Fri 31 Jan 2020

Employment law in the news - February 2020

In our regular slot, we look at the key cases and other employment law issues that have made the news headlines over the past few weeks.

The Big News

January saw the annual outcry about "High Pay day" (6 January this year) with top FTSE bosses taking just 33 hours to earn a typical workers' annual salary. It remains to be seen whether the mandatory publication of the pay gap between chief executives and the average earner in a company, which applies (for certain organisations) from this year, will have any effect on this.  Transparency seems a worthwhile aim, but realistically it will take more to address this issue.

Staying on the topic of pay, the news that Samira Ahmed had won her equal pay case against the BBC was quickly followed by reports that Sarah Montague had reached a settlement of £400,000 with the BBC relating to her pay for hosting the Today programme on Radio 4.

Antonio Horta-Osario, the boss of Lloyds Banking Group, brought a great deal of positive media coverage to the importance of companies paying attention to mental health of employees.  This coverage coincided with the publication of a report by Deloitte - Mental health and employers - Refreshing the case for investment - which highlighted that  the cost to businesses of employees' mental health issues is over £40bn per year.

The Good News

Good news for one ethical vegan at the turn of the year.  One of the first cases to be heard in 2020 resulted in a tribunal finding ethical veganism was a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act.  This doesn't however mean all vegans are protected as the particular individual in this case was extremely dedicated to the cause going a lot further than simply avoiding consuming animal products. 

Non smokers in a company in Swindon have been given 4 extra days holiday by their bosses.  Intended to provide some compensation for the fact that the non smokers do not regularly spend time away from their workplace for a smoke break, the measure also seeks to incentivise the smokers to quit. 

Artificial intelligence is being recruited to assist in identifying online bullying and harassment.  While the systems aren't yet able to pick up all the subtleties that could highlight inappropriate emails, the "MeTooBots" are beginning to be used by companies to analyse data that could indicate harassment with anything suspicious being sent to HR to investigate.

And the rest….

While AI might be helping in the fight against workplace harassment, the Culture Secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan has spoken out about sexist algorithms that can unintentionally hire more men into male-dominated jobs.  A report into gender equality in the tech industry found women only make up 24 percent of technical roles in these business.  The concern of the Baroness is that devices and services were being designed by men for men, and tested by men resulting in embedded gender inequality.

Inequality was also the focus of a call by the head of the Chartered Management Institute, Ann Francke, for employers to curtail chat about football or cricket in the workplace.  Ms Francke was of the view that sports banter can exclude women and be a gateway to more laddish behaviour in an office environment.  Perhaps not surprisingly the majority of people who subsequently responded to a LinkedIn post from the BBC did not agree, concluding banning this sort of chat would alienate people who actually want to communicate with each other.

Somewhat controversially, a range of Presidents Club branded clothing has appeared in shops including House of Fraser.  The Presidents Club charity closed following outrage over its men only dinners at which waitresses were allegedly groped.  The clothing range includes figure hugging black dresses with critics saying the concept is clearly an opportunistic attempt at exploiting a scandal. 

Zero hours contracts are once again back in the news.  Despite the Office for National Statistics recently publishing figures showing 99% of workers are happy with zero hours contracts Richer Sounds founder Julian Richer is bankrolling a campaign to stamp out use of the contracts.  "Zero Hours Justice" is to hold free legal advice clinics around the country for zero hours workers with the aim of identifying people whose experiences could provide the basis for legal action that could help change the law.

At the other end of the scale according to recent research conducted by Citrix, more than half of the UK workforce are currently closer to working a six day week than the much heralded four day week that has been promoted as the answer to work life balance.  The research also showed that 65% of staff believed a four day week was "unachievable".

And finally, possibly the laziest postman ever has been found in Japan.  The misguided 61 year old explained that he did not want to seem less able than younger colleagues, but the explanation wasn't deemed acceptable when about 24,000 pieces of undelivered mail were found at his house.  His further explanation that it was "too much bother to deliver them" also didn't get him far as he was sacked and criminal charges are pending. 

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