Thu 22 Aug 2019

Employment law in the news - September 2019

 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 

Discrimination, diversity and gender inequality continue to take up  significant amounts of news print this month alongside news on CEO pay…. 

Starting with one of the most high profile discrimination cases of recent years, Gareth Lee is taking the "gay marriage cake" case to the European Court of Human Rights.  In 2018, the UK Supreme Court found that Ashers Bakery had not discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of his sexuality by refusing to provide a cake with a pro gay marriage message on it.  The court found it was the message on the cake that was the issue for the Bakery, not the fact that Mr Lee was gay.  Mr Lee's lawyers will argue that no reasonable person would equate producing the cake with the bakery supporting the gay marriage message on it. 

A workplace harassment helpline has been launched with the help of a number of high profile supporters including Harry Potter star and activist Emma Watson.  The advice line is backed by Time's Up UK's justice and equality fund and will advise women about their legal options, equalities and discrimination law and help them make informed choices about their next steps.  

Research into the language used in job adverts has revealed the impact choice of words has on the diversity of applications.  The survey shows both the way in which men and women responded differently to benefits highlighted in job adverts and during interviews and how certain words could be more off putting to one sex than the other.  The report makes interesting reading and shows how, through lack of thought at the advertising stage, employers could be missing out on a more diverse range of candidates.  Equally - and more cynically - it also shows how choice of words could influence the gender of applicants should a business wish to attempt to do such a thing. 

Meanwhile Finland has been identified as leading the world in flexible working.  The country introduced the Working Hours Act in 1996 which gave most staff the right to adjust the typical daily hours in their workplace by starting or finishing up to three hours earlier or later. In 2020 a new Working Hours Act will come into force giving the majority of full time employees the right to decide when and where they work for at least half of their working hours.  

After a number of years of press coverage of fat cat pay deals the annual review of FTSE 100 firms executive pay (carried out by the CIPD and the High Pay Centre) has shown CEO's pay has fallen by 13%.  Despite that fall, the average salary of £3.46m is still 117 times the average British workers wage of £29,574 - the equivalent of 3 days pay for the CEO.  The report also highlighted how little impact shareholder dissent seems to be having on pay, and evidence to justify pay levels is weak.  It seems the cats are still getting the cream, although with gender equality in the boardroom remaining an issue (there are only 6 women CEO's in the FTSE 100) the female cats are getting 32% less than their male equivalents. 

And the rest…. 

Were you able to switch off on holiday?  Research by Tessian, a cyber security firm, suggests that more than half of us feel an expectation to respond quickly to emails, with 60% of us using mobile phones to send emails out of hours.  Not only are there potentially GDPR issues to deal with, and the generally accepted detrimental impact on health, not being able to digitally detox is contributing to the growing problem of leavism (working while on leave).  Switching off and unplugging seems to fix just about every technology glitch there is - we should be doing the same when we go on holiday. 

A common criticism of the new world of work (and in particular the use of zero hours contracts) is the lack of security workers have today.  However, recent analysis by the CIPD has shown that job security has actually changed very little in the last 20 years.  Not only are the same proportion of workers on non-permanent contracts, the percentage of workers holding a "job for life" - defined as a role lasting 10 years or more - had increased by nearly 2% to 32% in 2017.  Average job tenure for men had remained the same at 9 years but had increased for women from 6.8 to 8 years. Maybe the good old days weren't quite as good as we remember.  

And finally, a bad day was made worse for one Glaswegian worker when her employer  sacked her on the day her dog died. Too upset to go to work Emma McNulty was sacked when she was unable to find someone to cover shift.  Not one to take it sitting down she has started an online campaign asking for pet bereavement to be treated the same way as human bereavement.  With some companies already offering "pawternity leave" for when a new puppy joins the family and having regard to the close bond between pets and their owners, this may well be the natural next step…

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