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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More unrest at the BBC – now it’s about personal service contracts and a word of warning about the ostensibly self-employed

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “employment” provided through personal service companies is that such arrangements have lasted as long as they have.

When the BBC first published the salaries of its top presenters last year there were some notable omissions. For example David Dimbleby didn’t appear on the list. Why? Because he is paid by the BBC through a separate production company. Similar arrangements are in place for Lord Alan Sugar, John Torode and Gregg Wallace.

For years the BBC has encouraged and, some have argued, mandated some of their key talent to be paid through a personal service company. The idea is that the company provides the services of, say, the presenter to the BBC and the BBC therefore pays the company for the services provided. The upshot is that the presenter benefits from the lower tax regime for limited companies (currently 20%) rather than the higher personal tax rates of 40% over £45,000 and 45% over £150,000.

Unsurprisingly, HMRC have been chipping away at such arrangements for a number of years and, as far as the BBC is concerned, matters recently came to a head with a victory in the High Court against BBC Look North presenter Christa Ackroyd. Ms Ackroyd was sacked by the BBC in 2013 after HMRC demanded unpaid taxes from her on the basis that she was, in reality, an employee of the BBC and therefore required to be taxed under Schedule E. Her HMRC appeal was unsuccessful and she is now facing a bill for £419,151 in back taxes, plus undisclosed legal costs. An HMRC spokesman reiterated their long held view that “employment status is never a matter of choice…It is always dictated by the facts and when the wrong tax is being paid we put things right”.

You may take the view that Ms Ackroyd had tried it on and been caught out but, as is so often the case, it is by no means that straightforward and the BBC is very much under scrutiny as a result of its actions.

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Ministry of Justice confirm huge increase in Employment Tribunal claims

I’ll start with the big headline: Employment Tribunal claims (brought by individual Claimants) increased by 90% in the period between October to December 2017 (in comparison with the same period in 2016). To cut a long story short, the recent abolition of Employment Tribunal fees has led to Tribunal claims nearly doubling.

A small disclaimer is that the above statistic is currently a provisional figure, however, in reality, that figure tallies with my own expectations and experience over the past 12 months.

These statistics are slightly ironic given that, before the Supreme Court found Employment Tribunal fees to be unlawful, one of the main reasons the lower courts refused to find Employment Tribunal fees unlawful because there was ‘no evidence’ of the fees preventing individuals from accessing justice.

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Is the National Living Wage causing problems?

I think that most employers would take the view that the principle that employees should be paid a fair wage for their work is one that should be supported. However, sometimes a one size fits all approach can throw up anomalies. I should be clear: I’m not talking about those who exploit people to work excessively long hours for very poor pay (as low as £2.00 per hour), often in plainly unacceptable working conditions. I’ve written in this blog about people who have been kept effectively as slaves in the most appalling circumstances and these employers should be rooted out and dealt with severely, where appropriate in the criminal courts.

It is worth remembering that, when introduced on 1 April 1999, the adult National Minimum Wage was £3.60 per hour. Since then, it increased steadily for a number of years (around or a little ahead of inflation) but the big jump came on 1 April 2016 when it was hiked from £6.70 to £7.20 as part of the merger and rebrand as the National Living Wage. Subsequent increases (including those coming into effect on 1 April 2018) are here.

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Employees who are paid below the minimum wage can complain to an employment tribunal or to HMRC. If HMRC upholds the complaint the employer can be sent a notice of arrears plus a penalty. The maximum fine for non-payment (in addition to making good the arrears) is £20,000 per worker. In recent years HMRC have made a point of publishing (with high profile PR) lists of those businesses that have paid below the prescribed rates. It is not widely known that, in addition, directors of defaulting companies can be banned from being directors (or shadow directors) of any company for up to fifteen years.

So, what are the problems referred to in the title?

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Frozen out: Can it be too cold to work?

Spring is here. Or is that winter? All over the country, people are facing difficulty travelling on account of snow and ice and, here on Merseyside, things are no different.

In fact, this is quickly turning into that time of year when I receive multiple text messages from friends, some more jokey than others, asking if there is a minimum temperature at which they are required to work because their workplace is so cold or, as my favourite text states: ‘so cold as to give a polar bear frostbite!

Now, poorly polar bears aside, there isn’t a set temperature at which staff can suddenly declare it to be too cold and go home without recourse. Even if there was, those staff would be highly unlikely to be paid during their absence from office.

Instead, businesses rely on guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE recommeds that office-based workers be exposed to temperatures no lower than 16C and any workers whose work requires ‘physical effort’ (i.e. being on your feet and moving arond) are not exposed to temperatures below 13C.

However, be very aware of that word above: ‘guidance‘.

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Theft in the workplace: Actionable or a load of hot air?

This afternoon, I returned to my chilly office to discover that my desk heater was absent. After a quick root round, it became clear that someone had borrowed it for a meeting room yesterday and forgot to return it. The mystery was solved and I’m back to being blasted with lovely, soothing warm air once again!

However, the experience did serve as a reminder of the number of times over the years when employers have rang to obtain advice about thefts in the workplace. And, no, I don’t mean borrowing items and forgetting to return them, as in the much tamer world of Canter Levin and Berg but, rather, intending to steal items. Obviously, this can occur either against the Company’s property or between colleagues.

So, how can an employer turn up the heat in pursuing a potential thief?

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A family (business) at war

If, like me, you have been enjoying Kay Mellor’s comedy drama Girlfriends on ITV, you may have cringed at some of the artistic licence deployed when dealing with aspects of the age discrimination claim being brought by Miranda Richardson’s character against her boss (and lover), played by Anthony Head. However, it has neatly highlighted the particular difficulties that can arise when workplace disputes get a bit too close to home.

A real life family dispute has been playing out in the Manchester Employment Tribunal and, more recently, in the Employment Appeal Tribunal. There is a major clue in the name of the case: Mrs J Feltham, B Feltham (Maintenance) Limited and Ms H Feltham v Feltham Management Limited, Mr D Feltham and Mr M Feltham. Feltham Management is a long established family business, specialising in property management, particularly in respect of student lettings. Jane Feltham is the claimant. She has three brothers, David, Martin and Stephen, all of whom were respondents in the Employment Tribunal claim. They all worked for the family business which was founded by their father. Hazel, the adult child of David, worked for the company as a clerical assistant and Jane’s husband was Mr Eckersall, a self-employed joiner who did work for the company.

In August 2013 it came to light that Mr Eckersall had been sending inappropriate texts and Facebook messages to his niece, Hazel. On the same day he told his wife, Jane, that he was leaving her because he had feelings for Hazel. Jane confronted Hazel, accusing her of inappropriate conduct, but she denied that she had done anything wrong. Jane’s brother David got involved and told Jane that if was her fault because she did not take Mr Eckersall’s name on marriage, did not respect him as head of the household and suggested that these (among other reasons) were why he wanted Hazel. Jane was upset and left work. She did not return.

With support from David, Hazel took over Jane’s duties as office manager. The company stopped paying Jane from the end of August, but she remained a director as well as continuing to receive benefits including a company car and credit card.

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