October 2018 - MLP Law

MLP Law Consolidate Year of Growth with 39% Increase in Turnover

 

MLP Law has announced impressive revenue figures to round off 12 months of growth. The firm, which has 4 offices in the North West, has revealed turnover figures of £2.5 million in the 12 months to the end of August, up 39% on 2017’s fee income of £1.8 million.

The figures come following what has been a period of significant development for the firm. In June 2017, the firm announced a deal which saw them acquire WH Lill; taking on its partners and staff, bringing the firm’s overall headcount up to 46.

Known for their focus on the tech and digital sector, alongside a specialism in healthcare and hospitality, MLP Law started life in Altrincham before adding further offices in Lymm and Media City, before recently relocating their Liverpool office to Mann Island earlier in the year.

Stephen Attree, Managing Partner of MLP Law, commented:

“The past 12 months have been very busy – for all the right reasons. It’s now been over a year since the acquisition of WH Lill and our larger team of fee earners and support staff have worked together well to continue and improve our levels of client service. Rather than standing still, the acquisition has given us further impetus to grow. ”

“Starting with offering both Business Immigration and Construction Law as new services in the firm. In adding these two new service areas, we are well-placed to offer a solid rounded Commercial Law service to both new and existing clients.”

Stephen adds; “Our new Liverpool office at Mann Island is proving a big hit; with both staff and clients loving the location in the vibrant heart of Liverpool’s famous Docks. With further growth plans in place for the coming 12 months, we are looking to add a further 5 commercial fee earners to the team. It’s an exciting time to work at MLP Law.”

The firm also recently celebrated after attaining a number of rankings in the Legal 500, along with an award win for the LawNet team of the year.

 

For more information, visit https://www.mlplaw.co.uk/

Are vegans protected from discrimination?

In April 2018, the Guardian published an article about the “unstoppable rise of veganism”, highlighting the increasing popularity of following a vegan lifestyle. As the popularity of veganism grows, it is becoming increasingly important to recognise the rights individuals have in relation to their lifestyles and beliefs. For employers, this includes considering where these rights interact with protections all employees have under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).

The key question then is whether vegans are protected from discrimination.

If we look at the legislation, the EqA includes protection from discrimination in relation to 9 “protected characteristics”. The list is wide ranging (age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage or civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation) but crucially does not specifically include veganism.

However, just because veganism is not a protected characteristic in its own right under the EqA does not mean it is not capable of being something which is protected from discrimination. This is because the protected characteristic of “religion or belief” has been construed relatively widely by the Employment Tribunal to include any belief which:

  • is genuinely held;
  • is a belief, rather than just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • is a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior.
  • has a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • is worthy of respect in a democratic society, is not incompatible with human dignity and is not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others; and
  • has a “similar status or cogency to a religious belief”.

In the past, the courts have determined that environmentalism and a belief in climate change, opposition to fox hunting and spiritualism were all capable of failing within the definition of religion or belief for the purposes of the EqA.

It is therefore entirely feasible that veganism would fall within the definition of belief in this context and, while there is currently no reported case specifically finding that veganism is a belief which is protected from discrimination, it is surely only a matter of time. In fact, it has been reported that last year the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust changed a job advertisement which was alleged to have discriminated against vegan applications, following pressure from The Vegan Society and The International Vegan Rights Alliance (IVRA).

 All of this means that a good employer will be mindful of the rights of vegans in the workplace, for example in relation to catering arrangements at work meetings or social events, or in relation to the provision of facilities for making hot drinks. Failure to do so could feasibly result in internal complaints, if not Employment Tribunal claims.

For more information, please contact our employment team on 0161 926 9969 or by email at employment@mlplaw.co.uk.

Settlement Agreements & the British #MeToo scandal

Sir Philip Green has been named in Parliament as a businessman who has used Non-Disclosure Agreements to silence employees who have allegedly been subjected to harassment and abuse. Once again, this has thrust the notion of paying to silence victims into the mainstream media. In this case, because it relates to employment, when the media refer to NDAs what they are actually referring to are settlement agreements.

What is a settlement agreement?
A settlement agreement is made between an employer and an employee to settle any potential disputes between them. They are most often used to end an individual’s employment. Under a settlement agreement, an employee will typically receive compensation for their employment being terminated, in return for them signing away any rights to bring a claim against the employer.

Under a settlement agreement an employee and employer may agree not to disclose a number of matters, such as:
– The terms of the agreement
– The actual existence of the agreement
– The events that led to termination or entering into the agreement
– Any events during employment

Settlement agreements have previously been criticised for the use of such “gagging clauses” where employees were prevented from raising serious wrongdoing of their employers due to having signed a settlement agreement. Following public pressure, since 2015 it has not been possible to prevent someone from making what’s known as a “whistleblowing disclosure” through a confidentiality clause in a settlement agreement, the purpose being to ensure that matters of public interest are not kept covered up through settlements with employees.
The current controversy goes further than this and shines a light on all kinds of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements, not just those about matters of public interest.

Some argue that employees should not be prevented from discussing matters such as sexual harassment or racial abuse (the alleged examples from the Philip Green matters) because this means the culture of the organisation can continue without there being any onus on the people at the top to improve things. The argument is that the employer can use their power and money over the employee to effectively push them into silence.

However, the counter view is that employees and employers should be free to agree between them how to bring about the end of employment on terms that are beneficial to both parties. One thing which balances the power issue is the fact that a settlement agreement cannot be binding on the employee unless they have taken independent legal advice on it. This should mean that the employee is in a good position to understand exactly what they are entering into and weigh up whether they accept it.

In many situations, the use of settlement agreements is a valid way for both parties to have a clean break and benefit from clauses which help them move forward – for the employees this may be a sum of money enabling them to leave work and take time to find new employment, whereas for the employer this may be the fact they can avoid lengthy litigation with an ex-employee.

Debate around settlement agreements, particularly in the face of concern of abuse of power, may result in confidentiality clauses being banned altogether but it’s arguable that all that will do is push both parties into having to litigate to end employment relationships because there will no longer be enough incentive for an employer to enter into an agreement.

For more information about settlement agreements or ending employment, our employment team would be happy to discuss with you further. Please contact us on 0161 926 9969 or by email

Banter or Bullying?

There has obviously from time to time been some banter, but as far as I’m concerned that’s never been offensive”. These are the words of Sir Phillip Green in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment and racial abuse made against him by former employees of Arcadia Group.

But what is “banter” and when does it cross the line into bullying?

For many, workplace “banter” is part of day to day working life and can have a positive impact on businesses and teams within it.

A lot of people have the view that “banter” at work is acceptable, normal and a “good laugh”, a way to boost the team morale. It’s just a joke between colleagues, right? But often, there is a fine line between “banter” and bullying, and workplace “banter” has the potential to create a hostile and intimidating environment for individuals. Getting the “banter” balance right is difficult though and it can cause employers more than a bit of a headache.

The Law

Employees can bring claims of discrimination and harassment against their employer if they feel that “banter” at work crosses the line and relates to a “protected characteristic” such as race, sex or disability. These claims can be bought by employees who have been subject to “banter” themselves, or merely overheard “banter” which they believe is unacceptable. The latter is a bigger risk in large, open plan offices or businesses where conversations can be heard more clearly and where there are more people who could potentially be affected by the conduct of others.

If an employee is successful in their claim, the potential result is a large compensatory payment and reputational damage for the employer.

So, what does this mean for employers?

The key point for employers is that the effect of offensive “banter” is assessed subjectively from the point of view of the person who is complaining about it. Sir Philip Green’s comment that “…as far as I’m concerned that’s never been offensive” is therefore a typical mistake that many employers make, forgetting or not realising that the key issue is how others take the “banter”, not whether the perpetrator thinks it was just a joke or inoffensive.

Employers need to remember that just because one person thinks a comment is funny and intended as a joke, doesn’t mean everyone does or will. It also doesn’t necessarily matter if employees have previously engaged in “banter” or a joke and said they found it funny since many people may simply join in, or try to ignore it, to avoid creating a bigger issue for themselves. Subsequent comments or acts of “banter” may therefore be perceived differently and considered discriminatory or as harassment.

Employers can also be held liable for the acts of its employees, meaning that an offended employee can sue their employer even if the employer was not directly involved in the actions of one of their employees.

It’s all fun and games, they can “take it” …

It’s irrelevant if an employer can show that another employee would have found the same situation or remark funny, or in fact whether it is thought that an employee is “head strong” or “thick skinned” and can “take it”. Equally, with any particularly vulnerable employees who would suffer more than others as a result of “banter”, the employer is still liable for the full extent of the effects of the “banter” on the employee, whether it is considered to be beyond the expected or not.

Again, the key point is that it is all about the employee and how they are affected by the behaviour.

As an employer, what can I do?

Don’t worry… you don’t have to ban banter…

However, it is recommended that you have very clear anti-harassment and equal opportunities policies in place, and communicate these clearly, and regularly, to all employees. Tell them where the policies are, how to access them and provide regular training about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace.

These types of steps can help an employer demonstrate it takes the dignity of its employees seriously and may even prevent an employer from being held liable for the actions of an offensive employee who, because of their training and the attitude of their employer, knew perfectly well that their actions were unacceptable.

For more information about banter in the workplace, and how we can help you, please contact our employment team on 0161 926 9969 or by email and they’ll be happy to assist you.