Coffin Mew's Employment News
“Lead me not into temptation. I can find the way myself.”
Rita Mae Brown
“I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.”
Happy New Year!
Well, Christmas is over and now seems like a distant memory. I have packed away my bottles of Hai Karate and Old Spice aftershave. The new socks are in the chest of drawers and the Chocolate Orange is no more.
New Years Eve passed in a blur of prawn cocktails, Babycham and laughter with old friends at Tibble Towers. We sang Auld Lang Syne badly with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in the background before launching Chinese lanterns into the night sky whilst keeping our collective fingers crossed that we wouldn’t burn down Winchester Cathedral. After the (slightly raucous) celebrations came the most important event of the night – the New Year Resolutions.
After 50 editions of my ramblings (yes ladies and gentlemen, we have hit the half century – please, no applause) I feel that I can share my resolutions with you: I have resolved to give up sarcasm and irony. I wonder how long that will last….. ?
That long. Oh well, there’s always next year.
So, enough of this madness, let’s have a look at some employment law.
The Legal Bit
Firstly, employers should be aware that some of the compensation limits that employment tribunals can award will be increased with effect from 1st February 2012. The first important increase is to the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal which will rise from £68,400 to £72,300. It is important to note that this new figure will only apply where the effective date of termination occurs on or after 1st February 2012 – for dismissals that occur before this date, the old limit will apply. The second important compensation limit increase is the maximum ‘week’s pay’ which is used for calculating statutory redundancy payments. This figure will increase from £400 to £430 on 1st February 2012. Therefore, the maximum possible statutory redundancy payment that an employee can receive (based on a week’s pay, age and length of service) will increase from £12,000 to £12,900.
Over the last few weeks, there have been a few headline grabbing employment cases. The first of which was the case of Michalak v the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and others. The Trust, along with a number of other employees was ordered to pay compensation to the tune of £4,452,206.60 to Dr Michalak for race and sex discrimination.
According to the reports on this case, Dr Michalak had worked as an obstetrician at Pontefract General Infirmary until her dismissal in 2008. The tribunal heard that senior employees plotted to terminate Dr Michalak's employment through "secret meetings" before and during her maternity leave, which culminated in an unauthorised period of suspension and dismissal. The tribunal was presented with medical evidence that Dr Michalak had suffered serious post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which had a considerable impact on her ability to work again. It is understood that the award of compensation in this case is the largest ever awarded for a UK discrimination case.
Secondly, you might recall a case that I referred to about a year ago where a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent brought a claim against Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and the show’s production companies for disability discrimination. Miss Czikai alleged that the respondents had failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability at the audition, and that she was then subjected to harassment when her audition appeared on the television.
Miss Czikai’s claim was dismissed at a pre-hearing review as the Tribunal decided that the audition was not a recruitment exercise in an employment sense and therefore there was no obligation to make reasonable adjustments. The harassment claim was also dismissed because Miss Czikai was not employed or applying for employment with any of the respondents. Miss Czikai appealed against the Tribunal’s decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The EAT dismissed Miss Czikai’s appeal on the basis that it considered that the audition was a competitive process and not an application for employment.
The final headline employment case (literally) involved Andy Coulson (the former Editor of the News of World). The High Court was asked to consider whether an indemnity in a compromise agreement between Mr Coulson and Newsgroup Newspapers obliged Newsgroup to pay Mr Coulson’s legal expenses arising from the well publicised criminal investigation into his alleged actions when he was their employee.
Mr Coulson’s compromise agreement had a clause in it which said that Newsgroup Newspapers would reimburse his legal expenses "which arise from his having to defend, or appear in, any administrative, regulatory, judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings as a result of his having been Editor of the News of the World".
The dispute arose when Mr Coulson’s claim for payment of his legal costs under the agreement relating to the criminal allegations was refused. In the week before the Christmas break, the High Court decided that the wide ranging indemnity in the compromise agreement did not cover criminal allegations against Mr Coulson directly; the indemnity was in place to cover legal costs arising from the normal “occupational hazards” of an editor of a newspaper.
As an aside...
The Firm is often asked to advise various bodies in relation to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. As such, it was hard to resist drawing your attention to a few of the more ‘interesting’ requests made to councils around the country over the last 12 months, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.
My winner has to be an application to Cheltenham Borough Council to reveal its plans for dealing with a crash landing by Santa's sleigh, including who would be responsible for rounding up the reindeer.
Apparently, Bristol City Council was asked about its plans to defend the city against a zombie attack and West Devon District Council was asked to provide information about its preparations for defending against an invasion by Napoleon!!
If I worked for West Devon District Council (and hadn’t resolved to stop all sarcasm) I would have been tempted to respond to the request by comforting the applicant that the defences of West Devon would be bolstered by a conscription of Vikings and Daleks who are on 24 hour standby in an underground bunker in Tavistock. Maybe I’m not cut out for working in local government…..
Until next week.