How the Prospect legal team worked for you through the pandemic

Frances Cusack · 29 October 2021

Frances Cusack, Prospect legal officer, reflects on the unique and varied challenges faced by members during the pandemic and how Prospect’s legal team has provided support.

The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced lots of new or rarely used vocabulary into part of our everyday conversations – “furlough”, “lockdown”, “quarantine” to name just a few.

In Prospect’s legal team, we continued to provide specific advice to members facing new and challenging circumstances as well as providing support and representation with claims to the Employment Tribunal.

Furlough scheme and changes to contracts

Prospect officers found themselves having to quickly familiarise themselves with new or infrequently used areas of employment law.  The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) designed to keep people in employment during the pandemic, was developed and came into fruition very quickly.

The scheme had numerous changes to the rules and, of course, led to many questions and concerns.  We provided updated guidance for members and helped to run several webinars on the CJRS, helping thousands of members to understand their entitlements under the scheme.

All the while, Prospect continued to fight for a fully-funded furlough scheme and lobbied for the extension of financial support for freelance members, which led to significant changes.

We were also busy challenging employers who were making changes to contracts and seeking to introduce unpaid lay off clauses to members’ contracts.

Reasonable adjustments needed for disabled member working from home

In May, Paul Hollands, an operations manager for the Ministry of Defence, was awarded a five-figure sum after successfully settling his tribunal claim of disability discrimination.

Paul has complex musculoskeletal conditions and required modified equipment and auxiliary aids to continue with his job, not all of which his employer agreed to provide.

The situation became critical when the pandemic and lockdown required Paul to work from home. His requests for appropriate equipment, or for special leave, were initially refused.  Following lodging a claim with the employment tribunal in respect of the employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments, the MOD eventually agreed to find Paul a new more suitable role and to settle the claim.

Discrimination and harassment

The legal team has dealt with several cases where members have been subjected to racial or sexual harassment during the pandemic. The absence from being in a physical workplace for many people has led to more engagement through conferencing and messaging platforms and sadly harassers have felt able to continue to perpetrate discrimination in this way.

We have advised on a number of cases, including one where the employer took on board their responsibility to promote equality and as part of a settlement of a prospective race discrimination claim agreed to improve their procedures internally as well as providing compensation for our member.

Health and safety at work during the pandemic

Members have rightly been concerned about the safety of their workplaces throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  Prospect officers have been at the forefront of ensuring workplaces up and down the country are safe for members, through discussions with management, scrutinising risk assessments and assisting members raising collective grievances.

We have supported members raising health and safety concerns in the workplace.  We have lodged three tribunal cases over the year for members who were pressed to return to unsafe working conditions. We have very recently settled a claim for a member who refused to return to work when faced with serious and imminent danger during the pandemic.

Redundancy decisions and consultation

Sadly, there have been numerous redundancies across many of our sectors.

We challenged employers’ decisions to make members redundant rather than furloughing them – in many cases successfully making representations to employers before the redundancies had taken place, keeping members in employment.  We brought tribunal claims for unfair dismissal for two members who were made redundant rather than being furloughed and both cases were successfully settled.

In the last year, over a hundred members were awarded maximum compensation by the Employment Tribunal when their employer failed to consult with them prior to redundancy. This included cases for members who had worked at; the Southport Theatre and Convention Centre, Rhys Davies & Sons and FlyBe.

One member, Gavin Tyler, who had worked at Rhys Davies & Sons for 25 years was told on 8 December 2020, just before Christmas, that he was being made redundant along with the other 79 members of staff employed at the Cardiff site.  No warning, discussion or consultation took place.  Prospect assisted Gavin with a claim to the Employment Tribunal, where he was awarded a Protective Award of the maximum of 90 days’ pay.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created new and difficult challenges for us all but throughout, Prospect has been on hand to support members with the variety of issues they face at work.