Bulletins | January 8, 2019

Employment News – Key cases and hot topics from 2018


Worker status: Uber B.V. v Aslam (December)

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision that Uber drivers are workers – at least for the time when they are “ready and willing to accept trips”. Uber has been given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Discrimination: Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd (October)

The Supreme Court held that the refusal to bake a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” was not discriminatory. The Court held that there was no direct discrimination as the bakery would have refused to provide the cake regardless of Mr. Lee’s sexuality. The Court also found that there was no “associative discrimination”, but this issue is likely to be tested in future cases.

Notice of termination: Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood (April)

In the absence of any contractual agreement, the Supreme Court held that a posted notice of termination only takes effect when it actually comes to the employee’s attention or have had a reasonable opportunity to read it.

Part-time workers: British Airways Plc v Pinaud (November)

A part-time BA worker received 50% of full pay but was required to be available for work 53.5% of the time. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision that this was unfavorable treatment when compared to the worker’s full time colleague.

Employee data: Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc v Various Claimants (October)

The Court of Appeal held that Morrison Supermarkets was vicariously liable after finding that a senior employee was acting within his “field of activities” after he posted thousands of employees’ payroll data to the internet.


Worker vs self-employed

2018 saw a continued trend in cases testing the boundary between traditional worker vs self-employed statuses. Businesses such as Uber, Addison Lee and Pimlico Plumbers all lost appeals against Employment Tribunal decisions that their workforce were entitled to basic worker rights and were not, as the businesses argued, made up of a network of self-employed individuals. In these cases, the courts exhibited a reluctance to rely on the wording of template documents, contracts and policies and instead carried out a forensic investigation into the reality of the working relationship.


2018 hailed the rise of the #MeToo movement and brought to the public’s attention the persistent prevalence of sexual harassment, both in and out of the workplace. In a growing culture of awareness and rejection of such behaviour, a rise in sexual harassment claims would not be surprising.

It can be difficult for large businesses to monitor the behaviour of all employees to ensure harassment isn’t taking place. There are however key steps that an employer can take to protect their workforce and the business from harassment claims.

Mental health awareness

2018 also saw much greater recognition of mental health as a workplace issue. In 2018, ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) estimated that “mental ill health costs employers in the UK £30 billion every year”.

Statistics published during 2018 demonstrated a rise in staff absences due to mental ill health. Without increased awareness and greater safeguarding of mental health, businesses will find it difficult to address the issue.


How could we round up 2018 news without mentioning Brexit?!

It is well known that many UK worker rights have derived from, or been influenced or superseded by, EU law. The UK Withdrawal Agreement (awaiting parliamentary approval at the time of writing) ensures that the level of protection regarding “fundamental rights at work, occupational health and safety, fair working conditions…information and consultation rights…, and restructuring” shall be preserved. However, in the event that the Government is unable to reach a deal on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the wording of the Withdrawal Agreement is not a binding assurance that such rights will be maintained. Nevertheless, as the majority of such laws have long been enshrined in domestic legislation, it would be very surprising to see a dramatic shift from the status quo.

Of course, there were many other developments throughout 2018 – for further information, please contact a member of the Wedlake Bell employment team.