05 Jun 2014

Employment Law Bulletin: June 2014

Insights, Publications

It’s been four years in the making. Now the time has come to pledge allegiance to a remote country (or a front-runner, if you’re lucky) because you picked its name out of a hat. It’s the Football World Cup 2014 and it’s shaking up workplaces everywhere.

For employers, it can be a management minefield. How to allow staff to take a decent interest in what’s happening on the pitches and make sure that they’re still getting on with their jobs and behaving properly? As divisive as football can be, there’s no doubt that getting into the spirit of events like the World Cup can help create great atmosphere, morale and – crucially – longer-term loyalty at work. But employers should have clear rules about how they’ll handle the next few weeks.

If there’s some broad advice we can give you, it’s to issue a World Cup briefing to staff. Be open about the concessions and privileges you’ll offer (opportunities to watch matches at work, for example) and those you won’t. Be fair and consistent when it comes to holiday requests and spell out your zero-tolerance position on aggressive or otherwise offensive behaviour at work.

Lock, take stock and eschew smoking quarrels
British Gas v Lock

After months of speculation and anticipation, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has spoken. It’s now clearly the case that where a worker’s pay includes an intrinsic element of commission, that commission must be taken into account when calculating their holiday pay.

Mr Lock was a salesman who earned commission based on hours worked and sales achieved. He had brought a holiday pay claim for commission he would have earned if he’d been working, but which he couldn’t because he wasn’t. This launched the big question of whether commission should form part of ‘basic pay’ in holiday pay calculations.

Most definitely, the CJEU has said. It’s now down to the UK courts to implement that decision and to decide how holiday pay should actually be calculated.

Timing of constructive dismissal resignation
Cockram v Air Products plc

It’s a big step for an employee to take. Resigning because of an employer’s breach of contract takes courage, conviction and a very sound legal argument to back it up.

Mr Cockram may have feared the uncertainty of unemployment when he took the decision to resign. His employer had rejected his grievance and this, Mr Cockram said, was a fundamental breach of the implied term of trust and confidence between the two of them. But rather than resign and leave straight away, or after giving his three-months’ contractual notice (as is also acceptable in a constructive dismissal), he told his employer that he would carry on working for seven months. The reason was that he had no other job to go to.

Could that be a constructive dismissal? No, the Employment Tribunal Appeal said. By giving longer than the minimum amount of contractual notice, Mr Cockram had affirmed the contract. He had, in effect, sidelined his employer’s breach and could not then use it as the basis of a constructive dismissal claim.

This is a logical decision, useful in bringing to light the question of notice. But remember that, generally speaking, an employee who chooses to give notice may still have a constructive dismissal claim if (a) the notice is no more than their contractual notice, and (b) they make it clear that they are resigning in response to their employer’s fundamental breach of contract – and that they don’t accept the breach. It’s useful to bear in mind, too, that the employee’s actions or omissions during the notice period could affect their constructive dismissal claim.

Flexible working rules stretched

From 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working will apply to all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service.

The types of requests we’re likely to see are for home-working, part-time working and job-sharing. It doesn’t matter why the employee wants to work flexibly, the employer must deal reasonably with their request and only reject it for a small number of set reasons.

Boss can be a worker
Clyde & Co v Bates van Winkelhof

The Supreme Court has now decided that a member of a limited liability partnership can be a ‘worker’. Previously, the courts had held that Ms van Winkelhof – a partner in a law firm – could not be protected by whistleblowing legislation because she did not have the necessary worker status.

The decision is significant because it now opens up employment law protection to a wider group of people, particularly those in legal and financial businesses (commonly LLPs), who didn’t think they were entitled to it. What we still don’t know is whether LLP members can be employees, or whether worker status extends to those in traditional partnerships.

The ramifications of the decision, however, are that organisations will need to overhaul their provision of benefits like auto-enrolment, working time rights and unlawful deduction from wages protection and make sure these are available to this wider category of worker.

Care worker’s working time
Esparon v Slavikovska

There have been various cases on whether workers who are required to be ‘on-call’ or to sleep at their place of work are entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for those hours. They may not actually be working but they are there and available to work if and when needed.

The law isn’t entirely clear on what is and isn’t ‘time-work’ for the purposes of the NMW regulation. The Esparon case may help clarify it a little.

Ms Slavikovska was a care worker who was paid less than the NMW for night shifts spent at the care home where she worked. She brought an employment tribunal claim, arguing that the hours she had put in amounted to ‘time-work’ which attracted the NMW. (‘Time-work’ is different from time spent ‘on-call’, which won’t in its entirety amount to working time.)

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that Ms Slavikovska’s sleep-in shifts were ‘time-work’. In cases like this, the circumstances are important and the tribunal will look carefully at what exactly the worker is required to do and when during the course of the shift and, crucial to Ms Slavikovska’s case, why the employer needs the worker to be there during then night.

Like most, if not all, care homes Esparon was legally required to have staff in the facility at all times, so Ms Slavikovska was helping her employer discharge that obligation. That swung the decision in her favour. Even though she may not have always been actually working (she may have been sleeping), she was still entitled to the NMW during those hours because of the requirement that she be on the premises.

Discrimination didn’t cause resignation
Clements v Lloyds Bank

Discrimination will nearly always be grounds for constructive dismissal, if the employee resigns in response to it. In Mr Clements’ case, though, an age discriminatory remark was found not to have been the main cause of the employer’s breach of contract that led to his resignation. This was significant because compensation for discrimination-based constructive dismissal is uncapped; in ordinary constructive dismissal it is not.

Mr Clements was in his fifties. His employer was attempting to resolve problems with his performance by moving him to a new role. During the course of one of their meetings, his manager twice remarked “you’re not 25 any more” (later denying saying this). Over the course of the following few months Lloyds heard and rejected Mr Clements’ grievance and announced that someone had been appointed to a role above him, meaning that he had been demoted. Six months after the discriminatory “25” comment, Mr Clements resigned.

The Employment Tribunal held that he had been constructively dismissed because of a course of action which accumulated and resulted in the “last straw” of the demotion announcement. But age discrimination didn’t play a part in the constructive dismissal. Mr Clements appealed that point to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), but lost. Far more had happened by the time of the resignation, the EAT said. While the “25” comment was an act of age discrimination, it didn’t cause his constructive dismissal.

And Finally…

The nation is divided on who is in the wrong: the boss who sent sexist emails or the PA who revealed that to the world.

If there’s one certainty in all of this, it’s that Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has helped shine the spotlight on one major issue affecting every employer: when it comes to employee communications, is it ever possible to truly separate the personal from the professional?

You can try. Get yourself a well-worded policy on employees’ use of communication channels like email, Twitter and Facebook.

But a policy, by itself, doesn’t always do the trick. Make sure that every employee understands the boundaries of personal and professional behaviour. Take abuse very seriously; after all, it’s you as an employer who could pick up the bill for discrimination as well as facing reputational damage.

And, most important of all, lead by example.