An award-winning journalist writes…
When I was 24, after a couple of years of dismal freelancing, I got my first staff job on a small but high-profile magazine. I was unbelievably nervous and excited when I arrived on the first day but was shown to a desk and given a few tasks to get on with.
I had only been there a couple of hours when one of the other journalists came up to me and said, "What's your name?" in a rather intense way.
"I'm Angela," I said offering him my hand. "I've just started and—"
"Angela, you've got to leave the building now," he said flatly.
I was torn between conscientiousness and alarm but decided, it being my first day, to stick with conscientiousness. So I picked up the phone.
"I'll just make this call I've been asked to do," I said breezily. He grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the office — I noticed other people marching purposefully to the exit as well. Within moments, police were flooding in.
It turned out that the work experience guy sitting opposite me, who had been complaining loudly that he “wasn't "feeling well" had brought not aspirin, but a gun to work. When, indignant at not being offered the office first-aid kit, he started brandishing it, he was marched out.
As he was led away, and we inspected the bullet holes by the photocopier, I saw him looking a bit shame-faced. But in retrospect, I wonder if he didn't have the right idea. It turned out to be a really horrible place to work.
This much I know: the employee writes:
I went for a Starbucks and rang my friends for a laugh. Call a lawyer? Why? I’ve had worse from newspaper management.
What’s a hard day at work for you? As employees now launch tribunal cases because they ‘weren’t offered a seat at the right table in the canteen’, the Law Donut takes a look at the – real – world of employment.
A shooting, a strangling, a drugs ring, a fight, a hold-up and “nipple issues” with a Mafioso - even in the leafy enclaves of LawDonut HQ, our oh-so-refined editors, lawyers, and mentors produced a range of ‘workplace incidents’ to stun a tribunal in ten seconds.
So if you’re bored by a whingeing worker, or facing a conduct dispute that’s a little tiresome, our new series should cheer you up. Find a new post here every couple of days, as well as expert pronouncements from our renowned bloggers and writers that show you what the victim – or the law - did next. The first post in our series is right below.
The Prince’s Trust mentor writes….
One of my oldest friends, who is staying with me, has done annoyingly well as a tycoon. Needless to say, he’s rather competitive. So this morning, breakfast table conversation turned briefly to employment law as he and I shared (ie scrabbled for supremacy about) our managerial war stories.
I work with young people’s businesses now, but I kicked off with a few tales from my salad days as a restaurant manager. One of the high points was a phone call from the Metropolitan Police, wanting to discuss a former chef of ours, who had, they explained, been convicted of drug smuggling while on the job. The police needed to check how much I’d paid him so they could calculate how much illegal income they could seize.
At the time it was a fairly uncomfortable situation, but in hindsight it wasn’t a big deal. After all, the chef was by then an ex-employee, and in the restaurant trade this sort of thing isn’t that far out of the ordinary. Anyway, he was a good cook: well, his sauces were very more-ish.
My friend rose to the bait. He ran a far larger business, but he too had been on the receiving end of personal calls from the police. One of his employees was a junkie, in whom the boys in blue had a keen interest. Somewhat to my mate’s indignation, the employee had used his company car in a heist (then sold it for cash). Well, it showed initiative, I pointed out infuriatingly.
But my mate won. The prize for “HR Minefield of the Decade” went to one of his lady executives, who had decided to become a man. Advised to make lifestyle changes before the op, she asked to use the men’s toilets. By that stage, her female colleagues weren’t happy with her continuing to use the Ladies’. But the male staff were less than thrilled at the prospect of her hauling up her tights in the urinals.
It’s the sort of situation that could turn seriously tricky. The sex-changing employee might claim discrimination, while, whether she chose the male or female toilets, there was a good chance that other employees’ discomfort might turn into formal grievances. In the event, common sense prevailed. She would use the male facilities, but only after checking they were empty.
This much I know: the business owner writes:
What all our stories had in common was the sheer unpredictability of managing employees. Neither of us expected our employees to get involved with drugs or have a sex–change, I guess, the lesson is that you do need to be ready to cope with the consequences, whatever happens. And avoid ‘Dish of the Day’ in small restaurants.
As of 30 June 2010, the £20 note featuring the composer Edward Elgar is to be withdrawn from circulation. The original black-and-white £20 note was first issued in 1725 by the Bank of England - while I can’t say I have seen one and I am no Numismatist [ed’s note: get you, a coin dealer], my inner geek has always hotly anticipated the issue of ‘new’ money.
The Elgar note has been phased out since 2007 with a new face, Adam Smith [don’t all say “Who?” at once – see below] and by a ‘slightly brighter’ colour design to combat fraud, explains Andrew Bailey, Executive Director, Banking and Chief Cashier of the Bank:
“The new £20 has a number of new design features; it includes a much larger silver holograph.
“It is very important that we produce notes that the public can recognise as being genuine.”
The new design will help to avoid counterfeiting of the most common note in circulation — between 1.1 and 1.2 billion. And while only one per cent of all notes in circulation are fake, the counterfeit industry remains appealing - designs need to be updated regularly to outwit forgers
If you run a business where you need to identify genuine banknotes, the Bank suggests the following measures for businesses that should help:
For several months after the end of June, most banks, building societies and Post Offices will accept old £20 notes for deposit to customer accounts and other customer transactions. The old note will remain legal tender for small businesses that handle cash transactions for some time but it is at the owner’s discretion how quickly they decide to decline the Elgar-faced note.
While previous icons on the £20 note included William Shakespeare and Michael Faraday, the appearance of Adam Smith on the new note is particularly appropriate for small firms.
Smith was a key proponent of free trade and capitalism and in his most famous work, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ (1776) he outlined the economic ideology that is still highly regarded today. Andrew Bailey explains why the 18th-century economist was chosen.
“Adam Smith was not just an economist; he was also a moral philosopher, a very famous figure. The insights he developed have stood the test of time; they lie at the heart of our understanding of the economy and human behaviour.”
Smith’s most often-quoted soundbite is:
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."
At a time when salary increases and financial incentives aren’t always commercially viable, some employers are resorting to more entertaining techniques to keep staff’s morale high in the present economic climate.
Putting a television in the workplace is an example: in a current Law Donut post, Over-refreshed and Misbehaving: the World Cup in the workplace, Michael Scutt issued a timely reminder to those employers planning to show World Cup matches live that if a television arrives on work premises it will need a TV licence and, if live football is being streamed to the workplace through the internet, a TV licence is also required for that.
Playing music at work is another boost. Whether that music is on in the background or used after hours to create a more sociable buzz, sourced ad hoc from the radio or more strategically from a digital playlist service such as Spotify, it’s considered to be a public performance; and playing music in public requires a licence, otherwise you are likely to be infringing copyright. The simplest way to get a licence is via the PPL and the Performing Rights Society, the PRS . These organisations distribute the proceeds of the licences to the rights holders: the PPL pays the performers, record companies and other royalty rights holders; the PRS pays composers, songwriters and publishers.
The alternative to getting your licence to play music at work would be to approach each individual performer, record company and rights holder to obtain their permission - an impossible task.
If a business does not obtain the correct licence the royalty holders, but most likely the PPL or PRS, could enforce a licence against the business via a court order. A court order comes with a fine of up to £10,000 and even a prison sentence.
The PPL and PRS carry out spot-checks on businesses to ensure compliance. A recent high profile case of a hairdresser refusing to obtain a licence for music being played in the salon shows the problem in action.
And while we’re on the subject of licences, do your employees access, share or copy information published online or in the traditional hard-copy format? Or does your business receive daily press cuttings? If so, and most businesses do, then you need to make sure that you are minimising the risk of copyright infringement in your business by obtaining a licence from the CLA.
If you’re an employee, you get statutory paid leave when you give birth, but what about the self-employed? Sure, you may be able to claim maternity allowance –social security benefit paid for 39 weeks - but it’s only £124.88 a week (or 90 per cent of your gross average weekly earnings, if less), and you can't claim if you are still working.
Now the EU is proposing that we give self-employed women - and the wives or partners of the male self-employed if they help their man out at work - at least 14 weeks' maternity leave allowance.
This will be paid out of a social insurance scheme, requiring contributions from the self-employed. The EU is leaving it up to each member state to decide whether women have to join a scheme – and pay - or whether to make joining voluntary.
Will this help women? My fear with this proposal – and it’s a point I’ve made before on the LawDonut – is that here we are again, contemplating new laws designed to help women, without really knowing whether they will or not – whether they might even prejudice self-employed women - because no-one is really thinking the idea through or doing the research to find out what the real consequences will be.
We need women and men to have equal rights at work but when it comes to maternity rights, you could argue that the only law we’ve seen working properly to date is the law of unintended consequences.
For example, the anecdotal evidence is that the current rules on maternity leave and pay for women employees seem to be stopping some employers from taking women of child-bearing age on in the first place. Rather than do the research to find out if that’s true, and maybe think of other ways that women can be made equal, the (Labour) government’s reaction was to give women even more of those rights.
And my fear in relation to this new development is that, even if the government has the best of intentions, women will yet again end up suffering in the world of work – maybe having to pay for insurance that will pay out less than many would earn, but stopping them from working to supplement it – so that a measure intended to benefit them ends up doing the opposite.
And what’s with the women-only contributions scheme? Why aren’t men contributing to the payments? Women – who make up more than half the taxpayers in this country – don’t get reductions on their tax bill because they’re less likely to end up with the costly diseases many men get, or in prison and costing the taxpayer £1k a week.
Whose kids are these anyway? Shouldn’t both parents chip in towards something that indirectly contributes to the welfare of their offspring?
It will be at least two years before the UK has to bring the new rules in (though they have up to four years if they “find difficulties" in working out how to do this). The government is bound to consult, so get ready to have your say. My comment is, don’t do it until you’ve done the research that tells you it’ll work as it’s meant to work.
The quadrennial jamboree that is the World Cup is just a week away. South Africa hosts Mexico on June 11th in the opening match of the tournament, which comprises 32 teams and culminates 63 matches and one month later in Johannesburg’s final.
England qualified, of course, and we can doubtless look forward to more raised hopes, dashed expectations, broken metatarsals, penalty shootouts and sendings off (history does repeat itself, doesn’t it?). Not to mention hangovers, sickies and punch-ups – and that’s only among the players.
While the tournament may be keenly anticipated by many (and loathed by many others), there are employment law issues arising that employers ought to take into account before settling down in front of the box.
The real world of business must go on and the World Cup, like any popular sporting event, poses problems to employers when workers would like to watch their team. England’s schedule for the first round matches is fairly kind to employers; the first two matches kick off at 19.30 BST and it is only their third match that eats into the afternoon with a 15.00 kick-off.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently published its World Cup and Absence Management Guide which sets out the main issues that employers might face and is well worth a read. XPert HR also published a model policy for “sporting and other special events” in Employers’ Law dealing with the same issues.
The CIPD guide suggests that shift swaps, flexible hours and unpaid leave could be utilised or, if employers want to make more of an event (and promote team building) they could screen matches in the workplace. This later suggestion would no doubt suit football fans but for those who can’t stand the game it could cause disruption and resentment if they are excluded. Do bear in mind that if a television is being used on work premises it will need a TV licence and, if live football is being screened through a feed on to employee’s PCs a TV licence is also required for that.
The CIPD’s other suggestion of having a radio or TV on in the background strikes me as unworkable – those who want to watch will feel constrained from doing so and for those who aren’t interested it will be an unwelcome background hubbub. Whatever solution is adopted, it probably pays employers to embrace the World Cup and be flexible, if only as a more constructive approach to dealing with the inevitable problem of absenteeism if no steps are taken.
However, the problems facing employers are not confined solely to how to screen the matches. Staff absenting themselves is one obvious problem, the other might be employees becoming “over-refreshed” (which could be particularly concerning if it happens in the workplace) and committing acts of misconduct and, even, criminal offences. An employer can be vicariously liable for the actions of an employee and claims could arise from one employee offended by the words or actions of another.
For instance, the recent case of May & Baker Ltd (t/a Sanofi-Aventis Pharma) v Okerago the facts of which arose from the last World Cup , demonstrated this. Ms Okerago was employed as a pharmacy inspector. She alleged that a fellow worker made a racially offensive remark to her when asked whether she would be supporting England or her own country. When she replied “her own country” she was, unhappily, told to return to that country. She sued for race discrimination when dismissed by the company, allegedly over an issue of her conduct. The Employment Tribunal held that she had been directly discriminated against. However, on appeal the decision was overturned because (for these purposes) of a technicality. The risk of inappropriate and/or offensive comments or actions occurring will be only be increased, especially if workplace screenings involve alcohol. Employers should remind staff that such conduct or comments will not be tolerated.
What happens if the employee commits a criminal offence (involving football hooliganism, for instance) whilst supporting his team? If the offence takes place outside the workplace the employer needs to consider its position very carefully before instigating disciplinary action. The case of Post Office v Liddiard  where a postman was convicted and sent to prison for being involved in football hooliganism (in France) was exceptional. The Post Office dismissed him for gross misconduct, but that was in response to the damage done to its reputation because of the public outrage that occurred in response, rather than his actual activities.
However, in 2002 another postman was caught on television kicking an opposing supporter and was dismissed by Consignia (as it then was). Although the case was not formally reported he apparently won substantial compensation at an Employment Tribunal. If an employee is alleged to have committed an act of misconduct the employer must be sure to investigate the allegation thoroughly before considering disciplinary proceedings. The employer must follow a fair procedure which complies with the ACAS Code of Practice on discipline and dismissals, or claims for unfair dismissal may arise (and be successful). An employer’s decision to dismiss an employee will be judged by an Employment Tribunal according to the “range of reasonable responses” test.
The prudent employer will remind its staff of the company’s policies on absence, alcohol consumption at work and misconduct. If an employer sets out what is and is not acceptable behaviour and treats all staff fairly in accordance with those policies, if a problem does arise it should be easier to deal with. It should probably also tell its staff to keep away from postmen at football matches as well.