Welcome to month three of the (now regular) employment law round up, an excuse to look at recent employment HR and labour issues from a not-so-legal angle.
I promised myself that this month I would not start the ramble with yet another discussion on remote-working, and I’m happy to confirm that I’ve managed to delay anything on that subject until the 6th paragraph…
Instead, I’ll start with the hugely important topic of the representation of black employees in the workplace, in light of our focus in this month’s newsletter on Black History Month. I was fascinated by this article on the issue and costs of ‘code-switching’ – the practice of “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behaviour, and expression in ways that will optimise the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities”. Of course, almost everyone regulates their personality around their colleagues to some extent, but most employees do, after a while, feel able to act authentically at work. However, black and ethnic minority employees may face a particular challenge to balance being authentic on the one hand, and adjusting behaviour to navigate their (often) majority-white workplace on the other. Authenticity is of course important for both employee welfare and successful leaders, and so it’s easy to see the scale of the potential disadvantage faced. See this fantastic Linked In post for a first hand account of these issues in action.
The pressure to code-switch feels like an all-encompassing version of the widely acknowledged fact that BAME job applicants are penalised by employers for having non-white sounding names on job applications, leading applicants from minority groups to feel pressure to disguise their identity. And if it weren’t difficult enough, there is also paradoxical research to show that minority groups may be “particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers”. See our article here on the benefits of creating an inclusive environment and taking the time to understand why people feel the need to code-switch.
Other great articles I have saved and reflected on this month on this month include this stat-heavy article on the imperative for a racially just workplace, this on the risks of burnout for black employees, and this from the LSE on the bias shown in the British job market against applicants of British employees of Black African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. As ever, it is clear, there is a long way to go.
To return (only briefly) to my favourite topic of the moment, remote working, there have been reports this month that working from home “boosts career progress” (although given articles discussed in recent months, you might justifiably feel sceptical…). To add to the confusion, it also appears that commuting can help work life balance. Confused? Me too. Perhaps the answer is to abandon ambition altogether, and instead focus your efforts on becoming a time millionaire...
In other stories which demonstrate the minefield that is career progression, a recent BBC article suggests that hard work is not enough, and this internet-famous article from 2017 argues (perceptively) that, for women in particular, the key is often to make sure your relationship is genuinely equal. Relatedly, I wholeheartedly recommend the Netflix episode of Explained which dissects the underlying reasons behind the gender pay gap. Research from King’s College London on the pay gap in 6 countries is also an interesting (although a not altogether encouraging) read. Something needs to change, and soon.
Perhaps slightly lower on the priority list is the issue of Pawternity Leave, which seems to have gathered some steam during the pandemic. Call this (cat-loving) lawyer a cynic, but I do think we should focus on improving the parental leave scheme before moving onto our canine friends.
Time for a few fun stories, I think. Firstly, how’s this for a red flag employment document?! The employee was asked to sign a ‘sweat pledge’ to affirm, amongst other things, that “if I am unhappy at work, I will either find a new job, or a way to be happy”. Gulp. Elsewhere, an employee in the UK was sacked for stealing two packets of jaffa cakes from a charity stall – they’re not even that good! And for the most bizarre story of the month, look no further than the dismissal of the Wizard of New Zealand, who is being removed from the public payroll after over two decades providing “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services” to Christchurch. Where do I send my application?
Let’s discuss some ‘proper’ law, because you’ve probably given up by now anyway. Firstly, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has made it clear that menopause symptoms can potentially amount to a disability. Elsewhere, the EAT held that it is not necessarily necessary for an employee to have worked the shift they had been instructed to perform (where that shift would cause a breach of the Working Time Regulations) in order to claim automatic unfair dismissal under s104 Employment Rights Act. For more technical employment law article, that is really worth the effort, see this on automated dismissal decisions.
And, finally, to end the ramble on a note of positivity, I saw this on Twitter today. It’s an example of a compassionate judge making his judgment accessible for its intended audience. Bravo.