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Cohabitation Agreements – dealing with the fall out

Over the last 20 years, changing social attitudes have led to a shift away from traditional familial relationships towards more informal arrangements. As of November 2017, the unmarried cohabiting couple was the fastest growing type of family in the UK with over 3.3 million cohabiting couples in 2017 in comparison with 1.7 million in 1997 (1). Over a third of cohabiting couples also had dependent children in 2017 (2). Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are taking the decision not to marry without understanding that the relationship between unmarried cohabitants has no legal status in the UK. If the relationship were to break down, there is no body of law upon which the cohabitants can rely for their rights to be protected, unlike when a marriage ends.

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OMG! Emoji!

You know those buttons at places like airports and service stations that customers can press to show that they feel happy, unhappy, or indifferent about the service they have received? Well, it seems that Sports Direct has implemented something similar to discover how staff feel about the working conditions at one of its warehouses.

The organisation has come in for some criticism in recent times, and this idea is reported to be one of a number of measures put in place. According to the Guardian, workers are asked to use a touchpad to select a ‘happy’ or a ‘sad’ emoji. Sad emojis trigger an invitation to discuss the problem.

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Location, location, location

Aziz v The Freemantle Trust

Ms Aziz was a care worker who had relocated to the Trust’s Dell Field Court site. Issues arose between her and two other workers, and this triggered a period of difficulties, complaints, suspensions, absences and grievances.

The situation was deemed to be dysfunctional, and the Trust decided that Ms Aziz should be moved to another site. She was given three weeks’ notice and confirmation that she would be paid her additional travel expenses in line with the employer’s relocation policy. But Ms Aziz didn’t take up what she said was her employer’s offer to move to a different location. This led to her dismissal for unauthorised absence, failure to engage with the Trust and, ultimately, a fundamental breakdown in trust and confidence.

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More protection for pregnant workers?

Guisado v Bankia SA

Pregnant workers in the UK are protected by the Equality Act. The legislation makes pregnancy and maternity discrimination unlawful, the relevant period being the start of the worker’s pregnancy to the end of their maternity leave or when they return to work (if earlier).

It is also automatically unfair to dismiss a worker, or to select her for redundancy, when the reason or main reason is connected to her pregnancy or statutory maternity leave. This doesn’t mean that a pregnant woman or a new mum cannot be dismissed, but employers must be careful to ensure that the reason for this is not pregnancy/maternity-related.

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Half the pay for half the work?

British Airways v Pinaud

People who work part-time are protected from being treated less favourably than their comparable full-time colleagues. The question in Ms Pinaud’s case was whether working more than 50% of full-time hours but not being paid more than 50% of a full-time salary was less favourable treatment.

Ms Pinaud’s part-time working pattern, described as a 50% contract, was 14 days on and 14 days off. Over the course of a year, she was required to be available for 130 days. Compare that with the full-time position, which required workers to be available for 243 days in a year.

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Monitoring communications

Barbulescu v Romania

Back in 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that a worker in Romania who had been dismissed for his personal use of the internet at work had not been dismissed unfairly because of the employer’s monitoring of his internet usage.

Mr Barbulescu had sent messages to his brother and fiancée via his work-related Yahoo account. He later argued that, by monitoring his use of the internet and by using his Yahoo messages in disciplinary proceedings, his employer had breached his right to respect for private life and correspondence.

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Is voluntary overtime part of ‘normal pay’?

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council v Willetts and others

Holiday pay calculations continue to cause difficulties for employers, with uncertainty still existing over the question of which elements of workers’ pay should and should not be taken into account.

In the case of Mr Willetts and some of his colleagues, an employment tribunal decided that overtime that was purely voluntary, as opposed to being a contractual right or duty, should be included in the holiday pay calculation because it formed part of ‘normal remuneration’. That was notwithstanding the employer’s argument that voluntary overtime lacked the necessary intrinsic link to the performance of the contractual tasks and so should be excluded.

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