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July’s top five employment law cases

5 Aug 2019 By PM Editorial

People Management runs through the most read tribunals of last month

1. Public sector pension scheme rules ‘may have to change’ following appeal court victory

A woman has won the right to access her late partner’s military pension, following a Court of Appeal ruling experts said could have knock-on effects for the rest of the public sector.

Jane Langford was initially disqualified from receiving her long-term partner’s pension because she had never formally dissolved her marriage to her estranged husband and was therefore was not considered to be in an exclusive relationship – a rule found in most public sector pension schemes.

The MoD had claimed the decision was legitimate and necessary to limit the status of unmarried partners to achieve consistency and ensure the scheme remained affordable; however, the Supreme Court ruled this was unlawful discrimination and unjustified in Langford’s case. Lord Justice McCombe ruled that creating “different classes” of partners not married to service members ran counter to this aim.

2. Tribunal rules covertly recording meetings is not always gross misconduct

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that covertly recording a meeting is not always misconduct, and is acceptable in specific cases, such as when a vulnerable employee is seeking to guard against misrepresentation.

It upheld a ruling that Tatiana Stockman, who worked for charity Phoenix House, was unfairly dismissed after a dispute between her and her manager.

During the course of the initial employment tribunal (ET), it transpired that Stockman had made a covert recording of a meeting and Phoenix House appealed the judgment, arguing that if it had been aware of the covert recording then Stockman would have been dismissed for gross misconduct.

However, the EAT upheld the ET’s ruling, saying the reasons a recording was made needed to be taken into account.

3. Pregnant woman was unfairly dismissed for raising concerns over working hours, tribunal rules

A care assistant was awarded almost £36,000 after she was unfairly dismissed for asserting her rights under the Working Time Regulations and was unfavourably treated by her employer because of her pregnancy. 

A Middlesbrough ET ruled that Ms T Peart was unfairly dismissed and unfavourably treated by York-based Care Preference after she raised concerns about her hours.

The judge said Peart’s employer immediately assumed she was lodging objections to shift patterns because she simply didn’t want to work ‘on call’ shifts, and failed to consider that Peart had childcare or health issues related to her pregnancy preventing her from taking shifts. 

4. Landmark Supreme Court ruling finds non-compete clause was not too wide to be enforced

The Supreme Court ruled that restrictive covenants preventing an employee from being “concerned or interested” in a competitor for six months after she left the business were not too wide to be enforceable.

In a decision that experts said would come as a relief to employers, judges overturned a previous Court of Appeal decision and formally reinstated an injunction against a former employee of recruitment firm Egon Zehnder, Mary-Caroline Tillman, which would have prevented her from taking up employment with a competitor had the contractual period of restraint not since expired.

The case set the precedent that restrictive covenants can be broadly enforceable even if there are elements of the contract a court might deem to have gone ‘too far’, and that offending words can be removed from a contract if it does not substantially change the overall effect of the restraint.

5. Council employee unfairly dismissed after video of potentially offensive remarks went viral

A council worker who was filmed making potentially offensive comments about Jews during a political rally was unfairly dismissed, an ET has ruled.

Stan Keable, who worked for Hammersmith and Fulham Council, was dismissed after complaints were lodged when a video of him arguing that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis went viral on Twitter after it was posted by a BBC journalist.

However, the London Central ET ruled that Keable’s comments – which may have been offensive to some – were not discriminatory or unlawful and were made outside the workplace, not in breach of the council’s workplace policies.

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