Monday, June 26, 2006

Blowing the Whistle Just Got Easier!

The Court of Appeal has recently handed down an important Judgment in relation to the legal protection for whistleblowers.

In the case of Woodward v Abbey National plc the Court held that it is possible to bring a Claim for damages based on detriment alleged to have been suffered after the termination of employment as a result of having made a "Protected Disclosure."

The most usual context for such allegations is where the employee is unhappy with the reference which they are given.

Previously the Employment Appeal Tribunal had ruled that the employee in such a situation had no legal protection, based on a previous decision relating to health and safety complaints.

However the Court of Appeal preferred to rely upon a House of Lords decision which established that a Discrimination Claim can be based on events after the termination of employment.

This is yet another reason to be extremely careful when drafting a reference, particularly where you are aware there have been "issues."

You can see a full report of the case at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2006/822.html

Disability Discrimination Update

A recently reported case show that employers are still falling foul of the Disability Discrimination Act. In Tudor v Spen Corner Veterinary Centre, the Employment Tribunal found that Hayley Tudor had been discriminated against when she was dismissed after losing her sight.

The employer had concluded that she would not be able to do her job because she would sometimes have to deal with emergencies on her own.

The Tribunal criticised the employer for making stereotypical assumptions about the capabilities of disabled people. Total damages were more than £20,000.00. Never forget that there is no financial limit on the damages which can be awarded in a disability discrimination case and if the employee finds it difficult to get another job because of their disability you are likely to end up picking up the tab!

Before making decisions in the context of people who may be disabled it is essential to have up to date medical evidence (so you know what they can and cannot do and do not just make assumptions.) You must also consider very carefully your duty to make reasonable adjustments - which recent case law suggests may even extend to creating a completely new job for the employee affected.

There is a report of the case at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/5055950.stm

Friday, June 02, 2006

UK's Drinking Culture Affects the Workplace

A recent survey by Royal and Sun Alliance, as reported in the Guardian on 30th May found that 1 in 6 workers admitted being under the influence of alcohol at work in recent months. Under 30 years old were the most likely to be affected.

Alcohol consumption at work or attending work under the influence obviously has a detrimental effect on productivity and can raise serious issues about health and safety.

Company disciplinary procedures should make clear that attending work whilst under the influence is likely to be regarded as gross misconduct leading to dismissal.

Even so employers must be careful how such situations are handled. The statutory disciplinary procedure must be followed as a minimum before any formal action is taken. Any incident should be investigated fully. If there is any suggestion that the behaviour arises from alcoholism as opposed to overindulgence then the case law suggests this should be treated as an illness, which will not normally justify dismissal unless the employee has been given a chance to get help and a warning to improve. In some circumstances, for example assaulting a customer while drunk, the behaviour will be so serious that dismissal will be justified. This is a potential minefield and with Unfair Dismissal damages capable of exceeding £60,000.00 it is advisable to seek professional advice before taking action.

World Cup Fever - the Employment Law implications

The 2006 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Germany on 9th June and employers in the UK will be bracing themselves for the effects of football fever in the workplace - at least for the duration of England's involvement in the tournament!

Employers will need to ensure that employees are aware that sudden absences at the time when England are playing or illness suddenly striking the morning after the night before are likely to be investigated and if not considered to be genuine will lead to disciplinary action.

Care will need to be taken to ensure that displays of overt support for a competing team do not turn into racial harassment - especially given the potentially unlimited damages payable in a discrimination case.

The BBC is showing matches online in an effort to combat absenteeism. If you object to your employees watching matches whilst they are supposed to be working then this needs to be made clear in advance. Ideally any company which has access to the internet or email should already have a written IT policy making clear what is and is not permitted at work. In the majority of successful claims for Unfair Dismissal in this area the issue has been the failure to lay down clear boundaries. Any policy should be circulated to each member of staff who should be asked to sign and return a copy as confirmation that they understand the contents and agree to be bound by them.