Welcome to the June edition of the Canter Levin & Berg Employment Solutions newsletter.
After our foray into social media last month, I'm very pleased to see that we've had a significant increase in the number of subscribers to this newsletter. I hope that both new and existing readers will find items of interest to them and let me know if there are any particular topics you would like to be covered.
This month our news focuses on the Government's Modern Workplaces Consultation which is a high level review of key working arrangements. The Foreword to the report is clear:
We want to create a society where work and family complement one another. One where employers have the flexibility and certainty to recruit and retain the skilled labour they need to develop their businesses. And one where employees no longer have to choose between a rewarding career and a fulfilling home life.
While this is a consultation it makes clear how the Government sees these objectives being implemented and it is difficult to see how the main objectives will not find favour with the Opposition.
We also have information about proposed tribunal reforms, liability to former employees and, of course, more about the ubiquitous social media!
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This month's news:
1. consultation on modern workplaces - parental rights
The Government issued its BIS "Modern Workplaces Consultation" on 16 May 2011 . One of the topics covered is "Flexible Parental Leave". Consultation closes on 8 August 2011. In bare outline, the main elements in the "flexible parental leave" part of the proposals concern :
2. consultation on modern workplaces - flexible working arrangements
Also covered in the Consultation is "Flexible Working".
The paper gives examples (with explanations) of "flexible work" as follows: part-time; flexi-time; compressed hours; homeworking; annualised hours; term-time working; structured time off in lieu; job-sharing; and varied-hours working / time banking.
3. consultation on modern workplaces - holidays
Another topic under review is annual leave and the "Working Time Regulations".
The introduction to this part of the consultation explains that the proposals "concern the interaction of annual leave with sick, maternity, adoption, parental, and paternity leave". Changes are necessary to ensure that UK law is consistent with the EU Working Time Directive, as interpreted by the European Court of Justice.
4. consultation on modern workplaces - equal pay
The final topic from the Consulation covered in this newsletter is "Equal Pay".
5. consultation on tribunal reform
In February we reported that at the end of January the Government published a consultation paper designed to "improve the way in which workplace disputes are resolved" (the consultation period ended on 20 April).
Proposals for a more active role for ACAS in trying to settle claims before they get to a tribunal have been generally welcomed but other proposals have been criticised by experts in the field, not least one to the effect that employment judges should be able to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases. Hopefully the Government will listen to the views of the experts this time around. They failed to do so in 2004, when the last serious attempt to improve dispute resolution processes was made. The embarrassing result was that the compulsory procedures then introduced were removed in their entirety just five years later.
6. liability to former employees
Most employers know that there is no general legal requirement to give a reference for an ex-employee. Most also know that if they do give one, they may face problems if it is misleading or wrong and the ex-employee cannot get another job as a result. The High Court has recently taken this further.
7. Twitter, Facebook and the like
Cases concerning the when and how of employee use of Social Networking sites (such as Twitter and Facebook) are now beginning to reach the employment tribunals.
No new legal principles are involved in deciding when and whether it is appropriate for an employer to discipline or even dismiss an employee for inappropriate use of these sites. But because the subject is likely to come up with increasing frequency it may be useful to draw attention to a couple of recent cases.
8. the sad case of Baby P and Sharon Shoesmith
Newspaper coverage of the Court of Appeal's ruling on 27 May in the Sharon Shoesmith case is sensationalist to say the least. The position is misrepresented by headlines such as "Sharon Shoesmith, who was vilified after the death of the toddler Baby P, won her appeal yesterday that she was 'unfairly and unlawfully' sacked" (the Independent on 28 May), "'I'm over the moon': Baby P scandal boss Sharon Shoesmith set for £1m payout after court rules she was unlawfully dismissed" (the Daily Mail 28 May); or "On Friday, the Court of Appeal ruled she was unfairly sacked, and a leading employment lawyer said she could receive as much as £1 million if the decision is not overturned" (the Guardian on 28 May)
To be fair to the journalists, the articles themselves are more accurate, but anyone would be forgiven for thinking that this was an unfair dismissal case, that Ms Shoesmith has won and that the Courts decided she was in no way to blame for Baby P's death.
9. beware when dealing with CCTV images
It seems that the anomalies which can be found in modern life are expanding exponentially. Last weekend it was reported that "crime maps" on Government websites which identify the locations of local villains are going to be enhanced so that details of crimes, criminals and even photographs will be made available. Meanwhile, the Information Commissioner has taken action against Internet Eyes, a business with a website that rewards members for spotting shoplifters using CCTV footage.
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