The year started with a step forward for Equality with the EAT decision in Tirkey v Chandok & Another finding that caste discrimination may be protected as a form of race discrimination. In the wake of this decision the UK Government indicated that it had no immediate plans to make use of its power to expressly make caste discrimination an aspect of race discrimination.
The case of Game Retail Ltd v Laws acted as a reminder to employees of the risk to their employment should their employer became aware of careless tweets or posts on social media.
The Court of Appeal in the case of Shrestha v Genesis Housing Association Limited confirmed that an employer does not have to investigate every line of defence put forward by an employee in a suspected misconduct case. The case involved multiple travel expenses claims all of which were in excess of the AA suggested mileage for the route. The employer took the view that there could not possibly be a plausible explanation for every journey and dismissed the employee without putting every journey to the employee and analysing his response. The ET, EAT and Court of Appeal all agreed that this still amounted to as much investigation as was reasonable in the circumstances.
The new ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures came into force. One minor change was to reflect an employee's absolute right to request his or her choice of TU representative or workplace colleague to accompany him/her, provided the request to be accompanied is in itself reasonable.
Following a decision of the ECJ in 2014 an Employment Tribunal in Leicester kicked off a period of worry for businesses with a decision that, when calculating holiday pay, British Gas should have included an element of commission that a claimant, Mr Lock, would otherwise not have earnt while exercising his statutory right to holidays.
April was a busy month with Shared Parental Leave becoming available to parents of children born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015. For a user friendly guide see Shared parental leave in a nutshell. April also saw an increase in compensatory award limits from £76,574 to £78,335 or a year's gross pay (whichever is the lower) and the cap on a week's pay increased from £464 to £475.
In addition, Unison received permission to appeal both of the High Court's decisions refusing to quash the UK Government's introduction of employment tribunal fees.
A survey of interview techniques suggested candidates views on superheros and dinosaurs were just as likely to be asked as questions relating to their strengths and weaknesses!
Shortly after the general election the UK Government announced major changes to existing strike laws.
Welcome clarification of when the duty to collectively consult arises was brought by the ECJ following cases arising from Woolworths and Ethel Austin going into administration.
Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts were finally banned with the coming into force of section 153 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.
Holiday pay turmoil continued with the news that the decision in Lock v British Gas was to be appealed.
ACAS published statistics on early conciliation (EC) which could be read to suggest that the EC procedure had reduced the number of claims being lodged with Employment Tribunals. However, doubters confidently claimed that the introduction of Tribunal fees was the overwhelming cause for the reduction.
The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland waded in on the holiday pay debate finding that employers may need to include voluntary overtime in holiday pay calculations. The Court did not though require to definitively decide this point.
The Advocate General gave an opinion that travelling workers with no fixed or habitual workplace should be able to count the time spent travelling between their home and their first customer and returning home from their last customer as working time.
Shortly before Unison's appeal relating to the introduction of tribunal fees took place the UK Government announced a long awaited review of tribunal fees and the fee remission scheme.
The Equal Opportunities Review published their annual survey of compensatory awards in discrimination cases - Significant increase in discrimination compensation.
The UK Government took action to address the concerns of employers about the potential costs arising from multiple holiday pay claims by restricting the period in respect of which any employee can claim backdated underpaid holiday pay claims to 2 years. The Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014 were a direct result of the 2014 EAT decision in the Bear Scotland case which had decided that non-guaranteed overtime payments should be included in holiday pay calculations.
Discrimination protection took another step forward with confirmation from the ECJ in the memorably named case of CHEZ Razpredelenie Bulgaria AD v Komisia za zashtita ot diskriminatsia that an individual may claim indirect discrimination under the Race Equality Directive on the basis of association with a group that is disadvantaged even when that individual is not of the same ethnic or racial origin. This decision has the potential to significantly broaden the scope of discrimination protection.
The EAT in the case of McElroy v Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust highlighted the need for employers to take care when disciplining employees who attend work smelling of alcohol. This and more general issues encountered by employers when dealing with drugs and alcohol in the workplace are discussed in our Podcast - Drugs and alcohol in the workplace.
The UK Government opened up a consultation on closing the Gender Pay Gap seeking views on a proposed requirement for larger private and voluntary sector employers to publish gender pay information. The Government stated it believed greater transparency would encourage employers and employees to consider what more can be done to close the pay gap.
Whilst "troubled" by the sharp decline in employment tribunal claims, the Court of Appeal dismissed Unison's appeals against their judicial review applications challenging the legality of tribunal fees. The Court did however identify the need for a very full and careful analysis of the causes of the decline.
The Scottish Government announced their intention to abolish tribunal fees in Scotland.
The EAT in Edinburgh handed down its judgement in an appeal against a finding of unfair dismissal in the case of Scottish Canals v David Smith. The EAT upheld the appeal by Scottish Canals and found the dismissal to be fair.
The Department of Work and Pensions released figures showing a 235,000 increase in workers between the ages of 50 and 64.
A number of cases where common sense prevailed were reported in September starting with the decision in BT Managed Services Limited v Edwards that a permanently incapacitated employee was not assigned to a grouping for TUPE purposes.
In an important decision for HR professionals, the EAT affirmed in Ramphal v Department of Transport the right for a dismissing or investigating officer to seek guidance and advice from human resources, but specified that such advice should be limited to questions of law and procedure and not stray into areas of culpability. Care must therefore be taken as to the degree of input HR professionals have in disciplinary procedures.
A firm of solicitors successfully persuaded the EAT that they, a limited company, could bring a claim of direct discrimination under the Equality Act. The EAT rejected an argument that protection under the Act is limited to individuals finding that there is no reason why companies could not complain of discriminatory treatment based on the protected characteristic of another person in the same way as an individual can.
The annual statistics on tribunal claims were published showing a further decrease in the number of claims made in the last 12 months - Employment Tribunal Awards Statistics - 2014-2015.
The Fit for Work service (which offers assistance to employyes who have been or who are likely to be absent from work for a period of four weeks or more) was rolled out.
The Enterprise Bill, which had a number of key employment law related aspects was published.
ACAS produced three equality and diversity guides aimed at assisting employers in identifying, dealing with and preventing discrimination issues.
1 October saw a number of employment law changes including an increase in the national minimum wage (from £6.50 to £6.70 for the main adult rate); tribunals lost their power to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases; the right for Sikhs to wear turbans instead of safety helmets was extended to all workplaces; and self employed people became exempt from health and safety laws if they have no employees.
The UK Government announced their intention to extend shared parental leave to include grandparents by 2018.
The 2015 CIPD annual survey on absence management was published showing stress at work to be a continuing problem for employers.
BIS produced an employer guide on zero hours contracts explaining the difference between appropriate and inappropriate use and giving guidance on best practice.
Following the UK Government announcement in May, Gender Pay Equality was back on the agenda with plans to extend the requirement to publish gender pay gap information to the public sector in addition to private and voluntary sector employees.
Despite it being 45 years since the Equal Pay Act took effect pay inequality clearly remains an issue for businesses. Two enterprising female business women even came up with a Woman's Discount Card, similar to an NUS student card to make up for all the money women are missing out on. According to their website it is accepted by open minded retailers world wide.
Other significant pieces of legislation also had big birthdays - sex discrimination having first been declared unlawful 40 years ago, and disability discrimination having been legislated against for the first time 20 years ago. Despite significant criticism on its introduction, the Disability Discrimination Act significantly improved the lives of many disabled people in Britain.
The year ends on a similar note to how it started with the claimant in the case of Tirkey v Chandok and Another being awarded over £180,000 in unpaid wages following success in her claims for unlawful deduction of wages and caste discrimination. A decision on the amount of compensation awarded in connection with the discrimination element of her claim is expected imminently.
As in 2014 holiday pay and tribunal fees continued to be hot topics. With the Scottish Government's announcement that they intend to abolish tribunal fees in Scotland will next year bring with it "Tribunal Tourism" as claimants from elsewhere in the UK try to establish a link justifying them bringing their claims north of the border..? Also looming on the horizon is the prospect of the UK leaving the EU with an in-out referendum promised by the end of 2017. What impact would an exit have on UK employment law? Watch this space for further details of all of the employment law developments throughout 2016.