• Safety fears in the workplace due to COVID

We are now beginning to see more COVID related cases coming through the tribunal system.

In a recent case, an employee felt uncomfortable commuting and attending work during the lockdown and asked to be placed on furlough.  His job could not be done from home – the business distributed PPE and so was very busy.  The employee was told he could take holiday or unpaid leave.

The employee asked three more times and then was dismissed after the final request.

His dismissal was not held to be unfair – he had failed to properly explain to his employer what his actual concerns were and simply demanded to work from home or be placed on furlough.

This case is not binding as it is a tribunal decision but it is a reminder that the pandemic alone will not justify an employee refusing to attend work.  An employer will however have to listen to the employee’s concerns and try to see how the concerns can be accommodated before considering dismissal as an option.

It is also worth noting that in a separate case, an employee who was dismissed because he raised concerns regarding lack of PPE and a COVID secure workplace was found to have been unfairly dismissed.  The employer did not help their case by dismissing him by text message and also telling him to just ‘shut up and get on with it!’.

  • Can you fairly dismiss an employee if you find them drinking in a pub when on sick leave?

You would hope so.  An employee on sick leave was seen by a colleague drinking at a social club.  The colleague reported this to the managing director.  When asked, the employee said he had been in bed all day.

He was invited to a disciplinary hearing alleging dishonesty and breach of company regulations but was dismissed for breach of trust and dishonesty. 

The dismissal was however held to be unfair because the employer had not carried out a reasonable investigation and had not followed a fair process.  For example, the witness who took the initial complaint chaired the hearing when it should have been someone independent.  The tribunal also took account of the fact that there was nothing in the disciplinary procedure saying that an employee could not go to the pub when off sick.

The important lessons here are to follow a fair procedure and to review your policies.

  • Equal paid leave for all parents

Later this year John Lewis will be introducing what is possibly the UK’s first equal parental pay policy.  Enhanced pay will be offered to all employees who have been with the company for a year when they have a baby – this will apply regardless of how they became a parent.

They will also be advertising all job vacancies with a flexible working option unless there are operational reasons why this is not possible.

  • Tribunal claims

Latest tribunal statistics show that in the last quarter 9,100 claims were received  – this is a 13% decrease in the same period from last year and tapering off from the large rise seen towards the end of last year.

There are however 44,000 outstanding cases.  11,000 claims were disposed of in the same period – the majority of these disposals (24%) were settled via ACAS, 18% were withdrawn, 17% dismissed upon withdrawal, 11% were successful at a hearing and 9% were struck out.

  • New Workers Watchdog

The government has announced in its latest consultation response a new body to protect worker’s rights, with the main aims on tackling modern slavery, ensuring payment of the national minimum wage, and protecting agency workers.

The watchdog will have more flexibility with sanctions to deal with a whole range of noncompliance by employers and will help businesses understand the rules by providing best practice guidance.

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