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.

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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.

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Pimlico Plumbers and other employment status news

Late last month the Supreme Court delivered its long-awaited if not altogether surprising decision in Pimlico Plumbers v Smith. It upheld the decisions of the lower courts that Mr Smith should properly be classified as a worker, with attendant rights (including discrimination rights and holiday pay), rather than being self-employed.

Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years (from 2005-2011). Although he was VAT registered and paid self-employed tax, from an employment law perspective, he was nonetheless entitled to workers’ rights.

The judgment was unanimous and the lead judgment was provided by Lord Wilson. Having considered the history of the law concerning the status of workers (dating back to 1875), he considered the written agreements between Pimlico and Mr Smith (the original dated 2005 and a replacement issued in 2009), both of which he thought were confusing. However, he noted the extent of control exercised over Mr Smith including the right to dismiss him for gross misconduct, how he should provide his services, an obligation to provide advance notification of absences and the supply of tools. The second agreement included an obligation to wear Pimlico’s uniform, a minimum 40 hours’ working week, advance notice of annual leave and provision for warnings and dismissal.

He also noted that there was no provision for Mr Smith to appoint a substitute to do his work (other than by another Pimlico operative). Having considered relevant authorities, he concluded that “the dominant feature of Mr Smith’s contracts with Pimlico was an obligation of personal performance”.

There was an “umbrella contract” between Mr Smith and Pimlico whereby, if work was available to be done by him, he would be expected to do it. Nonetheless, Mr Smith correctly presented himself as self-employed for tax purposes.

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Equal pay at the BBC

Eddie MairFollowing last year’s widely publicised equal pay audit at the BBC, there has been a good deal of concern expressed about the disparities between the earnings of some of the Corporation’s best known presenters.

The BBC’s former China editor, Carrie Gracie, complained that the male Middle East and North America editors, Jeremy Bowen and Jon Sopel, were earning at least 50% more than her. Her complaint attracted national newspaper coverage and widespread support from her colleagues. Last month the BBC backed down, apologised to her for underpaying her and said it had “now put this right” by giving her back pay. Ms Gracie donated the back pay to the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights.

She had refused a £45,000 pay rise because this still left “a big gap” between her and her male counterparts and her objective was to secure equality. She will now, at her request, take six months’ unpaid leave. What struck me as odd about the matter is that the jobs were regarded as equal in the first place. It is undeniably the case that, over many years, the Middle East and North America editors have had a much higher profile than the China editor, whether male or female. Perhaps the most stark disparity between the jobs is the amount of significant news coverage emanating from the different locations. However, the crucial difference in this case was that, when accepting the appointment, Ms Gracie was told that her pay would be “on a par” with that of the North America editor. It turned out that he was in a bracket of £200,000 to £250,000, whereas she was paid £135,000 (Jeremy Bowen was in a bracket of £150,000 to £199,000).

Following Ms Gracie’s resignation last January, a number of well-known male presenters, including John Humphrys, Jeremy Vine, Nick Robinson, Huw Edwards and Jon Sopel, agreed to take pay cuts as part of a move to harmonise salaries.

However, one who notably refused to do so was the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Eddie Mair.

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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?

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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.

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Is it fair to dismiss for action which falls short of gross misconduct?

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:

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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

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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.

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How to deal with convictions for sexual offences committed by a person associated with the employee

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.

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