During the MADE Festival 2016 last week in Sheffield, dozens of interesting business workshops and presentations popped up all over the Steel City. Topics ranged from marketing and leadership, to finance and technology.
I was lucky enough to attend an employment law workshop, organised by Ms Lindsey Gaimster of Bhayani Law. The workshop was called “Hiring and Firing: I Bet You Didn’t Know That!”, and the content covered some of the surprising facts and fictions surrounding legislation that affects HR.
The Nine Protected Characteristics of Discrimination
The theme of the workshop was discrimination, and how exactly this is classified in the eyes of the law.
According to UK law, there are 9 protected characteristics. If you fire an employee, or refuse to hire somebody on any of the following grounds, then you could be prosecuted for discrimination:
-Being, or becoming, a transsexual person
-Being married or in a civil partnership
-Being pregnant or having a child
-Race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
-Religion, belief or lack or religion/belief
What This Means for UK Employers
As long as you avoid making judgements based on these nine protected characteristics, it seems that practically anything else goes. Lindsey gave examples of characteristics that might not be protected by discrimination law, including:
-Tattoos and piercings
One story brought up in the workshop, was of a man who tried to sue his company for discriminating against his weight. The case went as far as the European Court of Justice, but as his weight was not classed as a disability, they rejected his claim. Of course, with Brexit in progress, we may no longer see UK cases taken to the European courts, so it will be interesting to see how future cases like this are handled.
Of course, this does not mean you should start making job cuts based on physical appearance! Not only is it morally questionable, but it might not be as easy as you think. One story mentioned in the workshop, was of an employer who used physical appearance as a reason for their actions. When the case was taken to court, they lost, because the person’s appearance was affected by a disability.
This might all seem very unfair, but Lindsey assured the audience that the law is slowly changing. As time goes on, this list of protected characteristics is growing. It might not be long before we see things like ugliness, body art and weight listed as protected characteristics.
More Interesting Facts About Hiring and Firing
To finish off, here are a few more bits of information from the workshop that you might not have known about employment law in the UK:
-You can fire anybody for no reason in their first two years. Regardless of your internal probation periods, you can terminate any person’s employment for no specific reason if they have been with your company for less than two years. In reality, however, Lindsey advises sticking to your probation policy – if you don’t, it could send a very bad signal to your other employees, and they will lose confidence in you as an employer.
-During redundancies, you must offer maternity leavers a guaranteed position. If you are forced to make redundancies, it doesn’t matter how you are managing the selection process, you simply cannot make a maternity leaver redundant against their wishes. You must offer them a guaranteed place – it is then up to them whether they accept your offer, or take redundancy.
-When dismissing for gross misconduct, you must still pay remaining holidays. If you have had to dismiss an employee for gross misconduct, then you don’t have to pay them their notice. But you do have to pay them any accrued holidays. This is because the holidays were accrued before the gross misconduct was identified and dealt with.
About Bhayani Law
Bhayani Law is a team of experienced lawyers who specialise in HR and employment law. They help individuals, SMEs and non-profit organisations, to deal with employment law issues, including performance, discrimination, disciplinary and TUPE.
Thanks very much to Bhayani Law for giving such interesting insight into some of the lesser-known facts about hiring and firing. You can learn more about their company on their website, or follow them on Twitter @BhayaniEmpLaw.