Trouble at work…?

Experts at Croner Taxwise deal with many HR questions from accounting firms. Here are a couple of examples.

Can my boss take my phone?

Can an employer confiscate mobile phones from employees as they are spending too much time on them during the day?

The presence of mobile phones at work can prove problematic for many employers and it is understandable why some may want to take tougher action against mobile phone use during the working day.

Your employer has the authority to make their own rules on mobile phone use at work and these should be included within a specific policy. Hopefully, any pre-existing policy clearly outlines if employees are able to use their mobile phones and whether certain features, such as listening to music, are allowed.

With this in mind, employers should consider reviewing their workplace policy if they want to confiscate mobile phones and ensure this provision is included. While it may appear drastic to some, confiscating mobile phones is already a common practice in many organisations as a way of maintaining productivity and safeguarding sensitive information.

Given that staff can use their phones to call, text, tweet and even order food, these could easily prove distracting during the working day.

Therefore, removing the temptation from staff entirely should help individuals stay on task and ensure work is being completed on time. Having said this, your employer might consider the negative impact that confiscating mobile phones may have, specifically when it comes to employee morale.

As such, it is important to only take these measures where necessary, as doing so without justification could be seen as a sign of distrust and lead to an increase in grievance claims from disgruntled staff.

Confiscating mobile phones may also place certain employees at an unfair disadvantage, especially those who are an emergency contact for a dependant such as a child or elderly relative.

It will be important to accommodate these specific needs and managers may choose to allow individuals brief periods away from their duties to check their phone for important calls, or introduce a designated emergency contact number at work that friends and family may use to get in touch.

Therefore, prior to taking any further action your employer should ask themselves if this option is truly appropriate under the circumstances, or if a more suitable alternative is available.

Before jumping straight into confiscating personal property it would be wise to remind staff of their obligations under the company’s mobile phone policy.

However, if this does not deter mobile phone use then stricter measures may be their only option.

Do vegans have a special case?

Is it now unlawful to discriminate against ethical vegans at work? What sort of things do companies need to consider?

The case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports has ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, with the tribunal judge insisting that it was “important” and ‘worthy’ of respect in a democratic society.

As this is only an employment tribunal decision, this does not necessarily protect all ethical vegans from discrimination.

Although any future tribunal is likely to refer to this ruling in similar cases, they are under no obligation to agree that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief. Having said this, given the risk involved your employer would do well to re-think how they treat ethical vegans within their organisation.

As a first step, it is important to understand the distinction between veganism and ethical veganism as this protection will not apply to everyone.

In the case of Mr Casamitjana, ethical veganism was described as a belief that ‘animals should not be exploited for any purpose’.

As ethical veganism extends beyond simply eating a plant-based diet anyone looking to receive this protection will need to demonstrate their commitment to this belief.

Once they have a clear understanding of ethical veganism employers would do well to review their existing business practices to avoid creating a hostile or unwelcoming environment for ethical vegans.

While an employer may consider introducing a specific policy on ethical veganism, any existing anti-discrimination policy should be sufficient enough.

Having said this, the added publicity around ethical veganism may encourage other employees to behave in a way that creates an uncomfortable environment for ethical vegans at work.

While individuals may attempt to pass off discriminatory remarks as ‘workplace banter’, your manager should be quick to intervene and take appropriate disciplinary action where necessary.

If catering is provided at work then your bosses should review the options available to ensure these remain appropriate. The same approach should also be taken when arranging Christmas parties and other work-related social events to ensure that ethical vegans’ dietary requirements are considered.

Certain uniform requirements may also create an unwelcome working environment for ethical vegans, especially if there is a need to wear clothes derived from animal products such as leather shoes.

Therefore, employers should consider where adjustments can be made to avoid any unnecessary contact with animal products and avoid claims of discrimination.

In summary, while this tribunal decision does not expressly provide all ethical vegans with protection from discrimination at work, it does offer food for thought and should encourage employers to adapt any existing practices from a best practice perspective.

• Thanks to Croner Taxwise for this article