since the pandemic hit the UK Government has been trying to help businesses retain their employees through government assistance. It may be in the employer’s best interest to retain their employees during the pandemic in order to avoid having to repeat the recruitment process when the economic situation improves, especially if the employee is performing well in their role.

When new employees are hired every employee has a probationary period to allow both the employee and the employer see if they are a ‘good fit’. If an employer decides to proceed with terminating the contract of an employee on probation for economic reasons during the pandemic they must ensure the reasons for the dismissal are explained to the employee and correctly documented. Assuming the employee has less than two years’ service with the company they will be unable to claim unfair dismissal unless the dismissal was for an automatically unfair reason, for example, they could claim they were really dismissed for making a complaint about health and safety in the workplace. The employer will also need to be able to demonstrate that the dismissal was not discriminatory as dismissed employees do not need to have two years’ service to bring a discrimination claim.

The employer must give the employee their contractual notice or the statutory minimum which is set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996, section 86 (1), whichever is greater, or make payment in lieu of notice. If an employer makes payment in lieu of notice when it is not provided for under the contract of employment this will be a breach of contract and therefore they are unable to enforce any post-employment restrictive covenants. If there is a contractual dismissal procedure the employer must follow this in order to avoid a claim for breach of contract.

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8
Aug 18

Posted by
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Back to Basics - Disciplinary Steps & Sanctions

Another question that comes up from time to time is how and when to initiate the disciplinary procedures - How many warnings can an employee receive before being dismissed? When do I give a final warning? Can I fire my employee for committing an offence of gross misconduct?

The first step is always to inform the employee of issues that you may have, even minor issues; whether it is with their job performance, their time keeping, or even a breach of company rules, by means of informal counselling. The employee must be given the appropriate time/measures to defend themselves or at least be given the chance to rectify the problem. Prior to taking the decision to invoke the disciplinary procedure, the employer must ensure that the situation has been thoroughly investigated.

The following disciplinary procedures should apply in matters of discipline; constant repetition of minor offences, willful negligence or unsatisfactory performance or complaints, that are found to be proven against the employees.
The stages in the procedure are as follows:

• Stage 1 - Verbal Warning
• Stage 2 - First Written Warning
• Stage 3 - Final Written Warning                                                                                                                        The final written warning will state clearly that the next stage may be termination of employment if conduct and/or performance does not improve.
• Stage 4: Action Short of Dismissal
In exceptional circumstances, and depending on the individual case, The Company may exercise its discretion to suspend with or without pay. Demotion to a lower position or rate of pay and transfer to another position may also be considered. This is action short of dismissal.
• Stage 5: Dismissal
In an instance of gross misconduct, a full investigation will be conducted and a disciplinary meeting will be held. This will follow the normal procedures outlined above, but the outcome, if found to be gross misconduct, will almost certainly result in dismissal due to the serious nature of the situation.

At each stage in the procedure a disciplinary meeting should be held, where all the facts will be considered and any mitigating circumstances discussed, as well as timelines imposed for improvements, etc. Where a warning is issued, a copy will be placed on the employees personnel file for a defined period. All warnings issued under this procedure will state clearly that the employee will be liable for further disciplinary action should their performance not improve or should there be a further breach of company rules or procedures. In the event of no further transgression occurring and the performance improving, the warning will be removed after a period of no more than 12 months and the employee’s file will be clear. The employee will also be advised of his/her right to appeal against disciplinary action taken.

This is an area where employer’s need to tread carefully, at all times fair procedures must be applied and the company’s’ policy regarding disciplinary steps and sanctions should be adhered to. Once these steps are followed there is no reason why an employer cannot dismiss an employee without repercussions. Most employers tend to fall down and lose Unfair Dismissal cases brought against them, not because they didn’t have disciplinary procedures in place, but because they did and they failed to actually follow them.

Bright Contracts has a very robust Discipline and Grievance Policy set out in its Handbook with all the relevant procedures that an employer needs. To download a free trial of Bright Contracts click here. To request an online demo of Bright Contracts, click here.

 

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