December 2015 Employment Law Update


Best wishes to you all for the festive season and for a happy New Year!

Christmas Parties!

Many of you will have recently marked the festive period with a Christmas party, meal or drinks for your staff but it is important to remember that whether the party is at a venue or informally in the office after hours it will still be considered to be part of working time.

With any staff event it is important to have clear guidelines in place and often alcohol management in particular is important because employees often become uninhibited after consuming too much alcohol which can cause disputes or even discrimination.

Frayed tempers at a Christmas party were behind a recent case that ended up in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), but it was how the disciplinary procedures were managed afterwards that became the real focus of the claim.

The issue was that the two employees involved in the altercation were given apparently different treatment in the disciplinary procedures that followed. One employee was dismissed for gross misconduct for punching his colleague during the party, whereas the colleague was given only a final written warning for sending threatening texts to him after the event had finished.

In the end the EAT still found the dismissal was fair and that the employers had acted reasonably in their decision to dismiss even though the other employee received only a warning. However, the cost and disruption of lengthy tribunal hearing is enough to remind companies of the importance of a thorough investigation and consistent decision making should any disciplinary proceedings be required after the celebrations!

Duty to make reasonable adjustments

Under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment to help disabled employees stay in employment.

A recent Court of Appeal case considered this duty in the context of sickness absence policies. Usually these policies trigger disciplinary sanctions if absence reaches a certain level and the Court had to consider whether failing to make an adjustment to the trigger times could place a disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage in the workplace. The Court found that, while the policy sought to treat all employees equally, there was a risk of disadvantage and therefore the obligation to make adjustments to this was engaged. The court even emphasised that sometimes this duty goes beyond ensuring equality and actually requires an employer to take positive action to redress any imbalance.

Consequently, this case reminds all employers that when issuing warnings under any absence policy the duty to make adjustments must be considered.

National Minimum Wage

The NMW Amendment Regulations 2016 have been published and will now come into force on 1 April 2016. These new regulations add the National Living Wage premium of 50p per hour to the NMW rate for workers over 25 years old. This means their new minimum wage rate will be £7.20 per hour.

Zero Hours Contracts

The Zero Hours Contracts (Redress) Regulations 2015 come into force on 11 January 2016. These regulations give specific rights of action for zero hours workers against employers that include restrictive exclusivity clauses in their contracts. This follows the 2015 legislation that made exclusivity clauses unenforceable.

If you are responsible for HR matters within your business (or interested in employment law discussion), please contact us to attend the monthly HR Network sessions run by Julie Taylor from GL and Michelle Bailey from People Essentials. The next Newbury meeting is on January 18 2016 at 5pm at the Newbury Pub and the same time in Maidenhead on Monday 1 February 2016.

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