“We are concerned to hear of these new allegations of sexual and racial harassment” – Equality and Human Rights Commission (July 2023 Newsletter)
Updates in Employment Law in July
Confidential email hotline set up for reporting McDonald’s harassment incidents
A toxic culture of sexual assault, harassment, racism, and bullying has been alleged by more than 100 current and recent UK staff at outlets of the fast-food chain McDonald’s. The claims were made amid a BBC investigation which uncovered 31 sexual assault allegations, 78 sexual harassment allegations, 18 racism allegations and six claims of homophobia. These reports come five months after the business signed a legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) under section 23 of the Equality Act 2006 in response to concerns about the handling of sexual harassment complaints made by staff in its UK restaurants.
It is crucial for companies to have measures in place to prevent such behaviour from occurring in the first place. Having clear and enforced policies against sexual harassment, racism, and homophobia is vital. These policies should clearly define unacceptable behaviours, outline the consequences for violations, and establish a confidential and reliable reporting mechanism. Companies should actively promote and cultivate a culture of respect, diversity, and inclusion. This can be achieved through training sessions, workshops, and awareness campaigns to educate both employers and employees about appropriate behaviour, unconscious biases, and the importance of treating everyone with equal respect. The presence of a reporting mechanism, like a hotline or a designated person to contact, allows individuals to come forward without fear of retaliation. By providing a safe point of contact employees are more likely to report instances of misconduct, helping to identify patterns of behaviour and root out the problems.
New Bill aims to address workplace bullying
According to the CIPD, 15% of the UK workforce has experienced bullying at work, with estimated costs of workplace conflict amounting to £28bn annually. The Bullying and Respect at Work Bill proposes legislation that would introduce a statutory definition of bullying, to enable claims related to workplace bullying to be considered at an employment tribunal. It would also bring in a new respect-at-work code which will set minimum standards for respectful work environments.
Formal mechanisms for reporting and investigating workplace bullying would be introduced, ensuring a structured approach to handling such cases. The Equality and Human Rights Commission would also be given powers to investigate claims of bullying cultures and to take enforcement action if appropriate. Current legislation lacks a clear definition of bullying, making it challenging for employers and employees to address the issue effectively. The bill intends to provide a legal framework to combat workplace bullying, effectively changing the cultural acceptance of bullying to promote more positive workplaces.
Law reforming flexible working receives Royal Assent
On 20 July 2023, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 received Royal Assent. Once it takes effect (which will likely be mid-2024), it will overhaul the existing regime to enable more requests for flexible working to be made, helping employees balance work and home life. Employees will be able to make up to two requests per year, with no period of qualifying service being required. Previously an employee would be required to complete 26 weeks’ continuous service to qualify for this right.
The time to respond to requests for employers has also been shortened from three months to two months of receipt if no extension is agreed. Employers will now also be required to consult with employees before they can refuse a request (although there is no legislative de minimis requirement of what that ‘consultation’ needs to include). Employees will also no longer need to explain what effect the flexible working request will have on their employer. Employers should therefore ensure that management are prepared to deal with requests and consider whether additional training may be required to familiarise them with the new rules and guidance. Although employers will have less time to decide, it is important that they do not allow this to jeopardise their careful and reasonable consideration of any request or compliance with the Code.
Consultation on tax incentives for employer occupational health investment
On 20 July 2023, HMRC and HM Treasury launched a consultation on using the tax system to support employers in increasing their provision of occupational health (OH) services for their employees (and so to minimise health-related workplace absences and maximises economic growth).
The consultation specifically focuses on expanding current income tax and NICs exemptions for certain medical benefits in kind. The government proposes maintaining this treatment for employer-funded recommended medical treatments, annual health screenings, welfare counselling, and eye tests, while seeking views on potentially extending it to cover additional health screenings, preventative treatments, and flu vaccinations.
Comments on the proposal are welcome until 12 October 2023, and the decisions on tax aspects will be announced at a future fiscal event.
New study reveals workplace discrimination experienced by mothers
A new study from ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ has revealed that some form of workplace discrimination is experienced by over half of all mothers. Of the published survey results of over 24,000 parents, the study has found that up to 52% of mothers faced discrimination when pregnant, on maternity leave or when they returned to work. As a consequence, nearly a fifth of mothers left their employer.
A tenth of women surveyed said they were bullied or harassed while pregnant or when returning to work, and 7% of women lost their job either through redundancy, dismissal for some other reason, or feeling forced to leave due to the rejection of a flexible working request or health and safety issues.
The survey also revealed that 90% of breastfeeding mothers had to use a toilet or were not provided with a suitable space to express at work. Nearly three quarters of women reported a colleague making insinuations that pregnancy or maternity leave had caused their performance to dip (74%) or had experienced hurtful comments from colleagues about their pregnancy or maternity leave (73%). As well as discrimination faced by women having children, nearly a third of women who told their employer about having an abortion reported that they felt they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment as a result. More than half of women did not tell their employers that they had an abortion (57%).
We are delighted to share some wonderful news with you all! Kalra Legal Group has been selected as finalists for not just one, but two prestigious awards in recognition of our dedication and commitment to excellence.
We are thrilled to announce that we have been shortlisted for the esteemed title of “Boutique Law Firm of the Year” at the highly anticipated Legal Business Awards, which we hope to attend the ceremony for on the 19th of September 2023.
In addition, we are also elated to share that we have been recognized as finalists for the “Excellence in Customer Service Award” at the Maidenhead & Windsor Business & Community Awards 2023. The awards ceremony is scheduled for the 22nd of September, and we look forward to attending the event.
We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of our clients for their continuous support and trust in our firm. These nominations wouldn’t have been possible without your belief in us.
By Suraj Purohit.
Employment Paralegal at Kalra Legal Group
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