Evidence about ‘protected conversations’ in an unfair dismissal case?

Yes, if the date of termination is in dispute, held the EAT in Basra v BJSS Limited.

Pre-termination discussions between employer and employee are protected under section 111A Employment Rights Act 1996 and cannot therefore usually be referred to by either party in an unfair dismissal claim, unless there has been “improper behaviour”. In Basra, however, the EAT held that there is an exception to this rule if the date of termination is in dispute.

The Claimant wrote an email to the Respondent in response to a without prejudice offer letter it had sent saying “today will be the last day at BJSS”. The Claimant then stopped attending work, and later brought a claim for unfair dismissal. BJSS argued the Claimant’s employment had ended by mutual termination and, in the alternative, the email was a resignation. The Claimant denied resigning and said he had been dismissed by BJSS at a later date. The tribunal, following Faithorn Farrell Timms LLP v Bailey, noted that s111A protection cannot be waived (unlike without prejudice negotiations) and excluded BJSS’s offer letter as protected under s111A ERA.

The EAT held that as the protection under s111A only applies to pre-termination negotiations, “the chronological line between what is, and what is not, admissible therefore lies on the point at which the contract is terminated”. The EAT went on to say that “where there is a dispute as to whether or not the contract was terminated on a particular date, the tribunal would not be in a position to say what evidence should be excluded until that dispute is determined”. Thus the tribunal needs to determine the termination date before applying s111A


EAT upholds finding of direct discrimination because of perceived disability

In Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey the EAT has upheld the decision of an employment tribunal that a police officer, who was turned down for a transfer to the Norfolk Constabulary because her hearing loss was marginally below the medical standard for police recruitment, had suffered direct discrimination because of a perceived disability. The Constabulary’s reason for refusing the transfer was the concern that the claimant would end up on restricted duties. This indicated that it perceived her to have a progressive condition which, by virtue of paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the Equality Act 2010, met the statutory definition of disability.

In 2011 C applied to the Wiltshire Constabulary to become a police constable. She attended a medical, at which it was discovered that she suffers from bilateral mild sensori-neural hearing loss with tinnitus. Although C’s hearing loss was marginally outside the range set down by the Home Office for police recruitment, the Wiltshire Constabulary arranged a practical functionality test which C duly passed before going on to work on front-line duties. In 2013 C applied to transfer to the Norfolk Constabulary. C attended a pre-employment health assessment, where the medical adviser noted that her hearing was ‘just outside the standards for recruitment strictly speaking’ but that she had undertaken an operational policing role with the Wiltshire Constabulary without any undue problems. He recommended that C undergo an ‘at work’ test, but this recommendation was not carried through by the Assistant Chief Inspector (ACI) who dealt with the application. Instead, the ACI declined C’s request to transfer on the basis that her hearing was below the acceptable and recognised standard, and that it would not be appropriate to step outside that standard given the risk of increasing the pool of officers on restricted duties.

C brought an employment tribunal claim for direct discrimination. It was not alleged that she actually had a disability; her case was that her hearing loss did not have, and was not likely to have, a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities, including working activities. Instead, it was argued that she had been treated less favourably because she was perceived to have a disability, in the form of a progressive condition that could well develop to the point of having a substantial impact on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities. The tribunal considered that the only way to read the ACI’s comments about the risk of C ending up on restricted duties was that she perceived that C had a potential or actual disability which could lead to the Constabulary having to make adjustments to C’s role as a front-line police officer. Since this perception was the reason for refusing C’s transfer, the tribunal upheld the discrimination claim.

On appeal to the EAT, it was argued that the tribunal had erred both in respect of its finding that the ACI perceived C to be disabled and its finding that C had been treated less favourably because of that perception. On the former point, the EAT stressed that the question of whether a putative discriminator A perceives B to be disabled will not depend on whether A perceives B to be disabled as a matter of law. It will depend on whether A perceives B to have an impairment with the features which are set out in the legislation. Paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the EqA makes special provision in respect of progressive conditions. Where a person has a progressive condition that results in an impairment having an effect on his or her ability to carry out day-to-day activities, but the effect is not a substantial adverse effect, it will still be treated as such if it is likely that the condition will result in a substantial adverse effect in future. Although the ACI protested that she did not consider C disabled with the meaning of the EqA, her knowledge of the law was incomplete and did not include Paragraph 8 of Schedule 1. The reference to the risk of C being on restricted duties could only be read as the ACI perceiving that C had a progressive condition which could worsen. Thus, the tribunal had been entitled to find that she perceived her to be disabled.

Turning to whether the tribunal had been correct to find that there had been direct discrimination, the EAT accepted that a genuine difference in abilities will be a material difference between claimant and comparator. However, it saw no warrant for an employer’s flawed belief in a lack of ability to be a material difference. The tribunal was entitled to conclude that a person with the same abilities as C, whose condition the employer did not perceive to be likely to deteriorate so that he or she would require restricted duties, would not have been treated as C was. C had performed an active policing role in Wiltshire; she had been accepted at the interview stage; her rejection followed when the ACI ignored advice to rely on a practical assessment of C because, as the tribunal put it, she believed the C would become a liability to the force. The tribunal did not err in law in concluding that she had been subjected to direct discrimination.

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ACAS Early Conciliation Certificate valid despite naming 2 Respondents

In De Mota v ADR Network and anor, the EAT has held that an employment judge erred in rejecting a claim on the basis that the early conciliation (EC) certificate named two respondents. Although rule 4 of the Schedule to the Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemption and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2014 SI 2014/254 (the EC Rules) requires a prospective claimant to present a separate EC form in respect of each respondent when contacting Acas, it does not apply to the EC certificate itself, and there is no rule that renders unlawful a certificate that names two respondents.

DM worked as an HGV driver for the Co-Operative Group Ltd (CG Ltd) between 2012 and 2015. He sought to claim unfair dismissal, breach of contract, unlawful deduction from wages, holiday pay and notice pay. His case was that he was employed by, or contracted to work for, ADR, and that ADR assigned him to work for CG Ltd. ADR and CG Ltd disputed this, saying that DM had set up his own company providing his services to ADR, and that ADR provided his services to CG Ltd. DM completed an EC form online. The information provided to online applicants states, in accordance with rule 4 of the EC Rules, that in order to make a claim against more than one respondent the claimant must complete a separate form for each one. However, DM completed just one form, putting ‘ADR Network and The Co-operative Group’ in the box for the respondent’s name. He gave an address which is both the depot of CG Ltd and a business address of ADR. Despite the error, Acas issued an EC certificate, which identified the ‘prospective respondent’ as ‘ADR Network and The Co-operative Group’. DM went on to present his claim to an employment tribunal, naming ADR and CG Ltd as two separate respondents.

An employment judge rejected DM’s claim for non-compliance with the EC Rules. He ruled that the form that DM had submitted to Acas named neither of the respondents but rather a non-existent entity whose name was the conjunction of the names of both respondents. He noted that rule 4 renders it necessary to submit separate forms in respect of separate respondents. He therefore concluded that DM had failed to provide the required information in the prescribed manner and so the tribunal was deprived of jurisdiction by S.18A of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996. DM appealed to the EAT.

The EAT allowed the appeal. His Honour Judge David Richardson, sitting along, noted that, following the EAT’s approach in cases such as Mist v Derby Community Services NHS Trust (Brief 1040) and Drake International Systems Ltd and ors v Blue Arrow Ltd (Brief 1040), it is clear that the purpose of the EC provisions is limited – it is not to require or enforce conciliation, it is simply to build in a structured opportunity for conciliation to be considered. Furthermore, it is no part of the provisions to encourage satellite litigation. HHJ David Richardson pointed out that S.18A ETA, which sets out how the tribunal’s jurisdiction depends on compliance with the EC provisions, focuses upon the existence of an EC certificate. In his view, Parliament did not intend that the process leading up to the certificate should be subject to criticism and examination by the parties or the employment tribunal. For one thing, as was pointed out in Mist, if the prospective claimant does not provide the prescribed information in the prescribed manner, the EC Rules make it plain that Acas is not bound to reject the claim. For another, if it were open to the parties or the tribunal to go behind the certificate, it would also be open to them to challenge Acas’s conduct of the conciliation procedure. Thus, the employment judge erred in law in going behind the certificate and finding that DM failed to provide the prescribed information in the prescribed form to Acas.

HHJ David Richardson went on to hold that the employment judge was wrong to rule, in effect, that Acas had issued an unlawful certificate. Rule 4, which requires individual respondents to be named on separate forms, does not apply to the EC certificate, and there is no similar mandatory requirement elsewhere in the EC Rules. Nor should such a requirement be implied, especially where the effect would be to bar access to the legal system for a litigant based on a technicality. It may be that the issuing of a single certificate was an error on Acas’s part but that is not the same as saying that it was an unlawful certificate. The appeal would therefore be allowed and the claim remitted to the employment tribunal for proceedings to continue.

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New burden of proof in Discrimination cases

In Efobi v Royal Mail Group Ltd, the EAT has held that S.136 of the Equality Act 2010 – which deals with the burden of proof in discrimination cases – does not impose any initial burden on claimants to establish a ‘prima facie’ case of discrimination. Rather, it requires the tribunal to consider all the evidence, from all sources, at the end of the hearing, so as to decide whether or not there are facts from which it can infer discrimination. If there are such facts, and no explanation from A, the tribunal must uphold the complaint. It may therefore be misleading to refer to a ‘shifting’ of the burden of proof, as this implies, contrary to the language of S.136, that Parliament has required a claimant to prove something.

E worked as a postman for RMG Ltd. On more than 30 occasions, E applied unsuccessfully for an IT job with the company. He subsequently complained to an employment tribunal that his applications were rejected because he was a black African, born in Nigeria. The tribunal dismissed his race discrimination claims, holding that he had not proved facts from which it could conclude that there was discrimination. For instance, there was no evidence to show that the successful applicants were appropriate comparators (no evidence having been adduced as to their race and national origins). In contrast, RMG Ltd had adduced ample evidence to establish that it had good reasons, untainted by discrimination, to reject E’s applications – notably that while E was highly technically qualified, his CV did not set out the required skills for the various jobs.

Upon appeal to the EAT, E argued that the tribunal had erred in law in its application of the burden of proof, having failed to analyse properly what inferences it could (or should) have drawn from the evidence. The EAT (Mrs Justice Laing sitting alone) observed that S.136(2) of the EqA provides ‘if there are facts from which the Court could decide, in the absence of any other explanation, that a person (A) contravened the provision concerned, the Court must hold that the contravention occurred’. However, S.136(2) ‘does not apply if A shows that A did not contravene the provision’ – S.136(3). In the EAT’s view, S.136(2) does not put any initial burden on a claimant (although if the claim is ‘manifestly frivolous’, a respondent can apply to have it struck out). Rather, it requires the tribunal to consider all the evidence, from all sources, at the end of the hearing, so as to decide whether or not there are facts from which it can infer discrimination. If there are such facts, and no explanation from A, the tribunal must find the contravention proved. If a respondent chooses, without explanation, not to adduce evidence about matters that are within its knowledge (such as, in this case, the race and national origins of the successful applicants), it runs the risk that a tribunal will draw adverse inferences in deciding whether or not S.136(2) has been satisfied.

The EAT acknowledged that this is not the way in which S.136 is interpreted in the Explanatory Notes to the EqA (which state that ‘the burden of proving his or her case starts with the claimant’). However, while such notes may be an admissible aid to the construction of a statute in order to establish contextual factors, they cannot be treated as reflecting the will of Parliament, which is to be deduced from the language of the statute itself. The EAT further acknowledged that this is not the way in which the burden of proof has been understood thus far in discrimination cases, starting with Igen Ltd (formerly Leeds Careers Guidance) and ors v Wong and other cases (Brief 777). However, the statutory provision there being considered was S.63A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (a predecessor to S.136 EqA), which – along with its ‘sibling provisions’, in for example the Race Relations Act 1976 – specifically placed the onus on the claimant to prove the initial facts from which discrimination could be inferred. There had not been many cases in which the effect of S.136 (as opposed to its predecessors) had been directly considered.

It was clear to the EAT that the tribunal did not understand the effect of S.136, since it had stated on several occasions that E had the initial burden of proving a prima facie case of discrimination. In light of this misdirection, the EAT could not be confident that the tribunal had not required E ‘to prove things that he was neither required, nor able, to prove’, such as the race and national origins of the successful candidates. In addition, the EAT could not be confident that the tribunal had imposed a sufficiently rigorous standard of proof on RMG Ltd. Had the tribunal appreciated that E did not have to get ‘to first base’ (as it put it), but that it had to consider all the evidence in the round, it might have concluded that S.136(2) was satisfied, and then have subjected RMG Ltd’s explanation to more rigorous scrutiny than it did.

The EAT therefore remitted the case to a differently constituted employment tribunal to decide whether or not E’s race discrimination claims were made out. In doing so, the EAT commented that even if S.136 were to be interpreted in line with its predecessors, it would still have allowed the appeal – it was not confident that the tribunal understood that there might have been facts from which a court could have concluded that (in the absence of an explanation) RMG Ltd had discriminated against E.

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ACAS Early Conciliation – get the employer’s name right!

If a director was named on the ACAS Early Conciliation form and the company on the Claim Form, should the claim be allowed to proceed (as this was a minor error)?

No, held the EAT, in Giny v SNA Transport Ltd.

The Claimant brought several claims, including constructive dismissal, against his former employer. When he was initially unrepresented, he contacted Acas for Early Conciliation and named the director, Shakoor Nadeem Ahmed, as the prospective Respondent. He then instructed solicitors to prepare his Claim Form which correctly named the Respondent as his employer, ‘SNA Transport Limited’. The employment tribunal rejected his claim as the Respondent had not been correctly identified on the Early Conciliation Certificate.. His solicitors applied to the tribunal to reconsider that decision on the basis that the use of the director’s name was a “minor error”, which (under the rules) allows a tribunal to overlook it.

The employment tribunal rejected that application.. Confusing the director with the company was not a minor error, and it had been right to reject the claim. The Claimant appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, although sympathetic, rejected the Claimant’s application. It said that a two stage test should be applied.. Firstly, was it a minor error? If not, the claim would be rejected..Secondly, if it was, the tribunal should go on to consider whether or not it was in the interests of justice to allow the claim to proceed.. Although in principle the distinction between a natural and a legal person could amount to a minor error, in this case it did not. Each case should be considered on its facts, and as there was no error in the tribunal’s Judgment, the Claimant’s appeal was dismissed.


Court of Appeal clarifies “Public Interest” Test in whistle blowing cases

In Chesterton Global Ltd and anor v Nurmohamed, the Court of Appeal has held that an employment tribunal was entitled to find that an employee had a reasonable belief that his disclosures about his employer’s manipulation of profit and loss accounts were made in the public interest, despite his personal motivation in so doing (i.e. the effect this would have on his commission payments). The tribunal had identified a number of features that made it reasonable to regard disclosure as being in the public interest as well as in the personal interest of the worker – specifically, the number of employees affected; the nature of the wrongdoing, which involved large sums of money; and the fact that it was deliberate.

N was employed as director of the Mayfair office of CG Ltd, a firm of estate agents. On three occasions between August and October 2013 he alleged to senior managers that there were inaccuracies in the company’s accounts and that figures were being manipulated to the benefit of shareholders. He was concerned that costs and liabilities had been deliberately misstated, and that inaccurate figures were used to calculate commission payments to over 100 senior managers (including himself). N was later dismissed and brought claims of, among other things, automatically unfair dismissal for having made a protected disclosure, contrary to S.103A of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

An employment tribunal found that N had a reasonable belief that the disclosures were made in the public interest (as required by an amendment to S.43B ERA that came into force on 25 June 2013) and upheld N’s claim. Upon appeal, the EAT held that it was entitled to do so. Although N had a personal motivation in raising the allegations, the tribunal had been satisfied that he had the other office managers in mind, and permissibly concluded that they comprised a sufficiently large section of the public to engage the public interest. CG Ltd appealed, arguing that in order for a disclosure to be in the public interest, it must serve the interests of persons outside the workplace – mere multiplicity of workers sharing the same interest was not enough.

The Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Underhill giving the lead judgment) dismissed the appeal. It observed that that the 2013 ‘public interest’ amendment to the ERA was intended to reverse the effect of the EAT’s decision in Parkins v Sodexho Ltd 2002 IRLR 109, whereby a worker could bring a protected disclosure claim purely in respect of a breach of his or her own contract of employment. It disagreed with Public Concern at Work (which intervened in the case) that a disclosure of a breach of contract could be in the public interest if it was in the interests of anyone else besides the worker making the disclosure. The question whether a disclosure is in the public interest depends on the character of the interest served by it rather than simply on the number of people sharing it.

On the other hand, CG Ltd went too far in suggesting that multiplicity of persons sharing the same interest can never, by itself, convert a personal interest into a public one. The statutory criterion of what is ‘in the public interest’ does not lend itself to absolute rules and the Court of Appeal was not prepared to discount the possibility that the disclosure of a breach of a worker’s contract ‘of the Parkins v Sodexho kind’ may nevertheless be in the public interest, or reasonably be so regarded, if a sufficiently large number of other employees share the same interest. Tribunals should, however, be cautious about reaching such a conclusion – the broad intent behind the 2103 statutory amendment is that workers making disclosures in the context of private workplace disputes should not attract the enhanced statutory protection accorded to whistleblowers, even where more than one worker is involved.

The Court of Appeal went on to hold that where the disclosure relates to a breach of the worker’s own contract of employment (or some other matter where the interest in question is personal in character), there may nevertheless be features of the case that make it reasonable to regard disclosure as being in the public interest as well as in the personal interest of the worker.

In this regard, the following factors suggested by N might be relevant:
• the numbers in the group whose interests the disclosure served
• the nature of the interests affected and the extent to which they are affected by the wrongdoing disclosed
• the nature of the wrongdoing disclosed, and
• the identity of the alleged wrongdoer.

In the instant case, the tribunal had identified other features, aside from the number of employees affected, which might be said to render disclosure in the public interest – specifically, that the disclosure was of deliberate wrongdoing, and that it allegedly took the form of misstatements in the accounts to the tune of £2-3 million. The Court observed that if the accounts had been statutory, the disclosure of such a misstatement would unquestionably be in the public interest (even if it involved a private company). The fact that the accounts in question were only internal made the position less black and white. However, internal accounts feed into the statutory accounts and C Ltd is a very substantial and prominent business in the London property market. It was debatable whether the tribunal, which was navigating uncharted waters, fed those factors into its assessment that it was reasonable to regard disclosure as being in the public interest. But, even if it did not, the Court considered that they would only have reinforced its conclusion, based on the numbers alone, so that any error of law in its reasoning was immaterial.

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Tribunal under duty to consider stigma future loss claim in whistleblowing claim

In Small v Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust, the Court of Appeal has held that an employment tribunal ought to have considered whether to award compensation for long-term loss of earnings to a claimant whose employment was terminated because he had made a protected disclosure, even though the claimant, a litigant in person, did not expressly advance such a claim. In the Court’s view, given that the tribunal had acknowledged that the consequences of the termination were ‘career-ending’ for the claimant, it should have recognised and raised the issue itself.

S began working for the Trust in May 2012 at the age of 56. He was engaged through an agency on a temporary assignment but understood that there was a prospect of full-time employment in due course. However, two months later the Trust terminated his engagement. S successfully argued before an employment tribunal that the reason for the termination was that he had made a protected disclosure and the tribunal found that the termination constituted an unlawful detriment under S.47B of the Employment Rights Act 1996. At the remedy hearing, S, who was unrepresented, claimed compensation for, among other things, loss of earnings up to his anticipated date of retirement in 2022. This was on the basis that a permanent appointment would have followed but for the unlawful termination. S also put in evidence to show that, since his dismissal, he had been unable to obtain work in the same field despite numerous applications. He asserted that his search for employment had been hampered by the fact that he was dismissed and by the lack of a reference from the Trust.

The employment tribunal awarded compensation of £54,126, including £33,976 for loss of earnings. It calculated loss of earnings on the basis that S would not have been given the permanent employment which he said he had been led to expect but that he would have been retained until November 2013. The tribunal made no award for loss of earnings beyond that point. However, in its reasoning on injury to feelings it observed that S’s career was dependent on the outcome of his last job, that the lack of a reference was indeed a hindrance and that the termination had been ‘career-ending’. S appealed to the EAT, where he had the benefit of representation by counsel for the first time. He argued that the tribunal should have awarded loss of earnings beyond November 2013 on the basis of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Chagger v Abbey National plc (Brief 893), where the Court held that, in principle, a claimant can recover for loss of earnings beyond the date on which employment would have otherwise terminated and can, in principle, claim for the ‘stigma’ that he or she suffers in the labour market. The EAT dismissed the appeal. While it accepted that there are some principles that are so well established that a tribunal might be expected to consider them as a ‘matter of course’, it could not accept that the Chagger basis of claim was in this category. S appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court allowed the appeal, holding that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the tribunal ought to have considered whether S had a claim in respect of his loss after November 2013, which would, in principle, include a stigma claim. Lord Justice Underhill, giving the only judgment, pointed out that S’s evidence to the tribunal made clear that he was suffering a loss extending into the indefinite, and probably long-term, future, and that the tribunal had itself recognised the ‘career-ending’ consequences of the termination for S. Although a Chagger claim will not always be a ‘matter of course’, it was so in the particular circumstances of the present case. Underhill LJ rejected the Trust’s argument that, because S had put his claim for future loss on the basis of long-term permanent employment with the Trust, the tribunal was under no obligation to formulate a different future loss claim and consider that. The Chagger claim was an obvious alternative or fallback to the very specific and rather ambitious claim that S was advancing. He should not be regarded as having given up the right to have that alternative considered by the tribunal simply because both types of claim could be labelled as ‘future loss’.

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Multiple choice test subjected job applicant with Asperger’s to indirect disability discrimination

Multiple choice test subjected job applicant with Asperger’s to indirect disability discrimination

In Government Legal Service v Brookes, the EAT has upheld the decision of an employment tribunal that, in requiring a job applicant with Asperger syndrome to sit a multiple choice test at the first stage of its recruitment process, the GLS subjected her to indirect disability discrimination and discrimination because of something arising in consequence of her disability. The Appeal Tribunal also upheld the finding that, by refusing her request to provide answers to the test in narrative form rather than choosing from multiple options, the GLS failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments.

The GLS recruits around 35 trainee solicitors each year and receives thousands of applications for these posts. As the first stage in recruitment, all applicants are required to sit an online ‘situational judgement test’ (SJT). This poses multiple choice questions as a means of testing candidates’ ability to make effective decisions. B, a law graduate with Asperger syndrome, contacted the GLS ahead of the 2015 recruitment round and requested adjustments to the SJT by being allowed to submit her answers to the questions in a short narrative form. She was told that an alternative test format was not available but that time allowances were, as well as a guaranteed interview scheme for those who passed the SJT and two subsequent tests. B took the SJT and received a score of 12 out of 22. The pass mark was set at 14, with the result that her application went no further. She subsequently brought claims in the employment tribunal of indirect disability discrimination under S.19 of the Equality Act 2010, discrimination because of something arising in consequence of her disability under S.15 and a failure to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments in S.20.

The tribunal hearing B’s claims found that the GLS had applied a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) of requiring all applicants in the trainee recruitment scheme to take and pass the online SJT. Having heard expert medical evidence, it concluded that the PCP generally placed people who had Asperger syndrome at a particular disadvantage compared with those who did not have it. It found that B was put at that disadvantage since her Asperger’s results in a lack of social imagination and causes difficulties in imaginative and counterfactual reasoning in hypothetical scenarios, and no alternative explanation as to why she failed the SJT was advanced by the GLS. The PCP pursued the legitimate aim of testing a fundamental competency required of GLS trainees, but the means of achieving that aim were not proportionate because there was the less discriminatory alternative of the adjustments proposed by B. The tribunal considered these adjustments to be reasonable, so the claims under S.19 and S.20 were both upheld. The claim under S.15 also succeeded: the requirement to take the SJT in its unaltered form amounted to unfavourable treatment; this could not be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim for the reasons found in respect of indirect discrimination. 

On appeal, the tribunal’s finding that the GLS had applied a PCP which placed people with Asperger’s at a disadvantage was not challenged, but the GLS disputed that B had experienced the same disadvantage. However, the EAT held that the tribunal’s reasoning was beyond reproach: ‘The tribunal was presented with what appeared to be a capable young woman who, with the benefit of adjustments, had obtained a law degree and had come close to reaching the required mark of 14 in the SJT, but had not quite managed it.  The tribunal was right to ask itself why, and was entitled to find that a likely explanation could be found in the fact that she had Asperger’s, and the additional difficulty that would place her under due to the multiple choice format of the SJT’. The EAT further upheld the tribunal’s reasoning in respect of proportionality under Ss.15 and 19 and reasonableness under S.20. In particular, the tribunal had been entitled to reject the GLS’s submission that this was a case where the method of testing and the competency itself were inseparable and effectively the same thing. The decision-making powers of the small number of candidates with Asperger’s could properly have been measured by requiring them to answer the SJT in narrative format.

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Harassment simply by asserting disability? – No

Can a Claimant successfully claim harassment by simply asserting s/he has a disability without establishing s/he is disabled under the Equality Act 2010?

No, held the EAT in Peninsula Business Services v Baker.

The Claimant was employed as a tribunal representative by Peninsula. In January 2014, he told his advocacy manager he had dyslexia. A psychologist’s report confirmed this and an occupational health report in August 2014 suggested he may be disabled.

Peninsula’s director of legal services grew concerned the Claimant was not devoting his time to his work and instructed external consultants to conduct covert surveillance.

The Claimant complained that being subjected surveillance constituted harassment on grounds of disability. The employment tribunal found for the Claimant but, acknowledging it was not asked to determine disability, found “on the basis that the Claimant may well have been disabled” that the trigger for the decision to engage in surveillance was an assertion of disability.

Overturning the decision, the EAT held that discrimination protection is not available to those who merely assert a disability. The protection applies only to those who have a disability, to those associated with a disabled person, or to those who are wrongly perceived to be disabled.

Court of Appeal delivers a key judgement on employment status

The Court of Appeal has delivered an important decision on employment status holding that the plumbers engaged by Pimlico Plumbers were engaged as workers not self employed contractors.

In Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and anor v Smith, the Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of an employment tribunal that a plumber who was self-employed for tax purposes was nevertheless a ‘worker’ within the meaning of S.230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Working Time Regulations 1998 SI 1998/1833 and an ‘employee’ under the extended definition of that term in S.83(2) of the Equality Act 2010.

S was a plumber who carried out work solely for PP Ltd between 25 August 2005 and 28 April 2011. He had signed an agreement that his work would be governed by terms and conditions set out in PP Ltd’s Manual, which included stipulations as to working hours, uniform and appearance; restricted the ability of S to work for himself or other companies; obliged S to use a PP Ltd van for his work; and provided that S could only swap jobs with other PP Ltd operatives. During this period, S filed tax returns on the basis that he was self-employed. He was registered for VAT and submitted regular VAT invoices to PP Ltd. In January 2011, S had a heart attack and PP Ltd subsequently terminated its arrangement with him on 3 May 2011, following which he brought claims in the employment tribunal alleging unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, entitlement to pay during the period of a medical suspension and failure to provide particulars of employment. These claims all depended on S being an employee within the meaning of S.230(3)(a) ERA – i.e. employed under a contract of service. At a pre-hearing review, an employment judge held that S was not employed under such a contract, and therefore concluded that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear these claims.

However, S had additionally made claims for unpaid holiday pay and unlawful deductions from wages. For these purposes he did not need to show that he was an employee, merely that he was a ‘worker’ within the meaning of S.230(3)(b) ERA and Reg 2 WTR – i.e. he was employed under a contract ‘whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual’. He also claimed against both PP Ltd and its owner, M, for direct disability discrimination, discrimination arising from disability and failure to make reasonable adjustments. For these purposes, he needed to be an employee within the extended definition in S.83(2) EqA, which includes those employed under ‘a contract personally to do work’.

The employment judge held that S was a worker and an employee in the extended sense. The main purpose of the agreement signed in 2005, and a subsequent agreement containing updated terms which S signed in 2009, was for S to personally provide work for PP Ltd. The Manual obliged him to work 40 hours per week (M’s evidence was that the minimum week in practice was 36 hours per week), and although there was some flexibility, he was required to agree the hours he would work with PP Ltd.  There was not an unfettered right to substitute at will: there was no such right given to S by the contractual documents and no evidential basis for such a practice. Even though in practice engineers with PP Ltd swapped jobs around between each other, and also used each other to provide additional help where more than one person was required for a job or to do a job more quickly, and there was evidence that external contractors were sometimes required to assist a job due to the need for further assistance or to conduct specialist work, the fact was that S was under an obligation to provide work personally for a minimum number of hours per week or on the days agreed with PP Ltd. S had a degree of autonomy in relation to the estimates and work done, but PP Ltd exercised very tight control in most other respects. These factors led the judge to conclude that PP Ltd could not be considered to be a client or customer of S’s business.

The EAT upheld the employment judge’s decision, leading PP Ltd to appeal further to the Court of Appeal, where the Master of the Rolls (Sir Terence Etherton) gave the lead judgment. He began by observing that ‘the case puts a spotlight on a business model under which operatives are intended to appear to clients of the business as working for the business, but at the same time the business itself seeks to maintain that, as between itself and its operatives, there is a legal relationship of client or customer and independent contractor rather than employer and employee or worker’. Citing the judgment of Lady Hale in the Supreme Court in Clyde and Co LLP and anor v Bates van Winklehof (Brief 1000), he stressed that in the context of S.230(3)(b) ERA, Reg 2 WTR and S.83(2) EqA, ‘a distinction is to be drawn between (1) persons employed under a contract of service; (2) persons who are self-employed, carrying on a profession or a business undertaking on their own account, and who enter into contracts with clients or customers to provide work or services for them; and (3) persons who are self-employed and provide their services as part of a profession or business undertaking carried on by someone else’. The question posed by the appeal was whether the employment judge was correct to hold that S fell in category (3) rather than category (2).

In the Master of the Rolls’ view, the employment judge had been correct to conclude that S was under an obligation to provide his services personally. Unlike earlier decisions of the EAT and Court of Appeal in which it had been held that an express right of substitution or delegation was incompatible with an obligation of personal performance, the facts here indicated that there was no such express right. Nor was there any scope for the Court to imply such a right. Furthermore, having found that S was obliged under the terms of his agreements with PP Ltd to do a minimum number of hours per week, the employment judge concluded, and was entitled to conclude, that the degree of control exercised by PP Ltd over S was also inconsistent with PP Ltd being a customer or client of a business run by S. In particular, the judge was entitled and right to place weight on the onerous restrictive covenants in the agreement, precluding S from working as a plumber in any part of Greater London for three months after termination.