The American approach

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

Equal justice under law?

On Monday 15 June, 2020, the US Supreme Court issued a very important ruling (Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia (Case 17-1618)) that there can be no discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation or that they have (or are undergoing) gender reassignment. An attempt by an employer to dismiss a gay person or a transgender person will be an example of unlawful discrimination.

Surprise, surprise you might say: what took the Supreme Court so long?

Such discriminatory behaviour, the US Supreme Court has now declared, is a breach of Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act 1964 (which was enacted by Congress as part of President Lyndon B Johnson’s Great Society programme).

And this is where the American approach to the issue of discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation differs quite markedly from the UK.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 states that it is:

unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

From a British legal perspective, the word “sex” in Title VII of the American legislation is problematic when applied to discrimination involving a person’s sexual orientation.

Why?

Quite simply, in the UK, we would understand the word “sex” in discrimination law as applying to an individual’s gender whether they are male or female; or identify as being male or female.

A link to the US Supreme Court’s judgement can be found below:

https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf

A link to an article on the BBC website about the judgement can be found below:

US Supreme Court backs protection for LGBT workers

Readers of this blog might not regard the US Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia as in any way unusual. After all, in the United Kingdom and across the EU 27 member states, laws have been in place for a considerable period prohibiting unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Although the UK has now left the EU, the legislation protecting the LGBTI communities remains very much in place – by way of the Equality Act 2010 and other legislative instruments such as Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (primary legislation) and numerous Regulations and Directives (secondary legislation). The provisions in the Equality Act are, of course, an example of Westminster legislation and will remain hardwired into our legal system – for the time being at least.

The continuing status of European Treaty Articles, Regulations and Directives (in relation to the laws of the UK) will, of course, be up for debate when the Brexit transition period ends, as expected, on 31 December 20020.

The Equality Act 2010

Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010 addresses the issue of a person’s sexual orientation. This is a protected characteristic under the Act and means a person’s sexual orientation towards:

  • persons of the same sex
  • persons of the opposite sex
  • persons of either sex.

Sexual orientation discrimination: the historical perspective

Before 1 December 2003, in the United Kingdom, it was not unlawful to discriminate against an employee or potential employee by reason of that person’s sexual orientation. The situation changed dramatically with the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. The relevant law now being contained in the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits less favourable treatment on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation generally and such protection is no longer confined to the field of employment.

It should be noted, of course, that the Employment Equality Regulations were primarily brought into force to introduce protection for gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people. If, on the other hand, you were heterosexual, you were very unlikely to face discrimination in the work place due to your sexual orientation. 

The primer for this change to the law in 2003 was the European Union’s Employment Equality Directive (as a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam 1999) which meant that the UK, as a member state, had to introduce legislation in order to guarantee that people who had suffered less favourable treatment in relation to employment had a form of legal redress. The Employment Equality Regulations 2003 (and now the Equality Act) implemented this duty on the part of the UK.

Employment Equality Directive was limited in its scope because it applied (unlike the more expansive Racial Equality Directive) to just two sectors: employment and vocational training.

Sexual orientation not sex

It is perhaps now instructive to examine the failure of UK laws to provide protection to individuals who suffered sexual orientation discrimination prior to the Employment Equality Regulations coming into force.

In Macdonald v Advocate General for Scotland and Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School [2003] UKHL 34, the House of Lords held that discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation was not covered by existing UK equality laws (specifically the area of sex or gender discrimination then contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975).

Macdonald was dismissed from the Royal Air Force because he was homosexual or gay. Pearce, a teacher, had suffered an ongoing campaign of harassment while working at Mayfield School because she was a lesbian. Both Macdonald and Pearce claimed that the treatment that they had suffered was an example of direct sex discrimination. 

Both claims failed because the treatment suffered by both individuals was an example of direct discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation – not because of their sex or gender. At the time of this appeal to the House of Lords, discrimination in employment on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation was not prohibited by UK equality laws.

In its judgement, the House of Lords drew attention to the ironic fact that a new equality law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination would soon be introduced, but this admittedly would be too late for Macdonald and Pearce! Small comfort indeed!

Had the cases occurred today, the employers would be liable for direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in terms of Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010.

The perspective of the Court of Justice

Before the European Union’s Employment Equality Directive, the Court of Justice had been reluctant to lay the basis for greater legal protection in relation to a person’s sexual orientation.

In Case C-249/96 Grant v South West Trains Limited [1998] ECR I-621, Lisa Grant had argued that the failure by her employer to extend a concessionary ttavel scheme (worth £1,000 per year) to Gillian Percey, her same sex partner, with whom she had been in a stable relationship for more than 2 years, was an example of unlawful, less favourable treatment. The employer permitted heterosexual spouses (including common law spouses of more than 2 years standing) to enjoy the benefit of the travel scheme. Grant’s predecessor in the post had been male and his female partner had benefited from the travel scheme.

Grant chose her male predecessor as her comparator as part of an equal pay claim. It is important to appreciate that Grant was bringing her claim as a sex or gender discrimination legal action. Although Advocate General Elmer was broadly supportive of the couple’s claim that they had suffered discrimination under what is now Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the Equal Treatment Directive, the Court of Justice decided not to follow this Opinion.

The Court stated that two men in a same sex relationship would have been treated in exactly the same way as Grant and Percey by the employer. South West Trains did not wish to extend concessionary travel to same sex partners of employees and, currently, there was nothing unlawful about this policy as neither UK or EU equality laws prevented discrimination by reason of a person’s sexual orientation. At the time that this case was decided, it should be appreciated that same sex relationships in the UK were not legally recognised in terms of civil partnership or marriage – such legal recognition was still some way away.

To come back full circle, the European Union would, of course, later redress the situation with the Employment Equality Directive which led to the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 into UK law. Had these Regulations been in force when Lisa Grant commenced her legal action against South West Trains, these would have given her and Gillian Percey significant legal protection from the discriminatory action of her employer. Admittedly, this was scant consolation for them and thousands of other same sex couples who experienced less favourable treatment in employment.

The European Convention on Human Rights

The provisions of the Convention have been implemented into Scots law via the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998 which means that an individual will enjoy substantial legal protection in relation to his or her sexual orientation. Article 8 of the Convention places a duty on a public authority to have respect for a person’s private life. Fuirthermore, Article 14 of the Convention confers a general right on individuals not to be subjected to discrimionation. Employers who are defined as a public authority will have to ensure that they comply with these provisions. Private employers will also have to be aware of these provisions because there is nothing to stop an employee bringing a discrimination claim against the UK Government if some loophole exists which permits the employer to behave less favourably towards them on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Interestingly, in Macdonald v Advocate General [2003] (discussed above), the employee did attempt to argue that his dismissal by the Royal Air Force, by reason of his sexual orientation, was a breach of the European Convention, but this argument failed because the Convention had not yet been implemented by the Westminster Parliament.

Today, of course, Macdonald would have a very strong claim against his employer for the treatment that he had suffered. Although the war may ultimately have been won, this was a battle that the unfortunate Macdonald would lose.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/05/25/the-love-that-dared-not-speak-its-name/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/02/the-only-gay-in-the-village/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/04/pansexual/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/31/civil-partner-i-do/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/08/different-standards/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/06/biased-blood/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 16 June 2020

The love that dared not speak its name

Thanks to @ChouetteLaura for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 🎁

Every day is supposedly a school day and I have just learned that, 125 years ago today, Oscar Wilde, Victorian poet and novelist, began a sentence for 2 years’ imprisonment for the crime of gross indecency in terms of Section 11 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1885.

This was the culmination of several legal actions in which Wilde had become embroiled in order to end speculation about his sexual orientation. Although married and being the father of two children, Wilde had a secret: he was a gay man living in a very hostile environment.

It was such a hostile environment that Professor Dominic Janes of Keele University (and author of Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900) (University of Chicago Press, 2016) states that:

“Britain had some of the strongest anti-homosexuality laws in Europe … The death penalty was in place until 1861 [the last execution took place in 1835]. In general, one of the main images of what we’d call a gay or queer man was a sexual predator of younger men. Many people would have also been informed by religious arguments from the Old Testament.”

When Wilde’s ‘sexual transgressions’ with a number of younger men were finally exposed in court due, in a large part, to the work of a private detective, he didn’t really stand a chance against the ensuing moral outrage of Victorian society.

The trials and eventual prison sentence would ruin Wilde financially and reputationally – for good (or so it seemed at the time).

More information about the trials of Oscar Wilde can be found in an article which appeared in The Independent to mark the 125th anniversary of his downfall.

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.250520/data/9525296/index.html

The long and winding road

If Victorian society was uniformly unforgiving and scornful of Wilde in 1895, contemporary British society has certainly rehabilitated his reputation. There is now almost universal agreement that Wilde was the victim of oppressive laws and social attitudes.

Wilde himself would probably be astounded at the amount of progress that members of the LBGTQI community have made in the intervening 125 years.

I’m also sure that he would be delighted to know that he is still the focus of discussion in 2020 (“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”).

It has been a a long and winding road for members of the LBGTI community to achieve legal recognition and protection.

Before the introduction of the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, society (and particularly the work-place) could be very hostile for LGBTI people (see Macdonald v Lord Advocate; Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School [2003] UKHL 34).

Admittedly, the UK was (and still is in spite of Brexit) a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In particular, Article 8 of the Convention recognises the right to family and private life. It was this Article which was used to overturn extremely restrictive laws on same sex relationships which existed in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Reinforcing Article 8 is Article 14 of the Convention is Article 14 which contains a general prohibition on discrimination.

The late 1960s are often referred to as the key period of the start of gay liberation in the UK with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexual relationships between consenting adults (aged 21 or over) and as long as such conduct was in private. What is often overlooked is that the 1967 Act applied to England and Wales only. The picture was very different (and would remain so for over a decade – sometimes longer) in various parts of the British Isles.

Homosexual relationships were decriminalised in Scotland in 1980; in Northern Ireland in 1982; the UK Crown Dependency of Guernsey in 1983; the UK Crown Dependency of Jersey in 1990; and the UK Crown Dependency of the Isle of Man in 1994. The age of consent was set at 21 for all these parts of the British Isles; then reduced to 18; and then finally 16 years of age. Societal attitudes had moved on and the law had to follow.

In the last 20 years, the influence of the European Union has also been particularly profound regarding measures to combat sexual orientation discrimination. In spite of Brexit, there is a large body of anti-discrimination law which has been bequeathed to us as a result of our membership of the European Union.

In 1999, as a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the EU adopted two Directives which considerably expanded the scope of its anti-discrimination laws (the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) and the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC). Of particular interest to this discussion is the Employment Equality Directive which made it unlawful to discriminate against a person on grounds of sexual orientation. Admittedly, this Directive was limited because it covered the areas of employment and vocational training only.

This body of law is not just going to disappear overnight when the transitional period for Brexit ends (as currently anticipated by the UK Government) on 31 December 2020. As I often remark, European Union has become hardwired into the various legal systems of this disunited Kingdom.

Indeed, a person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010. Such individuals should not be subjected to direct discrimination (Section 13); indirect discrimination (Section 19); harassment (Section 26); and victimisation (Section 27).

Even greater strides towards equality were ushered in as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 which would give legal recognition (and protection) to gay and lesbian people who chose to enter such relationships. These rights would be further underpinned by permitting same sex couples to marry (in England and Wales in 2013 and in Scotland in 2014). Northern Ireland finally legalised same sex marriage in 2020.

When Oscar Wilde was serving part of his sentence in Reading Gaol (which inspired his Ballad of the same name) he could hardly have contemplated life as we know it in 2020.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/02/the-only-gay-in-the-village/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/04/pansexual/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/31/civil-partner-i-do/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/08/different-standards/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/06/biased-blood/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 May 2020

No Blacks, No dogs, No Irish!

The title of this Blog refers to the not so distant past when discrimination was an accepted feature of life in the United Kingdom. In the 1950s and 1960s, these types of signs were routinely displayed in the windows of hotels, boarding houses and guest houses in the United Kingdom. They were blatantly racist, but completely legal.

It wasn’t just an unwillingness by White British landlords to rent rooms or properties to Afro-Caribbean and Asian families especially, ethnic minorities were often actively discouraged from purchasing properties in White neighbourhoods.

In 1968, Mahesh Upadhyaya, a young Asian immigrant to the UK, mounted legal challenge in respect of a refusal by a white British builder to sell him a house. It was the first time that anyone could do this. Mr Upadhyaya was able to do this because the Race Relations Act 1968 had just come into force. Although Mr Upadhyaya’s claim was ultimately dismissed on a technicality, the action generated a lot of publicity and greater awareness of the existence of anti-discrimination legislation amongst the British public.

A link can be found below which provides more information about Mr Upadhyaya’s story:

https://eachother.org.uk/racism-1960s-britain/

Even in the 1970s, you could still have a popular television sitcom called Love Thy Neighbour which dealt with the trials and tribulations of an Afro-Caribbean family moving into a white neighbourhood. If you watch it today, you can only cringe at the racist attitudes and name calling on display (see below) – you have been warned!:

https://youtu.be/mGesyvKfAOA

This was the post-War period when Britain was suffering from acute shortages of labour and the solution adopted by successive Governments was to encourage immigration from former colonies such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the British Caribbean islands.

Today, with the Equality Act 2010 firmly in place, it’s unthinkable that this type of blatant discrimination in housing could or would still take place. From time to time, however, stories are reported in the British media which highlight blatant racial discrimination in housing, but most people would now recognise that this type of behaviour is completely unlawful (see link below):

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/nov/08/landlord-ban-coloured-tenants-unlawful-court-rules-equality-watchdog

‘No DSS’ tenants

With this historical background, it was with some interest that I read recently about a number of legal actions (which had resulted in out of court settlements) where landlords had refused to let properties to certain individuals. These refusals had nothing to do with the racial backgrounds of prospective tenants, but the cases usefully demonstrate that letting properties can still be something of a legal minefield for landlords.

If the prohibition regarding Asian, Black and Irish people was an example of direct race discrimination (now in terms of Sections 9 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010), what about a prohibition which states ‘No DSS’ tenants? This term refers to individuals who are in receipt of State benefits such as Universal Credit whereby their rent is effectively paid by the Government.

At first you might be forgiven for thinking how such a prohibition could infringe equality laws, but dig a little deeper and think things over. The prohibition is a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) imposed by the landlord. Admittedly, people receiving State benefits are a hugely varied group: they will encompass men and women; White and Black and Minority Ethnic individuals; disabled and non-disabled people; heterosexual and LGBTI individuals; and people with religious/ philosophical beliefs and those with none.

This is to miss the point: could such a PCP be an example of indirect discrimination by reason of a protected characteristic in terms of Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010?

The answer seems to be yes: it would seem that more women than men are adversely affected by the prohibition ‘No DSS’ tenants. In other words, the prohibition is an example of indirect sex discrimination. Indirect discrimination can be understood in basic terms as hidden barriers which lead to unlawful, less favourable treatment.

Landlords may argue that they are not intentionally discriminating against women, but this is precisely the effect of their unwillingness to let properties to people receiving State benefits.

In 2017, the UK Supreme Court clarified the meaning of indirect discrimination in Essop v Home Office; Naeem v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] UKSC 27:

  • There is no obligation for a complainant with the protected characteristic to explain why the PCP puts her at a disadvantage when compared to other groups;
  • Indirect discrimination does not (unlike direct discrimination) have to demonstrate necessarily a causal link between the less favourable treatment and the protected characteristic. All that is required is a causal link between the PCP and the disadvantage suffered by the complainant and her group.
  • Statistical evidence can be used to demonstrate a disadvantage suffered by a group, but a statistical correlation is not of itself enough to establish a causal link between the PCP and the disadvantage suffered;
  • The PCP may not necessarily be unlawful of itself, but it and the disadvantage suffered must be ‘but for’ causes of the disadvantage. Put simply, if the PCP was not there, the complainant and her group would not suffer the detriment.
  • The PCP itself does not have to disadvantage every member of the complainant’s group e.g. some women may be able to comply with it, but , critically, more women than men cannot.
  • The pool of individuals to be scrutinised to assess the impact of the disadvantage should include everyone to which the PCP applies e.g. all those receiving State benefits whether they are negatively affected or not.

A link to the Supreme Court’s judgement can be found below:

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0161-judgment.pdf

Conclusion

It looks as if the phrase ‘No DSS’ may be consigned to the history books along with the more notorious example of ‘No Blacks, No dogs, No Irish’. Speaking of dogs: a general ban on these animals might constitute another example of indirect discrimination as individuals who are visually impaired (a disability) may be less likely to be able to comply as they rely on their guide dogs.

Links to stories about the legal challenges to the PCP of ‘No DSS’ tenants can be found below on the BBC News App:

Landlords who say ‘no DSS’ breaking equality laws

“No DSS” landlords who turn down housing benefit claimants risk breaching equality laws.

Legal victories over ‘No DSS’ letting agents

Two single mothers win out-of-court settlements against letting agents refusing benefit claimants.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/04/there-aint-nothin-goin-on-but-the-rent/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/09/boxing-clever/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/21/sickness-absence/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/08/20/beardy-weirdy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/21/indirect-discrimination/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 April 2020

Pay day?

Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

One of the most important common law duties that an employer has under the contract of employment is to pay wages to the employee.

This duty, of course, is contingent upon the employee carrying out his or her side of the bargain i.e. performing their contractual duties.

The right to be paid fully and on time is a basic right of any employee. Failure by employers to pay wages (wholly or partially) or to delay payment is a serious contractual breach.

Historically, employers could exploit employees by paying them in vouchers or other commodities. Often, these vouchers could be exchanged only in the factory shop. This led Parliament to pass the Truck Acts to prevent such abuses.

Sections 13-27 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (which replaced the Wages Act 1986) give employees some very important rights as regards the payment of wages.

The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (and the associated statutory instruments) and the Equality Act 2010 also contain important provisions about wages and other contractual benefits.

There are a number of key issues regarding the payment of wages:

  • All employees are entitled to an individual written pay statement (whether a hard or electronic copy)
  • The written pay statement must contain certain information
  • Pay slips/statements must be given on or before the pay date
  • Fixed pay deductions must be shown with detailed amounts and reasons for the deductions e.g. Tax, pensions and national insurance
  • Part time workers must get same rate as full time workers (on a pro rata basis)
  • Most workers entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage or the National Minimum Living Wage (if over age 25) (NMW)
  • Some workers under age 19 may be entitled to the apprentice rate

Most workers (please note not just employees) are entitled to receive the NMW i.e. over school leaving age. NMW rates are reviewed each year by the Low Pay Commission and changes are usually announced from 1 April each year.

It is a criminal offence not to pay workers the NMW and they can also take (civil) legal action before an Employment Tribunal (or Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland) in order to assert this important statutory right.

There are certain individuals who are not entitled to receive the NMW:

  • Members of the Armed Forces
  • Genuinely self-employed persons
  • Prisoners
  • Volunteers
  • Students doing work placements as part of their studies
  • Workers on certain training schemes
  • Members of religious communities
  • Share fishermen

Pay deductions?

Can be lawful when made by employers …

… but in certain, limited circumstances only.

When exactly are deductions from pay lawful?:

  • Required or authorised by legislation (e.g. income tax or national insurance deductions);
  • It is authorised by the worker’s contract – provided the worker has been given a written copy of the relevant terms or a written explanation of them before it is made;
  • The consent of the worker has been obtained in writing before deduction is made.

Extra protection exists for individuals working in the retail sector making it illegal for employers to deduct more than 10% from the gross amount of any payment of wages (except the final payment on termination of employment).

Employees can take a claim to an Employment Tribunal for unpaid wages or unauthorised deductions from wages. They must do so within 3 months (minus 1 day) from the date that wages should have been paid or, if the deduction is an ongoing one, the time limit runs from the date of the last relevant deduction.

An example of a claim for unpaid wages can be seen below:

Riyad Mahrez and wife ordered to pay former nanny

Equal Pay

Regular readers of the Blog will be aware of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to pay and contractual benefits. It will amount to unlawful sex discrimination if an employer pays a female worker less than her male comparator if they are doing:

  • Like work
  • Work of equal value
  • Work rated equivalent

Sick Pay

Some employees may be entitled to receive pay from the employer while absent from work due to ill health e.g. 6 months’ full pay & then 6 months’ half pay. An example of this can be seen below:

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

This is relevant in situations where employees are not entitled to receive contractual sick pay. Pre (and probably post Coronavirus crisis) it was payable from the 4th day of sickness absence only. Since the outbreak of the virus, statutory sick pay can paid from the first day of absence for those who either are infected with the virus or are self-isolating.

Contractual sick pay is often much more generous than SSP

2020: £95.85 per week from 6 April (compared to £94.25 SSP in 2019) which is payable for up to 28 weeks.

To be eligible for SSP, the claimant must be an employee earning at least £120 (before tax) per week.

Employees wishing to claim SSP submit a claim in writing (if requested) to their employer who may set a deadline for claims. If the employee doesn’t qualify for SSP, s/he may be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance.

Holiday Pay

As per the Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended), workers entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday entitlement (usually translates into 28 days) per year (Bank and public holidays can be included in this figure).

Some workers do far better in terms of holiday entitlement e.g. teachers and lecturers.

Part-time workers get holiday leave on a pro rata basis: a worker works 3 days a week will have their entitlement calculated by multiplying 3 by 5.6 which comes to 16.8 days of annual paid leave.

Employers usually nominate a date in the year when accrual of holiday pay/entitlement begins e.g. 1 September to 31st August each year. If employees leave during the holiday year, their accrued holiday pay will be part of any final payment they receive.

Holiday entitlement means that workers have the right to:

  • get paid for leave that they build up (‘accrue’) in respect of holiday entitlement during maternity, paternity and adoption leave
  • build up holiday entitlement while off work sick
  • choose to take holiday(s) instead of sick leave.

Guarantee payments

Lay-offs & short-time working

Employers can ask you to stay at home or take unpaid leave (lay-offs/short time working) if there’s not enough work for you as an alternative to making redundancies. There should be a clause in the contract of employment addressing such a contingency.

Employees are entitled to guarantee pay during lay-off or short-time working. The maximum which can be paid is £30 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period – so a maximum of £150 can be paid to the employee in question.

If the employee usually earn less than £30 a day, s/he will get their normal daily rate. Part-time employees will be paid on a pro rata basis.

How long can employees be laid-off/placed on short-time working?

There’s no limit for how long employees can be laid-off or put on short-time. They could apply for redundancy and claim redundancy pay if the lay-off/short-term working period has been:

  • 4 weeks in a row
  • 6 weeks in a 13-week period

Eligibility for statutory lay-off pay

To be eligible, employees must:

  • have been employed continuously for 1 month (includes part-time workers)
  • reasonably make sure you’re available for work
  • not refuse any reasonable alternative work (including work not in the contract)
  • Not have been laid-off because of industrial action
  • Employer may have their own guarantee pay scheme
  • It can’t be less than the statutory arrangements.
  • If you get employer’s payments, you don’t get statutory pay in addition to this
  • Failure to receive guarantee payments can give rise to Employment Tribunal claims.

This is an extremely relevant issue with Coronavirus, but many employers are choosing to take advantage of the UK Government’s Furlough Scheme whereby the State meets 80% of the cost of an employee’s wages because the business is prevented from trading.

Redundancy payments

If an employee is being made redundant, s/he may be entitled to receive a statutory redundancy payment. To be eligible for such a payment, employees must have been employed continuously for more than 2 years.

The current weekly pay used to calculate redundancy payments is £525.

Employees will receive:

  • half a week’s pay for each full year that they were employed under 22 years old
  • one week’s pay for each full year they were employed between 22 and 40 years old
  • one and half week’s pay for each full year they were employed from age 41 or older

Redundancy payments are capped at £525 a week (£508 if you were made redundant before 6 April 2019).

Please find below a link which helps employees facing redundancy to calculate their redundancy payment:

https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-redundancy-pay

Family friendly payments

Employers also have to be mindful of the following issues:

  • Paternity pay
  • Maternity Pay
  • Shared Parental Pay
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Adoption Pay
  • Bereavement Pay

Employers can easily keep up to date with the statutory rates for family friendly payments by using the link below on the UK Government’s website:

https://www.gov.uk/maternity-paternity-calculator

What happens if the employer becomes insolvent and goes into liquidation?

Ultimately, the State will pay employees their wages, redundancy pay, holiday pay and unpaid commission that they would have been owed. This why the UK Government maintains a social security fund supported by national insurance contributions.

An example of a UK business forced into liquidation can be seen below:

Patisserie Valerie: Redundant staff ‘not receiving final pay’

Up to 900 workers lost their jobs when administrators closed 70 of the cafe chain’s outlets. Disclaimer:

Conclusion

Payment of wages is one of the most important duties that an employer must fulfil. It is also an area which is highly regulated by law, for example:

  • The common law
  • The Employment Rights Act 1996
  • The Working Time Regulations 1998
  • The National Minimum Wage Act 1998
  • The Equality Act 2010
  • Family friendly legislation e.g. adoption, bereavement, maternity, paternity

Failure by an employer to pay an employee (and workers) their wages and other entitlements can lead to the possibility of claims being submitted to an Employment Tribunal. The basic advice to employers is make sure you stay on top of this important area of employment law because it changes on a regular basis and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/30/2020-same-old-sexism-yes-equal-pay-again/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/10/new-year-same-old-story/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/13/inequality-in-the-uk/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/31/the-gender-pay-gap/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/05/the-gender-pay-gap-part-2/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/26/ouch/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/20/sexism-in-the-uk/

Thttps://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/30/paternity-leave/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 5 April 2020

Welcome to Austria?

Photo by rashid khreiss on Unsplash

Willkomen (welcome) to Austria? Not if you’re Italian or someone travelling across the Austro-Italian frontier last weekend.

Why? The dramatic escalation of Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks in Italy is the short answer.

The Austrian Government is very nervous about this and took emergency action by, arguably, suspending free movement provisions – if only briefly. On Sunday 23 February 2020, the Austrian authorities refused entry to its territory of a train coming from Italy for several hours. The Italian railway authorities had informed their Austrian counterparts that at least two of the passengers were exhibiting signs of a fever. The Austrians were taking no chances. The train was eventually permitted to cross the frontier.

The crisis is far from over with controls between Austria and Italy being currently considered by the Government in Vienna to deal with this public health issue.

A link to an article about this incident can be found below:

https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-austria-briefly-halts-trains-from-italy-over-covid-19-concerns/a-52493063

What are the legal implications of an EU member state suspending freedom of movement rules?

Italy and Austria are both member states of the European Union and free movement of persons is a key provision or fundamental freedom of the EU’s Single Market. Both countries are also part of the Schengen Agreement (from which the UK opted out whilst in the EU) which allows visa free travel between participating states. This Agreement has seen the abolition of frontier controls, to a a greater or larger extent, in many parts of Europe.

The imposition of frontier controls between EU member states is not a measure which is considered lightly.

Freedom of movement is a right which is fundamentally based on a person holding EU citizenship (or being related to a person who has citizenship). As Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which establishes the concept of citizenship states:

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.

Article 21 TFEU declares in the following terms:

Every citizen of the [European] Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and by the measures adopted to give them effect.”

These freedom of movement provisions would be meaningless and ineffective if EU citizens faced discrimination on the grounds of their nationality in the host member state. Article 18 of the TFEU prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality (see Case 197/84 Steinhauser v City of Biarritz).

According to Article 45(5) TFEU, the free movement provisions can be derogated from i.e. disregarded on the following grounds:

  • Public security
  • Public policy
  • Public health

For its part, the Italian Government has since publicly stated that it will not be reintroducing frontier controls as an emergency measure to combat the spread of the Coronavirus:

https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/italy-refuses-to-suspend-schengen-agreement-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/

Attempts by member states to derogate or withdraw from the free movement provisions will not be automatically approved and the affected individuals will always be able to challenge such restrictions in the national courts or, ultimately, before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (see, for example, Cases 115-116/81 Adoui & Cornaille; Case 41/74 Van Duyn v Home Office; Case 36/75 Rutili v Minister of Interior).

In 2009, Geert Wilders, the far right Dutch politician was refused entry to the UK because the British Government argued that his presence in the country could undermine public safety by harming race and cross-community relationships. Wilders had made a short film, Fitna, which was highly critical of Islam. He had intended to present a showing of his film at the Westminster Parliament.

Please see a link below to an article in The Guardian about the incident involving Wilders’ attempted visit to the UK:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/feb/12/far-right-dutch-mp-ban-islam

The freedom of movement as originally given to EU (EEC) citizens in the Treaty of Rome had an emphasis on permitting free movement of workers and other economically active individuals. This was perhaps understandable given the labour shortages in certain EU/EEC member states immediately after the Second World War. The postwar economies of France and Belgium, in particular, benefited from hundreds of thousands of economic migrants coming from their partner state, Italy.

Although the UK was not, at this point, a member state, it faced many of the same challenges as the Six EU/EEC Founding Members, but British recruitment of labour would centre on the former (and existing) colonies of its Empire e.g. from the Caribbean (the so called ‘Windrush Generation’).

Some of the most important decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) about free movement were about removing the barriers which prevented foreign (EU/EEC) nationals working or providing services in another member state (see Case 59/85 Netherlands v Reed (workers); Case 2/74 Reyners v Belgium (services); & Case 246/89 Commission v UK (Nationality of Fishermen) (establishment)).

Under the original Treaty of Rome (now to be found in the TFEU), EU citizens could take advantage of the free movement provisions by going to other member states to receive services: education, health and tourism (see Case 286/82 Luisi v Ministero del Tesero) – and many did just that.

Later, the CJEU would cement these rights by permitting family members of workers to claim entitlement to the free movement provisions of the Treaty of Rome.

That said, the freedom of movement provisions really only began to take on the dimensions of European citizenship as recently as the early 1990s after the stormy passage of the Maastricht Treaty (or the Treaty on European Union).

Underpinning the rights of free movement for individuals which are contained in primary legislation (the European Treaties) and decisions of the CJEU is the Citizens’ Directive (Directive 2004/38). This Directive really spells out (in a concrete way) the rights which EU citizens enjoy, namely, entry, residency, exit and the right to pursue employment opportunities in other member states.

Directive 2004/38 (Articles 4-14) also updated the older Directive 1612/68 (Articles 1-5) which guaranteed equal treatment and non-discrimination in employment to EU nationals residing and working in another member state.

Conclusion

The EU’s freedom of movement rules for its citizens and their dependants is a part of its fundamental law. A member state which derogates or withdraws from these rights does not do so for flimsy or superficial reasons. The TFEU does permit member states to suspend free movement provisions, but such action is always subject to the threat of possible legal action by the affected individuals; fellow member states and enforcement action by the European Commission.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 February 2020

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

Safe spaces?

Photo by Sanmeet Chahil on Unsplash

Another day in the toxic debate over proposals to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Yesterday’s blog entry (Hate crime?) addressed the issue of limits on freedom of speech and expression in relation to extending transgender rights.

Today, the UK media is focusing on remarks made by Labour leadership contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Ms Long-Bailey expressed her support for changes to the current Gender Recognition Act which would permit transgender women to gain access to institutions such as refuges for women who have experienced domestic violence at the hands of men.

As Mr Justice Knowles acknowledged in Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) Chief Constable of Humberside [2020] EWHC 225 (Admin), the debate over transgender rights can be summarised as follows:

On one side of the debate there are those who are concerned that such an approach will carry risks for women because, for instance, it might make it easier for trans women (ie, those born biologically male but who identify as female) to use single-sex spaces such as women’s prisons, women’s changing rooms and women’s refuges. On the other side, there are those who consider it of paramount importance for trans individuals to be able more easily to obtain formal legal recognition of the gender with which they identify.

Knowles J went on to remark:

I should make two things clear at the outset. Firstly, I am not concerned with the merits of the transgender debate. The issues are obviously complex. As I observed during the hearing, the legal status and rights of transgender people are a matter for Parliament and not the courts. Second, the nature of the debate is such that even the use of words such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ is difficult. Where those words, or related words, are used in this judgment, I am referring to individuals whose biological sex is as determined by their chromosomes, irrespective of the gender with which they identify. This use of language is not intended in any way to diminish the views and experience of those who identify as female notwithstanding that their biological sex is male (and vice versa), or to call their rights into question.

A group within the British Labour Party, Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, has published a 12 point charter to push through changes to UK equality laws. Other women’s groups, such Women’s Place UK and the LGB Alliance, are bitterly opposed to this campaign.

Long-Bailey admitted that her position could set her at odds with many female members of the Labour Party who are deeply resistant to such developments. Many feminist opponents of reform to the current gender recognition rules have been given the acronym, TERF, or Trans- exclusionary radical feminists.

Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010, but the legislation exempts women only refuges which currently exclude transgender women (i.e. those who were born male, but have undergone gender reassignment to become female). Although excluding transgender women would normally be regarded as an example of direct discrimination in terms of Section 13 of the Act, Parliament has provided the defence of objective justification. This means that permitting women only spaces in this instance – caring for the female victims of male domestic violence – is an example of a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Conclusion

Much of the opposition to reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 appears to centre around proposals, in both England and Scotland, to permit individuals to self-identify in terms of their chosen gender without the need to go through physical changes. At the moment, anyone wishing to change gender must obtain a gender recognition certificate which will only be granted after the conclusion of the appropriate medical procedures.

It will, therefore, be for legislators in the UK and Scottish Parliaments to determine how far reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and, by extension the Equality Act 2010, will go. In the months to come, expect plenty of passionate arguments on both sides of the debate to be aired publicly.

A link to an article in The Independent discussing Ms Long-Bailey’s interview with Andrew Marr can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.170220/data/9338316/index.html

Related Blog Article:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/16/say-what-you-want-continued/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 17 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

Swiss surprise?

Photo by Chris Johnson on Unsplash

Last week I wrote a Blog about Stonewall’s list of 100 most inclusive UK employers for LGBTI people. The article summarised the advances in terms of the range of legal protection that the LGBTI communities now enjoy. From protection against discrimination in employment to same sex marriage, the turnaround in fortunes from a persecuted minority to part of the mainstream has been truly remarkable.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The Great Gatsby once remarked that “Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end.”

Today, the Swiss voted in a referendum to introduce laws which would extend protection from discrimination to LGBTI people. The proposal attracted support from 63% of Swiss voters and, finally, begins to bring the country into line with many of its neighbours who happen to EU member states. Switzerland is not part of the EU and, therefore, is not under any obligation to implement European laws which combat sexual orientation discrimination.

Critics of the Swiss proposal stated that the proposal was unnecessary because the country’s constitution already protected LGBTI individuals (and the country is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights). There were also concerns about what the proposal might mean for freedom of speech. Clearly, a majority of voters did not share these concerns.

Switzerland has a reputation for being a relatively conservative society (with a small ‘c’). After all, it was only in 1991 that the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden finally permitted women to have the right to vote in cantonal elections. In federal (national) elections, woman had been given the right to vote since 1971.

We often forget this has been an incremental or gradual process in the UK and it did not happen overnight. Therefore, it is not advisable to be for British people to be smug or to have feelings of superiority about this issue. It was, after all, as recently as 2003 that the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were implemented by the then Labour Government of Tony Blair. For the first time in UK employment law, LGBTI individuals were protected from discrimination in employment and training. This important law, critically, did not cover the provision of services and it was with the passage of the Equality Act 2010 that this area was eventually covered.

A link to an article on the BBC News app about the story can be found below:

Switzerland votes in favour of LGBT protection bill

Related Blog Article:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/02/the-only-gay-in-the-village/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 9 February 2020

Bad hair day

Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

It never ceases to amaze me that employers and service providers fall foul of arbitrary codes or policies which they impose on employees and service users. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware of previous articles covering discrimination or less favourable treatment which arises because employers or service providers issue generalised guidelines which discriminate against individuals because they happen to have certain hairstyles or wear beards or jewellery.

It is this lack of awareness that often leads to legal action in terms of the Equality Act 2010. By imposing a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) across the board, employers and other organisations could be setting themselves up for a fall specifically in relation to Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010. This part of the Act makes indirect discrimination unlawful i.e. it is an example of prohibited conduct by reason of a person or a group possessing a protected characteristic such as race or religion (Sections 9 and 10 respectively)

Since the introduction of the Race Relations Act 1976 (now repealed by the Equality Act 2010), we have seen a number of well known cases involving indirect discrimination being determined by Courts and Tribunals. So, you would think by now that employers and other organisations would have learned the lesson by now – apparently not as we shall see shortly.

In short order, such bans or generalised restrictions may infringe religious and cultural expression and may not only be a breach of the Equality Act, but could also represent a breach of human rights laws under the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Over the years, groups such as Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs and Rastafarians have brought successful legal actions for indirect discrimination on grounds of race and/or religion (see Mandla v DowellLee [1982] UKHL 7). Being Jewish or Sikh can be both a religious and a racial identity.

Taking all of the above on board, I was really interested to read a story in The Independent this weekend which highlighted the problems of schools imposing dress codes on pupils. I thought: haven’t we been here before and why does no one seem to learn?

The story in question involves Ruby Williams who was “repeatedly sent home from Urswick School in Hackney, East London because she had Afro hair”. The school seems to have reacted with gross insensitivity to the youngster by informing her that her hairstyle was a breach of school uniform policy and that it could “block other pupils from seeing the whiteboard”.

Ruby and her family took legal action against the school (with the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and she has since been awarded an out of court settlement of £8,500. The settlement figure clearly reflects the distress which she has suffered and the fact that all this trouble took place when she was studying for her GCSE exams (remember the Vento Guidelines anyone?). Ruby’s father is a Rastafarian and he has often stressed to his daughter the cultural, racial and religious significance of Afro hairstyles.

Apart from indirect discrimination which the school’s policy has caused to Ruby Williams, she may well also have had a claim in terms of Section 13 (direct discrimination) and Section 26 (harassment) of the Equality Act 2010 for being singled out in this way by the school authorities.

Perhaps the staff and Governors of the school might find it appropriate to undertake an equality awareness course at the next in-service day?

It is always open to an employer or service provider to show that although indirect discrimination has taken place, it can be objectively justified e.g. on national security grounds or health and safety reasons (e.g. Singh v Rowntree MacKintosh [1979] ICR 554 and Panesar v Nestle Co Ltd [1980] IRLR 64 CA).

Each attempt to justify a provision, criterion or policy (PCP) will, of course, turn on its facts and it would be very foolish for organisations to think that there is some sort of magic bullet or get out of jail card which can be used in every situation to justify or excuse conduct which would otherwise amount to unlawful discrimination. Organisations should review policies on a regular basis and, if need be, this may necessitate the carrying out of an equality impact assessment.

A link to the story on The Independent’s website can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.080220/data/9323781/index.html

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/09/boxing-clever/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/08/20/beardy-weirdy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/21/indirect-discrimination/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/10/everyday-experiences-of-racism/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/14/hurt-feelings/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 9 February 2020