Protecting employees’ “stories” – Avoiding fines of up to €20m under the incoming General Data Protection Regulations

Last night, I visited a local community café for a fascinating talk about ‘story’. The gist of the evening centred around how humans think and dream in script form rather than in bullet points. A case in point? You dream in vivid, moving events, not static images.

Every part of our lives involves in story. Music is the story of events in lyrical form, whilst books and films introduce characters with backstories which shape their character going forwards. An example? In the Harry Potter books, Harry and Voldemort have the same backstory (magical orphans with horrible childhoods who are ‘saved’ by Hogwarts School) but both deal with that in different ways – i.e. one becomes good and one becomes evil.

Everybody has an individual story, whether in their social lives or during their employment. So, why am I going on about ‘story’?

Dismissal for beard that was “too long” and “too religious” upheld

Back in December 2015 I commented on the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Ebrahimian v France, which concerned the termination of employment of a health worker at a hospital who refused (on religious grounds) to remove her headscarf when she was on duty at work. By way of a brief recap, state secularism (or laïcité) is a strongly protected principle in French society. That is why you will not hear hymns or carols sung in French schools and there was a big fuss last month when a village commune tried to place a nativity scene in the square in front of the local mairie. It was determined that Ms Ebrahimian, by wearing a symbol of religious affiliation, was breaching her duties as a public official. In its judgment the court held that the non-renewal of her employment contract did amount to an interference with her right to manifest her religion, contrary to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, that interference had the legitimate aim of protecting the rights and freedoms of others, pursuant to French law. Accordingly, her claim failed.

A similar case has now surfaced in the Versailles administrative Court of Appeal. A trainee doctor of Egyptian origin was dismissed from his job at Saint-Denis hospital centre in Seine-Saint-Denis because his “imposing” beard constituted an “ostentatious display of religious belief”. The individual concerned declined to deny or confirm that his appearance was intended to be a way to “demonstrate his religious activity”.  On 19 December, the Court of Appeal supported the decision, noting that although the wearing of a beard “even long”, cannot “on its own” cannot (necessarily) constitute a sign of religious affiliation, the “circumstances” entitled the hospital to at as it did.

Would reforming the Working Time regulations be a good idea?

Brexit. Brexit. Brexit. Whilst Christmas and New Year provided a welcome rest from Brexit-dominated headlines, there is no doubt that the media train will start in earnest sooner rather than later.

Just before Christmas, various newspapers reported that the Working Time Regulations could be a target for the Government following the UK’s departure from the EU. Certain newspapers went further and stated that repealing or substantially amending the Working Time Regulations would be a positive example of removing so-called ‘red tape’ and freeing businesses from the burden of overbearing regulations; some newspapers even trotted out the over-used line of ‘taking back control’.

So, to use that awful phrase, should the UK ‘take back control’ and amend the Working Time Regulations?

Can you discriminate against a ‘non-disabled’ employee on grounds of disability?

 So, here we are: January. Christmas has come and gone and the warm lights of December have been replaced with the wind and rain of January. Sigh. But anyway, how was your Christmas? I hope it was a time of rest and good health.

My Christmas? As usual, it was filled with random discussions around the Christmas dinner table including, as ever, conversations about weird and wonderful Employment Law cases. In particular, some of my family members were shocked to hear that a non-disabled employee can suffer disability-related discrimination. One even suggested that I make the subject into a blog when I returned to work and, me being me, I couldn’t resist such an invitation…

So what am I talking about? Well, this was the case of Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey which concerned a female police officer who applied for a job in another police force. The police officer had a progressive hearing condition with tinnitus which, going forward, would continue to worsen. When originally recruited for her current police force, she failed the meet the usual criteria for police recruitment due to her low level of hearing but, after the police force arranged a practical functionality test, she was passed for duty and assigned for front-line duties. There were no concerns over her performance during her time in the role.

The issues started in 2013 when she applied to transfer to a new police force. As was standard, she attended a pre-employment health assessment. The medical practitioner concluded that, whilst her hearing level was technically just outside the usual police force parameters, she performed her current role with no difficulties and a practical functionality test was recommended. However, the new police force refused to follow this recommendation and, instead, declined her request to transfer due to her hearing below the recognised standard and, rather importantly, commented that it would not be appropriate to accept a candidate outside of the recognised standard of hearing because of the risk of increasing the pool of police officers placed on restricted duties.