Sydney Rain and Louis’ Gain: Paternity Rights in the UK

1 Direction singer Louis Tomlinson has become a father for the first time. But what are his paternity rights?

“Sydney Rain” is trending on Twitter.  You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a weather forecast from Down Under.  It’s not.  Instead it’s the suspected name of One-Directioner, Louis Tomlinson’s new-born son.  With that in mind, I thought it appropriate to remind myself of the various paternity rights in the UK.

  • Ante-natal Appointments: Fathers are entitled to unpaid time off during working hours to accompany the mother to up to two ante-natal appointments.
  • Ordinary Paternity Leave: Paternity leave of up to two weeks can be taken immediately after the baby is born, or any time within the following eight weeks.  Paternity leave can either be one whole week or two consecutive whole weeks – it can’t be broken up into odd days.
  • Statutory Paternity Pay: SPP is currently £139.58 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, if that is less.  During paternity leave, employees are entitled to keep all other normal terms and conditions, apart from salary.
  • Right to Return: Unless a redundancy situation has arisen, the father is entitled to return to his old job on the same terms and conditions.
  • Unfair dismissal: A worker will be unfairly dismissed if the reason or main reason for dismissal is connected with the fact that the worker took, or tried to take, paternity leave.
  • Shared Parental Leave: SPL provides parents with the opportunity to consider the best arrangements to care for the child during the child’s first year.  It enables eligible parents to share the caring evenly or have one parent taking the main caring role.

Fortunately none of these rights will be too relevant to Louis on the basis that all members of One Direction have decided to go in… well… a different direction.  Parental leave rights are constantly changing and employers would do well to address these changes in a staff handbook.  If you need advice about any of these issues, the Blackadders’ employment team are always happy to help.

So congratulations Louis – and welcome to the world, Sydney Rain.  I wonder if we’ll see the ripple effect of your son’s name throughout Scotland in the next few months – Will we encounter a surge in the name “Aberdeen Snow”?  Or how about “Dundee Fog”?  But seriously, I’m not going to make any cruel or unwanted jokes about these parents’ choice of name.  I guess That’s What Makes Me Beautiful…

Simon Allison
Partner – Head of Employment Law

Does Big Brother know about your Friday pints?

Email is a great tool isn’t it?  You have the power to send anything you want to the recipient, be that a quick message, a link to an interesting website, a photograph, or even attachments such as tribunal employment productions.  All this at the click of a button.

There are many businesses, like ours, where a large part of the working day is spent working on a computer.  Most businesses provide their staff with business email accounts in order that they can communicate with colleagues, clients, customers and so on.

What about employees using work email/internet for personal matters?  I’m sure we have all done it at some point.  I know I have.  Be it a mass email with stag/hen doo arrangements or a quick email to the husband/partner/wife/mother to advise “I’ll be late home tonight, get me something decent for tea”.  Of course, there will be far more sinister examples than these.  What power does an employer have to regulate personal use of email/internet during working time?

The starting point is of course in the employer’s own policies.  It is prudent for employers to have an email/internet policy.  This can be used to set the boundaries.  For example, is it a zero tolerance approach of no personal emails from work?  Many employers opt for allowing reasonable personal use.  Some opt for permitting use during the employee’s lunch breaks only.

That is all fine and well.  How, though, can an employer ever police this?  Surely checking staff emails/internet use would infringe their human rights?

A recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights provides some encouraging news for those employers who have that rogue employee who sends ten personal emails for every one work email. In Barbulescu v Romania an employee was dismissed having used the company’s internet to send personal messages during working hours. The Court held that the employee’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had not been breached. Article 8 protects the right to respect for private/family life and correspondence.

The employer monitored the employee’s use of the internet, informed him of this fact and dismissed him (in accordance with their policies) when they discovered various personal messages sent during working time.  The discovery was accidental – i.e. the employer was not purposely seeking out personal messages.  The Court held that there was no breach of Article 8 on the basis that it was reasonable and proportionate for the employer to be able to verify that workers were in fact working during working hours.

Probably time I go and check our own email policy – but not until I’ve emailed the lads to tee up Friday pints…

Jack Boyle
Senior Solicitor – Employment Law

Don’t Overlook The Power Of Facebook

Did you know that the average person spends 20 minutes on Facebook and other social media forums each working day? That is 1 hour and 40 minutes each week and over 2 whole days each year. Whether it is checking the photo you’ve been tagged in, catching up with the hundreds of group messages on Whatsapp or identifying who has retweeted your last tweet, employees are doing this on employer time. With the recent European judgment allowing employers to read an employee’s private emails sent during working hours, it seems that an employer’s powers to monitor email and social media activities are ever increasing. There is no doubt that too much time spent on these forums can cost the employer money (time equals money to the employer), but what is the best way for an employer to combat these issues?

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Are workplace distractions a new problem for employers? Employers have always had problems making the most out of their employees’ time. Whether it be the office chatterbox, the serial smoker or the one-more-tea-break-won’t-hurt-worker, employees have always found ways of distracting themselves from working. Could it be argued that a little light relief can avoid burnout and make the actual working time of an employee more productive? The difficulty with social media is that it is easy for employees to spend substantially longer on it than they initially intended.

 Pros of social media 9b91736b776daabcdeb6c83c2399d8d6

Nowadays social media is far more powerful than simply being a way of keeping up to date with your friends’ activities. The millennial generation grew up with social media. They continue to find new and innovative ways to use the facilities to develop business. Businesses are therefore more willing to spend time using social media to their advantage and to raise their own profile. We (the Employment team) have noticed a significant rise in attendees at our seminars since we took to the Twittersphere and people often approach us to talk about what we have been getting up to. It is ensuring that employees use these facilities productively that can be more challenging.

What can the employers do?

One of my previous employers had a policy of blocking access to social media at their work station during working hours. These days, with the advent of smartphones and an ever-growing use of social media in business, I do not believe that this is practical. Rather than trying to combat social media use head-on, I would recommend showing a bit of trust in your employees and working out ways in which you can use it to your advantage. Employers are within their rights to monitor social media use, but they should keep in mind the following:

  • Monitoring social media use is difficult. It is difficult to differentiate between what is personal use and what is for the benefit of the company.
  • Employers should monitor the employee’s productivity. Employers can consider whether, if employees are still completing their work on time, does it really affect the business? If they are not able to complete their work, then you may want to take separate action.
  • Try and find ways to engage the employees with their work. If they are focussed on what they are doing, they will not look for distractions.
  • It is imperative that employers have a social media policy in place. Employees need to know their activities are being monitored and they need clear examples of what is acceptable and unacceptable activity.

Employers now have increasing powers to monitor the productivity of their employees, but it is how they choose to implement these powers that will truly affect the productivity.   Social media is here for the long term.  It is short-sighted for an employer to seek to ban or ignore it.  Instead an employer would be wise to embrace social media and harness the opportunities that come with it.  Take advice about your policies and practices.  And don’t let the social media monster run riot in your business.

Andrew Wallace
Solicitor – Employment Law

Zero Hours, Zero Exclusivity

Following the ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts which came into force last year, additional legislation on this topic comes into force this week.  Since May of last year, it has been unlawful for an organisation which engages workers under zero hours contracts to use the contract to restrict those workers from working for other organisations.  Such exclusivity clauses are inconsistent with the uncertain nature of a zero hours’ engagement, where a person might be offered zero work in any week or month.

The Exclusivity Terms in Zero Hours Contracts (Redress) Regulations 2015 (the regulations) took effect on 11 January 2016.  The regulations stipulate that the dismissal of an employee will be automatically unfair where the principal reason for dismissal is that the employee breached a contractual clause prohibiting the employee from working for another employer (i.e. an exclusivity clause).

This is a further addition to the growing list of factors which give rise to automatically unfair dismissal.  Note also that there is no need for the employee to have two years’ service to bring such a claim.  The regulations also impose provisions preventing employers from subjecting zero hours workers to a detriment as a result of the worker breaching an exclusivity clause.  These regulations impose an additional layer of protection against exclusivity clauses.

Jack Boyle
Senior Solicitor – Employment Law

Blackadders Employment Team Nominated for Prestigious Award

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The Blackadders Employment Law Team (Pictured L-R): Andrew Wallace, Sandy Meiklejohn, Simon Allison and Jack Boyle

The Blackadders Employment Law Team has been nominated for the Employment Team of the Year award at the Scott + Co Legal Awards 2016.

The nomination recognises what has been a busy and successful period for the team and sees it nominated alongside law firms Allan McDougall Solicitors, CMS and Thompsons.

Simon Allison, who heads up the Employment Law Team commented “We are absolutely delighted to be nominated for this accolade. I believe that it is recognition of both the hard work and the quality service which the team has delivered over the last 12 months. Both Blackadders and the Employment Law Team are flattered to be named as one of the finalists.”

It has been a very busy year for the team which operates with two accredited employment law specialists in Simon Allison and Sandy Meiklejohn.  They are assisted by Jack Boyle and Andrew Wallace. The team has seen a number of new client wins and a marked increase in their interactive employment law seminars, with record numbers for the team throughout various locations in Scotland.

The Blackadders Employment Law Team are also frontrunners in their use of social media – Twitter in particular – for increasing their profile. By using social media, they were able to raise in excess of £5,000 for the NHS Tayside Health Fund having completed the gruelling 3 Peak Challenge – scaling the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in just 24 hours.

Simon continued, “We are very much looking forward to what 2016 has in store for us. However, being named as a finalist for this award is without question a great start!”

Simon Allison
Partner – Head of Employment Law