As if there were not enough challenges for businesses trying to generate business with the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the ever-evolving employment laws bring more factors to consider, as well as being expected to address wider global issues such as the impact of their business has on climate change, consider the mental health of their employees whether or not it is related to their work as well as deciding on whether or not to agree to hybrid working arrangements and the responsibilities that such a working arrangement brings to the employer.

Just keeping on top of current employment law alone can be a challenge.  As the end of the furlough scheme is looming many employers are facing the unenviable issue of having to consider a redundancy programme due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and in some cases, the difficulties of doing business across Europe post-Brexit.

Giambrone's employment law team urge businesses to carefully consider a redundancy programme and guard against any choices that could be construed as discriminatory.  This should not be regarded as an opportunity to shed employees that have issues that impact on the business such as those related to pregnancy and maternity leave or disability issues that require accommodations to be made by the employer.

The recent Employment Tribunal case involving the dismissal of a practice manager of a doctors' surgery in Essex demonstrates that it is extremely unwise to attempt to manufacture reasons for dismissal simply because the employee's status, in this case a high risk pregnancy, would cause inconvenience to the business.  Mrs. Hefford, the practice manager, informed the partners at the surgery that she was pregnant and her pregnancy was deemed to be high risk.  Subsequently she overhead a discussion about ways to get rid of her with reference to her pregnancy.  Following an internal investigation she was subject to allegations about her abrasive conduct.  She was invited to a last minute to a "heavy handed" meeting and her subsequent appeal to the HR department regarding pregnancy discrimination was dismissed and she was fired for gross misconduct whilst she was in hospital.  The Employment Tribunal concluded that "the principal reason for the dismissal was pregnancy and that there were only trivial concerns about her conduct up to the announcement of her pregnancy."  The Employment Tribunal judges concluded that the five doctors of the practice were guilty of unfair dismissal, pregnancy discrimination, victimisation and breach of contract and awarded a total of £294,372.72 in compensation.

Substantial awards have been seen recently in the Employment Tribunals according to the latest  Ministry of Justice figures (2019-20) for unfair dismissal and discrimination.  £265,719 was awarded in a disability discrimination matter and £243,636 awarded for an age discrimination claim, coupled with the £2,567,831 awarded to David Barrow, a former employee of KBR, earlier this year for disability discrimination.

These figures make a compelling argument for sticking extremely close to the letter of the current employment law and not try to use a situation as an opportunity to discard an employee who is perceived as problematic, particularly relating to areas in employment law that have no limit to the amount of the awards that can be given by an Employment Tribunal.

The highly experienced employment law team at Giambrone can guide businesses providing pragmatic advice on risks and the appropriate course of action that should be taken in all aspects of employment law issues.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.