We are starting on a serious note this week with news that the Employment Tribunal Fees refund scheme is now open to everybody. Anyone who paid fees can apply for a refund online, by post or email using the appropriate forms for tribunal claimants, multiple claimants and sponsors or respondents ordered to pay successful claimant's fees.
Employment status, the gig economy and in particular the trials of Uber have been big news this year. As has the rise of the machines and the risk of robots taking over human jobs. These two topics now seem to be merging with the news that Uber plans to buy 24,000 self driving cars. In theory the cars would be available through the Uber app to pick up passengers without a driver, and presumably would also solve the issue of workers' rights for them at the same time.
And from taxi drivers to Olympic athletes. Jess Varnish, an ex Olympic cyclist has raised claims of sex discrimination, detriment for whistleblowing and unfair dismissal against UK Sport and British Cycling following her controversial dropping from the elite funding programme. The employment status of athletes on the funding programme is far from clear. However, it has been reported that an application made by UK Sport to have the claims struck out was dismissed by a Tribunal allowing her claim to proceed towards a full hearing.
As more and more allegations of inappropriate behaviour in workplaces from Westminster to Hollywood it is, unfortunately, not a great surprise that half of women and a fifth of men have been harassed at work or in a place of study according to a survey by the BBC. Of more concern is that 63% of the women and 79% of men said they didn't report it to anyone. It appears a sea change in attitudes is required and perhaps the starting point would be ensuring that there are policies available to employees and workers which enable them to speak up and have issues addressed.
There was much hullaballoo in early November when it was revealed that the average UK employee still had 6 days holiday left to take with media outlets trying to explain why this was. According to the Mirror the top reason was not "too busy" but rather "don't know what to do with the extra days". However others save their days off in the hope of an exciting trip but then don't find one they want to go on, or they had run out of money and couldn't afford to go away.
Of considerably greater concern was that early November also saw Equal Pay Day - the day in the year from which female employees, because of inequality in rates of pay, are working for free. In 2017 it was 11 November, a slight improvement on 2016 when it was 9 November. Theresa May was also reported as renewing efforts to close the gender pay gap by appealing to smaller employers (not caught by the GPG reporting requirements brought into effect in April) to publicly provide details of the pay gap in their organisations.
Also in the news this month is the increasing levels of retired Britons who are returning to work. And while it might be assumed that it is financial necessity that is the driving force, in fact the research, carried out by King's College London, found that men, in good health with post secondary qualifications and whose partners were working were the most likely to return. The research suggested that those in poorer financial circumstances find it harder to obtain employment and this leads to wider disparities in later life income.
However, those who have resigned in particularly dramatic ways may find it a little more difficult to "unretire". The case of the Twitter employee who deleted President Trump's Twitter account recently was widely reported but there are plenty of other examples including a cabin crew member who went on a foul mouthed rebuke of a passenger on the plane intercom before activating and then departing via the emergency slide exit. Another worker brought a marching band along with him when quitting.
Not a resignation but another well publicised firing - a cyclist caught on camera showing the Trump motorcade the middle finger was reportedly sacked from her job. The photo was taken out with working hours and when it went viral (having originally been posted by the employee herself) no mention of the employer was made on social media. However, despite this the company deemed it lewd or obscene and in breach of their social media policy. However, the Huffington Post subsequently reported that a fund set for the cyclist quickly amassed over $70,000 as a sort of "severance payment" for her.
If you are hoping for a career in a stress free occupation then it would be worthwhile taking a look at the HSE work related stress, depression or anxiety statistics for Great Britain 2017. Occupations to avoid are suggested to be professional welfare roles, nursing and midwifery and teaching and education. The primary sources of stress were identified as workload, lack of support, violence or bullying and changes at work.
The Scottish Government took the opportunity of Living Wage Week to introduce plans to make Scotland a "living wage nation" over the next three years. The plans relate to the "real" living wage, a voluntary rate presently £8.75 per hour as promoted by the Living Wage Foundation. Plans include a regionally focussed accreditation scheme for employers to create the UK's first living wage towns, cities and regions.
And finally new research suggests there is strong public support for banning unpaid work experience that lasts more than 4 weeks. Three quarters of people surveyed by the Social Mobility Commission backed a change to the law to stop companies exploiting unpaid interns. The poll was published ahead of the second reading of a Lord's Bill that seeks to end the practice.