Hello and thank you for joining us for our monthly newsletter. As we move into the spooky month of October we have a short roundup of some news stories and how they relate to Employment in a wider context. For any of you that missed our last newsletter you can find that here. This week we’re looking at the recent allegations about Russell Brand, the Government’s statement on how discrimination can impact asylum seekers, and how sick days at work are the highest they’ve been for a decade!

Rustling Russell Brand

Following a joint investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4, the actor comedian faces allegations of sexual assault and emotional abuse by four women.

The first woman alleges she was raped against a wall in the actor’s LA home, was treated at a crisis centre, and has said she provided medical evidence in support of her claim. The second woman claims that she was in a relationship with Brand while she was only 16 years old. The third woman alleges similar sexual assaults while at work. The fourth and final woman claims both physical and emotional abuse on top of the sexual assault.

The second woman told the Times that she had brought her allegations to Brand’s agent, Tavistock Wood, back in 2020, but received no response. The agent since made the statement that ‘Russell Brand categorically and vehemently denied the allegation made in 2020, but we now believe we were horribly misled by him. Tavistock Wood has terminated all professional ties to Brand’.

While it is difficult to deal with allegations of sexual assault, it is important to take the victims seriously and investigate the claims to ensure that a fair outcome is reached. In an Employment context, it is important to remember that the employer is vicariously liable for the actions of their employees while in the course of their employment. Ensuring that all staff are trained on what amounts to sexual harassment and misconduct can help prevent incidents from occurring, or ensuring that staff feel able to come forward with their complaints.

Russell Brand has worked for many mainstream media outlets including Channel 4 and the Guardian. It is not yet known whether any complaints against Mr Brand were lodged whilst working for those organisations and if so what steps were taken by them. This story probably has further to run, with further twists and turns so in the meantime we are keeping an open mind.

Sicker by the Decade

Police officer pulls sickie

In research published by the CIPD we find that employee sick days are the highest they have been in a 10 year period. The numbers show that staff took an average of 7.8 sick days over the part year, compared to 5.8 in the year leading up to the lockdowns.

Blaming the increase in stress, workload, and the cost-of-living crisis, the research looked at 6.5 million employees across 900 organisations. While short term sickness absence was attributed to minor illnesses or musculoskeletal injuries and mental health, the long-term sickness absences were caused by mental health issues, injuries, cancer, or strokes.

While the trade group acknowledged the use of short-term fixes (lunchtime ice cream vans were dropped specifically), the importance of creating an open and supportive work culture where employees can come forward with questions was highlighted as one of the primary ways to reduce staff absence and increase their engagement with the business.

Equal Pay in Sheffield

Sheffield City Council faces potentially thousands of equal pay claims as female cleaners, carers, and teaching assistants state they are down up to £11,000 per year compared to their male counterparts.

The claims state that job titles are grouped together into ‘job families’, which are then given a rate of pay. As an example, the claim argues that care managers and cemetery supervisors perform similar roles but are assessed at grade 5 and grade 7, respectively. The difference represents around £7,301 per year between the two roles. As the former contains far more female staff the argument goes that the way in which these two are assessed is discriminatory and the pay should be matched between the two.

This news comes shortly after Birmingham admitted equal pay liabilities up to £760 million, causing effective bankruptcy.

We will have to see the extent of the liability as the story unfolds, but it is worth mentioning that ensuring equal pay between members of staff in similar roles who are performing similarly would prevent these types of claims occurring. This may prove to be an example of how similar work and work of equal value will be considered, not just the job title.

Chilling Atmosphere at Work – Lighter Side of the News

This month we saw Pret-a-Manger fined £800,000 after leaving a cafe worker locked in their walk-in freezer!

On 29 July, a member of staff became trapped in a commercial freezer which had a running temperature of 18 degrees below zero, while only dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. After moving around trying to keep warm she attempted to tear up a cardboard box to cover the vent, but found her hands were too cold. Thankfully, the woman was saved by a colleague who found her nearly two and a half hours later and rushed her straight to hospital with hypothermia. It is not mentioned in the report if the member of staff suffered any long term health issues, despite being trapped in such a horrific situation.

Following an investigation by the Westminster City Council’s Health and Safety team, the cafe chain pleaded guilty to an offence contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The investigation found that no risk assessment had been performed and complaints of the door release working from the inside had been submitted stretching back as far as 2020, where another worker had become trapped!

Ensuring your staff have a safe environment to work is paramount. As an employee, you are entitled to refuse to work in an area which you reasonably believe to be unsafe without suffering a detriment. It is worth bearing in mind that the fine was initially set at £1.6 million but was discounted based on the early guilty plea. Not the warm welcome we would all hope for at work!