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.

Shocking behaviour revealed at Marine Scotland

A whistleblower who complained of a racist and misogynistic workplace culture at a Scottish Government controlled Marine Scotland office has claimed she was restrained in a chair and gagged by two male co-workers in response to her speaking out.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick is a civil servant and Canadian national employed as a fisheries officer at Marine Scotland’s office in Scrabster on the Caithness coast, Scotland. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to bullying, harassment and a sustained pattern of racist and misogynistic behaviour over a period of nearly ten years whilst working at the office. Her claims are currently being considered at an employment tribunal in Aberdeen. Allegations include that she was mocked for having a miscarriage, advised by co-workers that they didn’t want to work with a ‘foreign woman’ and subjected to racist language. Fitzpatrick has been unable to work and has been signed off on sick leave since November 2016, after also experiencing a family bereavement during this time.

BBC Scotland have obtained and released a photograph of the described event earlier this month, taken by one of the men allegedly responsible. It pictures Ms Fitzpatrick gagged and secured in the chair with packaging tape. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to the treatment as a result of ‘blowing the whistle’ on the behaviour of her male colleagues. She has stated that in 2010, two male colleagues had restrained her in the chair before telling her ‘This is what you get when you speak out against the boys’. When Ms Fitzpatrick reported the incident to her manager she was advised that he would ‘have words’ with the colleagues involved but the matter was not reportedly escalated any further.

While the Tribunal proceedings are ongoing, Ms Fitzpatrick is also understood to be involved in disciplinary procedures in the workplace with a hearing due at the end of May.

Dealing with “sporting sickies”!

Merger or Messi? Filing or Fellaini? With the festivities of the world cup to hit us next month perhaps now is as good a time as any to consider whether a workplace policy for major sporting events is necessary and what points should be considered.

Many employers may be concerned in the lead up to such a sporting event that instances of absenteeism will increase as staff take ‘sickies’ to watch the match or recover from the one the night before. Ahead of the 2016 Euros a survey completed by Robert Half found that 73% of UK Human Resources Directors believed employees are likely to skip a day of work following or during a tournament match while 21% of respondents considered it to be ‘very likely’.  There is currently no legal requirement for employers to give employees time off for such events but could a flexible approach yield potential benefits with minimal disruption to the business?

In an audit of 1000 Managers carried out by the Institute of Leadership and Management following the London Olympics in 2012, 48% of those interviewed confirmed increased morale within the workplace. Amongst those interviewed, 41% allowed staff to watch the Olympics at the office. From that number over a third (37%) confirmed an increase in productivity as a result with 67% stating that the staff within the workplace bonded over a shared experience.

Addressing the gender pay gap: is it time to consider “use it or lose it” paternity leave?

father and childAs we know, the 4th of April 2018 marked the deadline for all companies in Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland) with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap to the Government Equalities Office. As detailed in our blog last month, the returned data shows that nearly 80% of those who have responded have reported higher levels of pay to men than women.

So now that the data has been collected and will continue to be so annually from here on in, we should consider further what employers can do to reduce or eliminate their gender pay gap. Among the suggestions raised are target setting, salary transparency or increased training opportunities for women. One of the key reasons however why women’s pay progression lags behind that of their male colleagues is maternity leave and time taken off for childcare. Could restoring the balance between men and women in relation to paid parental leave have the dual effect of restoring the gender pay balance?

A recent enquiry launched by the Women and Equalities Committee into Fathers and the Workplace indicates that it could. The enquiry has been prompted by research findings contained in the 2017 Modern Family Index which confirmed twice as many fathers compared to mothers believe that working flexibly will result in them being perceived as less committed to their job and would negatively impact their career. Over half (53%) of millennial fathers indicated that they struggled to balance the demands of working full time alongside family commitments and would like to downsize to a less stressful job. The report also notes that women in the UK make up 74.2% of the part-time work force – largely attributable to increased care-giving roles, while the vast majority of fathers still work full time.

Shared parental leave has been available to new fathers since the Shared Parental Leave Regulations came in to effect on 5th of April 2015. The Regulations allow up to 50 weeks leave or 37 weeks’ pay to be shared out between both parents as they please – either in one block or split into several chunks with periods of work carried out in between. Statutory shared parental pay is payable at either £145.18 per week or 90% of the parent’s weekly salary, whichever is lower.  With a predicted take up rate of only 3 – 8% however, it is clear that the Government flagship policy does not go far enough to even out the parental responsibilities. So why has there been such a reluctance from male employees to take up the scheme? The negative social and cultural connotations associated with paternity leave as evidenced by the statistics above contribute heavily, with many fathers feeling unsupported in the workplace with regards to childcare and their aspirations for an improved work-life balance. Also very telling within the Modern Family Index Report is that 44% of fathers stated that they have been dishonest with their employer with respect of family related responsibilities for fear that it may ‘get in the way of work’.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting: Myth-busting

I write further to the deadline for Gender Pay Gap Reporting expiring last week. Much has been made in the media of that deadline being the day by which qualifying employers (i.e. those with 250 or more employees) have to submit the percentage difference in pay between their male and female staff.

The initial results? Nearly 80% of those employers who have responded (some haven’t) have reported higher pay levels to men than women.

So, that means that those employers are discriminating against women, right? Well, not necessarily. But the figures are there in black and white – surely, every employer with a higher pay towards males is inherently sexist? Not really.

The reality is that the figures are suggestive only and there are many legitimate reasons why pay may be skewed either way, whether towards males or females. Let’s take a look and bust some myths about the Gender Pay Gap Reporting.

Do the recent Equality & Human Rights Commission proposals to ‘combat’ sexual harassment make sense?

The Equality & Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) is a fantastic organisation that seeks to protect employees and workers from discrimination at work. I regularly read their published Reports and publications because they interest me and keep me informed of potential future developments, which is handy given my sizable discrimination-related workload for employees and employers alike.

The EHRC have recently published their most recent Report: “Turning the tables: Ending sexual harassment at work”. The Report raises well-known concerns about the lack of support provided to, and the pressure and detriment placed upon, individuals who identify sexual harassment issues in the workplace.

As usual, the Report ends with some law reform-based recommendations for the Government to consider to improve matters. And, rather unusually with an EHRC Report, whilst I completely agree with the motive behind the recommendations, I can’t much see how the majority of the recommendations themselves will make much positive difference. For me, it appears to be a case of ‘good intent, bad execution’.

But, rather than simply take my word for it, let’s explore some of the recommendations and have a proper look.

Coming back for seconds: Waiter appeals dismissal for ‘rude, aggressive’ behaviour due to ‘being French’

As an Employment Solicitor, I deal with multiple discrimination claims. Personally, I find the majority of discrimination claims fascinating. Why? Because they are so varied and can be brought due to behaviour linked (in almost any way) to an individual’s gender, age, belief or religion, race, sexual orientation, disability, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or nationality.

As you’ll have no doubt spotted from the unusual title, it’s that last one, nationality, which I want to explore today.

Before we get into the legal angle, let’s quickly look at the facts. A waiter is reported to have taken action against a restaurant in Vancouver for his dismissal last year. His former employer stated that his dismissal was due to his “aggressive tone and nature” with colleagues further to previous verbal warnings as to his “combative and aggressive” behaviour towards fellow staff.

The waiter, Mr Guillaume Rey, has argued that his dismissal (and the reasoning behind it) is discriminatory because French culture “tends to be more direct and expressive”. Yes, that’s right, his core argument is that his confrontational behaviour should have been overlooked and/or condoned simply because he was French.

Ministry of Justice confirm huge increase in Employment Tribunal claims

I’ll start with the big headline: Employment Tribunal claims (brought by individual Claimants) increased by 90% in the period between October to December 2017 (in comparison with the same period in 2016). To cut a long story short, the recent abolition of Employment Tribunal fees has led to Tribunal claims nearly doubling.

A small disclaimer is that the above statistic is currently a provisional figure, however, in reality, that figure tallies with my own expectations and experience over the past 12 months.

These statistics are slightly ironic given that, before the Supreme Court found Employment Tribunal fees to be unlawful, one of the main reasons the lower courts refused to find Employment Tribunal fees unlawful because there was ‘no evidence’ of the fees preventing individuals from accessing justice.

Frozen out: Can it be too cold to work?

Spring is here. Or is that winter? All over the country, people are facing difficulty travelling on account of snow and ice and, here on Merseyside, things are no different.

In fact, this is quickly turning into that time of year when I receive multiple text messages from friends, some more jokey than others, asking if there is a minimum temperature at which they are required to work because their workplace is so cold or, as my favourite text states: ‘so cold as to give a polar bear frostbite!

Now, poorly polar bears aside, there isn’t a set temperature at which staff can suddenly declare it to be too cold and go home without recourse. Even if there was, those staff would be highly unlikely to be paid during their absence from office.

Instead, businesses rely on guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE recommeds that office-based workers be exposed to temperatures no lower than 16C and any workers whose work requires ‘physical effort’ (i.e. being on your feet and moving arond) are not exposed to temperatures below 13C.

However, be very aware of that word above: ‘guidance‘.

Theft in the workplace: Actionable or a load of hot air?

This afternoon, I returned to my chilly office to discover that my desk heater was absent. After a quick root round, it became clear that someone had borrowed it for a meeting room yesterday and forgot to return it. The mystery was solved and I’m back to being blasted with lovely, soothing warm air once again!

However, the experience did serve as a reminder of the number of times over the years when employers have rang to obtain advice about thefts in the workplace. And, no, I don’t mean borrowing items and forgetting to return them, as in the much tamer world of Canter Levin and Berg but, rather, intending to steal items. Obviously, this can occur either against the Company’s property or between colleagues.

So, how can an employer turn up the heat in pursuing a potential thief?

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’?