Everyone has a film they don’t usually admit to liking. For some people, it is Mamma Mia (no, not mine). For others, it might be a terrible James Bond film (Quantum of Solace anyone?) or something for the kids (Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs perhaps?) My film-related guilty pleasure is easy: 500 Days…
If ever there was an example of the need to follow correct procedures, even in what appear to be the most glaringly obvious situations, the Employment Tribunal decision in Sidhu v Rathor t/a Allenby Clinic/Northolt Family Practice is a good case in point. It used to be the case that, in very obvious cases such…
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.
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”.
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.
Dealing with sickness absence is a persistent problem for many employers, particularly when dealing with the apparent dichotomy between potentially fair dismissal on the ground of extended sickness absence and discrimination based on disability. The issue reared its head once again in the recent case of Muller v London Ambulance Service NHS Trust.
Mr Muller, a paramedic, injured himself when falling out the back of an ambulance while on duty in March 2016. He never returned to work and was dismissed 11 months later. His main injury was to his right shoulder which did not heal during this time. By the time of his dismissal he had not had the required surgery, let alone sufficient time to recuperate thereafter. A contributory factor to the delay was that a tear in the cartilage around the shoulder joint was not diagnosed until November or December 2016. A steroid injection in January made little difference and an arthroscopy was scheduled for 14 March, just over two weeks after he was dismissed.
As well as claiming that his dismissal was premature, Mr Muller said that the Trust had a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate his disability, e.g. by providing him with office based work. As it happened, the arthroscopy confirmed that there was a tear which was repaired by surgery in July 2017. In January 2018 Mr Muller returned to occasional front line duties with a private ambulance service.
The Trust had encouraged him to apply for other jobs. There was a redeployment scheme. Mr Muller applied for a job in the archive department but was unsuccessful. In any event, he did not want a permanent reassignment.
He submitted a claim to an Employment Tribunal, for unfair dismissal, direct sex discrimination (a female comparator had been provided with office based work), disability discrimination based on failure to make reasonable adjustments and discrimination in connection with his dismissal.
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).
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.
It is well known that dismissal can result from a single matter which is usually found to amount to gross misconduct, or as the result of more than one event, with the prior matters resulting in written warnings and/or a final written warning. Indeed, most disciplinary procedures outline this process and generally include examples of what will normally be treated as gross misconduct.
However, in Quintiles Commercial UK v Barongo the question for the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was whether it was fair for Quintiles to dismiss Mr Barongo for conduct which was initially classified as gross misconduct but subsequently downgraded to serious misconduct.
Quintiles supplies staff for pharmaceutical companies. Mr Barongo started working for them in October 2012 and was latterly engaged to sell drugs for Astra Zeneca. On 5 January 2016 he was dismissed on notice on two grounds. First, he had failed complete Astra Zeneca’s compliance training course by the deadline of 3 November 2015 and, second, failing to attend their compulsory training course on 19 November 2015. Mr Barongo did not deny the allegations and he also accepted that they amounted to misconduct on his part. However, he contended that he had been dealing with other matters. He said that he had not intentionally failed to engage with the training but he had chosen to priorities other matters. This had been at a time when he was on a performance improvement plan.
There was a disciplinary hearing conducted with his line manager which took place by telephone. As the EAT pointed out, conducting the hearing by phone might not have been best practice but it was not in itself unfair. His line manager concluded that the duty of trust and confidence which ought to exist between employer and employee had been broken and, as a result, Mr Barongo was dismissed on notice, for gross misconduct.
He appealed against the decision and the appeal was heard by one of the employer’s directors, Mr Athey, who took the view that there had been a breach of the duty of trust and confidence, but that it amounted to serious rather than gross misconduct.
Mr Barongo submitted a claim of unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal took the view that the downgrading of the misconduct from gross to serious was highly significant:
Judgments of the Supreme Court concerning employment law issues are fairly infrequent and usually worthy of attention. That is certainly so in the recent case of Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council which concerned an individual convicted of the surprisingly common offence of downloading indecent images of children.
Ms Reilly was the deputy head teacher of a primary school. She was in a close but not sexual relationship with a Mr Selwood and they did not live together. In 2003 they bought a property in joint names as an investment and Mr Selwood lived there, although he did not make any payments to Ms Reilly. Ms Reilly did not live there but she occasionally stayed overnight, including on 24 February 2009 when, the following morning, she awoke to the arrival of the police who searched the property and arrested Mr Selwood on suspicion of having downloaded indecent images of children. In September Ms Reilly was promoted to the post of head teacher at the school and in February 2010 Mr Selwood was convicted of making indecent images of children by downloading. On a scale of 1-5, the images ranged from level 1 to level 4. He was sentenced to a three year community order, made the subject of a sexual offences prevention order (which included a ban on him having unsupervised access to minors) and he was required to take part in a sex offenders’ programme.
Ms Reilly was immediately aware of the conviction and sentence but chose not to disclose them to the school governors or the local authority. In June 2010 the authority became aware of the conviction and she was suspended on full pay. She was required to attend a disciplinary hearing, the allegation being that, in failing to disclose her relationship with a man convicted of sexual offences concerning children, she had committed a serious breach of an implied term of her contract of employment, sufficient to warrant dismissal for gross misconduct. Following a hearing in May 2011 she was summarily dismissed. The panel was particularly concerned that Ms Reilly continued to refuse to accept that her continued association with Mr Selwood might pose a risk to children at the school. Her appeal against her dismissal failed.