As the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill wends its way through parliament, the government keeps adding miscellaneous bits and bobs to it. Perhaps most noteworthy are the proposals to implement regulation of the Press post-Leveson by inserting amendments which appear entirely out of context, primarily because that is precisely what they are!
New employment law is creeping in by a similar method. Two recent additions that enhance the rights of whistle-blowers and extend protection to employees dismissed on the ground of political opinion have appeared in the last few weeks
One set of amendments to the Bill have been prompted by the fallout from recent high profile issues within the NHS, and are aimed at strengthening protection for whistle-blowers. They will:
- – introduce a provision whereby the detrimental acts of one co-worker towards a whistle-blower will be treated as being done by the employer, thus making the employer responsible (vicarious liability);
- – add a requirement for protected whistleblowers to be “acting in the public interest”;
- – remove the requirement for disclosures to be made in good faith (while at the same time providing power for tribunals to reduce compensation by up to 25% if they are not made in good faith); and
- – provide a defence for an employer who is able to show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the detrimental treatment of a co-workers to towards another who blew the whistle.
These changes have resulted primarily from the case of NHS Manchester v Fecitt. Three nurses who raised concerns about the qualifications of a colleague were subjected to victimisation Continue reading
Hill v Governing Body Of Great Tey Primary School is another high profile case which I mentioned briefly last month. Since it concerns disclosure of information and that is such a hot topic at the moment the decision is, I believe, worth further analysis, particularly in terms of the possible application of the European Convention on Human Rights The case concerned a dinner lady who was dismissed for breach of confidentiality after telling parents about a nasty bit of playground behaviour involving their child (the innocent party) without permission, and then going to the local press about it when she was suspended. The child had been tied to a railing in the playground and whipped across the legs by other pupils. There were red marks on her legs and rope burns and scratches on her wrists.
When she was sacked she made an unsuccessful whistle-blowing claim, and a successful unfair dismissal claim.
An Employment Tribunal found that she had been dismissed unfairly because the investigation and disciplinary process before dismissal were unfair, but that she would have been dismissed within a couple of months had a fair procedure been followed – and she was also guilty of 80% contributory fault, reducing her compensation accordingly. The Tribunal concluded that she would have been dismissed fairly after two months if proper procedure had been followed, and taking into account in addition the 80% deduction on account of her contributory conduct, awarded her £49.99
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned the decision and remitted it for a rehearing. Continue reading
It was difficult to miss the near ubiquitous reporting of the Court of Appeal’s decision in the case of Reilly & Anor, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in which it quashed the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment and Enterprise) Regulations 2011 SI 2011/917. Contrary to the impression given by (some of) the media, the Court did not find that there was any breach of the human rights of unemployed people who had been compelled to undertake unpaid “work experience” to avoid having their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn. Rather, there had been a failure to introduce these workfare programmes within the scope of any primary legislation. In particular, the “job seekers” had been misled about how long they could lose benefits for if they did not agree to participate.
In fact the Court of Appeal specifically made it clear that there was nothing wrong, in principle, with having such schemes. Lord Justice Pill summarised the position as follows:
A policy of imposing requirements on persons receiving a substantial weekly sum, potentially payable for life, is readily understandable. Equally, the means sought to achieve that end are understandable; claimants should be required to participate in arrangements which may improve their prospects of obtaining remunerative employment. Provided schemes “are designed to assist [claimants] to obtain employment” and to “[improve] their prospects of obtaining employment”…sanctions for failing to participate are understandable. Whether a particular arrangement meets those statutory requirements…is susceptible to challenge by judicial review, but that stage has not been reached. The issue is whether the Scheme named in the Regulations satisfies the requirements for specificity in section 17A by way of being “prescribed”. Continue reading
Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust  EWHC 2068 (QB) is a useful case looking at the extent to which Article 6 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights will be engaged in NHS disciplinary procedures. It concerns a consultant dismissed for misconduct by the Chief Executive of the Trust he worked for, who appealed unsuccessfully against his dismissal to an external appeal panel. The reasons for dismissal included refusing to agree to a “re-skilling” plan of action proposed by the NHS Trust employing him after a long period of suspension (five years!).
Dr Mattu challenged the dismissal, saying that it had an impact on this ability to practice as a doctor, and so he had a right to have his dismissal considered by an impartial and independent tribunal under the Convention. He failed.
Lord Justice Stanley Burnton identified the issues concerning the overlap between Article 6 and employment aspects as follows Continue reading
Illegal working and eligibility for employment protection is another topic which seems to have been keeping the courts busy this year. Possibly a reflection of a wider issue concerning the composition of the workforce, some of the working practices which have been disclosed in these cases give serious cause for concern.
In March we reported the decision in Zarkasi v Anindita and anor  UKEAT in which a race discrimination claim by an au pair who had entered the UK to work using falsified documents failed, because the unfavourable treatment related not to her race but to her lack of any right to live or work in the UK. Hounga v Allen & Anor  EWCA Civ 609 is a decision of the Court of Appeal concerning a similar situation, which arrives at the same result by a different route based on earlier Court of Appeal decisions on illegal contracts, including Hall v Woolston Hall Leisure Ltd (2001) and Vakante v Governing Body of Addey and Stanhope School (No 2) (2005).
Ms Hounga, with help from others (she being illiterate), obtained a passport in a false name in Nigeria and entered the UK on a 6 month visitor’s visa, ostensibly to visit her grandmother (who, if she existed at all, did not live in the UK), but in fact to take up a job arranged for her here as an au pair for a family with connections in Nigeria.
Last month we reported the decision in Jose v Julio (and other linked cases) concerning au pairs and the minimum wage.
This month sees a new case looking at the position of a domestic worker from overseas and the extent to which she could benefit from UK employment law rights. The complications in Zarkasi v Anindita and another were that (i) this worker entered the UK using false documents obtained by her employer – with her full agreement and co-operation, (ii) she was thus an illegal immigrant with had no legal right to work in this country, and (iii) she believed – or at least was prepared to claim – that she had been the victim of human trafficking.
Since September 2000 the basic rule has been that a worker (as defined) has the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union representative at an employer’s internal disciplinary or grievance hearing. The companion does not have the right to answer questions on behalf of the worker but does have the right to put the worker’s case, to sum up that case and to respond on the worker’s behalf to any views expressed at the hearing. Continue reading