Newsletter – June 2008

Asian police officer wins third payout from Scotland Yard - and launches a further two complaints

A Detective Sergeant has been awarded £70,400 for victimisation after he was passed over for promotion for having exposed race prejudice at the Metropolitan police. Detective Sergeant Gurpal Virdi's victory means that he has now won more than £300,000 from the force, based on previous successful claims. And the Sikh officer is seeking further compensation in two more tribunal claims in the next three months.

Mr Virdi, who joined the Met. as a PC in May 1982, was awarded £150,000 by a tribunal in August 2000 for race discrimination after he was unfairly dismissed from the force. He had been sacked after being wrongly accused of sending racist hate mail to black and Asian officers at Hanwell police station. He was reinstated in February 2002 and an internal investigation found major mistakes had been made in what was seen as a landmark case in race relations within the police service. Sir John Stevens, then Commissioner, apologised and agreed Mr Virdi should be paid another £90,000 in an out-of-court settlement by the force for "injury to his feelings".

In 2005, encouraged by senior officers, he applied for promotion to detective inspector at a time when the Met had a shortage. He was endorsed by his line manager and it was agreed that he satisfied all the official criteria. But he was turned down by a review panel and his appeal was rejected. In its judgment, the tribunal ruled that Mr Virdi's promotion application was treated differently to that of someone who had not taken legal action against the force. It said the process was "shoddily operated" and noted that he was now unlikely to get another chance of promotion before he retires. Mr Virdi's award included £61,621 for loss of earnings and pension and £8,780 for injury to feelings.

Mr Virdi is involved in two more employment tribunals, including a fresh victimisation claim next week alleging that he was ostracised on his return to work and his appraisal downgraded. In September a tribunal will decide on allegations that he has also been the victim of bullying.

Hairdresser told not to wear headscarf wins religious discrimination claim

Bushra Noah, a Muslim woman, was refused a job at The Wedge Salon on Kings Cross as she wears a headscarf. The owner, Sarah Desrosiers, insisted that all stylists must exhibit their own hair. An employment tribunal rejected Ms Noah's claim of direct discrimination but ruled that Ms Desrosiers was guilty of indirect discrimination, notwithstanding that she explained she would have acted in the same way if an applicant had refused to remove a baseball cap. Explaining the decision for making the award for "injury to feelings", the panel statement said:

"There was no specific evidence before us as to what would (for sure) have been the actual impact of the claimant working in her salon with her head covered at all times."

The Wedge Salon had advertised the position of assistant stylist on a website. Bushra Noah, a recently trained hairdresser, applied for the position and came in for a meeting with Desrosiers. However, Ms Noah claimed that when she arrived, Ms Desrosiers was ‘shocked’ to see her headscarf - a hijab* - which, as a practising Muslim, Ms Noah wears at all times except when she is at home. Ms Desrosiers had set up the salon to offer an alternative form of hairdressing which, in her words, is ‘ultra modern’, ‘urban’, ‘edgy’ and ‘funky’, and she felt that it was a requirement of the job that the candidate be able to show off their hair, styled in a way typical to the salon. After a brief meeting, where Desrosiers established that Noah would be wearing her headscarf at work all the time, the salon owner said Noah would not be a suitable candidate for the post. An award of £4,000 was made to Ms Noah.

Note:- * The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves, regarded by many Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

Lie Detectors and "Fit Notes" amongst major plans to radically reform sickness absence management

Employers may soon be able to use lie detectors to help detect whether employees claiming have been genuinely ill. Successful trials have been carried out for the purposes of detecting false benefits claims by using Voice Risk Analyses, which detects variations in a person's voice. Employers’ organisations estimate that 12% of sick days are unnecessary and cost employers £1.6 billion per year. This announcement follows last month's report from Dame Carol Black who has just carried out a government review of the health of the working population. Dame Black proposes "radical" changes to work-related health services, and has called for an urgent and comprehensive reform to create a new approach to health and work in Britain. Her recommendations include:-

  • The paper-based sick note should be replaced with an electronic fit note, switching the focus to what people can do (rather than can’t do) and improving communication between employers, employees and GPs. Government should pilot a new Fit for Work service based on case-managed, multidisciplinary support for patients in the early stages of sickness absence, with the aim of making access to work-related health support available to all – no longer the preserve of the few.

Secretary of State says a "stonkingly good" new equality law follows in next few months

In previous editions we have reported on the Government's consultation programme about the need for tougher and modern equality laws. 4000 ideas/comments have been received and the Secretary of State for Equalities has just responded. Speaking at a conference on 9th June, Harriet Harman said that a new equality law will be formulated and that it would be "“stonkingly good”. Specifically, the Minister says that the new law will include:-

  • Extending public sector duties – currently public bodies are subject to three separate duties to promote equality on the grounds of race, disability and gender. The new law may extend this so that public bodies have to promote equality for all sections of society, including equality on grounds of age, sexual orientation and religion/belief.
  • Transparency – the new Bill may put a requirement on organisations to be more open about equality and diversity, as discrimination is “hard to tackle if you can’t see it.”
  • Procurement – this was a major topic of discussion at the conference. The government believes the public sector duty should extend to how public bodies spend their money. This would mean that private sector companies would have to demonstrate their equality standards during the tender process.

Ms Harman has also promised that the new law will have a plain English 'translation' next to the legalese so that everyone can read it and understand it without the need for a lawyer.

Is a ramp a piece of workplace equipment? - Appeal Court

This question was answered last week. Mrs Smith was employed by Northamptonshire County Council as a carer. She regularly collected a client, who was a wheelchair user, from her home to take her for day care. Wheelchair access to the client’s property was by way of a wooden ramp installed by the NHS. Mrs Smith was injured when the edge of the ramp gave way while she was pushing the wheelchair along it. She sought damages for personal injury from the council, alleging that the council was in breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to maintain the ramp in an efficient state or in good repair. In the original court decision, the judge found that the ramp was “work equipment”. The County Council appealed. And the Court of Appeal held where the ramp was part of someone else’s property and had been installed by a third party as a permanent fixture and was used most of the time by persons other than the council’s employees, the council had no control over the ramp sufficient to enable it to make it liable. Accordingly, the ramp was not “work equipment” and there was no breach of the duty by the council.

National Staff Dismissal Register raises concerns

Action Against Business Crime (the national organisation for Business Crime Reduction Partnerships) has set up a register which allows organisations that sign up to it access to details of employees who either have been dismissed for acts of dishonesty or have left employment whilst under investigation for such conduct. Some large organisations (mainly in the retail trade) have already signed up including Littlewoods, Harrods and Mothercare. Some equality commentators are already saying that employers would be wise to take some care and possibly monitor its development. Data protection and accuracy of information held could be contentious issues. It is uncertain how those who compile the register will ensure that the information contained on it will be accurate, particularly where there have been no convictions (or even a full disciplinary hearing) and where there are merely allegations at large.