I'm a solicitor and the chief operating officer at Canter Levin & Berg. I was formerly head of the employment department. I maintain this website so if you have any suggestions, criticisms or recommendations please email me at martinmalone@canter-law.co.uk. Outside work my interests include national hunt horse racing, France and French wine and current affairs. I also design and maintain websites.

Dismissed for saying that men are men and women are women

As I mentioned in the introduction to last month’s newsletter, the end of 2019 brought with it the most-talked about employment case of the year, even though it was a tribunal decision rather than coming from one of the higher courts, and is therefore not binding on other tribunals. Those (like me) who follow current…

Competing interests lead to more confusion concerning NDAs

On 21 July (oddly given that it was a Sunday) the Government announced what it described as “measures to prevent misuse of confidentiality clauses in situations of workplace harassment or discrimination. Frankly the press releases are light on detail. However, the four main changes are as follows:

  • Employers will have to make clear the limitations of a confidentiality clause, in plain English, within the settlement agreement and in the form of a written statement for the employee. In other words there will have to be a notice to the employee within the agreement which clearly explains what the clause does not cover.
  • Current legislation will be extended so that it will be a requirement for all individuals signing an NDA (whether or not contained within a settlement agreement) to obtain what is described as enhanced independent legal advice, presumably at the employer’s expense. This is potentially interesting because it raises the possibility that employees may need to obtain such advice at the commencement of or during employment, perhaps even before the commencement of employment. Much will depend on the definition of what constitutes a regulated NDA and that information, perhaps unsurprisingly, has not been published.
  • All NDAs must make clear that the restrictions will not prevent the employee from disclosing the otherwise protected information to the police, regulated care and health professionals, social workers and, interestingly, legal professionals. As matters stand, most settlement agreements include a confidentiality clause which provides that not only the terms but even the existence of the agreement must be kept confidential, save for immediate family members and relevant professional advisers (i.e. those advising the employee concerning the agreement).
  • Enforcement measures will introduced to deal with settlement agreements and written statements of employment particulars that do not comply with the regulations, including that non-compliant NDAs will be legally void.

Good news for employers seeking to enforce restrictive covenants

Five years ago I wrote an article for this blog which was entitled “Don’t rely on a court to fix a ‘defective’ restrictive covenant“. In doing so I was merely using a recent case to demonstrate the approach taken by courts to restrictive covenants in employment contracts, viz. that they have to be precise and correct in all respects, failing which they are likely to be struck out in their entirety. That’s why you often see a sub-clause at the end of series of restrictive covenants which states something along the lines that if any covenant or part thereof should be found to be unenforceable, that shall not invalidate the remainder: an attempt to pre-empt the likely outcome if the clauses are subjected to court scrutiny.

Restrictive covenants in employment contracts, and particularly those which seek to restrict a former employee from joining a competitor, can be difficult to enforce in practice. That’s because they are a form of restraint of trade which, on the face of it, is contrary to public policy. However, courts have acknowledged over the years that employers have legitimate business interests which they ought to be able to protect, but only to the extent that it is reasonable to do so. Consequently, such restrictions should be reasonable in area and duration, with the restrictions providing no more protection than is reasonably necessary. the received wisdom has been that if they go too far, they are likely to be struck out altogether. Since court proceedings in this field can be cumbersome, time-consuming and very expensive, often with no guarantee of a successful outcome and with an opponent who might not be in a position to pay costs if ordered to do so, employers have tended to be understandably wary about litigating and have instead relied on the deterrent factor of including such clauses in contracts.

There has been a good deal of litigation concerning restrictive covenants, very often considering what restrictions are reasonable in terms of their scope and application. However, it has been over 100 years since restrictive covenants have been considered by our most senior court. That is until the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Tillman v Egon Zehnder Limited, which was handed down on 3 July.

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”.

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.