UK Employment Law update – December 2020

Welcome to our monthly newsletter, with a summary of the latest news and developments in UK employment law. A PDF version of this newsletter can be accessed here.

This issue will provide recent case law updates, law reform and legislative developments, COVID-19 updates and any other news over recent weeks.

Case law updates

Collective redundancy consultation: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled on the reference period and threshold numbers required for the Collective Redundancies Directive, and has concluded that where the threshold number of dismissals is met at any point across the relevant reference period, then dismissals occurring both before and after that point are subject to collective consultation rules. This raises questions as to whether section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA), which applies the Directive in the UK (and which excludes the need to count employees whose proposed dismissal consultation has started) is compatible with the Directive. In the absence of amendments to TULRCA to clarify the situation, employers planning redundancies will need to have this case in mind, with an understanding of past redundancies as well as anticipated ones, when assessing whether the relevant thresholds for collective consultation are met. [UQ v. Marclean Technologies – NB: no English transcript is currently available]

Discrimination: The Court of Appeal has upheld the ‘cost plus’ basis for seeking to justify indirect discrimination, i.e., cost savings alone cannot be a legitimate aim and will rarely succeed as a defence, although it may be a factor where there is ‘something else’ (including where an employer is subject to financial constraints and is required to reduce its costs). Although not changing established principles, this case acts as a reminder that cost in itself should not be relied upon to rationalise potentially discriminatory practices. Incidentally the court also said that the phrase ‘cost plus’ should be avoided as inelegant. [Heskett v. Secretary of State for Justice]

Health and safety detriments: Following a judicial review, the High Court has held that the UK failed to properly implement the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive in the Employment Rights Act 1996 when only providing protection against detriment on health and safety grounds to employees and not also to workers. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which initiated the proceedings, is calling for the government to urgently amend UK legislation to reflect this decision, which would significantly expand the scope of protection at a time when health and safety is particularly pertinent. [HC: IWUGB v. DWP]

Settlement agreement – COT3: Where arguments are being made to set aside a COT3 settlement due to misrepresentation, it is permissible for the tribunal to consider without prejudice communications. [Cole v. Elders Voice]

Summary termination: A firm was entitled to rely on a self-employed stockbroker’s repudiatory breach of contract to summarily terminate their relationship, notwithstanding the firm also having committed a repudiatory breach. [HC: Palmeri v. Charles Stanley & Co]

Tribunal hearings: An appeal against a decision to hold a merits hearing in person rather than remotely during the pandemic has been dismissed, reiterating the strong case management discretion held by judges. [Omooba v. Michael Garrett Associates]

Tribunal procedure – applications to amend pleadings: The Employment Appeals Tribunal has provided detailed guidance on the procedure to be followed when considering applications to amend, including how arguments in support of such an application should be approached, the matters to consider before such an application is made, and the importance of showing the consequences of the amendment being refused. This also reminds us that the tribunal has wide case management powers, and the appellant courts will seldom interfere. [Vaughan v. Modality Partnership]

Whistleblowing: The Court of Appeal has upheld the principle that multiple separate communications taken together could amount to a protected disclosure even if none of them, taken separately, would do so. Whether it is appropriate to take this approach is a matter of common sense and fact dependent, and it is not necessarily an error for the tribunal to fail to consider the composite approach. In the present case, the claimant failed to clarify which of his 37 communications should be grouped together, and the specific protected disclosure which arose from that combination. [Simpson v. Cantor Fitzgerald Europe]
Continue Reading

Pennsylvania employers may need to revise policies and practices within the workplace in response to new mitigation order by Governor Wolf

On November 23, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf issued the Order of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for Mitigation, Enforcement and Immunity Protections, which establishes various mitigation measures that Pennsylvania businesses must implement effective November 27, 2020. Many of these measures are already familiar to Pennsylvania businesses that have been implementing the mitigation measures prescribed by the April 15 worker and business safety order, which we discussed in a previous article. Although this Order is, to some extent, a reiteration of many requirements in the April 15 order, it also includes several new and updated requirements that may require Pennsylvania businesses to update current policies and practices. This article highlights some of the most significant new requirements under the new Order.

Mandatory telework

Under the Order, Pennsylvania businesses are required to conduct their operations remotely through telework “unless impossible.” Where telework is impossible, in-person operation of the business may continue subject to the other workplace safety requirements stated in the Order, including, for example, enhanced cleaning protocols, social distancing, mask wearing, capacity limits, and workforce scheduling.

Neither the Order nor the updated FAQs for businesses offer guidance as to what would render telework “impossible.” As addressed in our prior articles here and here, a July 15 order had established mandatory telework “unless not possible,” which was clarified in later guidance to mean to the extent possible. It is unclear whether the wording change in the November 23 Order is intended to convey a stricter standard and, if so, what that standard is and how it applies to those positions for which telework is possible for certain job duties but impossible for others. Throughout the pandemic, Pennsylvania employers have faced telework requirements established under shifting standards and the related challenges in balancing the interests of complying with those telework orders and the business needs of completing in-person operations. Unquestionably, Pennsylvania employers would benefit from clearer and consistent guidance. Continue Reading

Pennsylvania employers and employees receive the gift of new post-travel testing/quarantine requirements for the holiday season (Part II)

As addressed in Part 1 of this article, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) issued new orders on November 17, 2020 targeted at mitigating the recent surge of COVID-19 cases within the Commonwealth in recent weeks.  Part 1 focused on the new face covering requirements now imposed on all Pennsylvanians.  This article focuses on new the requirements for testing and quarantine following out-of-state travel established by the DOH and the impact that the new travel requirements might have on Pennsylvania employers.

New out-of-state travel requirements

The Order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health for Mitigation Relating to Travel, mandates that individuals traveling into the Commonwealth from any other state – regardless of whether the individual resides in another state and is travelling to Pennsylvania or the individual is a Pennsylvania resident returning from out-of-state travel – produce evidence of a negative COVID-19 test from a specimen collected within 72 hours prior to entering the Commonwealth.  Individuals who do not have a negative COVID-19 test are required to quarantine for 14 days, and may only leave their homes to receive testing or other necessary medical services.  Failure to comply with the order may result in the imposition of a fine ranging from $25.00 to $300.00.  These newly instituted requirements take effect on Friday, November 20, 2020. Continue Reading

Pennsylvania employers and employees receive the gift of new face covering requirements for the holiday season (Part I)

Like many U.S. states, Pennsylvania has experienced a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.  On November 17, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health took aggressive steps targeted at mitigating spread of the virus within the Commonwealth by issuing new orders that impose stricter face mask requirements and introduce new requirements for testing and quarantine following out-of-state travel.  For more information on the newly implemented travel requirements and how employers may be impacted, see Part II of this article, available here.

Continue Reading

New York updates its travel protocols for out-of-state travelers for the second time this month

As we previously reported, on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring that individuals returning to New York State from so-called restricted states – i.e., states that met certain COVID-19 transmission levels – quarantine for a period of 14 days upon return.  As we also reported, effective November 4, New York adopted new protocols and issued an updated travel advisory and Interim Guidance allowing out-of-state travelers to test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Just six days later, however – on November 10 – the State updated these protocols yet again. This article will summarize the cumulative changes implemented by the November 4 and 10 updates.

Specifically, the updated protocols permit any traveler to New York from a noncontiguous state, a U.S. territory, or a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) level two or three country, to test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine as follows: Continue Reading

New York adopts new travel protocols for out-of-state travelers

As we previously reported, on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring that individuals returning to New York State from so-called restricted states – i.e., states that met certain COVID-19 transmission levels – quarantine for a period of 14 days upon return.  Effective November 4, however, New York has adopted new protocols and issued an updated travel advisory allowing out-of-state travelers to test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Specifically, the updated protocols permit any traveler to New York from out of state – with the exception of neighboring states Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont – to test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine as follows:

Continue Reading

New CDC close contact definition announced for contact tracing and worker exclusion

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its definition for close contact in its COVID-19 guidelines. As a result, employers should immediately reevaluate both their social distancing protocols and their contact tracing protocols to ensure full compliance with CDC standards.

The updated definition clarifies that it is contact within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Further, close contact is relevant for contact tracing start two days before the onset of symptoms through the time the infected person is removed from the workplace. Likewise, close contact with asymptomatic individuals will trigger exclusion based on qualifying contact up to two days prior to the asymptomatic individual’s positive COVID-19 test. As a result of these changes, employers should evaluate two key issues. Continue Reading

New Jersey implements additional safeguards for workers in response to rising COVID-19 cases

On October 28, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 192, which will require a series of workplace protections for workers beginning on November 5, 2020.  Importantly, nothing in Executive Order 192 repeals, supersedes, or modifies the requirement of Executive Order 107 that requires businesses to “accommodate their workforce, wherever practical, for telework or work-from home arrangements.”  Employers with in-person staffing are also expected to keep staffing to the “minimum number necessary” and to abide by all other restrictions regarding indoor capacity limitations.

Now, in addition to the prior requirements, workplaces that require or permit a workforce to be physically present at a worksite must, at minimum: Continue Reading

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County vote to ban discrimination against race-based hairstyles

Last week, the Pittsburgh City Council and the Allegheny County Council unanimously voted to ban discrimination on the basis of race-based hairstyles by passing the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (known as the CROWN Act).

The CROWN Acts amend provisions of the City and County Codes addressing employment, housing, real estate, and public accommodation discrimination. Provisions of the County law would also impact public schools, but not private institutions.

Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are expected to sign the bills.

Assuming that the legislation is signed, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County will join a growing number of state and local governments that provide protections from hairstyle discrimination, which predominantly affects the Black community who are targeted for natural hair textures and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots.  State-wide protections exist in California, Washington State, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Colorado and at the local level across the country.

New York City passes key amendments to paid safe and sick leave law

New York City first adopted a local paid sick leave law in 2014. Over the ensuing six years, the City legislature amended the law several times, including in 2018 to add “safe leave” as a form of paid time off. Late last month, the City amended the Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (ESSTA) yet again – this time to align the Big Apple’s local law with the recently-enacted statewide Paid Safe and Sick Leave law (NYSPSL). As detailed below, the bill builds on and expands the ESSTA’s existing paid safe and sick leave requirements.

Scope of coverage

To start, the amendments modify the scope of workers covered by the ESSTA. Under the prior iteration of the law, the ESSTA only applied to individuals who worked in New York City more than 80 hours in a calendar year. The amended law, however, applies to all individuals employed within the City, regardless of the number of hours worked. Continue Reading

LexBlog