By Dónall Breen - 30 August 2018
Every month, we take a look at the weird and wonderful employment law news from around the world, with a tongue in cheek assessment of what has kept our fellow workplace lawyers busy.
Some might say labour lawyers are a little too ‘politically correct’ when it comes to employment related matters. We like to use gender neutral terms, avoid broad brush statements and generally try not to harass our colleagues too frequently. Obviously, our brand of employment advice hasn’t reached the hipster-Badlands of Shoreditch. An ad for bar staff asked for female applicants to be ‘extremely attractive’ and 'must be comfortable wearing heels'. Arguments aside that beauty is in the eye of the fixie-riding-craft-beer holder, it is no doubt an astonishingly sexist advertisement that flies in the face of the recently published government guidelines on dress codes in the workplace (which was roundly dismissed as being as useless as a government strategy on Brexit). The ad was quickly removed and the recruitment agency said it was looking into the embarrassing matter.
Not embarrassing at all is the fact that women go through menopause, a fact of life really. What is embarrassing, however, is that the Bank of England governor thought menopause was the perfect way of describing a slowing economy. After a more confusing than normal interview, he apologised for his wording and the world went back to ignoring economic forecasting again.
However, menopause has stayed on the labour lawyers’ radar. A Scottish Employment Tribunal has found a woman was discriminated against on the grounds of disability due to the side effects of menopause. When her serious symptoms became clear her employer was found to have treated her detrimentally as a result. It is a timely reminder that disability can encompass a whole host of issues and employers should be aware of their obligations.
However, this author postulates that part of the reason for the poor reaction of the Scottish employer (and probably employers up and down the country) is the taboo which still surrounds gynaecological issues and illnesses. Smashing an eye socket playing rugby is manly and fine, hot flushes and urinary problems are to be subtly ignored.
That is why one employee is encouraging his male colleagues to say the word ‘menopause’ at least three times a day in solidarity with their female counterparts. Staff at a large university are being encouraged to open up and talk about the taboo subject in a bid to normalise conversation on the topic. This is turn should help both employers and employees to be better able to communicate about how to deal with these issues as they inevitably arise.
Not very good at communicating appropriately are FBI agents and Disney film directors, apparently. First, an FBI agent has been fired after his anti-Trump texts were widely shared. Of course, it didn’t help that the same FBI agent was investigating Russian interference into Mr Trump’s election. And then there was Disney director James Gunn who was fired because of old tweets which were so disgusting (and downright weird) that this author has decided not even to allude to them - and there is a pretty low bar for what gets included in this monthly article.
I could write a whole blog every month on social media posts getting employees fired, showing how prevalent this issue has become. Suffice to say, publishing controversial statements to the world at large may lead you to getting the cold shoulder from your employer. #Obvs
Finally, speaking of cold shoulders, an air conditioning company in Japan has developed a workplace solution so bizarre it borders on genius. It involves a camera which tracks employees’ eye movement and will lower the temperature of the office if workers become sleepy and stop concentrating. Of course, not content with such facile intrusive methods, the system can also blast particularly sleepy workers with jets of cold air to make sure they stay focused and on the job. It’s like brining the Beast from the East into your very own working space, with personalised polar vortexes for the slackers – a wonderful use of the vast technology at our fingertips.
So, there you have it. From hot bar staff in London to cold office workers in Japan, the world of labour law is certainly never boring. Thankfully, there are no plans to introduce air con concentration contraptions here at GQ|Littler. And contrary to popular belief, we do not have a policy of hiring exclusively good-looking lawyers, despite what our profile pictures may imply…