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 UK Employment Law update – December 2020