Do employees have to disclose their intention to compete?

In the case of MPT Group Ltd v Peel and others [2017] EWHC 1222 (Ch), the High Court was asked to decide whether employees were under a duty to disclose their intention to compete to their employer.

The facts of the case were that Mr Peel and Mr Birtwistle were employed by MPT Group Ltd (a company that produces and supplies machinery, parts and equipment to the mattress industry) in management positions.  The employees resigned from their positions on the same date, Mr Peel giving the reason for his resignation as wanting to work from home and spend more time with his family, and Mr Birtwistle advising he had been offered a position doing ‘panel wiring’.  They denied that they were leaving to form a partnership/start up their own business in competition with MPT.

Both Peel and Birtwistle were subject to extensive confidentiality clauses and restrictive covenants within their contracts of employment, to the extent that they were prohibited from soliciting or even dealing with customers with whom they had personal contact, for six months.

After the relevant period had expired however, Peel and Birtwistle incorporated MattressTek Ltd, a company that was in direct competition with MPT, and began selling complex mattress machines.  It further transpired that prior to leaving MPT, both men had copied a large amount of company data which included client and supplier databases, price and discount lists, sales quotations and orders, machinery drawings and manuals, and other documentation crucial to MPT’s business.

MPT sought an injunction against the men based on the misuse of confidential information, breach of restrictive covenants, and also upon a breach of the duty to answer questions truthfully.  In particular they sought an interim injunction prohibiting Peel, Birtwistle and MattressTek from soliciting, dealing or contracting with MPT’s customer and suppliers, and an unlimited injunction preventing them from disclosing or using MPT’s confidential information.

Disability Discrimination: Adjustments for candidate with Asperger’s Syndrome

In the recent case of Government Legal Services v Brookes UKEAT/0302/16, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) upheld the decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET) that requiring a job applicant with Asperger’s to take a multiple-choice test as part of the recruitment process, amounted to indirect discrimination.

Background

The facts of the case were that the Government Legal Service (GLS) was recruiting lawyers in what the EAT later called “a fiendishly competitive recruitment process”. Applicants would be required to complete and pass a multiple choice ‘Situational Judgment Test’ (SJT), in order to be invited for interview.

Prior to commencing the test the Claimant, Ms Brookes, contacted the GLS and asked if adjustments could be made due to her Asperger’s – in particular, she asked if she could give her answers in a short narrative format rather than multiple choice so that she was not placed at a disadvantage.

Unfortunately, the GLS advised her that an alternative test format was not available, however did state that additional time allowances might be permitted for tests taken at a later stage following the successful completion of the entry tests.  The Claimant therefore completed the SJT in its existing format and failed, albeit she scored just 2 points under the pass mark required.

Ms Brookes brought claims of indirect disability discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments at the ET, arguing that the multiple-choice format of the test placed her at a disadvantage in comparison to other candidates who did not suffer from Asperger’s.  She further claimed that there could be no justification for this, and no reasonable adjustments had been made to the process.

The decisions

Can workers receive payment for ‘sleeping’ at work?!

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently considered this question, more specifically whether workers are entitled to the national minimum wage when ‘on-call’ (or sleeping!) at work.

In the case of Focus Care Agency v Roberts, along with two other cases heard at the same time (Frudd v The Partington Group Ltd and Royal Mencap Society v Tomlinson-Blake), Mrs Justice Simler (President of the EAT) assessed whether the Tribunals had been correct in deciding whether ‘sleep-in’ time should be considered ‘time work’ for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Regulations.

The EAT essentially concluded that it depends on the circumstances – although it disapproved of the approach taken where workers are deemed to be working simply by being present on the employer’s premises or even provided with accommodation when being on-call. The EAT decided that a multi-factorial approach was required, or in other words it depends on the facts of each case.

Employers will obviously be asking themselves at this point how you differentiate between cases where a worker is “working” throughout a sleep-in shift, being paid to be on the employer’s premises “just in case”, and those where a worker is “on call” and not deemed to be working the entire time? The EAT guidance provided is as follows:

Consider the employment contract in addition to the nature of the engagement and the work to be carried out. Does the contract provide for the period in question to be part of the employee’s working hours? Depending on the facts of the case it may be appropriate to consider whether the contract provides for pay to be calculated by reference to a shift or by reference to something else, and if so, to what; or to whether a period is directly specified during which work is to be done.
The fact that a worker has very little/nothing to do during certain hours does not mean that they are not working. A particular level of activity is not required. An individual can be working simply by being present even if they are simply required to deal with unexpected circumstances, but are otherwise entitled to sleep – this is the case even where the likelihood and frequency of an untoward matter arising is low.
No single factor is determinative and the weight each factor carries varies according to the facts of the particular case in question. Potential relevant factors in determining whether a person is working by being present include:

Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017

On 6th December 2016, the Government published the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, which will require large private sector businesses to publish gender-based pay statistics each year.

These Regulations are likely to come into force (subject to parliamentary approval) on 6th April 2017, and will essentially require employers with 250 or more employees (within the private and voluntary sectors) to publish gender pay information on their company website on 5th April 2018 and thereafter on an annual basis. The information must remain on the website for not less than three years and they must also submit this information to the Government each year (a Government website will be created where the information will have to be published, however details concerning the Government website will likely be released nearer 5th April 2017.)

The above has raised a number of questions from employers such as which individuals need to be taken into account for these purposes, and, exactly what information do they need to provide?

Firstly, in terms of the personnel be taken into account, the Regulations state that such individuals must be undertaking work for the business in a personal capacity, therefore consultants as well as employees, must be accounted for.

Secondly, with regards exactly what information must be provided, the following guidelines are given:

the difference in mean pay between male and female employees
the difference in median pay between male and female employees
the difference in mean bonus pay between male and female employees
the difference in median bonus pay between male and female employees
the proportions of male and female employees who were paid bonus pay
the proportions of male and female employees in each quartile of their pay distribution

The information must be collated from data taken on 5th April every year, starting with 5th April 2017. The bonus information should be based on the preceding 12-month period, beginning with the 12 months leading up to 5th April 2017.

What happens if my business does not comply?

Taking recruitment a step too far!

Recruitment firm ‘Matching Models’ has recently come under fire for posting a job advertisement requesting that applicants are ‘attractive women’ only and have even specified what bra size the successful applicant should be.

The advertisement in question specified that applicants for a PA position should have “a classic look, brown long hair with b-c cup”. It went on to state that the job would be based in the countryside and that “a lady with no commitments would seem to match our client expectations”. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called the advertisement “appalling, unlawful and demeaning to women”. Women’s rights campaigners have also criticised the firm with Sam Smeathers (Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society) stating:

It is extraordinary that they are taking this approach and almost certainly falls foul of equality legislation. If we ever wonder why the battle for gender equality hasn’t been won, this is a timely reminder.

Matching Models is also recruiting a "sexy female driver" to drive a Porsche Cayenne two days a week for between £40,000 and £50,000-a-year for a Knightsbridge-based businessman and polo team owner.

Definition of a ‘worker’ in whistleblowing cases

Further to Susan Stafford’s article earlier this month in respect of whistleblowing, in the recent case of McTigue v University Hospital Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has provided clarification regarding when an agency worker can claim protection for whistleblowing against an end user using the extended definition of a workers under section 43K of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

 

The claimant in this matter is a nurse who was employed by an agency and placed to work at the respondent NHS Trust.  She brought a claim for protected disclosure detriments against the respondent under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). Under the ERA , only employees and workers are eligible to bring such claims against their employers. At first instance, the Employment Tribunal found that the claimant could not be categorised as such an employee/worker and her claim failed. The claimant therefore appealed to the EAT.

 

The claimant argued that she was employed by the Trust for the purposes of bringing a whistleblowing claim because she fell within the extended definition of “worker” at s.43K(1)(a) ERA, which states as follows:

“…an individual who is not a worker as defined by section 230(3) who—

(a) works or worked for a person in circumstances in which—

(i) he is or was introduced or supplied to do that work by a third person, and

(ii) the terms on which he is or was engaged to do the work are or were in practice substantially determined not by him but by the person for whom he works or worked, by the third person or by both of them…”

 

The respondent however presented the counter-argument that the Tribunal had been correct to find that it had not “substantially determined” the terms of the claimant’s engagement, as her terms were largely determined by her supplying agency work. The respondent further stated that as the claimant was undoubtedly a worker  in relation to the agency, she could not also be a worker of the Trust for the purposes of s43K(1)(a) ERA as that extension only applies to “an individual who is not a worker as defined by section 230(3)”.

 

The EAT held

An employee’s right to privacy – are your emails protected?

One of the most common issues encountered by employers today is whether emails sent by employees are able to be used in disciplinary proceedings against them.  Are they the private property of the employee or can an employer use them as evidence if they have an effect on their employees/the workplace?

In the case of Garamukanwa v Solent NHS Trust, an employer was recently held not to have breached an employee’s right to a private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) when they reviewed private information that belonged to the employee on the basis that the information related to work and therefore had a potential impact on the employer.

The Claimant (Mr Garamukanwa) worked as a Clinical Manager for the Respondent (Solent NHS Trust), and had formed a personal relationship with a fellow colleague, Ms Maclean.

Following the breakdown of this relationship, the Claimant then believed that Ms Maclean had started a relationship with another colleague, Ms Smith. Ms Maclean and Ms Smith subsequently received an email from the Claimant in which he advised them that unless they told their manager about their relationship, he would do it himself.

Prior to this an anonymous letter had in fact already been sent to the aforementioned manager (Mr Brown), accusing Ms Maclean and Ms Smith of ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ in the workplace.  Mr Brown subsequently raised these concerns with Ms Maclean and Ms Smith, who denied both having a relationship and inappropriate sexual behaviour.  Ms Maclean later advised Mr Brown about the email that herself and Ms Smith had previously received from the Claimant and stated that she felt threatened as a result of this.

Mr Brown therefore informally raised these concerns with the Claimant, who apologised for sending the email but denied being the person who had sent the letter to him.  Ms Maclean and Ms Smith were then the subject of a vendetta which consisted of the sending of malicious emails and photos to management and other members of staff, from various anonymous email addresses.  In addition a fake Facebook profile was set up and around 150 of the Respondent’s employees were added to it.  It later became clear that whoever was responsible for the vendetta was following Ms Maclean and Ms Smith, and Ms Maclean believed that the Claimant was in fact stalking her. 

site improvements

I hope that you like our entirely redesigned site and that you are finding it easy to use. We want to make sure that you are getting what you want so let me know if you encounter any problems or have any criticisms or suggestions for improvements by commenting on this post or emailing martinmalone@canter-law.co.uk.…