Avoiding discrimination at work


Date: 17 November 2011

Jo Davis of B P Collins joined Bev Hurley, founder of Enterprising Women, and the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour team as a guest speaker last week (November 8), tackling the issue of ‘Women in Business – when is it legal to dismiss an employee?’

I was delighted to be asked to appear on Woman's Hour recently. I’ve dealt with a number of high profile employment cases and this was an excellent opportunity to talk about some of the major issues I come across, including employers who use bullyboy tactics at work and the need for open and honest communications in the workplace.

We talked about a range of issues, including the changes the Government is introducing from April 2012, which will increase the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two years and how this might impact on the number of claims being made.

It will give employers even longer to decide if the person they have hired is the best fit for the job, but employees will still have the right to bring unfair dismissal claims linked to their dismissal on other grounds, such as health and safety, and these can be made after just a month's employment.

Some listeners had written in with their workplace experiences so we discussed how bullying and harassment can turn into a case for constructive dismissal if a person feels forced to resign from their role.  Bev and I agreed that open and honest communication with employees is important, giving staff the chance to improve their performance with the appropriate help, training and support of a good management team.

Finally, I think the presenter, Jane Garvey, was surprised to hear that those on maternity leave have greater protection against redundancy than their colleagues as they have to be offered a suitable alternative position, whereas other employees only have the right to be considered for alternative employment. Pregnant women are protected by unfair dismissal and discrimination laws, so it’s a brave employer who would try and terminate the position of a pregnant woman. That’s not to say it can’t be done in genuine cases but we would urge anyone to take legal advice.

Jo Davis is a partner, and head of employment, at BP Collins LLP

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