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Summary dismissal and misconduct

The recent case of Mbubaegbu v Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust provides an interesting insight into the circumstances in which employers can summarily dismiss an employee for misconduct.

 Mr Mbubaegbu, a surgeon, was employed by Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for 15 years. Prior to the disciplinary proceedings that led to his dismissal, he had an unblemished disciplinary record with no previous warnings. Following the introduction of new Department Rules and Responsibilities (the DRR) in 2013, Mr Mbubaegbu was informed that his compliance with the DRR would be monitored. An investigation was later carried out which found that there had been non-compliance with the DRR by Mr Mbubaegbu. In total, 17 allegations of non-compliance were made against him during the investigation and Mr Mbubaegbu was subsequently summarily dismissed for gross misconduct, despite the Trust being unable to point to one allegation that, on its own, amounted to gross misconduct.

 Mr Mbubaegbu issued a claim in the Tribunal for unfair dismissal and, when his claim failed, appealed to the EAT. However, the EAT dismissed the claim and held that it was not necessary for there to be one particular act that amounted to gross misconduct for a summary dismissal to be fair. It held: “There is no authority to suggest that there must be a single act amounting to gross misconduct before summary dismissal would be justifiable or that it is impermissible to rely upon a series of acts, none of which would, by themselves, justify summary dismissal“.

 This case illustrates that a series of acts of misconduct can, taken together, amount to gross misconduct in some circumstances. The focus is likely to be on whether the employee’s actions have undermined the relationship of trust and confidence, not whether one act on its own could amount to gross misconduct.

 This is a helpful case for employers. However, employers should be very cautious before using it as justification to dismiss an employee without any prior warnings where there is no clear act of gross misconduct. In this case, the tribunal was entitled to find that dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses open to the employer, however, similar cases will always turn on their own facts. The decision in this case was also impacted by the fact the employer was operating within a regulated industry (the NHS) and Mr Mbubaegbu’s conduct could be used as a benchmark for measuring the conduct of other employees.

Summary dismissal and misconduct

Employers “named and shamed” for failure to pay the National Minimum Wage

On 9 March 2018 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy named and shamed 179 employers for paying their staff below the National Minimum Wage (NMW). Restaurant chain Wagamama topped the list, but claimed that a misunderstanding as to how the NMW Regulations apply to staff uniforms was to blame.
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Employers “named and shamed” for failure to pay the National Minimum Wage

Surveillance of employees in the workplace and the Article 8 right to privacy

Advances in technology have made monitoring employees easier than ever before. With the increased use of email, smartphones, laptops, trackers and SmartWare, almost every mode of communication has gone digital. As such, it is now possible to monitor your employees’ every movement and communication, to find out not just where they are but also how productive they are being.

However, many employees try to argue that this monitoring is an intrusion on their right to a private life (under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act) and is therefore unlawful.

This important issue has been the focus of two recent decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In each case, the judges considered the limits on what is and isn’t permissible when it comes to the surveillance of employees.

Read more here.

Surveillance of employees in the workplace and the Article 8 right to privacy

Declining number of graduate recruitment roles

There have been rumours circulating in the news over the past 12 months about the declining number of graduate roles that will be available in the UK over the next few years. And it seems that those fears have not been unfounded. Research carried out by High Fliers, the student research specialist, has shown that the UK's biggest graduate recruiters - including Goldman Sachs, Unilever and BP – hired almost 1,000 less graduates in 2016 than they originally anticipated at the start of that year. Many are speculating that this is the result of ongoing and widespread uncertainty about how Brexit will affect businesses in the years ahead. The largest drop was seen in the accounting and professional services companies, banking and finance and investment banking. This trend was also reflected in the private sector, with statistics reporting that graduate recruitment for those business fell 10.3 per cent in 2017.
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Declining number of graduate recruitment roles

The Real Living Wage has increased, but is it actually benefitting employees?

Earlier this week it was announced that the Real Living Wage has been increased from £8.45 to £8.75 per hour across the UK and from £9.75 to £10.20 per hour in London. The changes have been driven largely by inflation, higher private rents and transport costs, and the new figures have been calculated to reflect the actual cost of living required in order to sustain a decent quality of life in the UK and London.

However, the Real Living Wage remains voluntary, unlike the mandatory National Living Wage put in place by the Government. Further, despite more than one thousand employers signing up to pay the Real Living Wage since Living Wage Week last year (including Google and Ikea), 5.5 million people across the UK (comprising 21% of the workforce) are still being paid less than the Real Living Wage. One of the criticisms of the Living Wage campaign was that it targeted sectors that do not tend to have significant numbers of low paid staff – as such, it may not, as yet, have had the desired impact for those who need it the most.

Further, there have been questions around how employers are offsetting the additional cost of meeting the Real Living Wage – some employers have cut overall pay packages to mitigate the costs of increased pay, for example stopping overtime rates and cutting back hours. As such, the overall benefit being passed to employees is, in some cases, questionable.

On a more positive note, the increase in the Real Living Wage will see more than 150,000 employees get a pay rise, as more than 3,600 employers have now signed up to pay the Real Living Wage since it was introduced. Among these is Heathrow, which is set to become the first Real Living Wage airport by the end of 2020.

The Real Living Wage has increased, but is it actually benefitting employees?

Government update on settled status

The Government has published further details on how the new settled status scheme for EU citizens and their family members will work as the UK leaves the EU. In the technical document sent to the European Commission, the Government has pledged that this new system will be streamlined, low-cost and user-friendly and will be designed with input from EU citizens.

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, EU citizens will have up to two years to apply to stay in the UK and obtain settled status. Applications will be decided solely on the criteria set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and there will be no discretion for refusal based on other reasons. As yet, these criteria are not conclusive. However , the Government has confirmed that they will be simple and transparent and will minimise the need for documentary evidence. Unsuccessful applicants will have a statutory right of appeal in line with current rights provided by the Free Movement Directive.

There are also plans to set up a voluntary application process to provide those currently resident with the option to get new settled status at their earliest convenience. This is in recognition of the administrative challenge of granting status to potentially over 3 million EU citizens and their families.

 Negotiations between the UK and EU are ongoing with the next talks set to take place on 9 and 10 November.

 

Government update on settled status

Cost vs. benefit of Pension complaints

The Pensions Ombudsman has some key benefits as a venue for employees with pension grievances. Jurisdiction revolves around ‘maladministration’ which can be quite broad and for employees, costs aren’t a real issue.

However given the potential costs raised by these complaints employers and pension schemes often run up large legal and actuarial costs defending Ombudsman claims.

This can lead to some “challenging” cost to benefit analyses for Ombudsman complaints, particularly where there are arguments around payments for distress and inconvenience caused by proven maladministration.

An example being the recent High Court case of Smith v. Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2017] All ER (D) 166 (Oct) where an employee who worked for the NHS lost the right to an unreduced pension due to bad information.

The Ombudsman and the Court both decided that she couldn’t have the unreduced pension, but that an award for inconvenience and distress was appropriate. The Ombudsman decided that she should get £500. The employee wanted £36k based on the Ogden tables. The Court decided it would award £2750.

The question is, how much time and effort did the employer end up spending on defending the claim? Given the outcome, it would have probably been better to carefully check the pensions communications in the first place!

Cost vs. benefit of Pension complaints

Pay cap lift for police and prison officers

The 1% cap on public sector pay rises in England and Wales (which came into force in 2010) is to be lifted. The first professions to benefit will be police officers and prison officers. The government has announced that for the 2017/2018 FY police officers will receive a 1% pay rise plus a 1% bonus and prison officers will get a 1.7% rise, both of which will be funded from existing departmental budgets.
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Pay cap lift for police and prison officers

The Repeal Bill – Workers’ Rights

On 7 September 2017 the government published a factsheet on the impact of the Repeal Bill, which was recently passed by a majority of MPs, and the future status of workers' rights following the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
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The Repeal Bill – Workers’ Rights

People Management article, featuring Michael Bronstein

As you may have seen, People Management recently published an article on some of the big developments in employment law in 2017, particularly Brexit and the Taylor review. The discussion featured Michael Bronstein, a partner here at Dentons. Michael gave some insight on the potential effects of withdrawing from the EU on employment legislation, acknowledging that there is 'a common misconception that all employment rights are created by the EU'. In the lead up to triggering Article 50, the government maintained that there would not be any change to workers' rights following Brexit, so it would be brave to take away key protections, many of which derive from UK law anyway. Other commentators suggested there may be reforms to TUPE, although agreed that it will stay, but perhaps in a slightly amended form. As for a new visa regime for workers, the outcome is unclear. The uncertainty has already caused many workers to leave at a time where we are beginning to see a shortage of labour. This has not been helped by the recent leaked Home Office post-Brexit Immigration Policy which has confirmed the fears of employers with respect to the future of EU workers in the UK.
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People Management article, featuring Michael Bronstein