Category Archives: Mark’s Monthly

The work Christmas party

With just a couple of weeks of work left until Christmas, attention is turning to the Christmas party in workplaces up and down the country. Without wanting to be seen as the “fun police”, it would be useful to take a few minutes to consider some issues that may cause an employer difficulty.

While the Christmas party can be a great time of fun with colleagues, it can also be fraught with difficulty for employers. When alcohol is involved, people sometimes act in ways that they would never behave in the workplace. The Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and an employer can be liable for the actions of employees at work Christmas parties.

If alcohol is permitted, employees should be encouraged to drink in moderation. Employees should be reminded in advance of the party of the organisation’s policies on equal opportunities and anti-harassment. A wise employer will remind employees that any actions that could be deemed to be aggressive or threatening or may constitute harassment of another employee will be dealt with immediately in accordance with the disciplinary procedure and may warrant dismissal.

Employers who take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees are protected from harassment will have a statutory defence to any Tribunal claim brought by an employee who feels that they have been the victim of harassment. It is therefore important to take some time to remind employees of the relevant policies and their specific applicability to the Christmas party. Employees should also be advised that they can be held personally liable for acts of discrimination and/or harassment against other members of staff.

So, from an employment law perspective, the message ahead of the Christmas party is – “Have a good time but make sure you treat everyone with the same dignity and respect that you show during a normal working day.”

Have a great Christmas!

This article is intended as a guide and for general information only and is not a substitute for taking specific advice relating to your situation. For specific advice regarding this or any other issue relating to employment law, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Casual workers’ rights

This month we are considering the rights of casual workers and how they differ from those of employees.

The term “casual worker” can be used to describe someone who undertakes work for an organisation on an ad hoc basis. The organisation is under no obligation to offer the casual worker any work and the worker does not have to accept work if it is offered.

Causal workers have some legal rights but not as many as employees. For instance, there is no requirement to provide a casual worker with a statement of main terms or an itemised payslip and no notice is required to terminate their agreement with a business. Having said this, we would always recommend writing down the terms of the agreement for clarity – particularly around the fact that the engagement is as a casual worker and not as an employee and that there is no obligation to provide work.

Casual workers cannot claim unfair dismissal if the organisation stops offering them work, they do not have to be provided with notice to terminate their engagement and they do not have the right to a redundancy payment.

There are however a number of important rights that casual workers do benefit from. They have the right not to suffer discrimination. They are further entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage and they accrue and must be paid for annual leave. Casual workers also have the right to daily and weekly rest breaks and are subject to the same working time limitations as employees.

There has been a flurry of cases in the UK over the past number of years highlighting the issues a business can face when determining a worker’s employment status. Workers have brought cases to the tribunal as they have not been afforded rights or protections to which they believed they were entitled as they were unclear about their employment status.

The tribunal or court is then tasked with determining whether the individual was an employee, casual worker or self-employed worker. In light of these cases and the differences in rights afforded to employees, workers and the genuinely self-employed, we would recommend that all organisations take advice to ensure that they are attaching the correct status to the individuals engaged by the organisation.

Please get in touch with us to discuss this further if you engage people in your organisation and you would benefit from a review of their employment status.

Brexit planning for employers

With the ‘Brexit’ deadline slowly but surely creeping up on us, one of the big questions on employers’ minds is: How will Brexit affect my business?

It remains unclear whether the UK will depart the EU with or without a deal. However, as the saying goes, in these scenarios it is sensible to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

EU Settlement Scheme

All EU, EEA and Swiss nationals (and their family members) living in the UK before the country departs the EU must make an application to the EU Settlement Scheme to enable them to legally continue to live and work in the UK after 30th June 2021. The application deadline is 31st December 2020. As employers, you should encourage your affected employees to apply as soon as possible to avoid any delays with processing their applications. If they are granted settlement or pre-settlement status then your business will experience less disruption after the deadline date. If your affected employees do not make an application on time, they will lose their right to live and work in the UK. This will have an immediate impact on your business as you will need to recruit and train new members of staff.

Irish citizens in the UK do not need to apply for settlement status. They continue to enjoy the right to live and work in the UK as Ireland is within the Common Travel Area. This agreement between the UK, the Crown Dependencies and Ireland was entered into long before either country joined the EU and will remain effective once the UK leaves the EU.

Right to Work Checks

There will be no change to how EU, EEA and Swiss nationals prove their right to work in the UK until January 2021. Businesses can continue to accept EU passports and national identity cards as proof of their employees right to work in the UK until this date. Some employees may decide to use the Home Office online service if they have been granted status under the EU Settlement scheme, however, this is not a requirement and you should not insist on this. The government has set up a mailing list that employers can sign up to which provides updates on the application process and intended commencement date. Employers with EU staff should sign up to this mailing list in order to learn of any updates and should encourage affected employees to do the same. Should you wish to sign up to these updates, please visit the government website.

Supporting your Employees

Your employees may need some extra support in this time of uncertainty. Good communication is essential for the mental wellbeing of employees.  It is also important to reassure employees that if they do apply for the settled or pre-settled status then they will not lose any rights within the workplace. Employers should begin to look at ways in which they can support staff through the application process, and beyond, whether that may be assisting with the fee or helping with the actual application or simply implementing measures whereby, their affected employees have someone to talk to about their fears and/or lack of knowledge about the process.

If you have any queries on this or any other matter relating to employment law, please do not hesitate to contact us

Social media – employment law implications

We are regularly asked to advise on issues arising as a result of employees’ use of social media and instant messaging services. This month’s article outlines some of the key considerations that employers should be thinking about.

In thinking about your approach to social media use you need to consider (1) employees’ use of the organisation’s social media platforms and (2) employees’ use of their own personal social media platforms and the impact this can have in the workplace. Taking each of these in turn:-

Use of organisation’s social media platforms

Your employees may be posting on your organisation’s social media platforms for a variety of reasons – for instance to advertise job vacancies, post interesting content or market your products or services.

Only employees who require access to the organisation’s social media platforms for their work should have access to the passwords and these should not be shared with anyone who does not require access. Employers should ensure that employees are clear on what the organisation’s social media channels are to be used for and that the content posted must reflect the ethos and values of the organisation. Clearly any content of an offensive or discriminatory nature posted by an employee through the organisation’s social media account will be a serious disciplinary matter.

Employees’ use of personal social media platforms

Most of the issues that we are asked to advise on are to do with employees’ use of personal social media and instant messaging platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp). Often an employee’s reaction to being challenged about their use of social media is to say that their account is “private”. It is helpful if the organisation’s social media policy spells out that, even if profiles are set to “private”, posts can still be viewed by the employee’s contacts and so anything that relates to work can be dealt with as a work issue even if it was posted on a private account. You may also wish to consider whether or not to permit employees to display their place of work on their social media accounts.

Employees should be made aware that any content that they post online should be free from discrimination or harassment. In particular, if colleagues are involved in, for instance, a WhatsApp group of work colleagues, they need to be made aware of the need to treat colleagues and speak about them with the same dignity and respect in that forum as they would in person in the workplace.

Employees should be made aware that any content that discriminates against or harasses a colleague or otherwise reflects poorly on the reputation of the organisation may be dealt with in accordance with the organisation’s disciplinary procedure.

In addition, employees should be given guidance regarding how (if at all) to interact with anyone from outside the organisation who makes comments of a negative nature about the organisation. Often people will use social media as a way of expressing a grievance or ill-feeling about an organisation and it is important that employees are given guidance regarding how to respond if they see someone posting about the organisation on social media. Often a well-meaning employee coming to the defence of the organisation can make matters worse or sometimes an employee will carelessly “like” a post that is negative about the organisation and that also reflects poorly on the employer that one of its own employees is seen to be endorsing a negative comment.

Our advice would be that employers should instruct employees that if they see any comment that appears to relate negatively to the organisation or anyone associated with it, they should not engage in any way with the comment and instead immediately inform their manager.

Employers asking employees to use personal social media platforms

Sometimes employers will want employees to make use of their personal social media platforms to support the work of the employer. While it is fine to ask employees to “like” or “share” posts from the organisation in an effort to spread the message more widely, employers cannot insist on employees using their social media channels for this purpose.

Similarly, while WhatsApp groups can be very useful for keeping in touch with employees in relation to work-related matters (particularly around rotas and arranging cover for shifts), again an employer should not insist that an employee is involved in such a group. Employees should not be required to be involved in messaging groups regarding work outside of working hours.

This article is intended as a guide and is for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for taking legal advice. For advice on this or anything else to do with employment law, please get in touch with us.

What does the law say about recruiting?

We’re thinking a lot about recruitment this month as we’re looking for another employment law advisor to join our team. You can read more about that here

We often get asked by clients what the law says around recruitment. Other areas of employment law have fixed procedures that must be followed. Recruitment is different. There isn’t just one legally acceptable way to recruit a new employee. The important thing from a legal perspective is not to discriminate, directly or indirectly, in recruitment practices.

This means that you need to think carefully about job descriptions and criteria. For instance, you should normally steer clear of job titles or criteria that point towards a particular sex (e.g. advertise for waiting staff, not a waiter or waitress).

If certain criteria would be harder for people to meet because of a “protected characteristic” (age, sex, race, religious belief etc), think it through carefully before finalising the criteria. If you believe that you need someone of a certain protected characteristic, you should make clear in your recruitment literature why this is the case and assert that there is an occupational requirement that the post-holder must, for instance, be female or hold a particular religious belief.

While there are a variety of acceptable ways to recruit, this is the outline of a recruitment and selection procedure we normally advocate when advising clients:-

1. Start with the job description. Make sure it captures what the job will involve

2. Set criteria – what experience and skills will the person need to perform the duties contained in the job description?

3. Advertise the position – in a variety of places – on job boards, your own social media channels etc

4. Send interested parties an application form (we prefer application forms to CVs for a few reasons that may be the subject of a future article so watch this space)

5. Short-list candidates. Be strict and don’t shortlist anyone who doesn’t demonstrate that they meet all the essential criteria

6. Interview your short-listed candidates – try to have a balanced interview panel in terms of age, gender and background if possible. Keep notes from the interview and keep a note of each interviewer’s scores for each candidate

7. Hold a second interview, if necessary – this could be a more informal chat or involve delivering a presentation

8. Make an offer to your preferred candidate. Your offer should be conditional upon receipt of satisfactory references and anything else appropriate to the role (e.g. clear criminal background check)

9. Once the conditions of the offer are met, confirm the commencement of the person’s employment

While there will be variations on this outline from case to case, following this format should give you the best chance of finding the right person for the role without it being open to challenge as discriminatory.

For advice on this or anything else to do with employing people, please contact us.

Holiday entitlement – what about bank holidays?

With Easter coming up this weekend, most of us will enjoy a long weekend. We’re regularly asked about how bank holidays should be handled when calculating annual leave – especially when it comes to part-time workers who don’t work every day of the week. So, we hope this short article is helpful ahead of the Easter break.

All employees are entitled to a statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave. This equates to 28 days for a full-time employee working 5 days per week. There is no automatic right to a day’s paid holiday for any particular bank or public holiday unless the contract of employment provides for this.

An employer can fix some or all of the days on which employees take annual leave and can require employees to work on bank / public holidays. As long as an employee is permitted to take at least 5.6 weeks’ annual leave over the course of the year, the employer will have complied with the statutory requirements.

If the employer’s business closes on a particular bank / public holiday, then the part-time employee’s right to a day’s annual leave for this day depends on what days they work. If the employer’s business is closed on a day the employee normally works, then the employee will be paid for this as a day’s annual leave and the day will count towards the employee’s annual leave entitlement for the year.

If the employer’s business closes on a day that the employee does not normally work, then the employee is not affected. There is no entitlement to pay for the bank holiday but equally the employee does not have a day’s annual leave deducted from their holiday entitlement.

An example scenario might be helpful. Suppose two employees job share and each work 2.5 days’ per week. One employee works Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning and the other works Wednesday afternoon and all day on Thursday and Friday.

Assuming the statutory minimum 5.6 weeks’ annual leave, each employee has an annual leave entitlement of 14 days. If the leave year runs from 1st May to 30th April and the employer’s office closes for the May Day Bank Holiday, the employee who works the first half of the week will have the Monday off as a day’s paid holiday and work the Tuesday and Wednesday morning of that week as normal. This employee will be paid as normal for this week and their remaining annual leave entitlement will be 13 days. The employee who works the second half of the week is unaffected. (S)he will work and be paid for 2.5 days as normal and will still have 14 days’ annual leave to take in the year.

This issue can be complex but with some clear drafting of contractual clauses around annual leave entitlement, much of the confusion can be avoided.

Have a great Easter.

Brexit – what happens next?

With a couple of weeks left until the UK is supposed to leave the EU and ahead of a big vote in Parliament today, we take the opportunity to look briefly at what is likely to happen to employment law when (if?) the UK leaves the EU.

The government has indicated that it is likely to preserve existing employment laws deriving from Europe after Brexit.

And now Theresa May has said that the UK Parliament will have the chance to vote on whether to adopt any new Directives issued by Europe, after UK leaves the European Union.  So, UK employment law might potentially continue to follow European Law rather than decide its own path.

UK employment law already goes above and beyond what Europe requires in some areas.  The Service Provision Change Regulations already require more of employers than the Acquired Rights Directive deems necessary and we have more holiday entitlement than required by the Working Time Directive.

If, after Brexit, we have differences in employment laws, the UK may become more or less attractive for people to work or for business to set up in.  Future employment laws will, among other things, have to strike a balance between these interests.

When we have more clarity on any changes to employment law post-Brexit, we will of course let you know.


88 year old wins age discrimination case

With more and more people opting to stay at work rather than retire at what would previously have been seen as traditional retirement ages, the news this week that an 88 year old woman has become the oldest person in the UK to win an age discrimination case is a timely reminder of the need to take this ground of discrimination as seriously as we would take other grounds.

Mrs Jolly, a medical secretary, was dismissed by her employer, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust when she was 86. The dismissal was on the grounds of capability. However, the finding of the tribunal was that the employer’s treatment of her was discriminatory on the grounds of both age and disability – she suffered from arthritis and a heart condition.

Some of the actions of the employer that contributed to the finding of age discrimination were as follows:

-          She was described as being stuck in “old secretarial ways”.

-          She was not afforded the same opportunity for training. The perception was that because of her age she was not going to be helped by training.

-          Comments made by other members of staff were unfairly considered in the capability process. This included comments about her “frailty” and inability to walk the length of the building.

The judge found that any such comments made about a younger member of staff would not have been allowed to pass.

If you’re interested, you can read the judgment here

What this judgement shows is that it is important to be alive to the possibility of age discrimination coming in on the basis of stereotyping. It should not be assumed, for example, that an older employee will not be interested in training. Such opportunities should genuinely be available to all.

It is also important to remember that the same can happen with younger employees. An example would be of criticism leveled at a young worker which would not be made in the same manner to an older employee.

The moral of the story is that all employees are to be treated with respect regardless of age, and the wise employer will ensure that practices and procedures reflect this.

New Year’s Resolution? Start tackling problems at an early stage

In this first blog post of 2019, we’re suggesting a New Year’s Resolution for employers. Very few people like having difficult conversations but, in an employment context, it’s important that matters are addressed at an early stage.

We recognise that it is often difficult to deal with concerns over performance or minor conduct issues. However, issues such as a lack of attention to detail, poor timekeeping, a below average attendance record and too much use of mobile phone in the workplace can have a negative impact on productivity and can affect morale and so should be dealt with at an early stage.

Too often managers neglect to address minor issues at an early stage. The effect of this is that the issue “snowballs” and resentment builds up, leading to a bigger problem down the line.

The Codes of Practice on dealing with disciplinary issues in the workplace (the LRA Code in Northern Ireland and the ACAS Code in GB) advocate dealing with minor issues of performance and conduct in an informal manner. Very often all that is required is a quiet word where the manager advises the employee that they have noticed a certain issue and pointing out the improvement that is required. If this leads to the desired improvement, that is the best outcome for all concerned. The employee is spared from formal disciplinary proceedings and the manager and colleagues of the employee benefit from the improvement. Only if improvement is not forthcoming or not sustained should a manager then consider moving to a formal disciplinary process for a minor performance or misconduct offence.

Our advice to employers at the start of this New Year is to nip issues in the bud early before they become bigger problems down the line. A quiet, informal conversation at an early stage usually benefits everyone involved and prevents the issue becoming a bigger one with more serious consequences. If this does not resolve the issue and you have to go down a more formal disciplinary route, the employee will not be able to say that they have not had the issue drawn to their attention before the matter went down a more formal route.

Of course, as ever, we can be contacted for advice in relation to anything contained in this article or anything else to do with the law and good practice around employing people.

Uber, holiday pay and Happy Christmas

In 2018, two issues dominated employment law  – employment status and holiday pay. Both on the news and in our advice to clients, these two issues came up time and time again this year.

In relation to employment status, you may be aware of cases on the news where individuals were treated as self-employed but are asserting that they should have the benefit of workers’ rights. The Uber case was in the news today as the Court of Appeal (by a majority) upheld the Tribunal’s view that the drivers should be treated as workers. You can read the BBC summary of the case here –

We have advised on lots of working arrangements this year, considering both the contractual documentation and the reality of the working relationship to ensure that the client is attaching the correct employment status to the individual as getting this wrong can be costly in terms of liability for minimum wage, sick pay and holiday pay.

In relation to calculating holiday pay, the case law has continued to develop around an employee’s entitlement to be paid their normal rate of pay during periods of annual leave. Employees should not be disadvantaged as a result of taking annual leave so should receive their normal pay to include commission and overtime and not only receive basic pay during periods of annual leave.

The case law is likely to develop further in these areas in 2019 as various cases go to higher courts of appeal. Uber has said it intends to appeal the Court of Appeal’s judgement to the Supreme Court. We will keep you informed of all the important developments in employment law through our Mark’s Monthly articles in 2019.

All that remains is to say thank you for your support in 2018 and to wish you a very happy Christmas.