Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Mocked ‘SpongeBob’ employee awarded £140,000

A Brazilian employee who was bullied for being a foreigner and sounding like the cartoon character ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ has been awarded £140,000 compensation by an Employment Tribunal.

Licia Faithful was subject to 18 months of abuse during her time at AXA PPP Healthcare in Tunbridge Wells. Her colleagues would tape and replay her voice, mimicking and laughing at her. She resigned in 2008 after developing post-traumatic stress, depression, and an intense fear of public spaces because of the prolonged and constant bullying.

In addition to mocking her voice, Mrs Faithful had Brazilian flags stolen from her desk and was ordered by management not to wear a top with a Brazilian national logo on it. Her achievements at work were also overlooked while others were praised and rewarded with cash and vouchers.

One incident occurred during a company outing. Whilst on the coach, an employee stood up and complained about “bloody foreigners” when Mrs Faithful was the only foreign national on board.

Mrs Faithful found she had no choice but to resign in 2008. The Employment Tribunal found that she had been constructively dismissed and therefore could claim unfair dismissal.

The Ashford Employment Tribunal in Kent found AXA guilty of four breaches of employment law. Judge Gill Sage condemned the management at the company, saying that there had been a “manifest failure” to protect Mrs Faithful from discrimination and bullying.

The judge said there was obvious evidence that bullying was occurring and that this was contrary to AXA’s own behavioural policies. She also condemned the company for putting Mrs Faithful through a humiliating grievance procedure after she complained of the abuse.

The £141,990 compensation was awarded by the Tribunal for four different categories:

•    Racial and other discrimination - £81,740
•    Damages - £10, 012
•    Hurt feelings - £24, 765
•    Personal injury - £25, 475

Judge Sage said AXA “lacked empathy”; a warning other employers should take notice of if they wish to avoid paying out similar compensation awards in the future.

Employees who are suffering from similar types of discriminatory abuse are advised to contact an employment solicitor to see if they have a potential claim. Discrimination and harassment in the workplace is not acceptable, as this case clearly shows, and an employer who has failed to stop bullying can be chastised under employment law.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Employers to allow flexible working in support of the Olympics

In research conducted by Deloitte, one third of the large companies surveyed indicated that they would be happy to allow employees to work flexibly during the 2012 London Olympics.

The employers said they will be happy for employees to take time off to see the games and make up the time in the mornings or at the end of the day. In addition, 44% of the employers surveyed said they would actively encourage employees to make the most of the opportunity to see the games when they are hosted in London next year.

Deloitte’s research also showed that 42% of the businesses surveyed are planning to install television screens in the workplace so employees can watch the games during the working day. Heather Hancock, the London 2012 lead partner at Deloitte, said employers need to plan ahead to work out how to ensure business needs are met while “facilitating a games experience”.

Under employment law, flexible working is technically available to any employee, as long as their employer offers the arrangement. However, only parents with children under the age of 17, or 18 if the child is disabled, and carers have the right to request flexible working from their employer.

In addition, they must be an employee, have worked continuously for a period of 26 weeks, and not have made a similar request within the past 12 months.

An employer has a legal obligation to consider the request, but they do not have a legal obligation to grant the request. However, they can only refuse to grant flexible working if they have a legitimate business reason for doing so.

Heather Hancock advises employers to consider how they will manage the potential increase in demand for annual leave during the games period. The sooner these issues are considered, the more prepared employers will be when it comes to the Olympics in 2012.

One third of the respondents to Deloitte’s survey said they are planning to attend the games themselves either in a personal capacity or with clients.

29% of the employers have no plans to allow employees to work flexibly over the Olympic period. This could reflect the fact that certain industries and jobs do not lend themselves to flexible working simply because of their nature.

60% of the employers indicated they would not be making any changes to their flexible working policy in order to accommodate staff who wish to participate in the atmosphere of the games.

Employers and employees who require some legal advice on flexible working, either in general or in relation to preparing for the 2012 Olympics, can contact Job Justice. We can put you in touch with a local recommended solicitor.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Wrongful dismissal: Renault, China and the bungling detective

Renault, the French car manufacturer, has found itself at the centre of a diplomatic row between Paris and Beijing after it sacked three executives for allegedly passing on top secret details on the development of electric cars to the Chinese.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Vladimir Putin criticises customs staff over YouTube video

In a country where perceived corruption is one of the key barriers to international trade, it is not surprising that Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has criticised a group of customs officials who posted a video on YouTube making light of the situation and celebrating the wealth that unofficially comes with their jobs.

The video, which looks like it took quite a bit of organisation to film, shows a group of customs officials in sunglasses and bling jewellery raping about their lavish lifestyles with a Rolls Royce in the background.

As the average custom official earns an average of £700 a month, the lavish lifestyles boasted about can only be funded by corruption.

Indeed, corruption amongst government officials is a widespread problem in Russia, with customs officials being named as the worst offenders by every day Russian citizens.

Putin met with the head of the Federal Customs Service to discuss the matter. No disciplinary action has been taken so far; however, the Prime Minister has condemned the way the video laughs at corruption.

He said: “Discipline is needed in several of the divisions; we have to raise it little.”

Under employment law in England and Wales, an employer is not obligated to have disciplinary procedures in place. However, it is considered good practice and employers are encouraged to adhere to the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. If they don’t, an Employment Tribunal can penalise them if they end up having to defend a claim there.

The custom officials’ video is a good example of the conflict between private material being posted by individuals on the web and the need of employers to protect their reputation. Employers should make sure they have clear policies in place about posting work-related material online and the action they will take if employees disparage the company or organisation in anyway.

The customs officials may be facing written warnings or possibly even dismissal. Employees in the UK who find themselves in similar situations should ensure they read their employment contracts and employee handbooks thoroughly to see if their conduct is grounds for dismissal.

President Dmitry Medvedev sent a bill to Parliament on Wednesday the 16th February increasing the fines for officials caught taking bribes. The bill proposes increasing the fines to up to 100 times the size of the original bribe.

Commentating on the video, Putin said “this kind of creativity should be saved for a talent show.”

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Galliano dismissed by Dior for “odious” views

John Galliano, fashion designer extraordinaire, has been sacked by Parisian fashion giant Dior after video footage emerged in which he declared his love for Hitler.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

What’s the future for the Bribery Act 2010?

The Bribery Act 2010 has had a troubled first few months of existence. The Act, which received Royal assent on the 8th April 2010, has yet to come into force after it was heavily criticised by the business community and the Ministry of Justice was ordered by Downing Street to review its provisions.

The Act is intended to clean up the outdated and complex old anti-bribery measures, and allow the courts and prosecutors to respond more effectively to acts of bribery at home and abroad.

It was originally due to come into force in April this year. However, that is now looking increasingly unlikely, with the date for implementation more likely to be sometime in May 2011.

The Bribery Act essentially creates three new bribery offences. The first is a general offence that can be committed by an individual offering or accepting a bribe. A bribe is described as an advantage, financial or otherwise, that is given with the intention of inducing a person to perform a relevant function or activity improperly, or reward them for doing so. The ‘intention’ to bribe is key, as is the test of ‘improper performance’; that is, behaviour which would not normally be expected by a person in the UK.

The second offence is the bribery of a foreign public official. This offence is committed when a person bribes a foreign public official with the intention of influencing them and obtaining or retaining business.

John Cridland, the head of business group CBI, said the legislation was “not fit for purpose” and that “exporters won’t be able to hoover up the demand in developing countries such as Asia if the Bribery Act prevents them from knowing on which side of the law they stand.”

The third offence created by the Bribery Act is the failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery. This offence will have a big impact on employers as they will be guilty of an offence if their employees have offered or accepted a bribe on their behalf.

However, there is a defence to this offence. If a commercial organisation can show that it had proper procedures in place to prevent bribery, it will not be guilty of the offence. This means there is significant pressure on employers to ensure they have anti-bribery and corruption procedures in place before the Act comes into force.

Guidance from the government sets out six principles that will help a company to establish the ‘proper procedures’ defence. These are an initial risk assessment, top level commitment from the senior members of the organisation to ensure a culture of compliance, due diligence, clear and accessible policies and procedures, effective implementation, and constant monitoring and review.

Practical steps a company can take include extra training for staff, updating the whistle blowing policy, and tightening the financial controls. In addition, employers may want to include bribery and corruption as gross misconduct in employees’ contracts.

Many employers are also concerned about how the new Act will affect their ability to entertain corporate clients. The effect of the Act on corporate hospitality is still unclear. A letter was attached to the Bill as it went through Parliament saying that it was not the intention of the Government to penalise corporate hospitality for genuine commercial purposes. However, “lavish” hospitality may be seen as a bribe used to secure advantages. For example, paying for a five star hotel room for a client when there is no discernible business advantage.

No further guidance appears in the Act and therefore it will be up to prosecutors to decide if and when to prosecute individual cases of corporate hospitality.

Despite the criticism of the Act, there are those who support it and say it is necessary in order to fight corruption both in the UK and abroad.

The Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has reassured his colleagues in the US that the Act, which aims to bring UK law into line with US foreign corruption practices, will come into force, and that Britain is dedicated to fighting corporate corruption.

For more information on the Bribery Act and how it can affect your business, contact Job Justice today. We can put you in touch with specialist employment solicitors who can explain and manage its impact.