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3 Things We Learnt In Law This Week (20 December 2018)

Olympic Cyclist Jess Varnish Claims Sex Discrimination Against UK Sport and British Cycling

Jess Varnish is suing UK Sport and British Cycling for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination in a case which could transform the entire funding landscape of Olympic and Paralympic sport.

Varnish, who cycled alongside Victoria Pendleton at London 2012, was dropped from the British Cycling programme before the Rio Olympics in 2016.

She alleged bullying and discrimination, specifically that then technical director Shane Sutton said her bottom was “too big” to ride certain roles on the team and that she should go off and “have a baby”.

Varnish will challenge the employment status of athletes who are supported by grants from UK Sport, the national funding body.

The 29-year-old will argue that funded athletes should be classed as “employees” or “workers” rather than “self-employed” as they are currently bracketed.

Both “employees” and “workers” come with protections against discrimination, the right to the National Minimum Wage, paid holiday, whistleblowing protection and other rights like maternity pay and a pension. The self-employed do not have such protections.

The case has divided athletes, with some believing it will make them worse off because they have to pay tax on their grants. Others think it will mean UK Sport will have less capacity to fund athletes because they will be required to make national insurance contributions.

The case is similar to those waged by individuals working in the “gig economy” such as Deliveroo and Uber drivers, who have argued for better working conditions.

The verdict is expected in mid-January.

The Good Work Plan: What Do Businesses Need To Know About Employment Law Reforms?

The Government has confirmed that it will introduce new legislation, which is designed to give more rights to workers in the so-called gig economy. The changes follow the Taylor Review, which was published in the summer of 2017 and focused on modern working practices, including the growing number of people on zero hours contracts.

The Good Work Plan includes a number of key pieces of legislation, including:

  • Employers must now provide employees and workers with details of their rights, in writing, on their first day in a job. This includes their eligibility for sick leave and other paid leave.
  • Workers have the right to request more predictable hours and a more stable contract, after 26 weeks of service.
  • An increase in breaks that count as continuous service, bringing with it certain employment rights. A gap in work of just a week could previously break what constitutes continuous service, but that has been extended to four weeks.
  • Employers have to calculate holiday pay based on 52 weeks, rather than the current 12 weeks, to protect those in seasonal jobs.
  • The removal of the Swedish Derogation, which currently allows employers to pay agency workers less than permanent staff.
  • Employers who are found to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight in breaching employment rights at Tribunal now face a potential quadrupling of fines from £5,000 to £20,000.

The Government has yet to confirm when these changes will be implemented. It is to be hoped that any new measures flowing from the Good Work plan will provide greater certainty for employers and businesses, as well as for workers, and that they do not create significant extra expenditure or hamper flexibility in increasingly competitive marketplaces.

Ted Baker Employees Complain Of Founder’s ‘Awkward Hugging Policy’

Dozens of current and former Ted Baker employees have accused the fashion brand’s founder of implementing a regime of “forced hugs” and harassment.

More than 60 people have reportedly come forward to launch an online petition detailing employees’ alleged experiences with Mr Ray Kelvin, 62, calling for the company to end its “awkward hugging policy”.

The complainants claim Mr Kelvin would give unwanted hugs, shoulder massages and kisses on the back of their ears at the firm’s London head office.

The petition, which is understood to be backed by almost 200 current or former employees, said the “inappropriate” forced hugging was “part of a culture that allows harassment to go unchallenged”.

Ted Baker said it would make sure an independent investigation was carried out.

In a statement, it said: “While the claims made are entirely at odds with the values of our business and those of our CEO, we take them very seriously. Ray greets many people he meets with a hug – be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague. Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture but are absolutely not insisted upon.”

The Ted Baker scenario is perhaps an unusual and extreme example of what can go wrong. But it does offer some important lessons to other employers as they seek to update their approach and protect themselves from crisis in the post #MeToo era.

If you need help and advice regarding Employment Law, please do not hesitate to contact me on 01133 50 40 30 or at emma.roberts@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
Latest posts by Emma Roberts (see all)
Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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