Thursday, April 30, 2015

Is Obesity a Disability?

A report last summer on a case before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), suggested that an obese person may be classed as disabled for the purposes of equality legislation.  The Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunal has now followed the ECJ approach to this question in the case of Bickerstaff v Butcher.

Mr Bickerstaff was harassed at work by colleagues, including Mr Butcher, because of his weight.  He was morbidly obese, having a body mass index of 48.5, and suffered from poor health as a consequence.  He would be short of breath after only minimal exertion, and suffered from sleep apnoea and gout.

The medical evidence indicated that Mr Bickerstaff could end his morbid obesity after only 6 months, if he took active steps to lose weight.  However, there was no guarantee that he would do so.

The Tribunal took the same approach as the ECJ in ignoring the fact that the Claimant's obesity was self-inflicted and could probably be remedied if he were to take active steps to lose weight.  Instead it looked at whether his condition hindered full and active participation at work, which it clearly did.  Therefore, the Tribunal found that he was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act, and that the harassment he had suffered was for a reason related to his disability, making it unlawful.

This case highlights the need to have an effective harassment policy in place, which aims to prevent harassment at work for any reason.  Managers also need to ensure that they take active steps to stop bullying in the workplace, including encouraging those who feel they are being bullied or harassed to report their concerns immediately.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New Entitlement to Shared Parental Leave and Pay

Parents of children due (or placed for adoption) on or after 5th April 2015 may be entitled to up to 50 weeks' Shared Parental Leave (SPL).  They will need to have worked for at least 26 weeks and will need to satisfy certain earnings thresholds to qualify.

In order for SPL to be available, the mother (or main adopter) will need to give up some of their 52 weeks' Statutory Maternity or Adoption Leave. Whatever remains from that 52 weeks can be converted into SPL. The parents can opt to take this leave in any number of ways - they can take it together or separately; they can also take it in several separate chunks (of no less than one week) as long as the employer agrees to that approach. All of the leave must be used up within one year of the the child's birth or placement for adoption.

There are some quite detailed notification procedures that have to be followed by the employee.  They must give at least 8 weeks' notice of the intended start date for any period of SPL and will need to provide certain information about their partner (who may not be your employee, of course) in a signed declaration. The employer can also request further information in order to satisfy themselves of the employee's eligibility.

Employer and employee may need to meet to discuss the requested SPL, so employees will be encouraged to plan ahead as much as possible. Employers do not have to agree to requests for discontinuous SPL (i.e. where it is not to be taken in one block) but they must agree to requests for continuous leave.  

Employees can give 8 weeks' notice to change any SPL that is booked.  They can also give separate notices for separate periods of continuous Leave. They are permitted up to 3 notices (either to take SPL or to vary SPL already booked).

Most employees will also be eligible for Shared Parental Pay.  This is the same amount as the flat rate for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) (currently £138.14 per week).  The total period of statutory payments is 39 weeks, so the number of weeks of Shared Parental Pay will be whatever number of weeks' SMP (or Adoption Pay) remain unused.

Each employee has up to 20 Shared Parental Leave in Touch days. These are similar to the 10 Keeping in Touch days currently available to those on maternity or adoption leave, in that the employee does not have to take them and the employer does not have to allow them. 

Finally, Additional Paternity Leave will be replaced by SPL but the two-weeks' Statutory Paternity Leave still remains in place.  So some fathers may choose to take 2 weeks' Statutory Paternity Leave on the birth of their child followed by 50 weeks' Shared Parental Leave (where the mother agrees to this).

In reality, there has been very little take up of Additional Paternity Leave since it was introduced in 2011 so it is possible that this new type of leave will also be rarely used, with the majority of mothers still taking leave. However, it is a major step forward and the Government argues that giving parents the choice to share leave will make a big impact in number of cases where it is exercised. Let's wait and see!