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.

Government consultation on confidentiality clauses

On 4 March the Government published its consultation on “measures to prevent [the] misuse [of confidentiality clauses] in situations of workplace harassment or discrimination.

The consultation is widely regarded as being a direct response to the stories published late last year concerning the use of such clauses by Sir Philip Green’s companies, as highlighted in The Daily Telegraph once he was named in Parliament and the injunction against the paper was subsequently lifted. Just this week, The Sun has published a very concerning video of Sir Philip appearing to behave in a very familiar manner (choosing my words carefully!) with a member of staff who seems to be none too pleased with his attention.

The executive summary confirms the Government’s commitment to upholding and upgrading workers’ rights. Whether you accept that commitment will more than likely depend on your political view. However, the summary makes clear that “harassment or discrimination of any sort cannot be tolerated in the workplace”. It is acknowledged that confidentiality clauses have a “right and proper place” in the context of employment law, both in terms of employment contracts and settlement agreements. Existing limitations are noted, including the bar on preventing protected disclosures (i.e. whistleblowing) and the requirement for independent advice in connection with settlement agreements.

White, heterosexual, male candidate discriminated against, when applying to Cheshire Police

Equality and diversity issues are very much to the fore in modern life. Routine behaviour which would have been acceptable just a few years ago, e.g. “characterised as banter”, is now out of the question, and there is a far greater awareness of equality and diversity in all aspects of life, not just in the workplace.

Last December I highlighted an example of a situation in which ostensibly laudable diversity objectives were taken too far and it now appears that Cheshire Police has fallen into the same trap, this time in the context of recruitment procedures.

Matthew Furlong was keen to join the police force, following in the steps of his father, a detective inspector. In 2017 he applied to join Cheshire Police. At his interview he says that he was told that “it was refreshing to meet someone as well prepared as yourself” and that he “could not have done much more”. He duly passed the interview and assessment stage.

As observed in the Tribunal judgment, Mr Furlong is a white heterosexual male without a disability. In November 2017, notwithstanding his successful interview and assessment, he was told that his application had been unsuccessful. Cheshire Police claimed that they had applied positive action measures pursuant to section 159 of the Equality Act 2010. Mr Furlong maintained that Cheshire Police treated successful candidates with protected characteristics more favourably than he was treated, but unlawfully because they were not as well qualified as he was and because there was a policy of treating persons with protected characteristics more favourably in connection with recruitment than others who did not have such characteristics. The result, he contended, was that this approach was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Religious discrimination in faith schools

“Living in sin” – it was a phrase frequently heard not that many years ago but now, in a mark of changing times, is seldom if ever heard. However, the phrase, in its literal sense, has resurfaced in what some might consider to be a remarkable decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Gan Menachem Hendon Limited v Ms Zelda de Groen.

Ms de Groen worked from 2012 to 2016 at the Gan Menachem Hendon nursery as a teacher. The nursery is linked with the ultra orthodox Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement. When attending a barbecue with her boyfriend, he revealed, in the presence of parents of children who attended the nursery and one of the nursery’s directors, that he and Ms de Groen were cohabiting. There followed a meeting between Ms de Groen, the headteacher Miriam Lieberman and the nursery’s managing director, Dina Toron. In the course of the meeting Ms de Groen was told that her private life was of no concern to the nursery. However, she was asked to confirm that she was no longer living with her boyfriend so that “concerned parents” could be notified accordingly. In other words she was asked to lie and refused to do so.

As if that was not enough Ms Lieberman and Ms Toron told Ms de Groen that cohabitation outside marriage was wrong, that having children outside of marriage was wrong and that, at the age of 23, Ms de Groen should be aware that “time was passing” for her to have children. They also suggested that if Ms de Groen had problems with the idea of marriage, she should seek counselling. Ms de Groen was very tearful and distressed. She felt that such a meeting should not have taken place and only continued in her employment because she loved working with the children. Two days later she asked for a written apology and confirmation that it would not happen again. She said that she had taken legal advice. Mrs Toron and Mrs Lieberman said that she was being threatening and aggressive at the meeting (the Tribunal found that she was not, but she was clear and firm). They did not apologise. Instead, they said that they should not have been so nice to her and that they had sufficient “ammunition” to deal with any claim that she might bring. They then cut the meeting short.

The following day Ms de Groen received a letter notifying her of the commencement of disciplinary proceedings.

“Pale, stale, male” advertising executives claim that they are victims of discrimination

Think of the TV series Mad Men and you will conjure up the image of high-flying testosterone filled salesmen living up to almost every imaginable stereotype of a world that was and to some extent still is. However, the world is definitely changing, no more so than in 2018, with the burgeoning #MeToo movement, and a sense that radical action is needed to achieve real equality in the workplace. However, and stick with me on this one, is there a tipping point beyond which targeting and redress can be taken too far?

J Walter Thompson (now generally referred to as JWT) is an enormous global advertising agency and widely thought to be the inspiration for Mad Men. News has emerged over the last few weeks of something of a putsch against what might be regarded, to coin a phrase, as its pale, stale, male employees.

As reported in The Times (behind the paywall), the groundwork for what was coming could be detected when JWT’s creative director, Jo Wallace (introducing herself as a gay woman), spoke at a diversity conference in May about her determination to “obliterate” its reputation as and agency full of white, privileged, straight, British men. She pledged to address a “horrible” median gender pay gap of 44.7%, saying that the disparity in pay put: 

…a rocket up the arse of all the diversity plans at JWT

Jo Wallace, creative director, JWT

Unsurprisingly, some of those who appeared to be in Ms Wallace’s firing line were concerned about their futures at JWT in light of what had been said. The approached the agency’s HR department and, according to a report in Campaign magazine, were sacked days later. Having taken legal advice, they are now reported to be bringing discrimination claims based on gender, race, nationality and sexuality. How is that possible, you might ask?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pimlico Plumbers and other employment status news

Late last month the Supreme Court delivered its long-awaited if not altogether surprising decision in Pimlico Plumbers v Smith. It upheld the decisions of the lower courts that Mr Smith should properly be classified as a worker, with attendant rights (including discrimination rights and holiday pay), rather than being self-employed.

Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years (from 2005-2011). Although he was VAT registered and paid self-employed tax, from an employment law perspective, he was nonetheless entitled to workers’ rights.

The judgment was unanimous and the lead judgment was provided by Lord Wilson. Having considered the history of the law concerning the status of workers (dating back to 1875), he considered the written agreements between Pimlico and Mr Smith (the original dated 2005 and a replacement issued in 2009), both of which he thought were confusing. However, he noted the extent of control exercised over Mr Smith including the right to dismiss him for gross misconduct, how he should provide his services, an obligation to provide advance notification of absences and the supply of tools. The second agreement included an obligation to wear Pimlico’s uniform, a minimum 40 hours’ working week, advance notice of annual leave and provision for warnings and dismissal.

He also noted that there was no provision for Mr Smith to appoint a substitute to do his work (other than by another Pimlico operative). Having considered relevant authorities, he concluded that “the dominant feature of Mr Smith’s contracts with Pimlico was an obligation of personal performance”.

There was an “umbrella contract” between Mr Smith and Pimlico whereby, if work was available to be done by him, he would be expected to do it. Nonetheless, Mr Smith correctly presented himself as self-employed for tax purposes.