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UK HR Two Minute Monthly: philosophical belief; equal pay; sexual harassment

Summary

Our February 2020 update outlines key UK employment law developments from January. It includes cases on ethical veganism as a philosophical belief, equal pay and the difficulties in defending such claims, the impact of the drafting of the employment contract on territorial scope, the EHRC’s technical guidance on sexual harassment in the workplace with practical steps employers can take to tackle harassment, and the FCA’s letter on non-financial misconduct for wholesale general insurance firms. We also outline other points of note, including the draft Parental Bereavement Leave Regulations 2020 and changes to the ICO guidance on the timescales for complying with a data subject access request.

Ethical veganism held to be a philosophical belief

An employment tribunal has found that a belief of ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The Claimant, a qualified zoologist and vegan since 2000, had worked in animal protection most of his working life. He adhered to the philosophy of the Vegan Society and exhausted all reasonable steps to ascertain whether a product or service complied with ethical veganism.

The tribunal noted that “ethical veganism” is not just about choices in diet, but also choices relating to what a person will wear, the personal care products they will use, their hobbies and their jobs. The tribunal also referred to the definition provided by the Vegan Society, “A philosophy and way of life which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation and cruelty to

UK HR Two Minute Monthly: religious discrimination; TUPE; IR35

Summary

Our first update of 2020 outlines key UK employment law developments over the last month. It includes cases on the definition of ‘employee’ under TUPE, the impact of a job evaluation survey in relation to equal pay, direct maternity discrimination, dress codes and religious discrimination, loss of privilege, and a recent tax tribunal decision on the application of IR35. We also outline other points of note, including the publication of the ICO’s new draft guidance on Subject Access Requests.

Dismissal violated employee’s freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR

The European Court of Human Rights has held that that an employee’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR was violated after he was dismissed for posting on a personal knowledge-sharing website.

The employee described himself in his website blogs as an expert in HR management who worked at a large bank, but did not mention his employer by name.

The employee argued that the termination of his employment breached his right to freedom of expression and appealed to the ECHR. The Court addressed four main questions when considering whether the right to freedom of expression had been infringed:

  • Nature of the speech – the Government argued that as the blog was only addressed to HR professionals (rather than to the public generally) Article 10 was not engaged. However, the ECHR noted that free speech does not only protect comments that demonstrably contribute to a debate on a public matter.
  • Motives of the author – in this case,
  • UK HR Two Minute Monthly: covert surveillance; holiday carry over; sexual orientation discrimination; interim relief

    Summary

    Our December 2019 update outlines the key UK employment law developments over the last month. It includes cases on covert surveillance, sexual orientation discrimination when there is no identifiable victim, harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the doctrine of state immunity as it applies to British civilians working in the UK for a foreign state, the test for interim relief in whistleblowing claims and the latest ECJ decision on holiday carry over in sickness absence cases. We also outline other points of note, including the Government’s response to the Women and Equalities Committee report into the use of NDAs in discrimination cases and an independent review of the international evidence on the impact of minimum wages.

    Covert CCTV surveillance to monitor workplace theft was not an infringement of employees’ right to privacy under Article 8 ECHR

    The European Court of Human Rights has held that the Spanish courts did not fail to protect the Article 8 ECHR rights of employees when they upheld their dismissals based on footage obtained from concealed cameras in the workplace.

    The employees worked as supermarket cashiers. An investigation was launched after significant stock discrepancies were identified, which included installing both visible and concealed cameras. Notices were put up in the supermarket to inform customers and staff that CCTV was being used, but staff were not told about the concealed cameras.

    The covert CCTV helped identify the five cashiers who were involved in the thefts and all were dismissed. Their unfair dismissal claims

    UK HR Two Minute Monthly: religious discrimination; third-party harassment; investigations

    Summary

    Our November update considers recent developments in employment law, including cases on religion and belief discrimination, third party harassment and investigations. We also outline other points of note, including the new EU Whistleblowing Directive and the EHRC’s Guidance on NDAs.

    Dismissal not unfair where in-house counsel recommended changes to investigation report

    The EAT has held that a dismissal was not unfair where a draft investigation report prepared by HR and an investigator was altered on the recommendation of in-house counsel.

    In this case, the in-house solicitor had advised the investigator to remove his evaluative opinions and conclusions of whether the employee’s conduct amounted to misconduct, and to limit the findings to whether there was a prima facie case to answer. This was on the basis that the conclusions should be left to the disciplinary panel that was subsequently appointed.

    The EAT upheld the Tribunal’s decision that the overall dismissal was still fair as there was no evidential material that had been withheld from the investigation report for review by the disciplinary panel.  As part of this decision, the EAT took into account that the appeal hearer (who was a barrister) reviewed the draft investigation reports and did not find that the report was changed in order to make the employee’s dismissal more likely, and no pressure had been applied to the investigators.

    Why this matters?

    This case is a useful reminder about the scope of the investigator’s role in a disciplinary procedure.  At the outset of an investigation, the

    UK HR Two Minute Monthly: whistleblowing; religion or belief discrimination; employment status

    October 9, 2019

    Categories

    Our October update considers recent developments in employment law, including cases on the whistleblowing public interest test, whether vegetarianism is a protected belief under discrimination law, and employment status. We also outline other points of note, including guidance published by the Banking Standards Board on regulatory references, the latest employment tribunal statistics and revised immigration arrangements in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

    Raising data protection concerns was sufficient to satisfy the whistleblowing public interest test

    The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that an employee was entitled to whistleblowing protection when she had a reasonable belief that alleged data protection breaches by her employer were in the public interest.

    The employee worked for a small charity which among other things supports victims of domestic violence. Due to performance concerns, the employee’s probationary period was extended. The employee subsequently raised concerns that, given the nature of the sensitive and confidential personal information she dealt with, the charity was in breach of data protection legislation by failing to provide her with her own mobile phone and also with secure storage facilities to hold client records. The employer subsequently terminated her employment on performance grounds. The employee brought a claim that she had been automatically unfairly dismissed for blowing the whistle.

    The employment tribunal found that the complaints raised by the employee were not in the public interest as they concerned her own contractual position, which prevented her from succeeding in her whistleblowing claim. However, on appeal, the EAT disagreed. The employment

    Asset Purchasers: Beware Bans on Salary History Inquiries

    When one employer purchases the assets of another and intends to employ some or all of the seller’s employees, it is very common for the asset purchase agreement to require the seller to disclose certain personnel information regarding those employees.  Often this disclosure includes such items as name, title, hire date, current salary, and other compensation and benefit information.  However, such provisions may violate state and local bans on salary history inquiries.

    To date, fourteen states and Puerto Rico have prohibited or restricted private sector employers from seeking information about a prospective employee’s past compensation.  In some of those states, employers are permitted to ask about compensation history only at a certain point in the hiring process.  But in most, employers are never allowed to seek this information.  Many local governments have also enacted their own bans.

    Colorado’s new statute is typical.  Effective January 1, 2021, it will be unlawful for employers to “seek the wage rate history of a prospective employee or rely on the wage rate history of a prospective employee to determine a wage rate.”  The statute defines “wage rate” broadly to mean (a) for hourly employees, the hourly rate plus the value per hour of all other compensation and benefits received, and (b) for salaried employees, the total of all compensation and benefits received.  Given the remedial purpose of the statute – to eliminate pay gaps based on gender and race – it is likely that courts will construe the statute broadly in favor of employees

    New Overtime Rule More Employer-Friendly Than Last Attempt

    Today, the U.S. Department of Labor finally announced its long-awaited changes to the regulations regarding overtime compensation. Effective January 1, 2020, the minimum salary required for most exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act will rise from $455 per week to $684 per week (or from $23,660 to $35,568 annualized). The minimum salary for the “highly compensated employee” exemption will rise from $100,000 to $107,432 per year.

    Additionally, employers will be permitted to use nondiscretionary bonuses and other incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to ten percent (10%) of the required minimum salary, as long as that compensation is paid at least annually. And if an employee fails to earn sufficient incentive compensation in a 52-week period to maintain “exempt” status, the employer may make up the shortfall (up to 10% of the minimum required salary) in a one-time payment in the first pay period after the end of the 52-week period.

    The “final rule” announced today is more employer-friendly than the Department’s last attempt to update the overtime regulations, which was enjoined by a federal court in 2016 before the changes could take effect. The final rule issued in 2016 would have raised the minimum salaries for exemption considerably higher, making an estimated 4 million workers eligible for overtime pay, and it would have provided for automatic increases in the salary thresholds going forward. The final rule announced today is predicted to make 1.3 million workers overtime-eligible and does not provide for any automatic adjustments in the future.

    Colorado Employees Lose it Over Use-It-Or-Lose-It Vacation Policies

    Colorado employees are pushing back against the recent decision allowing use-it-or-lose vacation policies in Colorado.

    In Nieto v. Clark’s Market, Inc., 2019 COA 98 (Colo. App. June 27, 2019), a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the Colorado Wage Claim Act does not prohibit employers from imposing conditions on the right to be paid for accrued but unused vacation upon termination.   In that case, the employer’s policy provided that terminating employees would not be paid for accrued but unused vacation if they were discharged or if they resigned with less than two weeks’ notice.  The Court held that the Wage Claim Act only requires payment of vacation that has been “earned in accordance with the terms of any agreement” and that employers and employees may agree to impose conditions on payment for accrued but unused vacation.  Therefore, under Nieto, use-it-or-lose-it vacation polices are now permissible in Colorado.

    Not surprisingly, employees (and their lawyers) are pushing back, focusing on two unanswered questions in the Nieto decision.

    Seizing upon the word “agreement” in the statute, some employees contend that Nieto applies only to actual contracts between the employer and the employee and not to policies unilaterally imposed by the employer.   The Court in Nieto expressly declined to address this issue because neither party had raised it.  While individual vacation agreements with each employee would be unwieldy and impractical in most cases, employers should at least consider ensuring that all employees have received a copy of the vacation policy –

    Client alert: the French Supreme Court validates the “Macron Grid” which caps damages awarded to employees in cases of unfair dismissal

    In two opinions dated July 17, 2019, the French Supreme Court confirmed that the so-called “Macron Grid” implemented by the French employment law reforms in September 2017 is compatible with Article 10 of Convention no. 158 of the International Labor Organization (“ILO”).

    Following diverging opinions and judgments from local French labor courts (e.g., Montpellier, Troyes, Lyon) on the validity of the Macron Grid, the French Supreme Court has received a request for its opinion from the Louviers and Toulouse labor courts to determine whether such Macron Grid is compatible with international laws.

    The Macron Grid (codified under Article L. 1235-3 of the French Labor Code) establishes a scale that applies to the determination by French judges of the compensation granted for unfair dismissal. It sets a minimum and a maximum amount based on the employee’s seniority and average gross salary: the minimum amount is one month’s salary for one year of service (0.5 months for companies with less than 11 employees); the maximum is twenty months’ salary for employees who have at least 29 years of service. Note that this grid does not apply if employees claim that their dismissal results from discrimination or harassment and they hence request that their dismissal be declared null and void.

    Certain labor courts have considered that the Macron Grid violates Article 10 of Convention no. 158 of the International Labor Organization (“ILO”) which provides that if judges rule that termination is unjustified, “they shall be empowered to order payment of adequate compensation or such

    Colorado Employers Face New Employment Laws

    With Colorado’s return to one-party control, Colorado employers face a spate of new employment laws. Employers in Colorado should review their practices, policies, and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with these new laws.

    Colorado Chance to Compete Act—“Ban the Box” Legislation: Under the new law, an employer may not state in an advertisement or application that a person with a criminal history may not apply to the position. The employer also may not inquire about or require the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history in an initial application. The law takes effect on September 1, 2019, for employers with 11 or more employees, and September 1, 2021 for employers with fewer than 11 employees.

    Equal Pay for Equal Work Act: The law prohibits an employer from discriminating between employees on the basis of sex by paying an employee of one sex a wage rate less than the rate paid to an employee of a different sex for substantially similar work, regardless of job title. The law also prohibits an employer from seeking or relying on a prospective employee’s wage rate history to determine a wage rate. Finally, employers may not prohibit employees from discussing their wage rates. The law takes effect January 1, 2021.

    Criminal Penalties for Wage Violations:  Employers who willfully refuse to pay a wage claim or falsely deny the validity of a wage claim over $2,000 may be liable for felony theft. The penalty for theft ranges from $50 to $1,000,000 depending upon the

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