Sacked for using a plastic cup?!


Intelligent Hand Dryers, a Company based in Sheffield specialising in, well, Hand Dryers, has recently introduced a ban on its employees using single use plastic including plastic water bottles, sandwich wrappers with plastic ‘windows’, and disposable coffee cups with plastic linings, in order to reduce its environmental impact.

The owner of the Company, Andrew Cameron, has made the above a disciplinary offence and stated that if employees receive three warnings and continue to ignore this policy, they could be dismissed.  The environmental benefits, if more businesses were to impose such policies, are obvious however is it fair to effectively make this a condition of employment?  Surely the choice of an employee to buy a sandwich from a well-known supermarket at lunch time does not hinder their ability to perform their role?

A blog on blogging based on a blogging blog

Right, so I like a good blog on employment law-related topics and, in this blog, I’m looking to blog about employee blogging, even if those blogs are about blogs (or not blogs at all). Clear? Of course not, the only near guaranteed thing is that, by now, the word ‘blog’ has probably started to lose meaning in that way that words do when constantly repeated.

On a slightly more serious side, this article is about what happens when an employee publishes content (whether on social media, within physical media (including a local or national newspaper) or within personal blogs) that potentially harms the reputation of their employer. Where is the line drawn between innocent, harmless blog and, on the other hand, an online article or post that seriously harms the business of an employer?

As per the above title, I briefly covered this topic around 4 years ago in a past blog post. That article mentioned the rather quirky case of Walters v Asda Stores, heard in 2008, in which a manager jokingly (I hope!) posted a message stating that, whilst she was supposed to love her customers, hitting them with a pickaxe would make her much happier… The Employment Tribunal found that Asda had focused too much on the mere fact she was a Manager rather than considering other factors (such as, I would image, how many people would have seen the post, would those people have actually thought she was being serious and/or would people really judge Asda for staff members occasionally making slightly inappropriate jokey remarks outside work) and ruled that the dismissal was unfair.

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”.

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.

Was Ryanair’s dismissal of staff a bumpy landing?

It’s fair to say that Ryanair aren’t strangers to controversy.  Whether it be their pricing strategy, public statements or otherwise, they seem to attract publicity for many reasons, whether good or bad.

Given their nature for publicity, it was perhaps predictable that the media (and social media) would seemingly target Ryanair for dismissing six staff members photographed sleeping on the floor of a crewroom in a Spanish airport.  Indeed, on the face of it, it seems bizarre to punish staff who were ‘forced’ to sleep on the floor.

However, as with most situations, there is more to the story than the headline would suggest and, dig a bit deeper, and it seems that Ryanair may actually have had legal grounds for dismissing the six staff members for Gross Misconduct based on the publicised facts.

Now, as a starting point, naturally, you can’t dismiss staff for sleeping on a floor.  That would be ludicrous and completely unfair.  But, in this case, that isn’t why Ryanair dismissed their staff members.

So, why did Ryanair sack them?  What’s the big difference?  Well, put simply, Ryanair believe that the staff members ‘staged’ the photograph and did so with a view to damaging their reputation.  And, whilst people are perhaps inclined to automatically distrust the public statements of big companies in situations like this (and, instead, support the ‘underdog’), it appears that Ryanair has a point.

How can anyone judge this?  Well, put simply, because Ryanair published a CCTV video online showing the staff standing or sitting around and then appearing to agree to the taking of a photograph.  All the staff members then move over and arrange themselves in a close formation on the floor before an individual takes a photograph of them lying on the floor (which they weren’t doing before).

Great British Bake Off: When workplace tensions ‘knead’ solving!

cake

I don’t know who won The Great British Bake Off last night.  That’s a weird place to start a Bake Off-themed employment law blog, I know.  Unfortunately, my wife dozed off in the middle of the final last night, so we have to wait to watch the rest of it online tonight!

With the popularity of the show ballooning in recent years, more and more workplaces have decided to hold ‘Bake Off’ events to raise morale and/or raise money for charity.  I must admit to getting involved with such an event in my second week at a previous employer.

Just to set the background, I’d never properly baked in my life and so, obviously, thought that trying to bake a cake was the right way to win over my new colleagues.  Come the morning of the competition, from the outside at least, the cake looked fantastic.  The problem?  Firstly, it was a rather fragile two-tier cake, so I was forced to drive to work in no higher than fourth gear (to the utter joy of the traffic behind me) and, secondly, because the judge (who no doubt had been studying the critical technique of Paul Hollywood) called my sponge ‘ultimately disappointing’ and my dreams of Bake Off-style glory evaporated in an instant!

Why am I discussing this?  Well, Bake Off events in the workplace have the potential to cause workplace angst and, at very least, can cause staff tensions to rise.

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?

Is Buddy the Elf a good employee?

 It’s nearly here! Christmas is just five days away! The radio stations are playing Last Christmas by Wham on loop, supermarkets are clogging up the TV with advertisements for gooey desserts and it’s getting easier and easier to spot those remaining advert calendar squares!

Every family tends to have an annual pre-Christmas tradition and I’m no different. In fact, mine is to visit my younger family members each year and watch Elf with them. For those not in the know, Elf is a Christmas film which came out in 2003 and stars Will Ferrell as a human who is adopted by Santa’s elves and raised as a Christmas Elf at the North Pole. It sounds terrible but, in fact, it’s a cult classic that was named Best Christmas film in a recent survey!

Anyway, what better time of the year to explore whether or not Buddy the Elf is a good employee or not? I mean, it is an employment law-related and Christmas-themed topic, so what are we waiting for? Let’s travel through the Candy Cane forest and explore this further!

So, to give us some background, Buddy was a baby at an orphanage who snuck into Santa’s sack one night. When Santa discovers him at the bottom of his sack upon his return to the North Pole, an elf adopts him and raises Buddy as his own. Unfortunately, Buddy grows at three times the rate (and height) of the elves and, eventually, discovers that he is a human, not a Christmas Elf. Aside from his height, this is especially noticeable when Buddy can ‘only’ make 85 Etch-A-Sketches a day rather than his 1,000 daily target in Santa’s workshop. Upon discovering that he is human, Buddy goes to New York to find his real father and save him from the naughty list, as well as looking for a more normal life.

During the film, Buddy has work experience at his real father’s book company, work experience in a mail room and works as an employee of a large department store in the Christmas section. Buddy is dedicated and keen but, overall, was he a good employee (by UK employment law standards)?

Not so silent night – Christmas parties gone wrong!

Ahhh the office Christmas party. The supposed annual nightmare for the HR Team. Of all the traditional Christmas-related workplace events, the Christmas party sure is the one that surrounded by the most myths.

HR Departments sending out pre-Christmas party checklists? Alcohol being banned? The party itself replaced with a simple lunch or, even more severely, not held at all to avoid legal claims or grievances? I mean, just type ‘office Christmas party’ into an online search engine and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

In recent years, perhaps not unsurprisingly, some employers have simply stopped having Christmas parties to avoid the hassle and stress of dealing with the ‘troubles’ that emerge. You’d think that, as an Employment Law Solicitor, I’d see that as a good thing? Absolutely not! So, why is that?