Employee dismissed following long term absence due to mental illness: Federal Court finds it lawful

In an important decision last month, the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia upheld the appeal of an employer who claimed, in dismissing a client executive who had been absent from work for 7 months due to mental health issues, it had acted lawfully and not dismissed him because of his illness.[1]

The judge at first instance had found the employer liable for breaching the ‘adverse action’ provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) because the employee’s mental illness could not be disaggregated from the employer’s reasons for dismissal.[2] This decision was seen by many as setting a dangerous precedent and employers should welcome the clarification provided by the Federal Court appeal bench.

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Une nouvelle décision en matière de banque d’absences payées et sa conformité par rapport à la Loi sur les normes du travail

Depuis le 1er janvier 2019, la Loi sur les normes du travail (LNT) prévoit que les deux (2) premières journées d’absence prises annuellement par un salarié sont rémunérées dans la mesure où il s’agit d’absences pour cause d’obligation familiale, de maladie, de don d’organes ou de tissus, d’accident, de violence conjugale, de violence à caractère sexuel ou bien d’acte criminel dont le salarié a été victime. Il est à noter que cette norme du travail est uniquement applicable aux salariés qui comptent au moins trois (3) mois de service continu.[1]

Ce changement à la LNT soulève un débat au sein de certaines entreprises à savoir si les banques de congés mises à la disposition des salariés rencontrent les nouvelles normes minimales du travail en matière d’absences payées. À cet égard, nous vous référons à une publication récente qui faisait état de deux décisions rendues sur le sujet.[2]

Voilà maintenant que le 1er octobre 2019, une nouvelle décision d’intérêt a été rendue, soit l’affaire Sintra inc. et Syndicat des travailleurs spécialisés de Sintra (CSD).[3]

Dans cette affaire, la convention collective de travail prévoit des congés mobiles rémunérés dont le nombre varie en fonction des années de services des salariés. Essentiellement, à compter de quinze (15) ans de service continu, les salariés bénéficient d’une banque de deux (2) congés mobiles payés.[4] Les congés en question peuvent être pris sans que les salariés aient à justifier la raison de leur absence auprès de l’employeur. En outre, en cours d’année 2019, l’employeur a annoncé qu’il offrirait désormais deux (2) congés mobiles payés à tous les employés comptant trois (3) mois de service continu, le tout, dans le but de se conformer à la LNT.

Pour sa part, le syndicat soutient que les deux (2) journées d’absences payées prévues à la LNT s’additionnent à la banque de congés mobiles; autrement dit, le syndicat soutient que les salariés ont droit aux bénéfices de la LNT en plus des congés mobiles déjà prévus à la convention collective. C’est là la source du débat entre le syndicat et l’employeur.

Dans sa décision, l’arbitre rappelle que la LNT ne fait qu’imposer des standards minimums à respecter au niveau des normes du travail. En ce sens, le devoir des employeurs au Québec se limite à s’assurer d’offrir des conditions de travail au moins équivalentes à celles prévues à la LNT, quoiqu’il soit bien entendu possible d’être plus généreux.

L’arbitre rejette donc la position du syndicat sur la base que le régime des congés mobiles en vigueur au sein de l’entreprise rencontre les exigences minimales de la LNT. Cette conclusion s’appuie sur le fait que l’employeur offre déjà deux (2) journées d’absence rémunérées aux employés comptant trois (3) mois de service continu, peu importe la raison d’absence et sans même qu’il soit nécessaire de justifier l’absence (ce qui est même plus généreux que la LNT alors que celle-ci limite le droit aux absences rémunérées à certains cas spécifiques, tel que mentionné ci-dessus).

En somme, il s’agit maintenant de la seconde décision rendue cette année qui conclut qu’une banque de congés mobiles rencontre les exigences de la LNT en matière d’absences payées lorsqu’elle prévoit un minimum de deux (2) journées payées pour les mêmes causes d’absences que celles prévues à la loi.[5]

[1] Articles 79.1, 79.7 et 79.16 de la Loi sur les normes du travail, RLRQ c N-1.1.

[2] https://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/fr-ca/centre-du-savoir/publications/d08518ed/nouvelles-dispositions-de-la-lnt-sur-les-conges-payes-pour-raisons-familiales-ou-pour-maladie

[3] 2019 QCTA 502.

[4] Le nombre de congés passe à quatre (4) pour les salariés comptant vingt (20) ans de service.

[5] Pour de plus amples détails, veuillez vous référer au lien fourni à la note 2, ci-dessus.

Covert monitoring in the workplace – impact on an employee’s privacy

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has held that Spanish shop workers’ right to privacy under Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights was not violated when their employer obtained evidence of theft from covert CCTV footage of the employees.

The case involved five employees who worked as cashiers at a supermarket chain.  The employer noticed stock discrepancies and as part of the investigation installed CCTV cameras, both visibly within the store and hidden cameras at the checkouts.  Although customers and staff were aware that CCTV cameras operated, the employees were not aware of the concealed cameras.  The cameras provided evidence of the staff involved in stealing items and the staff were dismissed.  They claimed unfair dismissal on the basis that the surveillance had been unlawful.

The employees claimed that the use of covert surveillance had breached their right to privacy under Article 8 of the ECHR. The High Court in Spain accepted that the surveillance had been justified by the employer’s reasonable suspicion of theft and that it had been appropriate for the legitimate aim of detecting theft.  However, the Chamber of the ECHR originally overturned the decision of the Spanish Court, holding that the court had failed to strike a balance between the rights of the employer to protect its property and the workers’ right to respect for their private life.  The case was referred to the  Grand Chamber of the ECHR for a final ruling.

The Grand Chamber overturned the previous decision by a majority of 14 to three and determined that there had been no breach of the workers right to privacy. The Court held that states should ensure that any monitoring by employers is proportionate and is accompanied by adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse. It referred to the criteria set out in the Barbulescu case:

  • Has the employee been notified of the possibility of surveillance measures? If so was the notification given before the implementation?
  • The extent of the monitoring by the employer and the degree of intrusion into the employee’s privacy.
  • Has the employer provided legitimate reasons to justify monitoring?
  • Could monitoring have been established in a less intrusive manner?
  • What are the consequences of the monitoring for the employee?
  • Has the employee been provided with appropriate safeguards?

In this case the court held that the surveillance had been necessary and proportionate and took into account the following factors:

  • The employer had a legitimate reason for the surveillance, the suspicion of theft due to the significant losses that the employer had suffered.
  • The extent of the monitoring had been limited as regards the area that it covered and the staff being monitored. The monitoring took place in an area that was open to the public. The employee’s expectation of privacy was therefore lower than in places that were private in nature.
  • The duration of the surveillance had not been excessive. The employer had not set a maximum duration of the surveillance, but it had in fact only lasted ten days.
  • The surveillance had only been viewed by certain individuals before the applicants had been informed: the Manager, the employer’s legal representative and a trade union representative.
  • Although the consequences of the monitoring for the applicants had been significant in that they had been dismissed, the surveillance had not been used for any purposes other than to investigate the thefts and to take the disciplinary measures against those responsible.
  • There had been no other means by which to fulfil the legitimate aim. If the employees had been notified of the surveillance then this may well have defeated its purpose.   This was significant in that in most cases of surveillance prior knowledge is a requirement.

Employers will be pleased with this result. However, it should be noted that the dissenting judgement did consider that employers should not be entitled to operate covert surveillance.   Indeed the UK Information Commissioner’s Office guidance sets out that it is rare for covert monitoring to be justified that that it should only operate in exceptional circumstances.   Employers must consider the consequences of any such actions and include wording in any policy that clarifies to employees the timing for such surveillance to take place.

Workplace manslaughter legislation introduced in Victoria (Part 2)

Yesterday, 30 October 2019, the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2019 (Vic) (the Bill) received its second reading speech in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. The Bill, if passed, provides for the new offence of ‘workplace manslaughter’ to come into operation on a day to be proclaimed or on 1 July 2020 at the latest.

The Bill and explanatory memorandum are now also available. According to the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of introducing the offence of workplace manslaughter is to “…hold those with the power and resources to improve safety to account, such as organisations and their officers. Employees who are not officers do not have a sufficient level of power or resources to improve safety standards”.

If passed, the Bill creates a new Part 5A in Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act) and the workplace manslaughter offence will become section 39G OHS Act. The offence consists of a number of elements. A person who is not a volunteer must not engage in conduct that is negligent and constitutes a breach of an applicable duty that the person owes to another person and causes the death of that other person. The maximum penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment for a natural person and 100,000 penalty units for a body corporate (which at present equates to approximately $16,522,000).

Conduct which is negligent for the purposes of the offence is conduct which involves “a great falling short of the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person” or a reasonable body corporate as the case may be, in the circumstances in which the conduct was engaged in and involved a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness. Conduct can be constituted by an act or an omission to perform an act.

In determining whether a body corporate engaged in negligent conduct for the purposes of the offence, the legislation states that “what matters is the conduct engaged in by the body corporate itself” and it does not matter whether that conduct was engaged in by the officers.

The offence applies to persons with an applicable duty, being a duty under Part 3 OHS Act but excluding sections 25 and 32 insofar as they relate to employees (officers who owe a duty under section 32 do have an “applicable duty”).

Industrial Manslaughter laws introduced to Victorian parliament today

As reported in our earlier article (found here), the Victorian government announced in 2018 that it would introduce an industrial manslaughter offence. The Minister for Workplace Safety, The Hon Jill Hennessy, today announced that new ‘workplace manslaughter’ laws were introduced in Parliament.

The Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019 has been introduced to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) although a copy of the Bill is not yet available.

The media release states that the proposed laws will apply to employers, self-employed persons and ‘officers’, who negligently cause a workplace death (and will apply when the negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public). The maximum fine will be to $16.5 million and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.

If passed, Victoria will join, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland in having industrial manslaughter offences. The Northern Territory has recently sought submissions on the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Amendment Bill 2019 (NT), which if passed would impose a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for individuals or just over $10 million for corporations.

First Industrial Manslaughter prosecution in Queensland

On Friday the Minister for Industrial Relations announced the first prosecution in Queensland for industrial manslaughter under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act). The industrial manslaughter prosecution has been brought against Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (Brisbane Auto) arising from the fatality of a worker killed by a reversing forklift on 17 May 2019. Two of Brisbane Auto’s directors have been charged for engaging in reckless conduct resulting in the death of a worker.

The industrial manslaughter provisions commenced on 23 October 2017 as a result of the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (Qld). The criminal offence of industrial manslaughter applies to persons (both individuals and corporate bodies) conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and to senior officers of such a person. The industrial manslaughter offence provisions are engaged where a worker dies, or is injured and later dies, in the course of carrying out work for the business or undertaking and the person’s conduct (meaning an act or omission) causes (meaning substantially contributes to) the death and the person is negligent about causing the death. The Queensland regulator has previously stated that “…it is intended that corporate and senior officer criminal responsibility will be extended to cases where a corporation’s unwritten rules, policies, work practices or conduct tacitly authorises non-compliance, or fails to create a culture of compliance within the workplace…”

Corporations are liable for fines of over $10 million (100,000 penalty units) while individuals may be imprisoned for up to 20 years. The reckless conduct offence (a category 1 offence) is committed if a person, without reasonable excuse, engages in conduct that exposes an individual to risk of death or serious injury/illness and the person is reckless as to the risk. The maximum penalty for a category 1 offence to which an individual who is an officer of a PCBU is exposed is 6,000 penalty units or 5 years’ imprisonment.

It is alleged that Brisbane Auto “…caused the death of their worker by failing to effectively separate pedestrians from mobile plant, and failed to effectively supervise workers, including the operators of mobile plant”. The charges against the directors are in respect of an alleged failure to put in place systems to achieve those outcomes. The proceeding is listed for mention on 1 November 2019 at the Holland Park Magistrates Court.

Once decided, the cases will likely provide guidance on the interpretation of the industrial manslaughter provisions, officer’s due diligence obligations and the recklessness offence. In addition, the prosecutions will increase public awareness, particularly among PCBUs and their senior officers, as to the risks involved with powered mobile plant (PMP), traffic management and the need for pedestrian/PMP separation.

The Australian Capital Territory has industrial manslaughter offence in the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT). Both Victoria and the Northern Territory propose to introduce industrial manslaughter laws. The latter recently sought submissions on the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Amendment Bill 2019 (NT), which if passed would impose a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for individuals or just over $10 million for corporations.

The developments in the Queensland prosecution of Brisbane Auto and its directors may have some bearing on if and how other Australian jurisdictions decide to implement an industrial manslaughter offence.

Legal advice privilege in employment

A recent decision in the UK Court of Appeal has provided guidance in the area of privilege in employment claims.

In Curless v Shell International Ltd, the Court of Appeal had to consider whether legal advice privilege should be disapplied to an email on the basis that the advice fell within the “iniquity principle”.

Legal advice privilege applies to confidential communications between lawyers and their clients. However, legal advice privilege does not apply where the advice is iniquitous, i.e. where the communication or document came into being for the purpose of furthering a criminal or fraudulent design. In this case the EAT had extended iniquity to apply to advice which was alleged to support unlawful conduct.

The case involved an in house lawyer who was employed by Shell from 1990 until his dismissal allegedly for redundancy in January 2017. The employee, who suffers from type 2 diabetes and breathing problems, had issued tribunal proceedings and raised a grievance alleging disability discrimination prior to his dismissal for redundancy.  Following his dismissal he raised a second tribunal claim alleging disability discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal.

Part of his evidence referred to an email marked “Legally Privileged and Confidential” from the external legal adviser to the employer client. The email gave advice to the client on the redundancy process and advice on dismissing the employee in the context of this process. To support this the employee also referred to an overheard conversation in a pub which the employee alleged referred to him.   The Employment Tribunal held that the paragraphs in the communication should be struck out as the employer was entitled to claim legal advice privilege.  However, the  Employment Appeal Tribunal allowed the employee’s appeal, holding that the key question was whether the interpretation of the email was that the advice recorded simply pointed out the risk of claims if the claimant was selected for redundancy or whether it went further and advised that the redundancy can be used as a cloak for dismissing the claimant.  The EAT held that there was a strong prima facie case that what was being advised on was not only an attempted deception of the claimant but also, if persisted in, deception of an Employment Tribunal in anticipated legal proceedings.

The Court of Appeal rejected the EATs decision holding that the advice given reflected the sort of advice which employment lawyers give “day in, day out” where an employer wishes to consider an employee for redundancy. It set out how such processes could be applied to the employee with “appropriate safeguards and in the right circumstances”.  Although the email did not set out the safeguards and the circumstances, there was nothing to suggest that the adviser would not have provided further clarification if requested.  As such it was not advice to act in an underhand or iniquitous way and the iniquity exception did not apply.  Accordingly the email remained privileged and could not be used by the employer to support his case. With regard to the overheard conversation, it was held that it cannot be used to interpret the email since there was no evidence that the woman whose conversation had been overheard had seen the email. The case would now be remitted for hearing without the privileged information.

The case shows the high hurdle for iniquity for privilege to be disapplied. However, whilst it is rare for a claimant to become aware of communications in this way, advisors should be careful as to the advice which they give to clients to ensure that it does not fall within the iniquity principle by pursuing an unlawful route and that their advice is not coloured by any iniquitous meaning or objective.

UK Pensions – new criminal offences relating to corporate transactions under the Pension Schemes Bill 2019

In its response to its June 2018 consultation on plans to improve the powers of the Pensions Regulator, the Government’s stated aim was to better protect members’ benefits in corporate deals. This was to be achieved by improving the ability of both the Regulator and scheme trustees to monitor relevant corporate transactions and other events which may have impacted adversely on the funding of a final salary (defined benefits) pension scheme.

In February 2019, the Government published its response to the June 2018 consultation and outlined its plans to go ahead with proposals for criminal sanctions to prevent and penalise the mismanagement of pension schemes. It first proposed a new custodial sentence of up to seven years’ imprisonment, or an unlimited fine. This was to target individuals who “wilfully or recklessly” endangered members’ pensions by such actions as:

  • chronic mismanagement of a business;
  • allowing unsustainable deficits to build up; or
  • taking unjustifiable investment risks

or a combination of any of these. The Government’s second proposal was for an unlimited fine for a failure to comply with a contribution notice – a mechanism under which the Regulator can make a demand for a payment into an underfunded scheme. A civil sanction of up to £1 million was also to be introduced for this offence.

Under the new Pensions Schemes Bill 2019, which was published on 16 October this year, two new criminal offences are introduced:

  • failure to comply with a contribution notice from the Regulator; and
  • avoidance of the sponsoring employer’s debt in a pension scheme.

Under the Bill, the Regulator is given powers to examine when a person took steps to deliberately avoid an employer debt. The Bill provides that a person will be liable on conviction to a fine and/or a prison term of up to seven years where they act or deliberately fail to act in a way that:

  • prevents the recovery of an employer debt in whole or part, or prevents such a debt becoming due. Compromising or otherwise settling or reducing the debt is also caught; and
  • detrimentally affects in a material way the likelihood of accrued scheme benefits being received, provided they knew or ought to have known that the act or course of conduct would have that effect, and have no reasonable excuse for engaging in such conduct.

Comment

Concerns have been raised about these new criminal offences. Their scope is not limited to “wilful or reckless” behaviour, as outlined in the consultation response. Nor is it limited to employers/associates of employers. Could “persons” under the Bill include trustees, advisers and those involved in putting in place investment arrangements?

There may be many circumstances in which the “likelihood” of scheme benefits being received is detrimentally affected. Could poor investment decisions fall foul of this provision? And what about the sponsor taking on additional company debt? Is detriment limited to financial detriment or could it be a wider concept and include poor administration and data protection lapses?

As so frequently in pensions law, the detail is awaited in yet to be published regulations. Under the proposed legal framework, it will eventually be for the courts to determine whether the person or persons prosecuted have a “reasonable excuse” for their actions.

Questions remain in relation to how many of the terms used in the statute are to be defined and how the sanctions are to be enforced. Collecting evidence that passes the criminal burden of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt” is unfamiliar territory for the Regulator and will be fundamental to the effectiveness of the deterrent.

Allégations d’harcèlement psychologique dans l’exercice d’activités syndicales : l’employeur doit-il intervenir ou bien s’abstenir?

Bien connue est l’obligation de l’employeur en vertu de la Loi sur les normes du travail (LNT) de prévenir le harcèlement psychologique, d’enquêter lorsqu’un tel comportement est porté à son attention et d’intervenir pour faire cesser la conduite harcelante. Mais que se passe-t-il lorsqu’une plainte est déposée à l’employeur pour harcèlement psychologique entre des représentants syndicaux dans l’exercice de leurs activités syndicales? L’obligation de l’employeur de ne pas s’ingérer dans les activités syndicales est alors confrontée à celle de faire cesser les comportements harcelants, créant une zone grise. L’employeur doit-il intervenir ou bien s’abstenir?

Une récente décision du Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT)[1], rendue à l’occasion d’un litige entre l’Université de Montréal (l’Université) et le Syndicat des chargées et chargés de cours de l’Université de Montréal-SCCCUM (FNEEQ-CSN) (le Syndicat), offre des enseignements utiles aux employeurs aux prises avec de telles questions. Dans cette affaire, le Syndicat a déposé une plainte en vertu de l’article 12 du Code du travail (le Code), prétendant que l’Université se serait ingérée dans ses activités internes en faisant enquête externe sur des allégations de harcèlement psychologique impliquant deux représentantes syndicales et dont les faits  auraient eu lieu exclusivement  dans le cadre de ses activités internes (ex. des réunions du comité exécutif et des communications reliées à ses propres activités).

La nature des fonctions occupées

Le TAT énonce que les obligations de l’Université en matière de harcèlement, tant en vertu de la LNT que de la convention collective, s’appliquent à l’égard de tous ses salariés. Bien que dans le contexte de libération syndicale le lien de subordination soit temporairement mis en sourdine, les représentantes syndicales demeurent des employées de l’Université et, en conséquence, l’Université doit remplir ses obligations légales et conventionnelles visant à prévenir et faire cesser le harcèlement.

La nature des allégations de harcèlement

Le TAT souligne que l’existence ou non de harcèlement affecte les conditions de travail des plaignantes puisque leurs activités de représentantes syndicales sont inextricablement liées à l’emploi de chargées de cours. Le TAT  estime également que le harcèlement s’est produit à l’occasion des activités internes du Syndicat, ce qui doit être distingué des réelles questions de régie interne.

En terminant, le juge administratif ajoute que si les allégations de harcèlement se trouvaient fondées, le Syndicat ne serait alors plus protégé par les dispositions du Code concernant l’immunité des dirigeants syndicaux, puisque le harcèlement psychologique ne constitue pas une activité syndicale légitime.

Ce qu’il faut retenir

Il y a une frontière difficile à définir entre les obligations de l’employeur de faire cesser le harcèlement et l’indépendance syndicale dans la gestion de ses affaires internes. Toutefois, le TAT refuse de définir cette frontière de façon théorique sans l’éclairage d’une situation factuelle spécifique.

Lorsque, comme dans l’affaire sous espèce, le harcèlement se produit à l’occasion des activités internes du Syndicat, et non dans le cadre de sa régie interne, l’employeur n’est pas relevé de ses obligations en matière de harcèlement psychologique en raison du fait que les salariés sont libérés pour exercer leurs fonctions syndicales.

En pareille situation, il a été souligné par le juge administratif que l’appel aux services d’un enquêteur externe peut constituer une bonne façon pour l’employeur de s’assurer de conserver une certaine distance vis-à-vis le Syndicat et d’éviter ainsi toute apparence d’ingérence. Il est important pour l’employeur et l’enquêteur externe de se garder d’adopter des actions qui pourraient relever du domaine de l’entrave aux activités syndicales dans l’exercice de leurs obligations et dans le cadre de l’enquête, en tentant, par exemple, d’obtenir de l’information confidentielle sur la régie interne du Syndicat ou encore de l’information menant à des mesures disciplinaires illégales. La démarche est donc délicate.

[1] Syndicat des chargées et chargés de cours de l’Université de Montréal-SCCCUM (FNEEQ-CSN) et Université de Montréal, 2019 QCTAT 3721

Extension of whistleblowing protection

Workers in the UK are protected from suffering a detriment where they have made a protected disclosure under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996). To be protected under section 47B ERA 1996 the individual must be a worker as defined by s203(3) of that Act.  A recent decision of the Supreme Court considered whether the right should be extended to other office holders, in this case a District Judge.

The District Judge is an office holder and as such does not fall within the definition of worker. She made various disclosures regarding the justice system and claimed that she was subjected to detriments on the grounds of her whistleblowing.   The employment tribunal rejected her claim on the basis that she was not a worker and therefore not entitled to protection under the ERA 1996.  The EAT upheld the employment tribunals decision, holding that the terms of the judges’ appointment did not fall within the definition in s203(3)(b) … “any other contract whether express or implied and (if it is express) whether oral or in writing, whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual.”

The EAT also rejected the argument that she should have protection under her right to freedom of expression set out in Art 10 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). It held that there were adequate safeguards to protect the freedom of speech of judges. The Court of Appeal agreed.

The Supreme Court however allowed the judges appeal.

On considering whether the position of the judge was a worker, the court looked at whether the parties had intended to enter into a contractual relationship so that she would fall within s203(3)(b). The manner of the appointment was by reason of a statutory relationship rather than a matter of choice or negotiation.  All factors pointed against the existence of a contractual relationship and therefore she did not strictly fall within the definition of worker.

The District Judge’s other claim was in relation to her rights under the ECHR. She argued at the Supreme Court that not only did the failure to protect her violate her rights under Article 10 ECHR, but that it was also a violation of her right under Article 14 (read with Article 10) in that she had been subjected to discrimination in relation to the exercise of her rights under the convention.  The Supreme Court held that an occupational classification was a “status” and as such could amount to discrimination and that, as no legitimate aim had been put forward, it was not possible to determine whether the exclusion of judges from the protection is a proportionate means of achieving that aim.  Therefore the court held that the exclusion of judges from the whistle-blowing protection of ERA1996 is in breach of their rights under article 14.  The court should therefore interpret the legislation in a way that is compatible with the Convention rights and so the ERA 1996 should be read and given effect so as to extend its whistle-blowing protection to the holders of judicial office.  The case has been remitted to the Employment Tribunal to consider the merits.

This decision has therefore opened the gate for other individuals who do not qualify for protections under the ERA 1996, such as other office holders, non-executive directors and volunteers. They would however, have to show that a convention right had been interfered with and that the ERA should be read to protect their rights.

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