Tue 26 Feb 2019

Employment law in the news - March 2019

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

We start this month with news of the oldest claimant so far to successfully claim age discrimination.  An eighty eight year old hospital secretary who was allegedly frogmarched from her desk by security won the claim after a tribunal found that, although she was blamed for 14 patients having to wait for more than a year for non urgent breast surgery, she had not received training when her job changed and the hospital changed its administration procedures. 

While January always means "blue Monday",  the first Monday in February is "national pull a sickie day" (although in England 2nd January is also a big day for "illness").  While a party weekend after dry January often gets the blame here are some of the best and worst reasons for taking a sickie courtesy of the Sun newspaper - reasons range from having to organise a birthday party for the dog to getting arrested!

The worker being sued by her employer after falling for an email scam is a stark reminder not only of the risks to businesses of this sort of fraud, but also the fact that employees can be sued for losses flowing from their negligent acts.  The worker in question transferred almost £200,000 of company money to fraudsters despite having been warned about fake emails apparently from bosses instructing payments to be made.  While the company claims the worker was not authorised to make any payments, media reports emanating from the Court of Session suggest her line manager assisted her in making the first one.

There have been further reports of large sums of money alleged to have been paid by Sir Philip Green to employees after they signed gagging orders following alleged bullying or harassment, including £1m allegedly paid to a senior female employee.

Do you think levels of race discrimination have reduced since the 1960's?  Sadly not according to research by the Centre of Social Investigation at Nuffield College, Oxford University.  The study was based around job applications with minority ethnic applicants requiring to send between 60% and 90% more applications compared to white British candidates to get a positive response.  The research highlights the extent to which legislation is failing to prevent discrimination. Commentators have described the findings as shocking, highlighting that it demonstrates not just unconscious bias but overt conscious racism based on ethnicity and/or name.

South Ayrshire Council has taken the lead in adopting a paid leave provision for victims of domestic abuse.  Thought to be the first council in Europe to adopt the leave, it will allow employees to take up to 10 days leave without the worry of it affecting their finances or using holiday allowance.

A potentially controversial headline appeared in the Times paper recently - "A year with a baby is not what a mother needs".  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the most generous employers in the US, has cut its paid parental leave from a year to six months after concluding the policy was damaging to women.  Senior analysts found women who take more than 6 to 9 months off struggle to reignite their careers or cope adequately with juggling home and work life and staff would prefer less leave in the first year and more financial support and time off over the next 17 years.  One for further discussion, no doubt.

The Labour party has pledged that a Labour government will improve access to flexible working by making it a day one right and creating a "presumption in favour of flexible working".  Although there is nothing to prevent an employer doing that now, employees have to wait 26 weeks before they have a statutory right to request flexible working.  The Labour party hopes it will help tackle the gender pay gap and dismantle barriers that hold women back from promotion. 

And finally, a new website is being launched by the Legal Action Group, a charity that promotes equal access to justice and publishes legal aid handbooks, to help workers claim an estimated £3bn a year owed in unpaid wages and holiday pay.  The service aims to help those who cannot afford legal advice with the website enabling claimants to calculate sums due and then present their claim to their employer.

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