Shocking behaviour revealed at Marine Scotland

A whistleblower who complained of a racist and misogynistic workplace culture at a Scottish Government controlled Marine Scotland office has claimed she was restrained in a chair and gagged by two male co-workers in response to her speaking out.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick is a civil servant and Canadian national employed as a fisheries officer at Marine Scotland’s office in Scrabster on the Caithness coast, Scotland. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to bullying, harassment and a sustained pattern of racist and misogynistic behaviour over a period of nearly ten years whilst working at the office. Her claims are currently being considered at an employment tribunal in Aberdeen. Allegations include that she was mocked for having a miscarriage, advised by co-workers that they didn’t want to work with a ‘foreign woman’ and subjected to racist language. Fitzpatrick has been unable to work and has been signed off on sick leave since November 2016, after also experiencing a family bereavement during this time.

BBC Scotland have obtained and released a photograph of the described event earlier this month, taken by one of the men allegedly responsible. It pictures Ms Fitzpatrick gagged and secured in the chair with packaging tape. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to the treatment as a result of ‘blowing the whistle’ on the behaviour of her male colleagues. She has stated that in 2010, two male colleagues had restrained her in the chair before telling her ‘This is what you get when you speak out against the boys’. When Ms Fitzpatrick reported the incident to her manager she was advised that he would ‘have words’ with the colleagues involved but the matter was not reportedly escalated any further.

While the Tribunal proceedings are ongoing, Ms Fitzpatrick is also understood to be involved in disciplinary procedures in the workplace with a hearing due at the end of May.

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How to deal with convictions for sexual offences committed by a person associated with the employee

Judgments of the Supreme Court concerning employment law issues are fairly infrequent and usually worthy of attention. That is certainly so in the recent case of Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council which concerned an individual convicted of the surprisingly common offence of downloading indecent images of children.

Ms Reilly was the deputy head teacher of a primary school. She was in a close but not sexual relationship with a Mr Selwood and they did not live together. In 2003 they bought a property in joint names as an investment and Mr Selwood lived there, although he did not make any payments to Ms Reilly. Ms Reilly did not live there but she occasionally stayed overnight, including on 24 February 2009 when, the following morning, she awoke to the arrival of the police who searched the property and arrested Mr Selwood on suspicion of having downloaded indecent images of children. In September Ms Reilly was promoted to the post of head teacher at the school and in February 2010 Mr Selwood was convicted of making indecent images of children by downloading. On a scale of 1-5, the images ranged from level 1 to level 4. He was sentenced to a three year community order, made the subject of a sexual offences prevention order (which included a ban on him having unsupervised access to minors) and he was required to take part in a sex offenders’ programme.

Ms Reilly was immediately aware of the conviction and sentence but chose not to disclose them to the school governors or the local authority. In June 2010 the authority became aware of the conviction and she was suspended on full pay. She was required to attend a disciplinary hearing, the allegation being that, in failing to disclose her relationship with a man convicted of sexual offences concerning children, she had committed a serious breach of an implied term of her contract of employment, sufficient to warrant dismissal for gross misconduct. Following a hearing in May 2011 she was summarily dismissed. The panel was particularly concerned that Ms Reilly continued to refuse to accept that her continued association with Mr Selwood might pose a risk to children at the school. Her appeal against her dismissal failed.

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Dealing with “sporting sickies”!

Merger or Messi? Filing or Fellaini? With the festivities of the world cup to hit us next month perhaps now is as good a time as any to consider whether a workplace policy for major sporting events is necessary and what points should be considered.

Many employers may be concerned in the lead up to such a sporting event that instances of absenteeism will increase as staff take ‘sickies’ to watch the match or recover from the one the night before. Ahead of the 2016 Euros a survey completed by Robert Half found that 73% of UK Human Resources Directors believed employees are likely to skip a day of work following or during a tournament match while 21% of respondents considered it to be ‘very likely’.  There is currently no legal requirement for employers to give employees time off for such events but could a flexible approach yield potential benefits with minimal disruption to the business?

In an audit of 1000 Managers carried out by the Institute of Leadership and Management following the London Olympics in 2012, 48% of those interviewed confirmed increased morale within the workplace. Amongst those interviewed, 41% allowed staff to watch the Olympics at the office. From that number over a third (37%) confirmed an increase in productivity as a result with 67% stating that the staff within the workplace bonded over a shared experience.

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Addressing the gender pay gap: is it time to consider “use it or lose it” paternity leave?

father and childAs we know, the 4th of April 2018 marked the deadline for all companies in Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland) with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap to the Government Equalities Office. As detailed in our blog last month, the returned data shows that nearly 80% of those who have responded have reported higher levels of pay to men than women.

So now that the data has been collected and will continue to be so annually from here on in, we should consider further what employers can do to reduce or eliminate their gender pay gap. Among the suggestions raised are target setting, salary transparency or increased training opportunities for women. One of the key reasons however why women’s pay progression lags behind that of their male colleagues is maternity leave and time taken off for childcare. Could restoring the balance between men and women in relation to paid parental leave have the dual effect of restoring the gender pay balance?

A recent enquiry launched by the Women and Equalities Committee into Fathers and the Workplace indicates that it could. The enquiry has been prompted by research findings contained in the 2017 Modern Family Index which confirmed twice as many fathers compared to mothers believe that working flexibly will result in them being perceived as less committed to their job and would negatively impact their career. Over half (53%) of millennial fathers indicated that they struggled to balance the demands of working full time alongside family commitments and would like to downsize to a less stressful job. The report also notes that women in the UK make up 74.2% of the part-time work force – largely attributable to increased care-giving roles, while the vast majority of fathers still work full time.

Shared parental leave has been available to new fathers since the Shared Parental Leave Regulations came in to effect on 5th of April 2015. The Regulations allow up to 50 weeks leave or 37 weeks’ pay to be shared out between both parents as they please – either in one block or split into several chunks with periods of work carried out in between. Statutory shared parental pay is payable at either £145.18 per week or 90% of the parent’s weekly salary, whichever is lower.  With a predicted take up rate of only 3 – 8% however, it is clear that the Government flagship policy does not go far enough to even out the parental responsibilities. So why has there been such a reluctance from male employees to take up the scheme? The negative social and cultural connotations associated with paternity leave as evidenced by the statistics above contribute heavily, with many fathers feeling unsupported in the workplace with regards to childcare and their aspirations for an improved work-life balance. Also very telling within the Modern Family Index Report is that 44% of fathers stated that they have been dishonest with their employer with respect of family related responsibilities for fear that it may ‘get in the way of work’.

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New GDPR compliant data protection

As I mentioned to readers of our monthly newsletter, like many organisations, we have been preparing for the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation on 25 May 2018. As you may know, there is no transition period so the new rules concerning data protection will be in full force and effect from day one.

At Canter Levin & Berg we introduced our new data protection policy last week and we have recently published our template GDPR compliant data protection policy, with associated documents and guidance notes, in the subscription section of this website. The policy is intended to be straightforward and easy for all readers and users to understand.

As usual we have accompanied the policy with detailed background and guidance notes which are intended to demystify the compliance process for SMEs. We have explained the background to GDPR, provided a commentary on what the Information Commissioner says about preparing for GDPR and summarised the main areas that need to be considered.

We have provided a clause by clause summary of the policy so that our users have all that they need to adapt the policy for implementation in their organisations.

Of course, subscribers who have access to our employment lawyers can have them prepare a suitably adapted policy, as well as receiving advice about how to implement the changes.

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The stakes are high when the wrongful dismissal claimant is the former boss of The AA

In June 2014, when The AA was taken public in what was described as a management buy-in, chartered accountant Bob McKenzie was appointed as its chief executive on a base salary of £750,000.

On 1 August 2017 he was sacked for gross misconduct after he was reported to have to have got into a hotel bar fight with one of the Company’s senior managers. He was reported to have engaged in “a sustained and violent attack” on the manager which was captured on the hotel’s CCTV. Days after the incident he was removed from the board. As a result of being dismissed for gross misconduct, thereby disqualifying himself from any further contractual benefits, he stood to lose what was estimated at the time to be about £100m in share awards. Following his dismissal Mr McKenzie admitted himself to hospital suffering from work related stress.

He was known as strong boardroom performer, driven by financial returns. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph in 2016 he said of his employment prior to joining The AA:

“Work hard and play hard: you were given targets and you met them or else you parted company.”

Shortly following his appointment, chief executive Chris Jansen left abruptly, followed finance director Andy Boland. Mr McKenzie assumed the (much criticised) dual role of chairman and chief executive, assuming greater power in 2015 by absorbing the duties of executive director Nick Hewitt, architect of the business plan that led to the float, who also left abruptly.

Mr McKenzie instructed top City firm Bird and Bird and in January 2018 The AA declared that it was “astonished” that Mr McKenzie had commenced an unfair dismissal claim in the employment tribunal, with the intention of bringing a wrongful dismissal claim for “tens of millions of pounds” in the High Court.

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Gender Pay Gap Reporting: Myth-busting

I write further to the deadline for Gender Pay Gap Reporting expiring last week. Much has been made in the media of that deadline being the day by which qualifying employers (i.e. those with 250 or more employees) have to submit the percentage difference in pay between their male and female staff.

The initial results? Nearly 80% of those employers who have responded (some haven’t) have reported higher pay levels to men than women.

So, that means that those employers are discriminating against women, right? Well, not necessarily. But the figures are there in black and white – surely, every employer with a higher pay towards males is inherently sexist? Not really.

The reality is that the figures are suggestive only and there are many legitimate reasons why pay may be skewed either way, whether towards males or females. Let’s take a look and bust some myths about the Gender Pay Gap Reporting.

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DPD relaxes onerous terms imposed on its delivery drivers

A year ago I wrote about the onerous terms imposed on DPD couriers, which had come to the attention of the Work and Pensions Select Committee:

“Meanwhile, it has emerged that DPD, which deliver parcels for Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and River Island, fines their couriers £150 per day if they cannot find cover when they are ill. This has resulted in drivers being forced to work when they are sick. The fine, which is described as “liquidated damages”, means that couriers who earn on average £200 a day, lose £350 if they cannot work through illness and are unable to find a substitute.”

Chair of the Committee (and my MP) Frank Field, commented at the time:

“The gig economy is producing wave after wave of evidence on the grim reality of life at the bottom of Britain’s labour market…A group of companies now controls the working lives of an unknown number of people, and yet evades its own responsibilities as employers and taxpayers by labelling those people as self-employed… This move [by DPD] makes the rest of the gig economy look as though it operates in the Garden of Eden.”

In February 2018 The Guardian reported the sad story of Don Lane, a DPD courier, who was fined £150 for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes and who, at age 53, subsequently collapsed and died for reasons connected with the disease. His widow, Ruth, disclosed that he had missed medical appointments because he felt under pressure to cover his round. He had collapsed twice, including once into a diabetic coma, while at the wheel of his DPD van. His fine was imposed when he went to see a specialist about eye damage caused by his diabetes. He collapsed in late December, having worked through illness during the Christmas rush and died in the Royal Bournemouth Hospital on 4 January.

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Do the recent Equality & Human Rights Commission proposals to ‘combat’ sexual harassment make sense?

The Equality & Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) is a fantastic organisation that seeks to protect employees and workers from discrimination at work. I regularly read their published Reports and publications because they interest me and keep me informed of potential future developments, which is handy given my sizable discrimination-related workload for employees and employers alike.

The EHRC have recently published their most recent Report: “Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work”. The Report raises well-known concerns about the lack of support provided to, and the pressure and detriment placed upon, individuals who identify sexual harassment issues in the workplace.

As usual, the Report ends with some law reform-based recommendations for the Government to consider to improve matters. And, rather unusually with an EHRC Report, whilst I completely agree with the motive behind the recommendations, I can’t much see how the majority of the recommendations themselves will make much positive difference. For me, it appears to be a case of ‘good intent, bad execution’.

But, rather than simply take my word for it, let’s explore some of the recommendations and have a proper look.

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Coming back for seconds: Waiter appeals dismissal for ‘rude, aggressive’ behaviour due to ‘being French’

As an Employment Solicitor, I deal with multiple discrimination claims. Personally, I find the majority of discrimination claims fascinating. Why? Because they are so varied and can be brought due to behaviour linked (in almost any way) to an individual’s gender, age, belief or religion, race, sexual orientation, disability, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or nationality.

As you’ll have no doubt spotted from the unusual title, it’s that last one, nationality, which I want to explore today.

Before we get into the legal angle, let’s quickly look at the facts. A waiter is reported to have taken action against a restaurant in Vancouver for his dismissal last year. His former employer stated that his dismissal was due to his “aggressive tone and nature” with colleagues further to previous verbal warnings as to his “combative and aggressive” behaviour towards fellow staff.

The waiter, Mr Guillaume Rey, has argued that his dismissal (and the reasoning behind it) is discriminatory because French culture “tends to be more direct and expressive”. Yes, that’s right, his core argument is that his confrontational behaviour should have been overlooked and/or condoned simply because he was French.

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