Discrimination by association: why employers cannot ignore employees’ private lives

Discrimination by association: the basics

The concept of “discrimination by association” – where the party subjected to discrimination does not possess a Protected Characteristic (PCs) but is associated with someone who does – has been around for quite some time. It is most often applied and used in direct discrimination and harassment claims. One example may be a white employee complaining about racist jokes at work. Although the treatment in question is not meted or directed at the white employee, his association with, say, black colleagues is sufficient to justify any offence felt by the white employee for a claim to be made.

But what about claims for indirect discrimination, where the treatment in question is not directed at the employee. You may recall that indirect discrimination claims arise where an employer operates an “across the board” policy or procedure but some employees are more negatively impacted by it than others and the employer cannot justify the policy or procedure on non-discriminatory grounds.

A recent tribunal decision, based on a European court judgment, confirmed that a claim for discrimination by association can be made in such cases. This means that an employer’s policies and procedures will be considered in light of their impact on employees, but where the PC in question is not theirs. Employers may well need to know more about their employees’ associates than they ever did before.

 

A healthy employee with caring responsibilities for a disabled relative unlawfully discriminated against by a requirement to work full-time at the office

In a recent case to reach the employment tribunal, an employee who was dismissed for redundancy won her claim for indirect disability discrimination by association. The employee, who was not herself disabled, was the principal carer for her disabled mother. She was employed as a Senior Lending Manager (SLM) by Nationwide on a homeworker contract. When Nationwide decided that SLMs could no longer work at home on a full-time basis due to the need to provide effective on-site supervision, the employee could not comply and was subsequently dismissed.

An employment tribunal agreed that employees who care for disabled people were less likely to be able to be office-based than employees who do not have such caring responsibilities. As a result, carer employees (including the claimant) were at a substantial disadvantage because of their association with a disabled person.

Although employers can justify indirect discrimination (on non-discriminatory grounds), in this case, no such defence could be made out. Nationwide was fully aware of the employee’s mother’s disability and the disadvantage that she would suffer by the application of its requirement but did not take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage. The tribunal also took the view that the identified need to provide effective on-site supervision was in itself discriminatory and, in any event, Nationwide could achieve it through hybrid working.

 

Consider the facts; talk to your staff

The case serves an an important reminder that employers who seek to introduce new policies and procedures ought to, first, consider employees’ personal circumstances and, second, adopt the path of least disadvantage if their employees’ association with others with protected characteristics may place them at a significant disadvantage.

Referring specifically to the facts of this case, employers with staff with caring responsibilities will be wise to consider carefully whether an across-the-board policy can be justified and whether a less discriminatory approach may be used. Failure to do so will be at their peril.

2021-10-04T14:39:37+01:00Oct, 2021|

What if things go wrong?

Kate Matthews, partner at Boddy Matthews Solicitors, explains how to resolve disputes on a step-by-step basis.

Owning a franchise can be a fruitful business relationship where success for franchisor and franchisee is interdependent. Clear and effective communication is a key factor for that success.

It is therefore all the more important to swiftly address concerns arising during the course of this relationship, however big or small, to avoid potentially long lasting adverse damage to the relationship or at worst its ultimate early termination.

A well drafted and ethical Franchise Agreement, as promoted by the British Franchise Association (the bfa), and the European Code of Ethics for Franchising will contain a clear (Alternative) Dispute Resolution (ADR) clause. This clause will set out how to resolve disputes on a step by step basis.

How to choose? Which ADR step is best? What should I know?

Step 1: Communicate
Lack of communication may often be the root of a problem. Whilst some disputes cannot be avoided, many could be resolved through clear, open and effective communication. A cost effective solution may simply be to open that dialogue with your franchisor and together negotiate and work towards a resolution. This is often the first ADR step.

Step 2: Mediate
Mediation is a private, confidential and flexible form of ADR, facilitating the parties in reaching an agreement where possible. If the parties have agreed to mediate, discussions are carried out on a without prejudice basis. Therefore it is not binding unless the parties, with the help of a neutral third party Mediator, reach an agreement which is then recorded in writing and signed by all parties. A Mediation can include all aspects of the relationship and is not limited to the legal issues. A facilitative Mediation can with agreement become an evaluative Mediation if the parties so choose, where the Mediator can provide a solution which the
parties agree to honour. The franchise relationship can be preserved and it is cost effective. The BFA operate a mediation scheme.

Step 3: Arbitrate
Arbitration is more formal than mediation and an alternative to litigation. The parties agree to resolve their disputes through Arbitration not Court. Whilst it tends to follows a similar structure to Court proceedings, depending on the Arbitration rules applicable, it is a private process, confidential and binding. The parties choose and pay for the process and the arbitrator/s and their expertise. Arbitration is usually less expensive than litigation.

Step 4: Litigate
Litigation/Court proceedings is often the last resort. The parties follow Court Rules. An independent impartial Judge will make a binding judgment. Court fees apply but not for the Judge or venue.

So where does that leave me? Top tips!

• Avoid communication breakdown
• Seek an informal solution
• Negotiate
• Check the ADR clause and steps
• Check the governing law and jurisdiction
• Seek a solution using ADR

For further information and advice, please contact info@boddymatthews.com.

2021-09-24T16:30:55+01:00Sep, 2021|

Flexible work requests: Why employers must get these right

The recent case of a London estate agent who won damages in excess of £180,000 after her flexible work request was rejected, is of vital importance to both employers and employees. The case serves as a salutary reminder of why it is important to deal with flexible work requests cautiously, thoroughly and with an open mind.

Sometimes, less is more

In brief, the employee, a senior and successful sales manager in a small estate agency business, requested to come back from maternity leave on a 4-day week basis and to leave work at 5pm instead of 6pm on her working days. After considering a formal flexible work request, the employer rejected the request, relying on a number of permissible statutory grounds, including the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; and planned structural change.

The employee disagreed with her employer’s approach, raised an unsuccessful grievance and subsequently, resigned her positioned. She brought a large number of employment tribunal claims, including for direct maternity and pregnancy discrimination, indirect sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

In a lengthy and informative judgment, the employment tribunal rejected all of the employee’s claims bar one, namely the claim for indirect sex discrimination.

Importantly, the tribunal recognised that some of the employee’s complaints (which related to how she has been treated while pregnant and on maternity leave) may retrospectively read hostility into fairly innocent events. However, the tribunal was not side-tracked by this. Reviewing a large body of evidence and claims, it has done a very good job of “separating the baby from the bath water”.

Flexible work requests and sex discrimination

It is notable that while the flexible work request was at the centre of the employee’s complaints, she did not bring a claim under the flexible work request legislation. This is because such claims rarely succeed and are of limited value. Instead, the complaint and question for the tribunal was whether the rejection and its rejection amounted to indirect sex discrimination and, if so, whether the employer could rely on grounds for rejecting the complaint so as to justify any such discrimination. On the facts, the tribunal held that it could not.

While the tribunal lent some sympathy to the employer, it doubted the validity of the grounds on which the employer sought to rely. The tribunal felt that the employer’s grounds were not rooted in evidence and were the result of reluctance to change existing arrangements, rather than solid facts. Also, and crucial to the tribunal’s decision, was its finding that “notwithstanding an encouraging shift in societal attitudes, it is still the case that mothers are more likely to carry primary [childcare] responsibility than fathers”. With this in mind, and on the basis that the employer was unable to provide satisfactory evidence that the grounds for rejecting the employee’s complaint were genuine, the tribunal found for the employee.

Money, money, money

Awarding the employee £184,961.32 by way of compensation, the tribunal took into account the employee’s “sustained search for work”, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on her efforts and actual losses. The employee was compensated for losses spanning over some 20 months (of which 18 months preceded the hearing) and include pay in lieu of Furlough pay the employee was likely to have been paid had she remained at work.

There are no real winners in this case. The employer has to pay significant damages on top of legal fees and the loss of a valued and successful member of staff. The employee lost her livelihood and a career she enjoyed and excelled in. It is possible that if the parties had the chance to go back in time, they would have approached things differently. For those receiving flexible work request in future, we can only reiterate the advice to deal with such request cautiously, thoroughly and with an open mind.

 

2021-09-15T11:05:14+01:00Sep, 2021|

Furlough scheme extended to March 2021 – but is all as it seems?

As England entered into a second lockdown, the government abolished the (newly-created) Job Support Scheme and extended the Furlough scheme, until March 2021. 

The extended scheme has many similarities with the scheme first brought into place in March 2020, but a number of features, and possible developments, need to be born in mind.

Key Information on Extended Furlough

  • Under the Extended Furlough scheme the government will pay 80% of a Furloughed employee’s wages (capped at £2,500) for hours not worked. Employers can require employees to do some work, if they Furlough them on a flexible basis and pay their contractual wage for worked hours.  
  • At least until 31 January 2021, employer must pay the national insurance and employer pension contributions per Furloughed employee. From that date, the government may require employers to increase their contributions / payments under the scheme.
  • From 1 December 2020, employers may not bae able to use the Furlough grant to pay part of an employee’s notice pay (statutory or contractual). We await government decision on this point (which we hope will also clarify whether the prohibition is limited to notice pay where notice is given on or after 1 December 2020 only).
  • As the scheme was extended in a rush, employers were given the option of making claims going back to 1 November 2020, provided they reached an agreement with employees by 13 November 2020. Agreement reached after that date will not entitle employers to make backdated claims.
  • Also from December 2020, HMRC will publish the names and details of employers (companies and Limited Liability Partnerships) who have made claims under the scheme for the month of December onwards. This may be designed to deter certain employers from using the Furlough grant.

Steps for employers to consider

  • Due to the changes introduced in the extended scheme, it is advisable to review your Furlough agreement to ensure it provides you with the flexibility you may need as the scheme develops.
  • In some instances, the risk of not having to use the Furlough grant to cover part of an employee’s notice pay, may lead employers to bring forward potential redundancies.
  • Many businesses have learned important lessons from the first lockdown and aim to continue working and trading as much as possible. The option of flexible Furlough should therefore be taken on board, with appropriate and lawful selection and decision-making processes applied to minimise the risk of any claim by affected employees.
2021-08-26T16:42:52+01:00Nov, 2020|

Senior Manager Dismissed Fairly Despite the Absence of Any Procedure

A recent Employment Appeals Tribunal decision has confirmed an important principle of employment law: that in certain cases the dismissal of an employee without any procedure can be fair.

Generally speaking, unfair dismissal law requires employers to have both a “fair” reason for dismissal and to follow a “fair” dismissal procedure. There is an exception, however, where the employer contends – and can prove – that following a procedure would have been futile. This exception was successful in the recent case of Gallacher v Abellio Scotrail Limited.

The working relationship between Mrs Gallacher (a senior manager) and her own line manager broke down. Although the parties previously held two meetings to seek to resolve the disagreements, these were unsuccessful. Subsequently, during her annual appraisal, Mrs Gallacher was dismissed for lack of trust. Her claim for unfair dismissal failed as her employer was able to prove not only that a procedure would not have served any useful purpose, but also that it would have worsened the situation. This was a case where a continued good working relationship between Mrs Gallacher and her line manager was critical as the employer was going through a very difficult period. In addition, the evidence showed that Mrs Gallacher recognised the breakdown in relations herself and was not inclined to retrieve the situation.

The employment tribunal found the dismissal to be fair despite the absence of any procedure, and this was upheld by the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Although this case represents the exception from a well-established general rule, it serves as a helpful authority for cases where an employer has good grounds to believe that immediate termination of the employment, without adopting due process, is justified.

We would nevertheless recommend that you take specific legal advice on a case by case basis as each case will turn on its own particular facts and circumstances.

2021-08-26T16:42:00+01:00Sep, 2020|

Covid-19 – return to work trends and measures

As Covid-19 lockdown measures continue to ease (at least for the time-being), employers need to manage a proper and lawful return to work, alongside a raft of new legal and economic measures (e.g. flexible furlough, possible redundancies and the Job Retention Bonus).

Despite government encouragement (and likely new guidance), employers and employee appear in no rush to bring employees back to “base”. Many are still conducting risk assessments and employee consultation. Others are keen to implement longer-term flexible and home working arrangements.

A note of caution, however. While during the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown the Information Commissioner and Health and Safety Executive were willing to turn a blind-eye to elements of non-compliance, future non-compliance with data protection and health and safety requirements is unlikely to be excused as easily. Part of current return to work assessments must include compliance with data protection and health and safety requirements.

It is also important to bear in mind that the longer remote working continues the less “control” the employer has over work equipment (and passwords to such equipment); confidential information and contact with employees. Measures which may have been put in haste in March / April 2020 may no longer be suitable, and should be revised, going forward.

Bear in mind also that you may need to implement different arrangements to previously shielding employees who (in England) will be permitted outside their home from 1 August 2020. However, previously shielding employees will need to continue to maintain two metres distance (unlike others who may maintain a 1-metre distance from others provided suitable protective measures are in place). As a result, employers may need to make different arrangements for employees who previously shielded and are returning to work on or after 1 August 2020, than for non-shielding staff.

2021-08-26T16:41:12+01:00Jul, 2020|

Flexible Furlough Scheme – a quick reminder on how it works

From 1 July 2020, employers have been able to implement ‘flexible furlough’ under which employees can do some work for their employer, without employers losing the right to claim furlough pay in respect of the hours not worked by the employees. 

Thee new regime is complex and below is a summary of the key points. Employers who seek to implement flexible furlough should familiarise themselves with all guidance and information on the new regime.

  • Flexible furlough is only available in respect of employees who have been furloughed previously for at least three consecutive weeks in the period between 1 March and 30 June 2020.
  • There is no minimum or fixed requirements of pattern or working hours in relation to flexible furlough. And, unlike in relation to “normal” furlough which required employees to be furloughed for at least 3 weeks at a time, there is no minimum period for flexible furlough. However, claims can only be made in weekly increments.
  • Employers can claim a pro-rated amount of an employee’s 80% of salary, based on the proportion of hours not worked out of normal working hours. Calculation of “normal working hours” will vary depending on whether the employee is (normally) on fixed hours/pay or variable hours/pay. For employees with fixed hours/pay, the calculation is based on the number of hours worked in the pay period before 19 March 2020 (e.g. during the month of February if the pay period is monthly). For employees with variable hours/pay, the calculation is based on the higher of (i) the average number of hours worked in the tax year 2019-2020; or (ii) the average hours worked in the corresponding calendar period in the tax year 2019-2020 (e.g. for flexible furlough work in July 2020, look at the hours worked in July 2019).
  • For any hours which an employee works during flexible furlough, employers will need to pay wages, tax and NICs in the usual way.
  • Employers should submit data on the usual hours the employee would be expected to work in the relevant period, the actual hours for which the employee worked and the number of furloughed hours in the relevant claim period.
  • Employers should have a written agreement on flexible furlough arrangements with their employees. It is unlikely that a written record of a verbal agreement will be sufficient. The guidance also states that any flexible furlough agreement must be “consistent with employment, equality and discrimination laws.”
  • It is likely that holiday entitlement of employees working under a flexible furlough scheme will continue to accrue in the usual way.
2021-08-26T16:40:26+01:00Jul, 2020|

Furlough-specific directors’ liabilities – first arrest reported

With the Furlough scheme winding down and lockdown measures being eased, HMRC has announced plans to penalise company directors who intentionally breach the furlough scheme rules. 13 July 2020 saw the first reported arrest for Furlough fraud – Contractor UK reported the arrest of a business owner for a £495,000 Furlough fraud. The business’ bank account was frozen and computers and digital equipment seized.

It is predicted that HMRC will focus on the following three potential offences when carrying out checks:

  • Furlough wages obtained and not paid to employees (in full or in part);
  • Furloughed employees and directors worked during furlough; and
  • Employers coerced employees to work while on furlough.

Provisions on Furlough-related offences and HMRC powers will be made under the Finance Act 2020 (which is expected to come into force later this summer) and, as things stand, are expected to include:

  • Power to make company directors jointly and severally liable for penalties under the furlough scheme (even where a co-director was unaware of the fraudulent conduct in question);
  • HMRC powers to impose a 100% tax charge on anyone who misapplied furlough funds, e.g. used furlough funds not to pay employees, but to cover other business costs);
  • HMRC powers to impose a 100% tax charge on anyone who has received a payment under the scheme to which they were not entitled.

It is also anticipated (but yet to be confirmed) that, once the Act comes into force, employers will have a 30-day grace period in which to report maladministration or misuse of the Furlough scheme without being penalised.

The Finance Bill had its first reading on 2 July and its second reading – when a general debate on all aspects of the Bill take place and the remaining stages – is scheduled for 17 July 2020.

For advice on the Furlough scheme, please speak to Helen Boddy or Michal Stein at Boddy Matthews Solicitors.

2021-08-26T16:39:40+01:00Jul, 2020|

Furlough scheme changes – key dates for your diary

Late last month, the government announced changes to the Furlough Scheme. Having seen more than 8 million employee benefiting from the scheme, at an approximate cost of £15bn, a gradual scale down has been introduced.

Key dates of the revised scheme are as follows:

1 July 2020: The Flexible furlough scheme comes into effect. Under this scheme, employers can agree with employees any level of part-time working without the employee coming off the furlough scheme completely. Employers will have to pay (the contractual pay) to the employee for the hours actually worked. Pro-rata furlough pay will be payable by the government for hours on which the employee is not working (subject to existing and changing limits, see below). Flexible working can be done on a week by week basis for the purposes of the furlough claim. We will review the flexible furlough scheme in more detail in a forthcoming blog.

1 August 2020: from this date employers will need to pay employer NIC’s and pension contributions on Furlough pay.

1 September 2020:  from this date, government contributions will reduce by 10%. This means that the government will pay 70% of furloughed employee’s wages up to a maximum of £2,187.50 per month. Employers will have to make up the “lost” 10% of employee’s salary (up to £312.50) in addition to paying employer NIC’s and pension contributions. Failure to make the necessary top up could mean that employees are not validly furloughed (with potential claims from the employees and, possibly, HMRC).

1 October 2020: from this date, the employer must contribute 20% of the employee’s salary, i.e. up to £625.

31 October 2020: the furlough scheme ends.

2021-08-26T16:38:36+01:00Jul, 2020|

Covid 19 – conducting disciplinary and grievance procedures and hearings

One of the many difficulties that employers have been experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has been the day-to-day management of employees working from home in circumstances where the norm is no longer normal. However, businesses must survive and employees’ conduct and performance remains a critical issue.

With this in mind, ACAS has published guidance on conducting disciplinary and grievance procedures during the coronavirus pandemic. While the guidance has no legal force, in the event of a dispute, tribunals may take its content into account. This is a matter of some concern regarding employers with Furloughed employees as helpfully, ACAS takes the view that a Furloughed employee can still participate in a disciplinary or grievance investigation or hearing including if they are the person under investigation, chairing a hearing, acting as a companion or witness or taking a note, but somewhat unhelpfully, that participation must be voluntary.

In our opinion, matters are not as straightforward. For example, employers should not need an employee’s voluntary agreement to begin disciplinary proceedings, pandemic or not. We are also concerned that employees who act as companions, note takers or Chair during a hearing may be regarded as working by HMRC, which would be inconsistent with their Furlough status. The Employment and Tax regimes are separate and distinct and are not always aligned in their approach. We would, therefore advise caution, case by case assessment, reliance on established legal principles and the existing ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures as well as bespoke legal advice.

From our experience, it is possible to conduct disciplinary and grievance hearings during the Covid-19 lockdown, provided certain adjustments are made. We have advised on remote grievance hearings, online mediation and conducting virtual workplace investigations. Creative solutions are possible and can be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of employers and their workforce.

2021-08-26T16:37:54+01:00Jun, 2020|
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