Is Buddy the Elf a good employee?

 It’s nearly here! Christmas is just five days away! The radio stations are playing Last Christmas by Wham on loop, supermarkets are clogging up the TV with advertisements for gooey desserts and it’s getting easier and easier to spot those remaining advert calendar squares!

Every family tends to have an annual pre-Christmas tradition and I’m no different. In fact, mine is to visit my younger family members each year and watch Elf with them. For those not in the know, Elf is a Christmas film which came out in 2003 and stars Will Ferrell as a human who is adopted by Santa’s elves and raised as a Christmas Elf at the North Pole. It sounds terrible but, in fact, it’s a cult classic that was named Best Christmas film in a recent survey!

Anyway, what better time of the year to explore whether or not Buddy the Elf is a good employee or not? I mean, it is an employment law-related and Christmas-themed topic, so what are we waiting for? Let’s travel through the Candy Cane forest and explore this further!

So, to give us some background, Buddy was a baby at an orphanage who snuck into Santa’s sack one night. When Santa discovers him at the bottom of his sack upon his return to the North Pole, an elf adopts him and raises Buddy as his own. Unfortunately, Buddy grows at three times the rate (and height) of the elves and, eventually, discovers that he is a human, not a Christmas Elf. Aside from his height, this is especially noticeable when Buddy can ‘only’ make 85 Etch-A-Sketches a day rather than his 1,000 daily target in Santa’s workshop. Upon discovering that he is human, Buddy goes to New York to find his real father and save him from the naughty list, as well as looking for a more normal life.

During the film, Buddy has work experience at his real father’s book company, work experience in a mail room and works as an employee of a large department store in the Christmas section. Buddy is dedicated and keen but, overall, was he a good employee (by UK employment law standards)?

Not so silent night – Christmas parties gone wrong!

Ahhh the office Christmas party. The supposed annual nightmare for the HR Team. Of all the traditional Christmas-related workplace events, the Christmas party sure is the one that surrounded by the most myths.

HR Departments sending out pre-Christmas party checklists? Alcohol being banned? The party itself replaced with a simple lunch or, even more severely, not held at all to avoid legal claims or grievances? I mean, just type ‘office Christmas party’ into an online search engine and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

In recent years, perhaps not unsurprisingly, some employers have simply stopped having Christmas parties to avoid the hassle and stress of dealing with the ‘troubles’ that emerge. You’d think that, as an Employment Law Solicitor, I’d see that as a good thing? Absolutely not! So, why is that?

“Overpromoted” practice manager constructively dismissed following bullying by “brusque and blunt” doctor

As I have pointed out over many years. pursuing a claim for constructive unfair dismissal can be a risky course of action because, for the former employee, it brings with it the added burden of having to demonstrate that the employer’s conduct was so unsatisfactory that it established a fundamental breach of a term of the contract of employment, sufficient for the employee to be entitled to treat the breach as operating to terminate the contract. If there is no fundamental breach then there has been no dismissal, hence, there can be no unfair dismissal.

In the case of Williams v Meddygfa Rhydbach Surgery and Doctors Morris, Haque and Smits, Mrs Williams was the practice manager of a rural surgery operated in partnership by the named doctors. She had commenced work in September 1986 as a receptionist and in 1996 was promoted to practice manager at the Botwnog Pwllheli Surgery. According to the judgment, from 2014 the practice found itself in “challenging circumstances”, both financially and in terms of “difficult interpersonal relationships” between admin and clerical staff on one side and the partners on the other. Numerous complaints were raised and ten members of staff identified Dr Smits’ manner as causing distress. He was described as being “direct, brusque and blunt in his manner”. he was also described as “aggressive” and “irascible”. Employment Judge Ryan found that his management style was “at least robust and was often overbearing and, to the Claimant at least, intimidating”. Accordingly, he found that Mrs Williams’ perception that Dr Smits bullied, harassed and intimidated her was “genuine and reasonable”.

The partners had a generally low opinion of Mrs Wiliams. They thought that she was perhaps promoted beyond her ability and that she was in effect working “at the level of a glorified receptionist”. She was not pro-active or enthusiastic as a manager and she had caused concern when she overpaid a caretaker £12,000.

In June 2014 she was called into a meeting during which her performance was criticised. She was surprised and upset and was told that she was to be subjected to performance management. However, she was not offered training or professional management guidance. She was not set targets or issued with any explicit warnings.

In late 2014 Mrs Williams asked whether she could be made redundant. Her request was refused because the partners were concerned that they might not be able to find a replacement.

A practice manager, Deborah Kalaji, was brought in to conduct a “root and branch review of the practice concentrating on managerial improvement”. By this stage Dr Smits acknowledged that Mrs Williams might claim constructive dismissal.

a car parking space, an email, a dismissal and perversity

Mrs Donnelly worked for the Environment Agency from 1992. She was on a flexitime contract. Towards the end of her time there she was disabled by osteoarthritis of the knees and spondylitis, which affected her back and her hip. As a result she found it difficult to walk far. This meant she had to change roles. In January 2010 she was offered a temporary role as an alternative, but she only did it for two weeks before going off sick with stress. She had a number of concerns about that change in role and her employment, but at the heart of a long running tribunal claim were the trouble she had getting a parking space close to her office, an email she alleged was harassment, and her ultimate dismissal in 2011 for lack of capability. She was successful in all those claims before Employment Judge Reed sitting at the Employment Tribunals in Liverpool. The Agency appealed: (The Environment Agency v Donnelly).
Mrs Donnelly argued that her employer had imposed a “provision criterion or practice” (PCP) that she must walk to the office from an overflow car park when she got into work at half past nine, and that in refusing to earmark a parking space in the main car park for her, they had failed to make a reasonable adjustment. The Agency argued that she could have come into work at nine, when there were plenty of spaces, and so there was no PCP. they also proposed that she could be “shuttled in” from a more distant car park, in the sense that she could ring the office and someone would come and fetch her and, at the end of a shift, return her. Controversially, it was also suggested that she could use a disabled person’s parking space, but on the understanding that she would have to remove her car if the space was required by a blue badge holder. The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed with such arrangements. Mrs Donnelly was contractually entitled to come into work at the later time, and it was for her employer to make reasonable adjustments, not for her.
Turning to the email said to have been harassment, this was written to her during her final episode of sickness. In it a Mr Hopwood referred to her “negativity” and cast doubts on her capability or willingness to fulfil any role with the Agency at all. The Employment Tribunal described the email as “less than supportive or helpful” but, according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, that fell far short of harassment. The email could not reasonably have been read as falling within the statutory definition of harassment – and so that finding was set aside, on the basis that the finding made by the Judge was perverse: