5 areas to watch out for in Employment Law disputes

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Paul Mc here with some useful guidance that was recently featured in the People Management magazine:

1. Discrimination

When the tribunal fees (that employees had to pay) were introduced in 2013, there was a 91% drop in claims. The reversal of this decision is naturally likely to see a subsequent increase in claims. Some recent examples to consider……..

FACT : £2000 fine recently imposed for company allowing an employee to be nicknamed “Borat” (race discrimination)

FACT : £4500 fine for Manager suggesting two employees go on a date (sexual harassment and injury to feelings)

FACT : £2000 fine for company Manager calling member of staff “kid”, “stroppy kid” and “stroppy little teenager” (harassment on grounds of age)

FACT : When Company staff stole their (hetrosexual ) Manager’s phone and announced on Facebook that he was gay……the employer was found guilty of sexual orientation harassment

FACT : When staff were trying on different hats for a party, a Manager told a black employee that he resembled a pimp. £1200 awarded for racial harassment

 2. Flexible Working

Demands and expectations from staff in this area are increasing and it can sometimes be hard to say “no” to a request. The business case must be considered and if you can put forward a good business case to justify your refusal, it would be hard for an employee to take against it. Explain your reasoning in writing to the employee.

Ensure consistency in approach to staff, especially over who is allowed to work flexibly (eg from home) and who is not? Indirect discrimination claims could follow if not!

3. Religion

In the UK, employers are generally free to set whatever dress code they wish for staff, as long as the requirements are not discriminatory. Go figure and ensure you have a proper reason for denying a request in this area?

The business case relating to requests about holidays and work patterns need careful consideration. As an example, is it reasonable to expect a Jewish employee to work Friday evenings? If you make a business case, you need to be sure that there was a good reason why you could not change their work pattern. But, you equally need to consider if agreeing to certain shift patterns for one faith might lead to conflict with others? Not easy……

It is also important for employers not to shy away from saying “no” to requests because the reason given is religion. The advice is to enquire sensitively and look behind the request. A recent court case heard that an employee request to have 5 week’s leave to attend religious festivals was more about their desire to spend time with their family rather than an actual manifestation of their religious beliefs. The Court, therefore, decided that the refusal to grant the request was not discriminatory.

4. Parental leave

Gender equality is where problems are anticipated. Statutory Parental Leave (SPL) is a central issue and whether or not the company enhances this (especially if they enhance Maternity Pay). A tricky area and one that is certainly going to become more widely debated and requested going forward from people seeking paternity leave.

5. Disciplinaries and Grievances

The most common reason why companies end up in the courts over a dismissal/grievance is down to someone not following the rules and process for dealing with disciplinary and grievance matters.

As an example…

If an employee were to resign, then claim they were constructively dismissed in a tribunal, they could have their compensation reduced for a failure to follow the internal grievance process first.

However, should an employer fail to offer an appeal to an employee who is being dismissed for gross misconduct, they could have their compensation payment increased for a failure to follow proper and fair proceedings.

FACT : £7000 given in damages to employee who was dismissed for Gross Misconduct without raising formal concerns on their performance beforehand

FACT : £15,000 fine for sacking a practicing pagan witch for missing work on Halloween (unfair dismissal)

I hope you have found this article to be useful if not uplifting!

So, in summary, two words that always emerge for the subjects mentioned above…

Reasonableness and Process!