16 October 2015 by

Employment Update

The Rugby World Cup 2015: a meeting of minds, muscles and mauls

For all the enthusiasm it generates, the tournament is another workplace distraction for employers to manage. Time off to watch matches; calling in sick to nurse a hangover. The reality is that entire workforces are being swept up in the excitement and businesses are having to try and keep up.

That is unless you’ve got a strategy worked out! For lots of employers, this means tackling the issues head-on: letting staff know what is and isn’t acceptable, and dealing properly with those who abuse the rules. But perhaps the real winners are those employers who recognise that this is an event that’s bound to spark interest and which has the potential to boost staff morale. They know it’s once every four years, and this time it’s very close to home, so they get involved. But if you do have an issue, let us know!

October changes

October (along with April) is always a significant month for employment law. It’s when changes often take effect. These include, from 1 October 2015:

  • An increase in the National Minimum Wage from £6.50 to £6.70 per hour for those aged 21 and over. (For workers aged between 18 and 20, it rises to £5.30 per hour and for 16 and 17 year olds it’s £3.87 an hour. The apprentice rate is £3.30 an hour).
  • A ban on smoking in cars in England. Smoking in any private vehicle is now prohibited if there are any passengers under the age of 18. It’s worth looking at your policies on smoking and company cars in light of this change.
  • Sikh workers who wear turbans will be exempt from wearing safety helmets in all workplaces and not just on construction sites, as was the previous rule. There are a few situations in which this exemption won’t apply.

Fair dismissal for Facebook comments – British Waterways Board v Smith

Lastly, it is worth mentioning another case emphasising the rise of social media issues at work. Mr Smith worked for British Waterways. He was found to have posted derogatory comments about his supervisors on Facebook. He had also claimed, 2 years before the issues came to light, that he had been drinking alcohol while on standby duty. He was dismissed for gross misconduct. For the employer, it was a ‘trust and confidence’ issue.

The Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal was unfair – specifically, it felt that dismissing Mr Smith was outside the band of reasonable responses. His employer hadn’t factored in any mitigation, including his length of service. The comments had also been made quite a while earlier and, in the years since, Mr Smith had shown that he could be trusted. There hadn’t been any more Facebook comments about drinking while on standby duty, and no issues raised by Mr Smith’s supervisors.

But the Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed. The Employment Tribunal had substituted its own views for the employer’s. The Facebook entries had been made, there had been a reasonable investigation, the employer had lost confidence in Mr Smith, and there was a fair procedure. As such, the only proper conclusion could be that the dismissal was fair.

So, a lesson for employers and employees alike – social media comments linger and can potentially be a fair basis for dismissal years down the line. For employers, the important thing is to get the investigation, procedure and conclusions spot on. And to have a social media policy that makes clear what is unacceptable.

For help and advice on any of these issues, please contact one of our solicitors in the Employment team here.

2 October 2015 by Timothy Lucas

The Strength of the Majority

A recent case in the Court of Appeal has clarified the extent to which majority shareholders in a company can […]

9 October 2015 by

It’s time to pay up…

The process of leasehold enfranchisement provides a flat owner with the opportunity to extend the term of their lease, or […]

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