Katharine deals with all aspects of Employment Law but specialises in providing non contentious employment advice and compliance to both small business ventures and larger companies. In particular, she is experienced in giving advice to companies concerning starting out in industry and reorganisation and can draft a wide range of company documentation in accordance with the individual needs of the business. Katharine specialises in making sure that employers have all their employment law and HR requirements in place and up to date. Her pleasant manner is combined with her knowledge of employment law issues from a legal perspective so that she makes sure that employers have maximum protection and immediate support in connection with all problems which they may encounter on a day to day basis.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

Working in a heatwave: It ain’t half hot (at work)

ice cream So, the heatwave might finally be over. Or is it? The weather forecast hasn’t exactly been bullet-proof recently. I’ve walked to work recently sheltering from the rain under an umbrella (despite predicted 34 degree sunshine) and towed an umbrella around during a day so ice cream-meltingly warm that it was worthy of Majorca…

Whichever way, I’ve received multiple (only partially jokey) messages asking whether it is ‘too hot’ to work or whether an employer’s dress code is ‘automatically waived’ when it gets ‘too hot’.

Unfortunately, from their point of view at least, there is no maximum temperature at which employers have to crack out the ice cream (albeit this isn’t the worst thing to consider morale wise!) and/or send employees home. Instead, employers simply have to ensure they comply with their duty to safeguard employee wellbeing under Health and Safety regulations. Some methods of doing this can include ensuring there is adequate drinking water, lengthening rest breaks (or providing additional rest breaks) for employees carrying out physical activities and/or providing fans for employees in hot environments. However, there are no mandatory requirements upon employers to cool things down other than to act to avoid foreseeable health risks to staff.

Making a splash: Can a van driver be dismissed for soaking pedestrians?

 I regularly get asked: “how far does employment law go?” It seems an odd question to ask but I understand that most employers simply mean: “can you investigate nearly every type of poor behaviour” to which my answer is normally “yes!”

There has been a widely reported news story this week that largely explains my usual response. Namely, this concerns the story of a van driver who was immediately dismissed for driving through puddles and intentionally soaking pedestrians in Ottawa, Canada.

As with many situations involving professional drivers, the misconduct was caught via the dashcam of another vehicle. In this case, the vehicle in front had a ‘bootcam’ recording events behind the vehicle which recorded a 40 second clip of the van driver in question intentionally swerving into large puddles (which he could have easily and safely avoided) in order to soak three pedestrians in a row. As evidence goes, there is practically no other reasonable interpretation for the video (which remains available online). Naturally, the video was quickly viewed by nearly 1 million people and the matter was also referred to the Canadian Police. The employer concerned quickly announced that the individual had been dismissed and, in turn, the Police praised the employer for acting decisively and announced that they wouldn’t take any further action further to the loss of employment.

Now, obviously, the above-mentioned events occurred in Canada, so the real question is whether the same thing would happen over here, particularly given that employment law rights are viewed as being more favourable to employees on this side of the pond.

How to avoid a French-style World Cup mutiny in the workplace

 Yes, the World Cup remains in full swing. Not that that is news. Even if you’re not a football fan, all the adverts for cheap flat screen TVs to ensure you are ‘World Cup ready’ and media excitement over England ‘getting out of the group stage’ would have done the trick.

Now, naturally, for most people, memories of recent World Cups include a ponytailed England goalkeeper flapping at a Brazilian cross/shot, getting humiliated at the hands of tiny nations (Iceland, anyone?) and, of course, hitting Row Z from the penalty spot against ze germans.

However, for me, one of the most controversial, shocking moments of recent years was the French squad effectively refusing to train at the 2010 World Cup! Just imagine you’ve waited 4 years for the World Cup to come round, you’ve played well enough to make your national team and then, as a team, after a huge training pitch row with management, you walk out of training (into the team bus) in protest at the manager! On that occasion, it was due to the decision to send Nicolas Anelka home after the striker had reportedly sworn at the manager, Raymond Domenech. Needless to say, team spirit hit a massive low and they limply crashed out of the tournament soon after. C’est terrible!

So, what happens in similar situations at work? What happens if a staff member commits an unacceptable offence ending in dismissal against their line manager and their colleagues then rebel against the manager in question?

Ensuring employers don’t pay for failing to comply with incoming payroll legislation

New requirements for employers to provide payslips are on the way – the Employment Rights Act 1996 (Itemised Pay Statement) (Amendment) (No.2) Order 2018  comes in to effect on the 6 April 2019. Once implemented, all workers will have the right to obtain a written, itemised payslip at any time before or after their wage or salary has been paid to them. Previously, this obligation extended to employees only. The new law comes after a recommendation by the Low Pay Commission in 2016 and forms part of the Government’s raft of initial responses to the Taylor Review on Modern Employment Practices. The Taylor Review, published in July 2017 set out key recommendations to increase the rights of workers and this new legislation is aimed at ensuring that low paid workers can work out whether they have been paid correctly.

The widening of the obligation will increase transparency in relation to wages and will assist workers in challenging discrepancies. It will also highlight if an employer is falling short of their minimum pay obligations (National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage).

Aside from being necessary evidence for pay disputes, payslips are required by workers for many other purposes – securing credit for a property, securing rental accommodation, proof of loss of earnings and proof of employment generally.

The extension of the right to include all workers will now mean workers in the gig economy and those on casual or zero hours contracts will be entitled to an itemised pay slip where previously they were not.

Dressing for work

The government has released some useful guidance to assist employers in getting to grips with worker’s rights and the law surrounding dress codes in the workplace. The guidance acknowledges that employers should have the power to draft and enforce a workplace dress code policy but must ensure that it is not discriminatory in nature. There is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding such policies and it can be difficult for employers to get the balance right. Can a policy require a male employee to wear a tie? A female employee a skirt? What should your stance be on manicured nails? While the guidance does not change the law in this area, it does provide some welcomed clarity (although it is not without its critics).

As you may recall, the ‘high heel scandal’ brought dress code discussions to the media forefront back in 2016 after a temp worker, Nicola Thorp was sent home on the first day of her assignment at a large London firm for wearing flat shoes. It was stated within the employment agency’s Grooming Policy that female staff were required to wear smart shoes with a heel height of between two and four inches. Nicola was advised by the agency that she could take time out of the working day to purchase a suitable pair and was sent home without pay when she refused.

As a result of her treatment, Nicola submitted a petition to government to make illegal any policy which forced women to wear high heels at work. The petition received 152,420 signatures over a six month period and gained the right to be debated in parliament on the 4th of March 2017. The government’s view is that the current legislation is clear and sufficient enough as it stands to protect employee’s rights. While pledging to take action to remove the barriers to equality for women at work, the government maintains that employers are entitled to set dress codes for their employees provided that they are reasonable.

A joint report by the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees however has called on the government to do more