Good morning and welcome to your monthly employment law update, the final update of any kind this year (cue dramatic music)! A huge thank you to everyone who has read every update this year, you deserve a vast quantity of presents, food & alcohol for your dedication!
Last month’s update had features on the possible reintroduction of Tribunal fees and an update on the Brexit whistleblower. Meanwhile, last week’s case law update was a union recognition case concerning Deliveroo couriers. Given it is the final update of the month we have a bumper edition for you looking back and forward on the employment law landscape together with your usual news updates.
Usually the current affairs section centres on some sort of political scandal. This month we kick off the update with a (slightly) less depressing and interesting employment tribunal that took place at the start of the month. Long time readers might remember the allegations made by Jess Varnish about sex discrimination and sexual harassment that occurred in the TeamGB cycling team.
Following those allegations, Shane Sutton resigned and was subsequently found to have made some sexist comments. In the meantime Varnish was dropped from the British cycling team and was unable to compete at the 2016 Olympics.
Now, whilst it appears Varnish alleges she has been discriminated against and possibly victimised, suffered detriments as a whistleblower and been wrongfully dismissed. She is unable to enforce these rights at the employment tribunal because she is a self-employed athlete and not an employee of either British Cycling or UK Sport.
However, in a climate where employment status is changing and evolving, Varnish has bought a claim that she was in fact an employee and thus able to bring claims for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.
Varnish’s position is that UK Sport and British Cycling exercised a large degree of control over her including vetoing sponsorship deals, owning her image rights and her blood/urine samples, subjecting her to regular testing, instructing her to send photos of each meal to coaches and setting rules for training.
Varnish was also made to wear TeamGB clothing every time she was training, riding or making appearances on behalf of TeamGB. Athletes also needed permission to take time off for personal events such as weddings and birthdays.
She argues this degree of control and the level of integration is akin to an employment relationship. However, UK Sport argue that there was no mutuality of obligations and the relationship was more akin to student and pupil.
Judgment is due on the case early next year and could lead to a drawn out, high-profile case together with a floodgate of similar claims by other athletes. Whilst we do not doubt coaches and sporting organisations hold a large degree of power over the careers of athletes, whether the ET will decide these mean Varnish is an employee remains to be seen.