It’s been a busy start to 2013 with employment issues dominating the national news agenda. From the implications of the Jimmy Savile case for employers who use contractors to the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in favour of a worker wearing a religious cross and the potential job losses resulting from the demise of HMV and Blockbuster, the focus has been on the complex world of employee/employer responsibilities.
The lesson to food bosses from the former situation is that you must ensure necessary checks when employing freelancers or contractors. It is increasingly looking as if the BBC and NHS will be among those sued by Savile’s victims, despite the fact he was not actually an employee of either organisation. “The BBC could potentially be held to be vicariously liable in these circumstances, as Savile was acting as its agent,” explains HR Legal Service director Peter Byrne.
BA worker Nadia Eweida’s victory for Christians everywhere shows there must be a balance between an employee’s wish to display their religious beliefs and a sound rationale as to why they might be restricted. The area of religious discrimination is one of the most sensitive in employment law, so the ruling is a high-profile one.
It’s worth noting, though, that three other cases held the same day were found not to be violating the employees’ human rights. In one case, a nurse was told she could not wear a crucifix necklace as it was a health and safety risk. This was ruled to be a justifiable reason.
In light of this, Liz Iles, senior employment consultant at workplace advisory service Croner, advises employers to explore all options available to them as alternatives when faced with an objection from an employee, especially on an issue as sensitive as one related to their religion or belief.
With the number of job losses inevitably going to rise as poor Christmas trading comes to bear on more flaky businesses, we can expect plenty more employment law cases this year.
So, a note to grocery chiefs: it may be boring, but don’t take shortcuts on HR policies and procedures. Or else it may be you on the front page of the red tops.