Discretion on the Sift

decisionWhen a claimant lodges an employment tribunal claim the case does not always get so far as the Respondent even needing to decide whether they contest the case and need to submit an ET3 (the document setting out a Respondent’s Grounds of Resistance). Sometimes an employment judge reviews the case at the outset and determines the case should not proceed (called ‘the sift’) and strikes out the claim.

Three appeal cases on this practice have been issued in the last two weeks and they offer a timely reminder to take care when lodging tribunal claims.

Cranwell v Cullen is a case in which the Appeal judge evidently had a great deal of sympathy for the claimant. In order to submit an employment tribunal claim it is a mandatory requirement (with very few exceptions) that a claimant must go through ACAS’ Early Conciliation process. This is evidenced by a EC certificate issued by ACAS, the number of which must be added in a claim.

The claimant alleged that the Respondent has subjected the claimant to sexual harassment and it is clear the issues between the two parties were extremely serious since the Respondent was prohibited from contacting the claimant. Understandably, given the gravity the claimant did not consider early conciliation would resolve the issue but evidently was not aware that while conciliation was not mandatory, approaching ACAS and explaining the position was.

In the event the claimant lodged an ET claim but did not approach ACAS before doing so. Despite the very serious complaint of sexual harassment against the Respondent the claim was struck out as no EC certificate had been issued which is a mandatory requirement. This was done without any hearing of the claimant’s explanation why the requirement had not been followed. At the appeal the EAT confirmed that in the application of this Rule an ET judge has no discretion even if, as in this case, a strict application of the law amounts to the denial of justice to an unrepresented claimant. Reading the law at issue it is difficult to conclude that this decision is correct insofar as the interpretation of the Rules goes but it is also difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is the absolute bar on discretion – even if that is just judicial discretion to further extend time limits to allow a claimant to follow the EC process – is an impediment to access to justice. The one sop is the judge’s indication that were the claimant to resubmit, having gone through the appropriate process, then even if out of time which seems to be almost certainly the case, the claimant may have good grounds to argue the case should nevertheless proceed to hearing but even hear there is no certainty.

Sterling v United Learning Trust covers similar terrain to Cranwell in that it also concerns the ACAS EC process as a necessary prerequisite to submitting a tribunal claim. Although the circumstances are less severe the circumstances are equally concerning. Here it appears the EC process had been followed by the claimant. The claimant submitted a claim, with an EC certificate, four days before the time limit expired but the EC number had a mistake on it. The Tribunal returned the form to the claimant to correct the error but addressed the envelope to the wrong address.  The claimant made the claim, with the correct information, as soon as she was able to but by that time the claim was out of time. As a result the claimant’s claims of unfair dismissal was struck out. Again, an analysis of the initial tribunal decision by the EAT did not find the decisions to be unlawful despite the errors of the tribunal itself (worryingly, this seems not to be a isolated incident where the tribunal’s address errors affects a claimant’s ability to have their claim heard – see Carroll v The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime).

Unlike the previous two cases Higgins v Home Office does not concern ACAS EC (but again (!) suggests that Tribunal staff made errors in addressing correspondence – see para 11). The claimant resigned her employment in 2007 and evidently had significant health concerns. Six years later the claimant in what was a very muddled ET1 (she was not represented) claimed she had been constructively dismissed, she submitted medical evidence that she had been too unwell to submit a claim. The EJ struck out (semantics notwithstanding) under Rule 12 of the Tribunal Rules which means the case was stopped without any hearing. The initial decision was a harsh one and the EAT allowed the appeal and remitted the case to a different EJ to consider afresh whether the claim can proceed.

So, what is the common thread in these three decisions. Leaving aside the apparent propensity of Tribunal staff to send incorrectly addressed correspondence to claimants (see Higgins, Carroll and Sterling) the issue in Carroll and Sterling is the absence of judicial discretion in the application of Tribunal Rules. While others in the union movement disagree by and large I think the addition of mandatory Early Conciliation process is by and large a positive one. However, it also introduces new requirements that give rise to additional errors claimants can make. The ET system is one which was intended to be “easily accessible, informal, speedy and inexpensive”. I suspect if you were to ask the claimants in Carroll or Sterling whether their experience was one which was ‘easily accessible’ or ‘informal’ you may find the answer is negative.

The Rules imposed by the last Government (which in respect to EC are, I think, positive) allowed no discretion for the exceptional case, such as the claimant in fear of her safety or the claimant whose claim is late because of Tribunal sent a form to the wrong address. The result is claims in such circumstances are legitimately refused lawfully whilst at the same time presenting a barrier to justice. That dichotomy needs to change.

More broadly however for employee representatives the cases above also offer a reminder on the need for care when presenting claims. I, like many reps, too frequently leave submitting claims to the very limits of the limitation period, not necessarily out of design but because of workload. That may often be a mistake – had the claimant in Sterling submitted the claim three week’s before the limitation period ended rather than four days previously there is every chance the error (if there was one) would still have been caught in time even if there was an error in the claimant’s address. Likewise, how often do we cross check the ACAS EC number we provide on the form (or check we’ve submitted one) before submitting? Failing to do so could result in a employee being deprived of the opportunity of presenting their case. And again, do we ensure the claim and tick boxes match and the actual nature of the claim is clearly spelt out (especially if a claim form is written by an employee rather than a rep – which may not be advisable but frequently happens). Failing to do so gives a Tribunal the opportunity – however unfairly – to strike out a claim.

Cases:
Cranwell v Cullen [2015] UKEAT 0046_14_2003

Sterling v United Learning Trust [2015] UKEAT 0439_14_1802

Higgins v Home Office & Anor [2015] UKEAT 0296_14_0605

Carroll v The Mayor’s Office For Policing And Crime [2015] UKEAT 0203_14_0902

Choice of Decision Maker made Dismissal Unfair

inexperienced
Choice of an inexperienced manager to hear a disciplinary case may make decision unfair.

I referred to the case of Thomson v Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust about a week ago in respect of disability related misconduct dismissals. The case has been more widely reported in respect of its unfair dismissal findings, however.

The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, which is intended to provide “basic practical guidance to employers, employees and their representatives and sets out principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace” surprisingly has very little guidance on choice of decision makers.

To the extent that there is guidance it sets out that:

  • A different person should normally carry out an investigation and disciplinary hearing; and
  • A decision to dismiss should only be taken by a person with the authority to dismiss; and
  • An appeal manager should normally be a different person to the person who made the decision.

And that’s it!

In Thomson all these guidelines were complied with: The claimant, a senior Hospital official had an independent Dr sit on the disciplinary case who was specifically chosen because other local staff of the requisite authority to hear the case were involved in the case. The selection of the hearing manager was also made in line with the employer’s disciplinary policy, and an independent appeal manager was appointed. However, in Thomson the claimant alleged that the hearing manager, Dr Palazzo, was too inexperienced to hear the case (which was alleged to be a potential gross misconduct case and involved alleged disability discrimination) even though no complaints were made by the claimant before at the disciplinary hearing itself. At the first tier tribunal found, as a matter of fact, that “Dr Palazzo told us that he had never before chaired a disciplinary hearing.  Nor had he been trained in the conduct of disciplinary proceedings.”

In its judgement the Tribunal (ET) concluded “It is self-evident in our view that this employer did not act reasonably in giving the case to Dr Palazzo.  To do so was not fair to the decision-maker.  But more importantly, it denied the Claimant a fair hearing.  As a minimum, fairness entails, amongst other things, a decision by someone equipped with ability and experience commensurate with the demands of the case … It is no answer to say that Dr Palazzo was within the class of persons who were eligible to chair the disciplinary hearing under the Respondents’ written procedures.  Fairness does not depend on a ‘box-ticking’ approach to procedures.  An unfair process does not become reasonable simply because it does not conflict with a written procedure … and we hold that the defect here identified is sufficient to place this case outside the range of permissible action open to the Respondents and accordingly renders the dismissal unfair as a matter of process.”

In paragraph 40 of the EAT judgement the Tribunal’s reasoning was affirmed:

In our judgment the Employment Tribunal did not err in finding that the involvement of Dr Palazzo as chair of the disciplinary panel hearing the proceedings against the Claimant rendered the dismissal procedurally unfair. Although he was in the category of those qualified to chair such a panel it seems that there was no evidence that he had training or experience to carry out that duty.

The failure to include any guidance on who is an appropriate person to hear dismissal or grievance cases does I think highlight a major gap in the ACAS guidance that reflects real issues in workplace disciplinary matters. For example, twice in the last week I have had to make formal objections on the choice of decision makers in disciplinary matters for union members, despite the employer being a big employer well able to identify independent decision makers.

In this regard Thomson does strike me as a helpful case. Where the matter under consideration is a serious one that could result in a gross misconduct finding or discrimination complaints it may be advisable for reps to out the question of experience firmly on the agenda by asking a decision maker what training they have received and what experience they have on these matters with a view to potentially using this as a future ground of appeal.

In Thomson it is clear that this inexperience was not just a procedural matter (although the dismissal was found unfair on these grounds alone as well) but this inexperience was a key factor in the Dr Pallazzo dismissing for ‘gross misconduct’ when he himself accepted the alleged misconduct was not capable of amounting to gross misconduct under the Respondent’s disciplinary policy. This does raise the prospect that where the choice of decision maker is the ground of an unfair dismissal claim any victory will be a pyrrhic one as the Tribunal may come to the view that had a fair choice of decision maker been made the outcome (dismissal) would be the same and limit any compensation award.

References:

Thomson v Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust [2015] UKEAT 0218_14_3001

Unfair Dismissal and the Myth of Red Tape

Unfair Dismissal: A Plethora of Red Tape?
Unfair Dismissal: A Plethora of Red Tape?

The Lancashire Telegraph is running a story on the unfair dismissal ruling of a former employee of Moorlands School in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Along with two other members of school staff of Moorlands School, a private boarding school in Lancashire, the claimant was supervising a school trip at which a number of pupils got drunk. Depending on the exact circumstances, which are not reported, it does appear that dismissal for the teacher’s conduct was not excessive.The fact that the Tribunal did not award any compensation for the unfair dismissal – a Polkey deduction – suggests the the Tribunal agreed.

Nevertheless, Moorlands School were found to have unfairly dismissed the claimant, Deanna Hall, by adopting an unfair disciplinary process. According to the report one of the main errors of the disciplinary process was the school failed to adequately disclose all the evidence upon which the employer sought to rely to the claimant before the hearing.

In responding the the judgement Jonathan Harrison, the schools headteacher, went on the offensive and claimed that the problem was really one of excessive red tape:

Judge Howard did find that Mrs Hall was unfairly dismissed due to a lack of evidence being presented to Mrs Hall during the investigatory hearing. This was due to a slight Acas infringement. As employer it is becoming impossible to fully comply with every procedural aspect of Acas.

I think the first thing to say is you do not get unfair dismissal judgements for “slight” errors, Jonathan Harrison is simply being duplicitous.

As most readers will be aware the central question before an Employment Tribunal in assessing whether a dismissal is fair is whether the decision is within the ‘band of reasonable responses’. In British Leyland UK Ltd v Swift [1981] IRLR 91 Lord Denning explained this approach.

If no reasonable employer would have dismissed him, then the dismissal was unfair. But if a reasonable employer might have reasonably have dismissed him, then the dismissal was fair. It must be remembered that in these cases there is a band of reasonableness, within which one employer might reasonably take one view: another quite reasonably take a different view. One would quite reasonably dismiss the man. The other would quite reasonably keep him on. Both views may be quite reasonable. If it was quite reasonable to dismiss him, then the dismissal must be upheld as fair: even though some other employers may not have dismissed him.
 In short, a dismissal is not made unfair because an employer made a ‘slight mistake’, it is made unfair because it is a decision no reasonable employer could have made. Even if a Tribunal considered the decision of an employer to be wrong and in the same circumstances they would not have dismissed an employee the dismissal is still likely to be fair, like the example given by Lord Dennning above.
And the same principle applies to the disciplinary investigation. The Court of Appeal in Sainsburys Supermarkets Ltd v Hitt [2002] EWCA Civ 1588 made clear that the band of reasonable responses test applies to a disciplinary investigation as well. In order to be a fair dismissal an employer must follow a fair process on the fundamental areas. One of these fundamental principles is making sure employees accused are offered the opportunity to see and respond to any evidence against them. This is a fundamental principle of natural justice that is best enunciated by the comment of Megarry J in John v Rees [1970] Ch 345 that

It may be that there are some who would decry the importance which the courts attach to the observance of the rules of natural justice. “When something is obvious,” they may say, “why force everybody to go through the tiresome waste of time involved in framing charges and giving an opportunity to be heard? The result is obvious from the start”Those who take this view do not, I think, do themselves justice.

As every body who has anything with the law well knows, the path of the law is strewn with examples of open and shut cases which, somehow, were not of unanswerable charges which, in the event, were completely answered; of inexplicable conduct which was fully explained; of fixed and unalterable determinations that, by discussion, suffered a change.

Nor are those with any knowledge of human nature who pause to think for a moment, likely to underestimate the feelings of resentment of those who find that a decision against them has been made with their being afforded any opportunity to influence the course of events.

It is precisely this principle that Moorlands School denied Deanna Hall, it denied her the chance to offer a defense to the undisclosed evidence. That is no slight thing and it would have taken a mere matter of minutes to do.
The simple fact is that if Jonathan Harrison really thinks the relatively simple standards of procedural fairness set out in the ACAS Code of Practice are beyond him he has absolutely no business running a school – he is clearly not up to the job. If he can’t run a fair disciplinary process such as showing an accused the evidence he will rely on to allow an employee an opportunity to explain then it beggars belief how he can cope with the much  more demanding, onerous and technical duties being a headteacher requires. The more likely scenario however is that the school screwed up the disciplinary process and made significant, not slight, mistakes in how the school ran the disciplinary process for Ms Hall. And, rather than face up to those errors and the unnecessary expense that has caused for the school, Mr Harrison is trying to shift the blame to the so-called overwhelming burden of red tape. It is an old, old strategy but hopefully one the school’s staff, pupils, governors and parents will see through.

No action on Caste Discrimination

A couple of weeks ago I posted a comment on Race and Caste Discrimination in reference to the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey [2014] UKEAT 0190_14_1912.

A couple of days later the issue was raised in the House of Lords (with thanks to Law and Religion for highlighting this:

Lord Avebury: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the timetable for implementing the legislation to incorporate caste as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): My Lords, we have no immediate plans to incorporate caste into legislation. We are aware of the recent Tirkey v Chandok Employment Appeal Tribunal judgment and are considering its implications for discrimination law. The judgment opens the possibility of a legal remedy for claims of caste-associated discrimination under existing legislation, in the ethnic origins element of Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010. We note this potential protection and have always stated that we completely oppose caste discrimination.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, can my noble friend give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that, if they are re-elected in May, they will pursue this matter to completion, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? As regards the tribunal case of Tirkey that she mentioned, have the Government considered the opinion of the EHRC that it is not binding on all future cases of caste discrimination and that an express provision in the Equality Act, which has already been decided by Parliament, is necessary for reasons of legal clarity?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I cannot make promises on behalf of a future Government not yet elected, but post-election, of course, the incoming Administration will need to consider how to discharge their legal obligations in respect of the outstanding duty to legislate. On my noble friend’s second question, we of course take note of what the EHRC says, but I should make it clear to the House that this view was expressed by the commission in its submission on the Tirkey case and not part of the judicial decision.

Baroness Thornton (Lab): My Lords, it is almost two years since this House voted by a very large majority that caste should be considered for inclusion in the Equality Act 2010. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said, the recent employment tribunal judgment reinforces the point that caste discrimination is an issue coming before the courts and that clarity of the law is required. This issue cannot be ignored or sidelined, so what exactly is the Government’s timetable for taking this forward after this terrible delay?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, we are conscious of the delay in this matter. During the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, when the need for explicit caste legislation was debated extensively, it was generally acknowledged that a full public consultation should be undertaken, not least because there was no general consensus on even basic concepts, such as a workable definition of caste itself. Because of a number of delays, there is no longer sufficient time before the election to put it through.

Lord Deben (Con): My Lords, my noble friend will remember that in those debates this House specifically refused to support the Government’s position and refused to accept the delay. We voted for a change in the law. We are now two years later and that change has not been implemented. The Government owe it to this House to say that they will implement it, and that any future Government made up of the two parties of this Government will also implement it.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I recognise the frustration around the Chamber over this matter. However, the debates during the final stages of the then Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill made clear that caste is a controversial and difficult issue, and that the Government would need to proceed carefully, involving public consultation. I believe that the Tirkey v Chandok case, which was unknown at the time those debates took place but which has potentially significant implications for the law in respect of caste and race discrimination, clearly illustrates the need for caution.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB): Does the Minister agree that it would be quite inadequate to leave issues of racial and gender equality to employment tribunals? What is different about caste discrimination, when the judge in the Tirkey v Chandok case said that his judgment applied only to the facts of that particular case, and did not make any ruling about caste in general?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: Indeed, my Lords, but the Employment Appeal Tribunal is an authoritative court and, for the time being at least, its judgment in that case is the law of the land. The EHRC intervened in the appeal and I imagine would wish to consider another intervention, if it thought that was necessary.

Lord Cashman (Lab): My Lords, all discrimination is difficult to deal with, but such procrastination is entirely unacceptable when more than 200 million people experience caste discrimination every single day. Therefore, will the Minister please report back the strength of feeling in this House that the procrastination is entirely unacceptable?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I will, indeed, report back the frustration of this House but I come back to one of the difficulties, which is that there is no agreed definition of caste. Many cases which are in the pipeline could be brought under the ethnic origins discrimination legislation.

To translate that into plain language: we’ve said we would do something, had a lot of time to to something, but decided not to do anything after all.

Priced Out

A letter signed by the TUC’s Frances O’Grady and Len McCluskey of Unite among others calls for the scrapping of Employment Tribunal Fees:

Since July 2013, when the government introduced fees for anyone taking their employer to an employment tribunal, there has been a huge drop in claims. This is denying workers access to justice – and in particular women with discrimination claims. Official statistics show an 81% drop in claims lodged between April and June 2014, compared to the same time in 2013. All types of discrimination claims, for which a fee of up to £1,200 is now payable, have fallen: the worst affected being sex discrimination cases, which are 91% down. Even “straightforward” claims for unpaid wages attract a fee of £390, which may, in some cases, be more than the amount sought by the worker.

Despite ministers’ assertions that the change was needed to prevent unfounded and vexatious claims, no evidence has emerged that shows the drastic decline is attributable to the falling of such claims. On the contrary, evidence gathered by the TUC, Citizens Advice Scotland, Citizens Advice (England and Wales), the Law Society of Scotland and the universities of Bristol and Strathclyde shows that workers with genuine cases are being prevented from lodging their claims simply because of their inability to pay the fees.

This effectively means that a growing number of unlawful employment practices are going unpunished. When ministers say it’s not right that taxpayers should foot the bill for employment tribunals, they overlook the fact that the workers bringing claims are themselves taxpayers.

The government is currently reviewing its fees policy. It must, as part of this process, conduct a full equality impact assessment highlighting just how the charges are affecting workers bringing claims relating to sex, age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. Workers’ access to justice cannot be guaranteed while fees remain in place. The government must end this unfair and inequitable policy by abolishing fees at the first opportunity.

I fully endorse the appeal. Whilst I think the early conciliation moves are broadly a good idea – despite in my experience central government employers showing an absolute reluctance to conciliate – the introduction of fees have been disastrous for workers. I have certainly seen individuals with good cases, who have tried to resolve matters internally but failed, be dissuaded from pursuing their cases.

But one of the notable omissions from the letter is Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison whose union has again lost its most recent challenge to the fees system because, in the words of Mr Justice Foskett:

For my part, I would anticipate that if the statistics upon which reliance is placed in support of this application were drilled down to some individual cases, situations would be revealed that showed an inability on the part of some people to proceed before an Employment Tribunal through lack of funds which would not have been the case before the new regime was set in place. However, that assessment has to be seen as speculative until convincing evidence to that effect is uncovered.

I am sure they knew what they are doing but I have too say i am extremely surprised Unison did not try to demonstrate precisely the type of cases referred to. In any case, leave to appeal has been granted, here’s hoping it will be successful.

Reference: Unison (No. 2), R (on the application of) v The Lord Chancellor [2014] EWHC 4198

Whistleblowing: not just and equitable

wbA scenario: Sarah, who is an employee, suspects that the company’s finance officer is ‘cooking the books’ by skimming company funds into his personal accounts having come across a printed document left on the printer in the office.  Concerned about this Sarah reports her concerns to the company’s HR director and explains that she thinks the finance officer who assures her she will investigate and handle the situation.

The following week the worker applies for a promotion opportunity in the company and on the 19th September is told her application is unsuccessful, the reason given is she is not a ‘good fit’ for the role and there were other better qualified candidates.

Unknown to Sarah the HR director and finance officer are good friends. Without investigation the HR director decided that there was no substance to allegation of theft because, being a friend, he knew that the finance officer was a person of impeccable character. And upon hearing that Sarah had applied for promotion and was about to be offered the role the HR Director directed the interviewing officer not to give Sarah because she was a troublemaker but to tell her she was simply not the best candidate for the job.

Then on 19 December (exactly 3 months after the unsuccessful application) at a Christmas company do the HR Director having had one too many drinks Michael, the HR Director’s PA, blurted out to Sarah that the reason she was not successful for the job was because she had made the complaint to the HR Director that the finance officer had defrauded the company and that the complaint had been brushed under the carpet and not been investigated.

Distraught, the one week later ater collecting her thoughts Sarah files an Employment Tribunal claim alleging that the rejection of the job was a detriment for whistleblowing.  After discovering her allegation had not been investigated Sarah also reports the alleged theft to the Police. Their investigation reveals the finance officer had been stealing from the company for many years and he is convicted and imprisoned for theft.


Sarah’s complaint to the Employment Tribunal would be a claim under section 47B of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the ERA) which stipulates that a “worker has the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his employer done on the ground that the worker has made a protected disclosure.” On the facts as set out above Sarah would have a strong case that she was subjected to a detriment for having made a protected disclosure. However, section 48 of the of the ERA directs Employment Tribunals that they “shall not” consider a complaint unless the claim is submitted within three months of the “the date of the act or failure to act to which the complaint relates” (section 48(3)(a)). For Sarah that act complained about is the failure to promote her, and that happened on 19 September. Therefore, the three months would expire on 18 December.

There is clearly an unfairness here; soon after Sarah was aware of the claimed unlawful act she initiated proceedings but despite the clear evidence that she has acted quickly and was penalised for blowing the whistle on a serious matter she would appear not to have any legal redress for the wrong done to her.

It was this precise issue that was addressed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in  McKinney v London Borough of Newham [2014] UKEAT 0501_13_0412. The claimant had submitted that the time limit for making a complaint detriment because of whistleblowing ran from the point he became aware of the detriment (in his case, when he received an outcome through the post), not the day the grievance outcome (the alleged detrimental treatment) was sent. Clearly, without any real enthusiasm, the EAT at paragraphs 6 and 7 found the effective date in which to submit a claim begins on the date the detriment takes place “whether or not he is aware that a detriment has been suffered”:

(6) It seems to me that the current state of the authorities is less than satisfactory.  Nevertheless, a clear thread is now emerging (see Mensah; Virdi; Garry; Warrior Square) which points towards the counter-intuitive position that time begins to run against the Claimant relying on a detriment, both under the Employment Rights Act and the Equality Act whether or not he is aware that a detriment has been suffered.  I agree that the wording of section 48(3) Employment Rights Act is focused on the employer’s action (or omission) and that a detriment may be suffered without the Claimant being aware of it.  For example, a difference in treatment which may be on the grounds of race (see Garry).  Indeed section 48(4)(b) provides that a deliberate failure to act shall be treated as done when it was decided on, not, I would add, when the Claimant learned of the omission.  That is consistent with the Mensah line of authorities in relation to the employer’s act.  Whilst the need for knowledge is reinforced by the Supreme Court in Barratt when considering the effective date of termination I accept that section 97(1)(b) Employment Rights Act raises a different question from section 48(3).  The Claimant is entitled to know that he is dismissed before the dismissal takes place.  He may suffer a detriment without that knowledge.

(7)           In these circumstances, and being unimpressed by Mr O’Dempsey’s public policy argument, I am driven, without enthusiasm, to accept Ms Balmer’s submissions as a matter of construction and authority.  The Employment Judge was right to treat time as running from the date of the Respondent’s grievance decision, 8 October.  By way of analogy, time runs for bringing an appeal to this Tribunal from the date the Employment Tribunal Judgment is sent to the parties, not when it is received by them.  Thus, the section 47B complaint was out of time.  The Employment Judge went on to consider the reasonable practicability escape clause and rejected it (paragraph 32); there is no extant appeal against that ruling.

On the basis of the legislation I think the EAT are right but it is clearly an unpalatable state of affairs that can lead to injustice and gives employers an opportunity to discriminate against whistleblowers and still evade legal scrutiny. I do not know if this decision is being appealed but it seems to me that in a case such as Sarah’s she has been deprived of her right of legal redress that potentially raises Article 6 ECHR issues (along similar lines to that advanced in Williams v Ministry of Defence [2012] UKEAT/0163/12/JOJ.

The clearest change that needs to be effected, it seems to me, is for section of 48 of the ERA to be amended so as to align itself with section 123(1) of the Equality Act 2010. Although the time limit provisions in the ERA are nearly identical to those in the EA 2010 an out of time claim may be allowed where it is just and equitable to do so, a provision the ERA omits. The Court of Appeal has accepted that whisteblowing protections are anti-discrimination laws (see Ezsias v North Glamorgan NHS Trust [2007] EWCA Civ 330). Relying on the House of Lords’ finding that there is a public interest in discrimination cases being heard set out in Anyanwu and Another v. South Bank Student Union [2001] UKHL 14 LJ Kay commented that “in my judgment the same or a similar approach should generally inform whistleblowing cases” (paragraph 32). And so, were an out of time whistleblowing claim allowed to because it was “just and equitable” to do so then there would be a strong public policy reason to allow the claim to proceed. In short, Sarah would have a good chance of getting her day before the Tribunal.

The difficulty is that the construction of the right to lodge a claim in the ERA does not permit an Employment Judge to hear such a claim – that needs to change. If it doesn’t then whistleblowers will be deprived their right to challenge unscrupulous employers.

For reps wanting to understand whistleblowing law I recommend a visit to the Public Concern at Work website.

Race and Caste Discrimination

DalitImagine you work in a company with two employees, both Indian, and an employer who is also Indian. You come from the Dalit caste in the caste system, meanwhile your employer and a fellow employee performing the same role as both share a higher caste. You notice that despite having exactly the same job as your co-worker your manager  is imposing all the degrading tasks to you, you believe that is because of your lower caste.

Back in 2010 when the Equality Act 2010 was enacted a provision was passed that made clear that caste was to be part of the protected characteristic of Race:

5)A Minister of the Crown

(a) Must amend this section so as to provide for caste to be an aspect of race;

(b)may amend this Act so as to provide for an exception to a provision of this Act to apply, or not to apply, to caste or to apply, or not to apply, to caste in specified circumstances.

However, the Conservative led government failed to do this, a decision that was, rightly, a point of criticism alleging “appalling delays” in applying the provision. The result is that for this Indian Dalit who believes they have been the subject of caste discrimination is uncertain she has a legal redress against her employer on race discrimination grounds.

Thankfully, in despite the appalling prevarication of this government there is now some clarity for the many South Asian employees from lower castes, who reports suggest are subject to discrimination but are likely to be afraid of speaking out. A similar situation to that set out above was faced by the claimant in Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey [2014] UKEAT 0190_14_1912.

In Chandhok the claimant believed the regressive terms and conditions of employment employed were a direct result of her lower caste and made a claim that her employer had directly discriminated her on the grounds of her race. The Respondent sought to strike out the claim on the basis that caste was not constitutive of the protected characteristic of race and that, therefore, the claimant had no legal claim. The first tier tribunal found that the claimant’s caste, although not expressly covered by the characteristics set out in section 9(1) of the Equality Act 2010 could be protected. The employer appealed.

Although the EAT did not find that caste discrimination is always covered by the Race provision of the Equality Act it did find that it may be, on a case by case basis, come within section 9(1)(c) of the 2010 Act, namely “ethnic origins”. The relevant comments are in paragraphs 51 and 52 of the judgement:

51.          It follows that with the omission of the bold assertion from paragraph 54 that “caste discrimination” is prohibited by the Equality Act – as to which the answer must be there is as yet no formal definition of “caste” for those purposes – there may be factual circumstances in which the application of the label “caste” is appropriate, many of which are capable – depending on their facts – of falling within the scope of section 9(1),  particularly coming within “ethnic origins”, as portraying a group with characteristics determined in part by descent, and of a sufficient quality to be described as “ethnic”.  As the Judge put it, caste “is an integral part of the picture” in the present case.

52.          I am particularly happy to have reached this conclusion upon the effect of the wording in the current domestic statute, given its interpretation as expressed in Mandla and in JFS, albeit by reference to the earlier statute.  I do not accept that the effect of section 9(5) of the Equality Act is to limit the scope to which the statutory definition of race extends.  The decisions in those two leading cases remain fully applicable.  Such an interpretation is consistent with the UK’s international obligations, including that derived from ICERD.  On this basis, section 9(5) contains a power to supplement or clarify section 9(1), not to restrict it.  The ERRA leaves open the possibility that there may yet be no formal introduction of “caste” as a separate, and separately defined, species of the genus which is “race”.  The interpretation which I favour is compatible with EU Law.  These are additional reasons for thinking the conclusion to which I had come to be correct.

The working conditions in which members of a lower caste work will often be precarious and low paid. Without a right to seek legal remedy on discrimination grounds such employees are really in a precarious place – and a claim of constructive dismissal would not be open to many of them. In that sense the EAT’s judgement in Chandhok is certainly welcome in that there is now at least some certainty that there is a discrimination claim open to them, if the facts (and ethnic descent) warrant it.

But it is still too vulnerable a position. While the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 made clear that the Government understood that caste was necessarily included in the protected characteristic of race it has failed to make changes to the law to give effect to that view, preferring instead to kick the issue into the long grass of post-general election legislative intent. And the response of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats to this continuing imprecision is, as the responses to the Dalit Solidarity Network correspondence show, still not good enough.