Labour, anti-semitism and unfair dismissal

A recent case in the London Central Employment Tribunals has touched on some very topical issues concerning the Labour Party, as well as considering whether activities undertaken by an employee outside the workplace can impact negatively on the employment relationship.

In Mr S E Keable v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Mr Stan Keable brought a claim of unfair dismissal against Hammersmith and Fulham Council (HFC) when he was dismissed after a video showing him arguing that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis went viral on Twitter and was picked up by a Newsnight journalist, David Grossman.

Mr Keable worked for HFC from 2001 until his dismissal on 30 May 2018 and his employment record was blemish free. He was a political activist and was a member of the Labour Party until he was expelled as a result of his membership of Labour Party Marxists, a non-affiliated organisation.

The employer’s terms and conditions included a requirement to “avoid any conduct inside or outside of work which may discredit you and/or the Council”.

You’re fired? – Trump v UK Ambassador row

Another week, another news story related to Donald Trump albeit, this time, definitely not ‘fake news’. In summary, an unknown individual leaked a diplomatic cable from Sir Kim Darroch, the UK Ambassador to the USA, in which Sir Kim called President Trump “insecure” and “incompetent”.

Following this, and without an absence of irony, President Trump then demonstrated that alleged insecurity by announcing that his administration would no longer speak with Sir Kim and, long story cut short, Sir Kim resigned his position.

Rather than focus on the political side of things, this story is interesting because it reflects a common fear of many employers, namely an employee leaking highly confidential information to hurt them. In this case, it is very likely that a civil service or staff member leaked the information to hurt Sir Kim’s position (and, in that sense, they were ultimately successful!)

Let’s have a quick look at the employment law impact of a similar situation. So, within our hypothetical example, we have Rule Britannia Mugs Ltd, who sell British branded mugs to other countries. Their biggest customer is White House Trading PLC in the USA, who love mugs displaying pictures of red telephone boxes, London buses and union flags! However, an employee leaks an email from the Finance Director within which the Director states ‘we needn’t worry about quality, Americans will buy any old tat’ and it becomes viral on social media. What happens next?

Not so Love Island: Workplace romances

Let’s start by instantly getting some employment law myths out of the way. Firstly, can an employer safely ban workplace relationships? No. Secondly, can an employee safely ban relationships between members of the same team? No (except in very limited circumstances). And, finally, can action be taken if a relationship blossoms between two members of a same sex team and other members of that team have religion-based objections? Absolutely not!

So, why the theme? Well, at present, the nation seems to be gripped by Love Island which, for the uninitiated, sees strangers gather in a villa in Majorca and attempt relationships with each other (a ‘romantic Big Brother’ if you like). Naturally, as the weeks go by, attempted couplings fail and people start dating ex-partners of other islanders with their former flames in the same vicinity which, as you can imagine, causes many
fireworks and causes everyone to go a bit drama llama.

In my line of work, you do semi-regularly come across employers who believe they are able to take action against staff simply due to the fact they are within a relationship (whether that be moving teams, locations and/or even considering dismissal). This appears to come from American TV where, within numerous comedies and dramas, you see characters hiding workplace relationships because, firstly, a form needs completing to put it on record and, secondly, it could put the employment of one of them at risk.

Regular voluntary overtime should be included in holiday pay

The Court of Appeal has this week ruled that employers must consider any ‘regular’ voluntary overtime when calculating holiday pay, in addition to ‘non-guaranteed’ overtime, upholding the earlier decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

In Flowers and others v East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (2017) the Claimants, all employed by the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (in a variety of roles) initially brought their claim to the Bury St Edmunds Employment Tribunal alleging that unlawful deductions had been made from their holiday pay.

They stated that the calculation of their holiday pay should account for overtime in two categories – non-guaranteed overtime, and voluntary overtime. The difference between the two in this case is that non-guaranteed overtime occurs when the employee is carrying out a task which must be completed after the end of the shift (for example dealing with an emergency services call for an ambulance), whereas voluntary overtime would be classed as additional shifts which the Claimant can choose to volunteer for (there was no requirement or expectation for them to do so however).

Japan’s Labour Minister backs Mandatory Heels

Japan’s Health and Labour Minister Takumi Nemoto has caused a stir this week after publicly defending workplace policies that require women to wear high heels to work. The Minister’s comments argued that such requirements were socially accepted as being both ‘necessary and appropriate’ and were made after a petition was filed against the practice.

The petition, submitted to the labour ministry on Tuesday, raises health and safety concerns regarding the requirement, labelling it sexist and outdated. The minister unfortunately did not sympathise with the plight – equating high heels with a level of femininity which is considered to be a social norm within Japanese culture.

Dubbed the ‘#kutoo’ movement, (stemming from a combination of the Japanese word for shoes ‘kutsu’, ‘kutsuu’ meaning pain, and also a nod to the popularised global ‘#metoo’ movement against sexual abuse), the petition continues to gain traction on the online platform Change.org which at the time of writing had received nearly 30,0000 signatures.

Russian firm’s “femininity marathon” shouldn’t pass the mile mark

Another week, another *ahem* ‘naïve’ company running an event that actively stereotypes women…  Whilst it can seem that regular stories about women being stereotyped in the workplace are almost the status quo, it is worth noting that the fact they are viewed as newsworthy (when, arguably, twenty years ago they wouldn’t be) is a positive in today’s modern society in terms of helping prevent future discrimination.

So, what’s happened this time? Well, a Russian company recently announced the
holding of a “femininity marathon” during this month.  So far, so naive…

However, initiatives within the so-called femininity marathon include:

  • Cash bonuses for wearing a dress or skirt “no
    longer than 5 centimetres from the knee” upon them sending a picture of them wearing
    the relevant clothing to the company; and
  • A competition to see who is quickest at making
    dumplings!

Nurse dismissed for ‘preaching’ to patients loses second appeal

A nurse in Kent has lost a second appeal against
an Employment Tribunal decision that found she was fairly dismissed for ‘preaching’ to patients.

The Court of Appeal case, Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, considered the balance between the importance of the right to freedom of religion and the individual’s right to be protected from inappropriate or improper promotion of beliefs. In this case the complainants were hospital patients attended to by Ms Kuteh in the Intensive Treatment Unit of Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford. Ms Kuteh had 15 years’ nursing experience and prior to her dismissal she was employed in a pre-operative assessment role. Understandably, the nature of her role meant that the patients she attended were at a particularly vulnerable moment in their lives.

Paramedic who fell out of back of ambulance unfairly dismissed and discriminated against.

Dealing with sickness absence is a persistent problem for many employers, particularly when dealing with the apparent dichotomy between potentially fair dismissal on the ground of extended sickness absence and discrimination based on disability. The issue reared its head once again in the recent case of Muller v London Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Mr Muller, a paramedic, injured himself when falling out the back of an ambulance while on duty in March 2016. He never returned to work and was dismissed 11 months later. His main injury was to his right shoulder which did not heal during this time. By the time of his dismissal he had not had the required surgery, let alone sufficient time to recuperate thereafter. A contributory factor to the delay was that a tear in the cartilage around the shoulder joint was not diagnosed until November or December 2016. A steroid injection in January made little difference and an arthroscopy was scheduled for 14 March, just over two weeks after he was dismissed.

As well as claiming that his dismissal was premature, Mr Muller said that the Trust had a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate his disability, e.g. by providing him with office based work. As it happened, the arthroscopy confirmed that there was a tear which was repaired by surgery in July 2017. In January 2018 Mr Muller returned to occasional front line duties with a private ambulance service.

The Trust had encouraged him to apply for other jobs. There was a redeployment scheme. Mr Muller applied for a job in the archive department but was unsuccessful. In any event, he did not want a permanent reassignment.

He submitted a claim to an Employment Tribunal, for unfair dismissal, direct sex discrimination (a female comparator had been provided with office based work), disability discrimination based on failure to make reasonable adjustments and discrimination in connection with his dismissal.

Barista rights: Starbucks or Starbucked?

Right, to start, a confession: I’m a coffee fanatic. And, no, that doesn’t mean that I purely order espresso shots and seek to then identify the origin of the exact coffee bean used when drinking it; rather, I regularly seek out coffee as a near necessary small luxury in life.

Now, that doesn’t mean I literally can’t function
without it. I managed to give it up for
40 days over Lent a few years ago, albeit my wife has practically banned me
from doing so again (the first week of work absent coffee wasn’t the most fun
experience!) But, overall, in a
stressful day, my instinct is to reach for a nice cup of java (whilst, if
you’re interested, is the name of an island they used to obtain coffee beans
from (as was the island of Mocha (seriously!))

Why the sudden fascination in coffee? Well, I’ve recently been reading an
intriguing book called ‘Starbucked’ by Taylor Clark. And, no, it isn’t a demolition job of Starbucks (nor a ‘fanbook’ financed by the company); rather, it is a neutral and balanced
look at the growth of Starbucks and also explores their employment practices
and treatment of staff.

As many are aware, Starbucks haven’t had the best
treatment in the press in recent years in relation to staff treatment (or,
indeed, their policies of allegedly ‘minimising’ tax liability). But how much of that is true?

Personal liability of company directors

The conventional view of the liability of a limited company is that any corporate losses will not exceed the amount invested in it, i.e. as represented but limited to the value of its shares. In other words, shareholders’ personal assets are not at risk if the company fails. The company is a separate legal entity so it carries its own losses.

However, company directors (who are often also shareholders) owe a duty of care to the company, its shareholders, employees and creditors. As a result, a director can become liable for his or her own PAYE and NI payments, for income tax due on any cash taken from the company, any personal guarantees and/or indemnities provided to company creditors, and any liabilities resulting from wrongful trading (trading when the company was insolvent and had no prospect of avoiding liquidation), misfeasance (e.g. acquiring a company asset for less than it was worth) and fraudulent trading (e.g. fraudulently obtaining credit in the company’s name).

In last November’s newsletter I reported a case in which company directors were held to be liable for a £2m award in a whistleblowing case. This is because in such cases, as with discrimination claims, individuals can be named as co-respondents along with the limited company.

We now have another example of how directors can be held liable in respect of the actions of a company in the High Court case of Antuzis & others v DJ Houghton Catching Services & others.