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):
A link to an article on the BBC News App about Mr O’Leary’s comments can be found below:
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:
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:
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:
We’re still in the month January and the issue of serious disparities in pay between the sexes raises its ugly head once again. I’ve said it before; but I’ll say it again: we’ve had over 40 years of legislation in the UK (first the Equal Pay Act 1970 and now the Equality Act 2010, not to mention EU primary and secondary legislation) which should have put the issue to rest.
The Equality Act 2010 incorporates an equality clause into contracts of employment which means that employers have a duty to ensure that men and women are paid on equal terms for carrying out like work; work rated equivalent; and work of equal value.
It’s hard to believe that the groundbreaking decision of the Court of Justice of the EU in Case 43/75 Defrenne v Sabena (No 2)  ECR 455 was in the 1970s and here we are, entering the second decade of the 21st Century, still talking about the issue of equal pay – or the lack of it.
There is a depressing familiarity to stories in the UK media about the lack of progress regarding this issue. This is surprising because successful equal pay claims can be be very costly in financial terms for employers. In 2019, after Glasgow City Council female employees won their battle for equal pay, there was much speculation about how the employer was going to pay the bill. One of the (seemingly) more dramatic predictions was that the City Council would have to sell Salvador Dali’s world famous painting Christ of St John of the Cross in order to meet its legal obligations to its underpaid female employees. Susan Aitken, the City Council leader, was forced to issue a denial that this was a possibility. When you realise that the estimated value of Dali’s painting starts at £60 million you begin to get an idea of the scale of the problem.
That said, some years ago, Birmingham City Council was forced to sell its share in the National Exhibition Centre in order to meet the (awesome) financial burden of thousands of equal pay claims . The price achieved was £307million – although 3 years later, the asset was sold once more for an eye watering figure of £800 million (allegedly).
Recent research carried out by the English law firm, Slater+Gordon, suggests that women fail to gain pay increases because they are not negotiating with their employers about this issue. Campaigning groups, such as Close the Gap, are firmly of the opinion that the onus should not be placed on women to push for equal pay; rather it should be the responsibility of the State and/or employers to achieve this goal. There has to be real cultural change in society and women need to be valued more if the gender gap is to become a thing of the past.
Links to articles in The Independent about the equal pay research that Slater+Gordon Solicitors carried out can be found below:
And if you remain unconvinced about ingrained gender bias in the corporate world generally, you will find a link below to research carried out by The Independent which demonstrates how many leading tech companies suffer from the lack of women in leadership roles:
We’re barely into 2020 and we seem to be on something of a roll with stories about sex discrimination. Yesterday, I discussed the issue of equal pay.
Only this morning I was flicking through the newspaper and came across another story, this time, concerning pregnancy discrimination.
Helen Larkin was dismissed from her post with the Liz Earle Beauty Company on the grounds of her pregnancy. Her employer was restructuring the company and refused to consider Ms Larkin for two alternative posts within the organisation. This refusal to consider suitable, alternative employment appeared to be motivated by the fact that Ms Larkin would shortly be going off on her period of maternity leave.
This treatment amounted to unlawful direct discrimination in terms of Sections 13 and 18 of the Equality Act 2010. Her dismissal would also be automatically unfair in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Consequently, Ms Larkin was awarded over £17,000 in compensation. This sum, of course, reflects an element to injury to feelings (the so called Vento Bands or Guidelines). In fact, Ms Larkin was awarded £10,000 in compensation to reflect injury to feelings.
A link to the judgement of the Employment Tribunal can be found below:
A study carried out jointly by the UK Government Department (Business, Innovation and Skills) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission previously discovered that some 54,000 women per year in this country were forced out of their employment for reasons related to pregnancy and/or maternity.
A link to a summary of the research on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission can be found below:
Again, as I noted in yesterday’s Blog (New Year, same old story …), we have had anti-discrimination laws in the UK for nearly 45 years and yet we still regularly hear stories about pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Readers might be interested to learn about the work of a pressure group (Pregnant then screwed) whichcampaigns to end the ‘motherhood penalty’:
It’s becoming depressingly predictable: the persistence of the gender pay gay in the United Kingdom.
This time last year, I was discussing with my students the struggle that City of Glasgow Council female employees were undertaking to win their claims for equal pay. After a period of industrial action, the women finally won their struggle:
We’ve just entered 2020 and it seems as if nothing much has changed in the wider world (more on this later).
Theoretically, the gender pay gap should be a thing of the past. We have had legislation in place for nearly 45 years in this country: the Equal Pay Act 1970 (which came into force in December 1975) and the current Equality Act 2010.
An info graphic which shows the number of Employment Tribunal cases in the UK involving equal pay claims (2008-2019) can be seen below:
True, the above figures show the number of equal pay claims in overall decline – effectively being halved (from a high of over 60,000 in 2008 to just over 30,000 in 2019); but my riposte to that would to say still too many.
In today’s edition of The Independent, new research, carried out by the Institute of Public Policy Research, indicates that female General Practitioners (physicians for our overseas readers) are paid up to £40,000 less than their male colleagues every year.
For each £1 that a male colleague earns, a woman earns 35 pence less. To reinforce this point, the article states that female GPs are effectively providing their services free of charge between September and December every year.
In language of the Equality Act 2010, the female GPs are carrying out ‘like work’ when comparing themselves to their male colleagues. There seems to be absolutely no lawful justification for this disparity in pay between the sexes.
A link to the article in The Independent can be found below:
The equal pay laws imply a sex or gender equality clause into every person’s contract of employment. Employers therefore have a legal duty to ensure gender equality in relation to terms and conditions of service.
It seems pretty simple, so why isn’t it happening in 2020?
An explanation for this situation in the medical profession has centred around the development of a ‘two tier’ system whereby more men are partners in GP surgeries whereas a large number of women take on the role of a salaried GP. Women tend to become salaried GPs because they feel that this allows them to work flexibly around their family commitments. So, again, what we appear to be seeing is women being penalised because they are trying to balance work and family (the so called ‘motherhood’ penalty).
Also on this day …
And purely by coincidence another equal pay story …
… Samira Ahmed, BBC journalist, wins her Employment Tribunal claim for equal pay (see below):
Thanks to @tchickphoto for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 🎁
Scanning through the papers today for news worthy stories, I found myself looking across the sea (the Irish Sea to be precise) and it was there that I stumbled upon an interesting article in The Irish Times.
Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that I have a particular interest in the areas of discrimination and employment law and this story ticked both boxes.
A female supermarket delicatessen worker was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment on an almost daily basis by one of her male co-workers. The dreadful treatment appears to have started less than a month after the woman commenced her employment (May 2018). Her manager (a man) was fully aware of the situation, but did nothing to put an end to her ordeal. In fact, he witnessed one of the brazen attempts by her tormentor and made a joke of it. This joke involved comments about people from Limerick. I have to say as someone who has Limerick ancestry, I felt pretty insulted when reading the manager’s gratuitous comment.
A link to the story in The Irish Times can be found below:
The woman complained about the situation, but she was not informed about the progress of this by her employer. Eventually, the woman felt that she had little choice but to resign from her employment. This could be viewed as the last straw – her employer’s conduct having led to a complete breakdown in their relationship. It might be said that the implied duty of trust and confidence on the part of the employer had been completely shattered.
In the UK, we would, of course, recognise this situation as one of constructive (unfair) dismissal in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010 (she was being subjected to discrimination/unlawful less favourable treatment on the grounds of her sex).
When the woman’s formal complaint was submitted, her employer did move her male colleague to a different location within the supermarket (the storeroom), but he went absent on sick leave shortly afterwards.
The whole experience was extremely distressing for the woman who has now been awarded €20,000 in compensation.
Again, readers in the UK will make the obvious comparison with our Vento scale (or bands) for compensation for victims of discrimination. The sum awarded to this woman would fall into the middle band in the UK (£8,800 to £26,300).
A link to an article about the current UK Vento scale or bands can be found below:
Anyone with a background in discrimination law who reads the article from The Irish Times about this story will immediately recognise the terminology used. The women alleged that her co-worker’s behaviour “was a violation of dignity in that it created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for her.”
Such a statement reflects the language of the European Commission’s Code of Practice on Measures to combat sexual harassment. This Code was first formulated as far back as 1991 and has now been largely implemented into the legal systems of EU member states. The Republic of Ireland is, of course for the time being, one of our fellow EU member states and Irish anti-discrimination practitioners will be readily familiar with the terminology. For many years, Employment Tribunals and UK courts routinely used the Commission’s Code of Practice when dealing with cases which involve allegations of sexual harassment.
Current UK law on harassment in the workplace is contained primarily in the Equality Act 2010. More seriously, acts of harassment can also be a criminal offence.
A link to a guidance published by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission concerning sexual harassment in the workplace can be found below:
The Conciliator appointed by Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission, an independent statutory body created by Oireachtas – both Houses of the Irish Parliament, concluded that the woman’s employer had “failed to put appropriate measures in place to stop this harassment and sexual harassment from occurring or to reverse its effects”.
The Conciliator also noted that “the supermarket failed to conclude its investigation and make a decision is the most egregious flaw in the process.” The employer tried to justify this failure by saying that, as a matter of natural justice, it could not conclude the investigation because the male colleague had since left Ireland to return to his country of origin. The Conciliator stayed that the employer made this decision “at the expense of the complainant and closure for her of this appalling experience”.
Employers, please take note: failing to follow basic grievance procedures contained in the employment contract can have serious and expensive consequences. Such a failure on your part can contribute to the breakdown of the relationship with the employee and may very well open the door to claims for constructive dismissal against you.