Tom is an Associate Solicitor, who joined the Employment Team in August 2017.Tom deals with all areas of Employment Law but has extensive experience in disability discrimination and unfair dismissal claims on both sides. His varied experience of acting on both sides of tribunal claims allows him to offer employers detailed and accurate guidance as to likely next steps and effectively analyse disputes.

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.

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!

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?

Can a long-term sickness employee become practically unsackable?

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) have recently held an employee to hold ‘an implied right not to be dismissed’ when on long-term sick leave.

Naturally, this has caused many employees great concern
because long-term sickness absence, in itself, is usually fair reason to
consider dismissal.  Whilst there can be
various factors at play, including any potential disability of the employee,
the principle of an individual having to be present at work to fulfil their job
role (and employment) remains.

So what happened in the recent case of ICTS (UK) Limited v Mr A Visram to cause such concern?

Well, let’s set the scene briefly, Mr Visram was
contractually entitled to sickness benefit payments (termed ‘Long Term
Disability Benefits’) during any period of continuous sickness absence from
employment whilst he remained an employee. 
But, for various reasons, the insurer and employer didn’t wish to pay
them and, in doing so, Mr Visram was dismissed on grounds of sickness absence
and so ended his entitlement to contractual Long Term Disability Benefits payments
by the insurer (as the policy required his continued employment).

The phenomenon of the ‘work nemesis’

Some people have one, some don’t. No, it’s not a riddle for a shadow, it’s a phenomenon known as the ‘work nemesis‘.

Some people reading this blog will know exactly what I’m on
about and some won’t have the first idea. 
That’s fairly usual, as the existence of this phenomenon largely depends
on where you work and who you work with. 
Just to clarify, however, a ‘work nemesis’ is an individual who you
simply can’t gel with (or, to just more direct terminology, a people who you
can’t stand and/or dislike and/or are insanely competitive with).

You know in life sometimes you meet someone and, however
hard you try, you just can’t find a way to like them or enjoy spending time
with them?  That’s what we’re on about
here.  It’s the person who blanks you in
the kitchen but immediately strikes up a glowing conversation with the next
person who walks in, the person who (in your eyes) sends horrifically rude
emails or the person who, out of nowhere, takes sole credit for your idea in a
meeting.

Why is this relevant?  Well, naturally, taken too far, relationships between two warring individuals can affect their performance and that of the surrounding team.  So let’s explore a hypothetical scenario and see how it plays out in terms of employment law.

Was Maurizio Sarri smoked like a Kepa during the League Cup Final? – Refusing to obey reasonable management instructions

First, a confession. I’m a big football fan and regularly post legal blogs trying to link football to employment law. Sometimes there is an obvious link (i.e. a football manager being sacked) and sometimes the link is more tenuous (i.e. a previous blog many moons ago in which I tried to link a Luis Suarez blog to an employment law situation!)

However, during the recent League Cup Final (yes, I refuse to refer
to the tournament by the sponsor’s name), there was a golden employment-related
opportunity.  Yes, naturally, I’m talking
about Kepa Arrizabalaga’s refusal to accept his substitution from the game in
the 119th minute. 

In fact, the opportunity was perhaps so obvious that I
woke up on Monday morning to a LinkedIn post wondering how long it would be
until I posted a blog on the topic.  So
here it is.

In fact, the opportunity was perhaps so obvious that I
woke up on Monday morning to a LinkedIn post wondering how long it would be
until I posted a blog on the topic.  So
here it is.

Rather than my usual method of substituting the real-life
situation for a fictional one (i.e. in the Luis Suarez example above, I created
a fictional employee in a factory who bit a colleague), I’ll explore the actual
situation at Chelsea and their options.

Kepa Arrizabalaga (who I’ll call “Kepa” for the rest of
the blog) no doubt has a contract at the club to represent the club to his full
ability.  This would involve training,
keeping fit, playing games he is picked for and, as per all employees,
the implied duty of ‘obeying reasonable management instructions’.  Naturally, it doesn’t take a law degree to
conclude that Kepa’s refusal to obey his manager’s decision to be substituted
from a Cup Final is a likely failure of his Contract of Employment with the
club, both in terms of a complete, literal failure to obey reasonable
management instructions from his Manager and, also, bringing the club into
disrepute and/or failing to represent the club in good faith.

Handling loss of ‘the fear’ within employment (whilst celebrating National Love Your Pet Day)

This is one of those blog posts with unusual beginnings and which, albeit hopefully in a good way, may be read differently by different people. In a nice roundabout way, albeit slightly coincidentally, we’re also celebrating today being ‘Love Your Pet Day’ through the dog-related theme!

Let’s just clarify what ‘the fear’ is before continuing.  Basically, ‘the fear’ is a largely 1990s-based phenomenon centring round a particular episode of FRIENDS in which Rachel loses the desire to continue in their current job but, without her acting to resign, lacks the determination to make
the decision to get another job.  In this way, ‘the fear’ is similar to the fear of failure that drives you to revise hard for exams or the fear of not being fit enough for a half-marathon which pushes you to go for a run even when you don’t feel like it and, obviously, losing ‘the fear’ to apply full efforts within a job can make a noticeable difference.

Now, naturally, all jobs and employers are different. You can work in the same role at two different places and have completely different experiences to the same extent that you can have two different job titles within the same employer and have polar opposite enjoyment levels. However, for the sake of the rest of this blog, let’s take a really general (and vague) view of this tricky situation for employees and employers alike.

How a 3,000km run through New Zealand affects employers – agreeing sabbaticals

Firstly, let’s get it out of the way, I’m a complete bookworm. When I’m not at work (reading documents, emails, cases, you name it), I’m reading my Kindle during my lunch hour and on my commutes to and from work. I’m that guy that regularly averages 2-3 books per week and, frankly, my wife has long accepted that she shares my attention with ‘that Kindle’.

Why is this relevant? Well, recently, I’ve started reading a fascinating book called ‘The Pants of Perspective’ by Anna McNuff. Summarised briefly, this book highlights the talk of a woman who decided she needed a break from her regular, office-based job, so arranged a 6-month sabbatical to run 3,000km from the south to north of New Zealand with a backpack and small tent.

Rather surprisingly, my main double-take whilst reading the opening part of the book wasn’t the idea to run 3,000km across a huge country through sub-zero temperatures into 40’c degree heat but, rather, that she persuaded her employer to grant her a 6 month sabbatical in the first place!

You’d think that an employment law Solicitor would deal with plenty of sabbatical applications and that, out of all the various applications you could make to your employer, a sabbatical wouldn’t be seen as hugely controversial but, alas, no. Why? Well, partly because they are rare and uncommon and, because of this, employers don’t usually know what to do with them.

Is this is the main reason? Well, perhaps not. In reality, sabbaticals used to be common after staff had been at an organisation for a lengthy period of time (i.e. 15, 20 or 25 years) and, nowadays, it is much rarer for staff to hit those periods of service. Partly because of this, it is normally only really in academic roles that staff commonly obtain sabbaticals, albeit sometimes these aim to facilitate research and/or the authoring of articles rather than an ‘escape’ from the workplace.

How would bruising Brexit arguments be resolved in the workplace?

It seems that everything at the moment is about Brexit. Hard Brexit. Soft Brexit. No deal Brexit. Asking the people whether they want Brexit first ‘Brexit’. It all makes a mockery of the initial “Brexit is Brexit” comments from Theresa May at the start of the process. Even the word itself and continuing discussion of it, whatever your view, can become irritating and lead to entrenched beliefs in either ‘getting it done’, ‘getting it sorted’ or ‘stopping it’.

So, what happens when these views lead to difficulties in the workplace?  After all, the traditional dinner party rules of ‘don’t discuss religion or politics’ seem to apply more and more to workplaces.  But Brexit seems to have slipped past this implied rule, particularly when the (potential) event itself could lead to job instability and restructure of certain workplaces.

Let’s take a hypothetical example of how an employer should manage two warring colleagues with opposite views on Brexit who, unfortunately, let it impede work.  Our hypothetical employer, Brilliant Britain Limited, supplies union jack mugs around the world.  In order to do so, they rely heavily on the Production Manager, Tessa, and the Delivery Manager, Jez.  Naturally, the company needs both to do their jobs well – after all, you need goods to deliver and can’t sell goods without delivering them; therefore, the aims of their jobs go hand-in-hand.  From week to week, Tess and Jez need to constantly meet to update each other on production and delivery needs, so either can be amended to suit the other.

However, during these frequent private meetings, Jez and Tessa have clashed repeatedly on the idea of Brexit.  To use the rather awful slogans, Tessa is a ‘Brexiteer’ who wants to leave the EU and Jez is a ‘Remainer’ who thinks the UK would be in a worse state outside the EU under the current Withdrawal Agreement.

In recent weeks, as the political situation has worsened and Parliamentary stalemate has become entrenched, Jez has become an advocate of the People’s Vote (i.e. having a second referendum).  This was the final straw for Tessa who firmly believes that the result of the first referendum should be upheld and remains binding.  The two have effectively fell out, refuse to meet face-to-face and now communicate only by way of tetchy, aggressive emails.