Muslim, male, and single: don’t fly with us!

Photo by Kevin Hackert on Unsplash

Michael O’Leary, the motor mouth CEO of Ryanair, could never be accused of being a shrinking violet or one to shy away from a fight. As they say in Ireland: that one would cause trouble in an empty house.

The latest controversy to engulf Mr O’Leary concerns accusations of racism, religious discrimination and, indeed, sexism. Quite a charge sheet. He has suggested that single, males of the “Muslim persuasion” should be turned away from plane flights because “this is where the threat is.”

Ryanair is an Irish airline, but it services a large number of European destinations and many of its customer base will be single Muslim males who have quite lawful travelling plans.

Ryanair is a popular (I probably meant busy) airline that flies to and from destinations in the UK and many of British citizens are, of course, Muslim.

Mr O’Leary’s comments could potentially fall foul of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to direct discrimination (Section 13) on the grounds of the following protected characteristics:

  • Religion (Section 10)
  • Sex (Section 11)

Now the Muslim faith is not a racial characteristic, so where could the accusations of race possibly arise? Well, if you are applying a criterion to your customer base, it could have a disproportionately adverse effect on certain groups within the population. Muslims are much more likely to be found amongst non-White British and Irish UK citizens. Indirect discrimination any one? (see Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010)

There’s also the small matter of European Union law (yes, in the UK we continue to follow these rules throughout the Brexit transition period) and Mr O’Leary’s comments could represent a breach of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (primary legislation) and Equal Treatment Directives (secondary legislation).

There may be one get out for Mr O’Leary: if he can show that his comments were an objective (don’t laugh) and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end. National security and health and safety concerns do, potentially, fall into this category, but Mr O’Leary’s approach to dealing with terrorism might be regarded as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut i.e. totally over the top and disproportionate. Section 192 of the Equality Act states:

A person does not contravene this Act only by doing, for the purpose of safeguarding national security, anything it is proportionate to do for that purpose.

Mr O’Leary may not be too concerned about the latest furore surrounding his comments – after all, as a fellow Irishman (Oscar Wilde) once remarked: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

In fairness to Mr O’Leary he has since apologised for his remarks, but the Muslim Council of Britain has condemned his comments (made in an interview with The Times).

Many Muslims have logged on Twitter their negative experiences of flying (see below):

#flyingwhilstMuslim

A link to an article on the BBC News App about Mr O’Leary’s comments can be found below:

Michael O’Leary: Ryanair boss criticised for Muslim profiling comments

The Ryanair boss says Muslim men should be profiled at airports because “that is where the threat is”.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 February 2020

You’ve got (e)mail! … or will I ever get out of this place?!!!

Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

Email can be a wonderful form of communication. It can also be, quite frankly, something of a curse for many employees and workers. Essentially, you’re never too far away from the work-place and bosses/clients/service users expect to receive an instant reply.

The expectation by bosses and managers that employees and workers should be monitoring their emails (constantly) does tend to be a contributory factor in the rising number of cases of work-related stress. Employers: please note that you have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment and part of this obligation includes monitoring unacceptably high levels of stress in the work-place.

There is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that UK employees suffer from some of the longest working hours in Europe. In 2019, data from the EU’s Eurostat Agency seemed to support this contention but, interestingly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a more sceptical approach by questioning the method of data collection (the old adage about lies, damned lies and statistics springs to mind here).

Links to a BBC article about this issue and the Eurostat figures (and OECD response) can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49795179

https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/tps00071/default/table?lang=en

https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/international-productivity-gaps_5b43c728-en;jsessionid=c_2XYmRNoOJLRgHdT0TJPQqs.ip-10-240-5-115

UK employees are, of course, entitled to receive a written statement of the main terms and particulars of their employment as per Section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This statement must contain a provision which addresses the employee’s normal weekly working hours.

Despite Brexit (which did occur on 31 January 2020 – in case you missed it), the UK is still following EU rules until the end of this year … One EU Law with particular relevance to this debate is the Working Time Directive ((2003/88/EC) which was transposed into UK employment law by way of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

In theory, the Directive and the Regulations cap the number of hours that employees (and workers) can work at 48 hours per week (technical point: this figure can be averaged out over a reference period – 17 weeks normally). Crucially, however, UK employees and workers can opt out of the 48 hour maximum by signing a declaration (opt-out) that they wish to do so. If they change their minds, they are entitled to do so by giving the employer a minimum seven days’ notice (or in certain cases – 3 months) of this intention.

The legal rules on working hours are all very well in theory, but what about the culture of organisations which may (at an informal level) promote the idea that long hours spent at work (or just working) are a sure fire way to get ahead in your career?

This is where the influence of email (and other instant messaging services) can be quite insidious (pernicious even?). Employees feel under pressure to deal with this work load at weekends, during holidays and evenings. Parents of young children and carers of elderly relatives, who may have negotiated flexible working arrangements, may be under acute pressure to deal with emails etc when they are outside the work-place. In this way, the work-place becomes like the Eagles’ song, Hotel California (‘You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!‘).

Interestingly, in some of our ex-EU partner countries, there have been initiatives at both the organisational and legal level to curb the smothering influence of email outside the work-place.

There is a real danger here for employers that, by encouraging employee use of email outside working hours, it may constitute a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) – no matter how informal – which could open themselves up to accusations of indirect discrimination on grounds of sex (women are still the primary carers for children and elderly dependents) and disability (by reason of a person’s association with a disabled person) in terms of Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010.

Furthermore, employees might feel that they are under constant surveillance by the employer because it becomes easier to keep tabs on individuals when they are logging in and out of the company’s IT network. For employers, this could lead to legal challenges from employees who are concerned that the right to privacy and family life as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been violated.

Is there a better way of doing things? Yes, is the short answer.

In 2011, the German multinational car manufacturer, Volkswagen (VW) introduced major changes to its working practices by curbing the use of emails when employees were off duty. This agreement was negotiated by the company and trade union/labour organisations.

In France, in August 2016, they went further and passed the El Khomri Law (named after the French Government Minister for Labour who introduced the proposal). This law gave employees a right to disconnect from email. In one particular case which involved the French arm of the British company, Rentokil, an employee was awarded €60,000 because his right to disconnect from email had been breached.

Links to stories about the changes to VW’s working practices and the French El Khomri Law can be found below:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/01/british-firm-ordered-pay-60000-french-court-breaching-employees/

The debate about the right of employees to disconnect from email – whether this is negotiated via some sort of collective agreement or underpinned by law – now seems to have penetrated the British consciousness. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, one of the leading contenders for leadership of the British Labour Party has thrown her hat into the ring by backing a trade union campaign to introduce a legal right to disconnect in the UK.

One small problem: the Labour Party lost the last British General Election on 12 December 2019 to the Conservatives and is, therefore, in no position to deliver. Over to you Prime Minister Johnson? (a man fond of the populist gesture).

A link to an article in The Independent about Rebecca Long Bailey’s support for the trade union campaign to introduce a law guaranteeing the right to disconnect can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.110220/data/9327866/index.html

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/23/a-hard-days-night/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-work-life-balance-or-utopia-reimagined/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/22/stress-kills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/11/employment-contracts-read-them-or-weep/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 11 February 2020

Biased blood?

Photo by LuAnn Hunt on Unsplash

Yesterday, I tuned into Jeremy Vine’s daily show on BBC Radio 2 while out in the car and happened to catch an interesting discussion about potential discrimination and blood donation.

Ethan Spibey was a guest on the show and he was discussing his campaign to make it easier for gay and bisexual men to make regular blood donations. Mr Spibey is involved in a campaigning organisation called Freedom to Donate.

Readers of this Blog will be aware that I often discuss examples of actual or potential discrimination in terms of the Equality Act 2010.

Mr Spibey’s contribution to the Jeremy Vine show got me thinking about an issue – to which I readily confess hadn’t featured much on my radar previously: was the requirement or condition imposed by the NHS in this country making gay or bisexual men abstain from sex for 3 months before they are permitted to give blood an example of discriminatory treatment?

A link to Freedom to Donate’s Twitter account can be found below:

https://twitter.com/FreedomToDonate

The discussion about restrictions on who can give blood got me thinking: would this be an example of direct and/or indirect discrimination in terms of Sections 13 and 19 respectively of the Equality Act 2010?

Direct discrimination occurs when someone experiences unlawful, less favourable treatment because they possess a protected characteristic (in this situation: sexual orientation).

As we shall see, gay and bisexual men are certainly placed at a distinct disadvantage in regarding the current restrictions on blood donation when comparing their situation to that of heterosexuals.

The National Health Service (NHS) is also applying a practice criterion or policy (PCP) which has a disproportionately adverse effect on men who are gay or bisexual.

Section 19 of the Equality Act defines indirect discrimination in the following terms:

A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.’

Section 19(2) makes it very clear what it is meant by a discriminatory provision, criterion or practice in relation to a relevant protected characteristic:

(a) A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,

(b) it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,

(c) it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and

(d) A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

In 2017, to much fanfare, NHS England announced that the previous 12 month abstention period for gay and bisexual men had been reduced to the current period of 3 months.

A link to a press release from NHS England can be found below:

https://www.blood.co.uk/news-and-campaigns/news-and-statements/blood-donation-rules-have-changed/

NHS Scotland also operates a similar approach as can be seen from the link below (click on the section entitled Sexual relations):

https://www.scotblood.co.uk/giving-blood/can-i-give-blood/

Apparently, all blood donors are asked about their sexual orientation as part of the screening process. However … if you are a gay or bisexual man, then you are asked further questions about your sex life.

Needless to say this requirement does not apply to individuals whose stated sexual orientation is heterosexual.

Now, Ethan Spibey conceded that the paramount duty of the NHS was to ensure the safety of blood donations, but he was firmly of the view that heterosexuals could pose just as much of a threat to the health and safety of the beneficiary.

Are gay and bisexual men suffering as a result of a hangover from the 1980s when the fear of AIDS and HIV was omnipresent as the rather grim public information film from the time demonstrates?:

The current approach to blood donations, as campaigners like Mr Spibey would argue, results in a blanket policy which has a disproportionately adverse effect on gay and bisexual men. A person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 12 of the Equality Act 2010.

Health and safety can be used as an objective justification to defeat claims of discrimination, but it must be a credible defence. Do gay and bisexual men represent a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation’s blood supply? Clearly, the scientific evidence would have to be objective and credible to sustain this argument.

After listening to Mr Spibey, I was left with the impression that the scientific evidence for treating this group of people differently might not be so clear cut.

A link to a discussion on the BBC website about the issue can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48598461

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 6 December 2019