Vince Cable Discusses Employment Law at Libdem Conference

In any developed capitalist country, ensuring fluid legal structures for businesses are in place to maintain the economy and country’s productivity is absolutely critical. In a recession however, the role of the person who deals with these matters becomes particularly critical, perhaps more so than ever before.

With adjustments to employment law over the past few years, Great Britain has done relatively well in terms of productivity during the downturn, a fact which many people put down to employment law being less favourable to employees than in most of continental Europe.

Vince Cable, the employment minister, claims that over the past two years, the current government had shown a great deal of support towards removing any surplus bureaucratic red tape which had previously been burdening small businesses. Also noted was the bolstering of regulations as needed elsewhere in employment law.

Cable accused the previous government of seeking to sow the seeds of a ‘hire and fire’ culture, stating that they seemed to find the sacking of employees ‘an aphrodisiac’. He went on to say that formulating such systems was completely irrelevant in a country such as the UK where the labour market was so flexible, one of the reasons why over 1 million jobs in the private sector has been created over the past couple of years. Cable told listeners how the concentration on practical reforms around tribunals and the supporting of progressive businesses has gone towards improving the situation.

Adrian Beecroft, a venture capitalist, released a report which was commissioned by the UK Government suggesting the idea that companies should be allowed to fire employees with a compensation pay-out in exchange for him or her being unable to bring the company to court in an employment tribunal. This the idea was to be called the ‘no-fault dismissal’ and the crux of the idea was to allow employers to see off unwanted employees without having fears hanging over them of disgruntled ex-members of staff taking them to tribunal as a result. It is often the procedure involved in warnings and dismissals which is seen by employers as a huge burden and then comes the uncertainty, delay and costs of defending a Tribunal claim.

Vince cable also voiced his concerns over the fact that the country was currently in what he described as a ‘dangerous phase’ of the recession due to a combination of spending of consumers being squeezed by the drop in real incomes and exports and debts to the European Union being hit by the Eurozone crisis.

Finally, Cable stated that he was not going to make any apologies for his ongoing support for the fiscal discipline in the UK. He believes that there is a need for command stimulus as the country battles its way through the economic downturn. Cable believes that a significant step forward on the part of the UK government is its ongoing commitment to build more houses, thus bolstering the construction industry.

This post courtesy of Ben Jones of Darlingtons Solicitors, who also blogs on this site.

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Accidents at work

You may be surprised to learn that work place accidents are very common. Most people associate these work injury claims with industrial environments, but the truth is that work injury claims can be made by employees in any environment regardless of whether they work in an office, factory, industrial site or on the road.

If you have been injured at work you could be entitled to compensation. This is because employers have duty of care towards their employees’ health and safety. This means that employers must provide their employees with appropriate training, protective clothing and they should regularly service or maintain machinery. Depending on the industry in which you are employed there may be other risks which your employer is obliged to protect you from. However employees also have a responsibility to utilise the equipment and training that they have been provided with otherwise an accident or injury may be deemed to be the employee’s own fault.

Nevertheless, despite the rules in place and the precautions taken by employers accidents still happen and when they do, if an employee suffers an injury, provided it is not their fault then they can make a claim for compensation.

What type of accident?

Work injuries can take many forms from driving accidents to exposure to harmful and dangerous substances such as asbestos or carbon monoxide. You could have suffered an injury due to slipping on a wet floor. You could be suffering from vibration white finger, which is caused by the use of vibrating tools or suffer loss of hearing from using noisy tools. The more serious the injury the more compensation you will be entitled to. Your employer will automatically offer you statutory sick pay, but this may not be enough as you may be unable to return to work for some time. Accordingly, you are also entitled to claim compensation for future loos of income.

Making a claim

You should not be afraid to make a work injury compensation claim against your employer. If you are dismissed or harassed because of it then you can make a further claim for unfair or constructive dismissal. In any event, by law employers must have Employer’s Liability Insurance to cover them against work injury compensation claims and it is the insurance company that will pay compensation to the employee. Of course no insurance company will make this payment without sufficient evidence that the injury happened during the course of employment and that the employer was responsible.

Accordingly, any accidents should be recorded in your employer’s health and safety file and serious accidents should be reported to the Government’s Health and Safety Executive. Pictures or a video should be taken as evidence and you should speak to any colleagues about whether they are willing to act as witnesses if required. You should seek medical advice immediately and keep copies of all correspondence with your employer. You should also keep receipts of any medical expenses, both as proof of your injury and so that you can claim them back as part of your compensation. If there is evidence of similar accidents occurring in the past then this will also help your case.

A work injury compensation claim should be made within 3 years of the date of the incident. If the extents of the injuries are not known immediately, then you have 3 years from the date you become aware of them. If at the time of the accident the employee is under 18 then the 3 years do not begin until the employee’s 18th birthday. If you make a work injury claim through a solicitor they will usually deal with your case on a no win no fee basis and if you are successful you should receive all of the compensation money with your costs paid by your employer’s insurance company. When choosing a work injury claim solicitor you should make sure you pick one that is experienced with dealing with work injury claims.

This post supplied by Lloyd Green injury claim solicitors. Many thanks.

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Disability discrimination

Disability

Until recently employment disability provisions were dealt with by the Disability Discrimination Act. The Act and the provisions contained are now incorporated into the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act took effect from 1st October 2010.

Definition

To be covered by the Equality Act 2010, and the various protections it provides a disabled person with, then an employee would need to meet the definition of disability in the Act. It is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day to day activities.

Substantial means more than minor or trivial, long term means that the condition has lasted or is likely to last for at 12 months, and normal day to day activities will include things such as walking for short distances, going shopping and /or washing.

Once an employee satisfies this definition they are entitled to protections at work as outlined under the Equality Act 2010. These include the following:

Duties to make reasonable adjustments

It will be a question of fact as to whether an adjustment is reasonable, but generally speaking it could be expected to include the following:

  • Providing equipment that will help the employee to undertake their role. This can include physical features such as exits and access to a building, fixtures, fittings, furniture, materials, and equipment and so on.
  • It can also include auxiliary aides which is something that provides support or assistance to a disabled person such as an adapted keyboard or text or speech software. It may, in more serious cases, include auxiliary services such as using a sign language interpreter or support worker for a disabled worker.

When deciding what adjustments are reasonable an employer should undertake a review in consultation with the employee and should consider the following:

  • the cost of the adjustment and the resource available to the employer;
  • how whether the adjustment will be effective in helping the person to undertake their job, whether it is practicable to make the adjustment;
  • whether there are any schemes available to assist with funding the adjustment;

Some other examples of reasonable adjustments would be office design to ensure that it is disability friendly, brail or large print for reading materials and documents, intercoms, ramps and/or additional access /exit to the building.

The duty to make a reasonable adjustment arises once an employer has knowledge or could reasonably expect to have knowledge of the disability that the employee is suffering from. In all cases that employee should ensure that their employers are kept fully updated in relation to their condition.

An employer is only exempt from the duty to make adjustments if they can  demonstrate  the following :

  1. cannot reasonably expected to know that the disabled person had a disability;
  2. does not know that the disabled person is likely to be at a substantial disadvantage compared with persons who are not disabled;
  3. could not reasonably expected to know that the disabled person is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with workers who are not disabled;
  4. any adjustments would be so costly, when compared to the size and resources of the business, that the employer cannot reasonably be expected to make those adjustments.

It is not enough for an employer to say that they simply did not know about the employee’s disability. They will have to show that they should not reasonably have been expected to know. For example, there are reasonable steps that an employer would be expected to take to establish whether an individual is disabled or not. Employers should ensure that where information about a disabled person may come through different channels, there is a means for bringing that information together to make it easier for the employer to understand their duties under the Act.

Other adjustments which an employer may consider are altering a disabled person’s hours of work or training, transferring them to a fill an existing vacancy, allowing them to be absent for rehabilitation assessment or treatment, allowing them a period of disability leave, or redefining disability or grievance procedures.

It is important to understand that if a disabled person is no longer capable of carrying out their role then there is an obligation to consider transferring them into a new role without the need to be interviewed alongside other employees. They should effectively be fast tracked with the possibility of training if that is required.

Procedures, records & training

In any event it is important that the employer ensures that they have a proper disability discrimination procedure in place and that they carry out a proper assessment of the employee to ensure firstly whether they are disabled and secondly what adjustments may reasonably be made.

The employee’s involvement should be sought throughout and a record kept as consultations are undertaken. It is important to keep a clear channel of communications and ensure that both sides are as transparent as possible.

Employers should also ensure that staff are adequately trained to deal with any disability issues. An employer will ultimately be vicariously liable for the act of their employees, however in the case of disability discrimination fellow employees can be held personally accountable for any claims made for disability discrimination.

Banana skins for employers

Employers should also bear in mind that under the Equality Act 2010 they need to be very careful with employment health questionnaires. They should avoid asking about the health of the applicant before offering work. If in doubt, the employer should review Section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 which covers when pre-employment health questions can and cannot be asked.

The disability discrimination and harassment protection under the Equality Act 2010 apply to a range of workers, including full time employees, part-time employees, agency and contract workers, job applicants, and partners. It applies to people who are classed as employees as well as those who are classed as workers under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

An employee or job applicant who considers they may have been discriminated against can submit questions to determine whether they have a claim. The employers then have a duty to answer these questions. These procedures are set out in Section 138 of the Equality Act 2010. If the employer fails to answer the questions then the tribunal can draw such inferences as they see fit.

Disability discrimination is becoming an increasingly contentious area, with more claims finding their way to the tribunal as a result of errors by employers when assessing an employee’s condition and thereafter dealing with it in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. It is important that employers seek specialist legal advice from the outset to ensure that they have a proper disability policy in place. An employer should review the ACAS code which provides guidance under the disability and grievance procedures.

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