Mental Health First Aid in the workplace

October the 10th marked World Mental Health Day, a time to stop and consider how we can best support those around us who may be struggling. Given the amount of time we collectively spend in the workplace each week, particular thought should be given to the importance of mental health support at work. 

There is already
legislation in place providing the requirement for employers to ensure employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work,
but what about helping those suffering with mental illness? If an employee for example has a panic attack or is expressing suicidal thoughts?

The concept of
‘Mental Health First Aid’ originated in Australia where Professor Anthony Jorm, a researcher from the University of Melbourne was discussing with his wife, Betty Kitchener, a registered nurse, a recent mental health conference that he had attended. Within the conversation it was remarked that ‘What we really need is first aid for depression’. The idea has spread rapidly from there – developing
into an internationally recognised programme comprised of simple steps that can be called upon to help a person in distress.

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Tick, tock: Will employees have longer to bring Employment Tribunal claims in the future?

Employment Tribunal fees. Simple, right? Everyone knows that employees ‘have three months to claim’ and that’s that? Not really. What about the fact that Equal Pay claims (and certain other types of claim) have a six-month time limit? That doesn’t tie into the presumption of simplicity. What about an employee who is dismissed on 2nd January and serves a 3 month notice period, so their last day is 1st April – do you count the three months from notification of dismissal or from their final day at work? How much does a period of Acas Early Conciliation extend any given time limit by? I could go on and on…

Overall, what is surely uncontroversial for both employees and employers alike is that simplicity is key. If everyone understands how long an employee has to bring a claim, everyone has the certainty of knowing the period within which to consider conciliation, negotiation and/or the obtaining advice regarding a prospective claim.

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An unwanted kiss is “Strictly” verboten at work

Strictly Come Dancing

Last Monday I watched the evening’s newspaper front pages coming in on Twitter and nearly every one featured the romantic kiss between celebrity Sean(n) Walsh and professional dancer Katya Jones caught by The Sun on what happened to be his girlfriend’s birthday. It was the lead and second lead news on the BBC News website. Seann’s now ex-girlfriend who had been shown in the audience on Saturday evening’s programme was understandably unimpressed and her public response to their public indiscretion is worth seeing as one of the best put downs I’ve seen for some time.

So why am I writing about this on the Employment Solutions blog. Well, there was an interesting case reported this month which cost an employer £24,000 for similar behaviour in work, albeit non-consensual.

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Discrimination in Recruitment: How to Avoid Discriminatory Advertisements

It is important that employers are mindful of their obligation to carry out a recruitment and selection process that is non-discriminatory in nature. Employers should therefore allocate sufficient time and care when publishing job advertisements so as not to be caught out – there is no cap on damages awarded at the Employment Tribunal for a successful discrimination claim so any mistake could prove very costly.

As a
starting point, a job advertisement must not discriminate on the basis of any
of the nine protected characteristics as defined under the Equality Act 2010,
which as a refresher are:

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Can there still be a TUPE transfer after a gap of five months?

The European Court (CJEU) decision in Jorge Siguenza v Ayuntamiento de Valladolid concerns the potential application of a transfer of undertaking (TUPE transfer in the UK) in a case in which there is a long gap between one undertaking ceasing its activities and another commencing. Mr Siguenza was employed as a music teacher at the Municipal Music School of Valladolid in Spain from November 1996. From 1997 to 2013 management of the school was provided by a contractor, Musicos y Escuela, on behalf of the local authority. In 2012-13, owing to a reduction in the number of pupils, the authority refused to pay the sums claimed under the contract by Musicos y Escuela, which therefore sought the termination of the contract and claimed damages. In response, in August 2013, the authority terminated the contract, alleging wrongful conduct by Musicos y Escuela because it had ceased its activities before the end of the contractual end date. In a series of judgments delivered in 2014 and 2015 the Tribunal Superior determined that the authority had breached the contract because it was committed to providing guaranteed payments irrespective of the number of students, so that failure to make those payments in full had caused the breach of contract.

In the meantime, in March 2013, Musicos y Escuela started consultations with a view to the dismissal of all its staff. Mr Siguenza and his fellow employees were dismissed on 4 April and the company was declared insolvent on 30 July.

In August 2013 the authority assigned the management of the school to In-pulso Musical and provided it with the use of the premises, instruments and equipment necessary for it to carry out its duties. In-pulso Musical commenced its management of the school in September 2013 for the 2013-14 school year and was awarded further contracts for 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Unfair dismissal claims by the former employees failed but Mr Siguenza brought a further claim before the social court. His claim was dismissed on the basis of res judicata (the matter had already been determined by the other court) and he appealed to the high court. In doing so, he contended that there had been a transfer of undertaking from Musicos y Escuela to In-pulso Musical so that his contract of employment should have been preserved. It was this aspect of his claim that was transferred to the CJEU.

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Legal professional privilege can be lost if what is being discussed is “iniquitous”

Most people are familiar with the idea that legal advice is “privileged” from disclosure, i.e. that is remains private between the client and his or her legal advisers. In the United States that has become a hot issue concerning President Trump and those around him, not least his longstanding personal attorney and recent convict, Michael Cohen.

Nearer to home, the issue has been considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of X v Y Limited.

“X” was employed by “Y” as a lawyer from January 1990 until his dismissal on 31 January 2017. X suffers from type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnoea. Records showed that there were concerns about X’s performance at work from 2011. X complained that measures taken by his employer amounted to disability discrimination and/or failure to make reasonable adjustments. He raised a grievance in March 2016 and an outcome letter was issued in June 2016.

In the meantime Y announced a voluntary redundancy process. Having been unsuccessful in applying for certain roles, X was placed in a “redundancy consultation process”.

At his employment tribunal hearing the employment judge accepted that, in May 2016, X overheard a conversation at the Old Bank of England pub in Fleet Street. The conversation was the subject of a claim of legal professional privilege. X said that a group of professionally dressed people including two women in their 30s or 40s came into the pub. One mentioned a disability discrimination complaint by a senior lawyer at Y. She said that there was a good opportunity to manage X out by severance or redundancy because there was a big reorganisation under way.

In his claim X relied on the conversation to interpret an email that he was sent anonymously in late October 2016. The email had been sent by “A”, a senior lawyer, to “B”, a lawyer who had been assigned to Y. The content of the email was not read out in court at the initial tribunal hearing. X maintained that the email contained advice on how to commit unlawful victimisation by using the redundancy/restructuring programme “as a cloak to dismiss” X. Y maintained that the email was legally professionally privileged.

Y terminated the employment of X, ostensibly by reason of redundancy, by three months’ notice ending on 31 January 2017.

In the employment tribunal, Employment Judge Tsamados decided that the email “did not disclose a strong prima facie case of iniquity”. Legal professional privilege can be lost if what is being discussed in “iniquitous”, i.e. (according to the Employment Appeal Tribunal);

“…beyond conduct which merely amounts to a civil wrong; he has indulged in sharp practice, something of an underhand nature where the circumstances required good faith, something which commercial men would say was a fraud or which the law treats as entirely contrary to public policy.”

On appeal Mrs Justice Slade noted that Judge Tsamados did not take into account the conversation in the pub. She concluded that it was right not to do so because it was not authorised by Y and could not therefore assist in determining its position and because there was no contemporaneous note taken.

However, as far as the email was concerned, there were relevant background factors to be taken into account.

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Can an employer impose a pay cut on financial grounds?

A recent case in the Liverpool Employment Tribunals has highlighted the risk for employers in unilaterally imposing pay cuts on employees in response to a downturn in business.

Mr Decker was a branch manager for a recruitment agency, Extra Personnel Logistics, specialising in driver recruitment for the logistics industry in Merseyside. He commenced employment in December 2008. On commencing his employment he worked 40 hours a week flexibly between 7.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m. Monday to Friday. In July 2015 it was agreed that his working hours would be reduced to 32 per week. It was also agreed that he would be released from on call duties, other than covering holidays and emergencies.

On 20 February 2017 he was asked by the managing director, Brad Richardson, to reduce his working days from four to two (32 to 16 hours), equating to a loss of £205.95 per week. The following day Mr Richardson wrote to him, confirming the reduction to Mondays and Tuesdays only. He gave the reasons as the loss of two contracts and the industry market being quiet. The letter also informed him that the consultation period for the contract would run until 6 March, following which a meeting would take place the following day. Mr Richardson also referred to an offer of six additional hours doing sales which, although it had been declined by Mr Decker, would remain open for discussion.

On 3 March Mr Decker wrote to Mr Richardson to inform him that, due to his financial circumstances, he could not afford any reduction in his existing working hours and that he was willing to discuss matters further at the meeting on 7 March.

At the meeting Mr Richardson said that, as a result of the resignation of Mr Decker’s daughter in law (who had also been offered a reduction in working hours), he could offer a further eight hours per week. However, that was subject to him resuming on call work. Mr Decker said that he would accept the reduction from 32 to 24 hours if his day rate was increased from £102.97 to £110.00, on the basis that this would assist the employer in achieving its cost-cutting objective.

No agreement was reached at the meeting.

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Can a negative reaction to a refusal to shake hands constitute discrimination on grounds of religion?

The internet is riddled with articles detailing the importance of a good handshake, but just how vital is it for the proper performance of your duties at work? A Swedish, Muslim, woman has been awarded compensation after her job interview for a role as an interpreter was terminated when, due to religious grounds she would not shake hands with her potential employer.

When the male interviewer extended his hand in greeting as is traditional in Europe, Farah Alhajeh, 24, instead placed her hand over her heart. The response was her way of greeting the interviewer in a way that also aligned with her religious beliefs.

Some Muslims avoid physical contact with members of the opposite sex (except for in cases of emergency, or when there is a ‘special relationship’ present – i.e. the individual in question is their partner or a blood relative). This is why Ms Alhajeh offered an alternate greeting – there was no such special relationship between Ms Alhajeh and her interviewer, so she placed her hand on her heart, as is commonly done by those who share the same belief.

In handing down the judgement, the Swedish Labour Court (similar to the Employment Tribunal in the United Kingdom), had to balance the employer’s interest with the individual’s right to bodily integrity and the importance for the state to maintain protection for religious freedom.

The company’s main argument hinged on the fact that it was an established workplace policy that men and women were to be treated equally, and as such they could not allow a staff member to refuse a handshake based on gender.

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You leave this court without the slightest stain on your character, except…

disclosure and barringCRB checks, DBS checks or ECRCs, whatever they are called, criminal record checks have become an integral part of many employment and recruitment procedures.

The object is laudable: to protect children and vulnerable people from coming into contact from those who are unsuitable to be among them. However, a decision of the Supreme Court at the end of July has exposed an interesting aspect of enhanced checks that many people did not realise and which raises interesting questions concerning our justice system and how mere involvement in a criminal process without any finding of wrongdoing can still result in a disclosure which can call into question the suitability of the individual concerned.

The case concerned someone known as “AR” (he cannot be named for legal reasons, a qualified teacher who was found not guilty of rape in 2011 after a Crown Court trial.

Although he was found not guilty, details of the allegation and the verdict were included in his criminal records certificate. Following hearings on 21 November 2017 and 23 April 2018, Lord Carnwath delivered the judgment of the Supreme Court. The respondents were the Chief Constable of Manchester Police and the Home Secretary.

In a report into the operation of the criminal records legislation, its author Sunita Mason pointed out that there was:

“…a degree of dissatisfaction with a system that has evolved with the laudable aim of protecting vulnerable people but is now viewed by some as intrusive and an unnecessary bar to employment. There is also concern that some people may be treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent'”

As a result of her report there were amendments to the legislation including a right to request a review.

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Do employers need a “healthy emails policy”?

email inboxEmployees are more connected than ever when it comes to accessing work systems and emails remotely. While advances in technology mean that employees and employers alike can benefit from flexible working arrangements, it also means that it has become increasingly hard for employees to ‘clock out’ at the end of the day. Improved accessibility can therefore be both a blessing and a burden. Employers should be mindful of the impact that being connected beyond the 9 – 5  may have on members of staff and how this may in turn effect the overall productivity of the team and the business.

A report by the Future Work Centre, based in London, found that two of the most stressful habits employees could foster were leaving emails on all day, and checking emails outside working hours – namely early in the morning and late at night. Answering correspondence outside of working hours can lead to clients and customers developing unrealistic expectations of the service that they should receive. The danger is that the bar for an appropriate response time is raised ever higher.  Constant engagement with work emails and the associated stress on employees will have a big impact on the productivity of a workforce. Britain is now the second least productive economy in the G7, behind Japan with the most productive being America, Germany and France.

The French government has taken a pro-active approach to increasing the productivity of their nation’s workers by using legislation to achieve a more desirable work/life balance.

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