covid19

The response towards COVID-19 mirrored most people’s naturally cynical expectations. The UK was almost completely unprepared at that start, the response was improvised without much planning, and then most of the populace fortunately and very Britishly just hunkered down to get on with it, save for some defiant quarantine-breakers. As long as most of us can give a good moan about it, by and large we are now on a downhill trend with a bodycount that betrays the ineffectiveness of the early response – and a fresh new pile of debt as the state had to step in to subsidize the economy.

Like for example, both World Wars. Previous notable pandemics like the 1968-70 flu pandemic likewise emptied out factories and forced half staffing to limit the spread. Things have yet to become truly irrecoverable. It may take years of recovery, but the engines of commerce shall surely turn again as long as people don’t make things worse for themselves.

COVID-19 is not a hoax or a conspiracy. There have been many other pandemics like it before, the difference why those previous pandemics seem to have done comparatively little damage is from how we are looking at it from the inside. Damage mitigation strategies that succeeded get little news.

Also, there were far less people in previous decades that suffered pandemics and they were taught by their parents to treat quarantines seriously, rather than born a world which had effectively eliminated most contagious killers like smallpox, measles, typhoid fever, cholera, etc. – which had been seasonal epidemics through many centuries.

There is little need to stress over the long-term economic prospects as that is the realm of the subconscious cultural response. Consumer confidence matters. For the long term to become viable, first we must deal with short term concerns. Worker and employer rights should be maintained, or else they aren’t rights at all.

Right of Employees and Employers

It cannot be Employees vs Employers in this case because lives cannot be spent to fuel the economy in the same way some comic book tribe throwing virgins into the volcano to appease their angry volcano god. At the same time however, the nation can’t keep itself shuttered for long before collapsing.

Employers have a ‘duty to care’ for staff, consumers, and anyone else who might visit their workplace. While it may be difficult to prove legally that someone entering contracted coronavirus in your place of business, employees should not be risked and then serve as a vector for additional infection.

A business without employees cannot operate. A business that risks its employees’ health itself may be risking legal action. But bankrupting vulnerable businesses will also put more people out of work.

A more open-minded view is that every employee is also a consumer, so the best thing for national recovery is to have as many people primed to keep buying.

The Survival of Small Businesses

Small businesses employing less than 250 people employ most of the workforce in the UK – about 23 million people. Survival strategies for small business are outside of the scope of this article, however.

This is merely to emphasize that at this point, we should not take an adversarial position. The eternal enemy is bureaucracy. Employers should be able to claim up to 80% of wages they pay for employees on furlough, and employees ought to keep their jobs even when most of the business must shut down under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

If you find yourself having difficulty claiming your grants or emergency loans, collective political action with legal support and media exposure may be required to communicate the urgency of your need to your local government units and banking representatives.

Being Forced to Come to Work

Who among the employees are to be sent on furlough are on the discretion of the employers, with importance towards those most at-risk populations. Younger workers may still be required to come to work, at most 50% of regular staffing to promote social distancing.

When you do report to work, remember that your employer is obligated to make your workplace as safe as possible. Being forced to work at threat of being fired is unlawful. You are supposed to be protected against

  • Constructive dismissal or being pressured to resign or leave rather than being dismissed
  • Disability discrimination
  • Age discrimination
  • Breach of health and safety laws

If you are living with someone who is vulnerable (pregnant, old, disabled or suffering from ill health), it may be unlawful for your employer to insist you come to work and risk their health.

If you are self-isolating due to symptoms or advised by medical authority, you are entitled to statutory sick pay. You may not be dismissed for self-isolation due to the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Harassment of At-Risk Essential Workers

If you are a medical worker or an employee in an industry deemed essential and you are thrown out of your residence or denied access to services because people fear catching COVID from you, that is unlawful.

If you are being harassed or attacked, that’s a criminal offense and seek help immediately. It may protect other at-risk workers from further attacks by serving as an example.

Anti-Asian Sentiment

This is just outright an unjustified crime and unfortunately the stress of coronavirus is causing it to spike. Stay safe, prefer to move in groups, and make sure you can provide video or recorded evidence. It is unfortunate that most of these attacks are also hit and run and prosecution is difficult when the perpetrators can’t be easily identified.

Coronavirus Scams and Bad Advice

It is advised to be very careful and don’t fall for any quick solutions. Scammers and hackers are using the coronavirus as a ‘hook’ to commit fraud and steal critical personal information.

It will be difficult to recover damages after a scam, and following bad medical advice can kill. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The government’s anti-fake news unit is having to deal with 10 new cases of coronavirus misinformation per day. This is a time when it is best to be skeptical of any easy solutions.

Be careful of those that prey on those trying to access economic grants and relief supplies. If you receive a suspicious email urgently asking you to send money or provide account numbers and personal information for verification, those are likely to be ‘phishing’ attempts. Never oblige anyone attempting to gather your financial data.

Websites that will give reports on potential coronavirus infected in your workplace or neighborhoods in violation of privacy in exchange for payment or sign up login information are just taking advantage of fears and a hunger to obtain privileged information that don’t exist.

Emails may pretend to come from trusted organizations that ask you to click on a pdf or word document for ‘more information’ that will launch malware to compromise your system and harvest your passwords.

If someone is selling you home testing kits, those are fake. The only possible home kits are sample collection kits and the contents to be mailed to an accredited testing laboratory, and they require a signed doctor’s order. There is a global shortage of coronavirus testing – not because of a lack of kits, but a in hard limit in lab processing. No home kit can tell you if you have coronavirus.

Be careful of predatory loan packages.

Desperation signals those who would take advantage of it. Limit exposure both in public and in social media. If you are unsure, it is best to send your own email to official channels directly instead of replying to a suspicious email. This isolation may also be taking advantage of scam calling – for some people may be the only human contact they have in weeks.

Beware of fake sites selling medical supplies and cures. Do not purchase cures or prophylactics that you can consume.

There are as of yet no real solutions, just mitigating factors, and nothing that can be done by throwing enough money at it. Self-isolation and protective personal equipment (facemasks, goggles, etc.) and routine hand washing may be boring but they work.

Scammers are plentiful and hard to prosecute because they quickly vanish after taking your money. The only real way to protect yourself is not to play their game.

The Strange Reality of the Pandemic

The proper response to COVID-19 is not panic. As long as certain essential services are maintained, it has been shown that most people can go for months without societal collapse and rioting. COVID-19 has exposed the reality of who are actually the most essential people in this modern digitalized world of ours. It goes:

  • Nurses and Doctors
  • Police and Military/Security
  • Truck Drivers/Mail and Delivery workers
  • Market Retail workers
  • Food Processing/Factory workers
  • Media/Information Technology workers
  • Scientists and Researchers
  • Politicians

Let us discuss this weirdness in order.

  • Nurses and doctors obviously are needed in times of pandemic. They are in fact heroes of this age, due to the extreme health risk they experience, the high stress and long hours they must work, and then the ingratitude, harassment, and being thrown out of their homes they suffer from others who don’t want to catch the virus from being around people who are working hard to save lives.
  • Someone has to enforce quarantine and keep public order from collapsing. Police workers and volunteer community guards are also under great health risk, while it’s vital for national security that particularly dumb criminal and insurgent elements don’t take advantage of this weakness to pull terrible shite. One surprising consequence for this pandemic has been the global cease of warlike behavior as people hunker down against the common enemy to all humanity.
  • Without logistics and being able to move goods and supplies around to where it is needed, society just stops. Period. Transport needs to move, and packages need to be delivered. As long as people can buy online, they won’t miss being able to shop and the sense of normalcy is maintained.
  • People need their groceries and this is the one unavoidable reason for people to leave quarantine. These workers are second to nurses and doctors in the risk of contracting COVID-19 and unintentionally passing it on. And they are already getting killed for politely asking people to obey simple mask orders.
  • Even the MI5 says that “Britain is four meals away from anarcy.” Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett notes that “It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.” The nugget of truth is that as long as people can eat well and feel confident there will be more there is no reason to start to get desperate and start hoarding, which would create the situation they are hoping to avoid.

Factory workers are the unsung heroes keeping food prices level and ensuring that society keeps plugging on. They too suffer higher COVID-19 risks – one person infected in the plant can force a total shutdown. Without them, it is a ticking time bomb before things start being on fire.

  • Access to the internet and critical information is what allows people to stay sane, still shop and receive goods, and keep social contact while maintaining social distance. Without this, people will feel confined and forced to go out in search of something else to keep from going crazy with cabin fever and the tempers of their family.

Banking and online financial services could also be placed under this category as quick access to funding and the information exchange is critical to the peaceful continuation of the economy during a global crisis.

  • Figuring out COVID-19 and progress on the vaccine and the end to this nightmare can only happen if we allow our clever boffins to do their work without interruption.
  • And surprisingly, all over the world, it is being proven that as much as you may hate your politicians and feel that they are dishonest and self-serving – there is a vast difference between having at least a nominally competent leader and someone that is actively sabotaging their own nation’s attempts at staying alive.

Politicians should at least be hoped to do no extra harm.

The political and societal impact of the 2020 pandemic is also going to take decades to fully comprehend. This is one of the world’s watershed moments.

If you have a job during this period, the best thing to do is to stay safe and try not to increase the risk for others. If you are unable to work, read up on financial amelioration measures from legitimate sources. If you own a small business, it may be difficult right now to obtain loans and you may have to reach out to others in a similar situation to collectively present the urgency of your needs to banks and the local government.

For advice and help contact Employment Solicitors

redundant business woman

Enhanced Redundancy Protections 2020

Will you be removed from your job for redundancy in 2020? It’s an ever-more pressing fear in the looming environment of economic uncertainty, but as an employee you too have rights and options. There are some new legislation coming that may help to address some of these issues.

Defining Redundancy

Before you can appraise if you have a valid reason to claim or contest redundancy, first we must define what redundancy is. According to the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee has been dismissed for redundancy if the reason is that:

  • the employer ceases to carry on the business in which the employee was employed;
  • the employer ceases to carry on that business in the place where the employee was employed;
  • the needs of the business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind cease or diminish; or
  • the needs of the business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind in the place where the employee was employed cease or diminish.

Note how this means a need for the same amount workers to do a particular job has diminished, not that the need to perform a job has diminished. If a task can be done with fewer employees, or if a company must move or restructure, then that is a valid case for redundancy. If there simply is less incoming work for employees to do, that is not redundancy. If you are doing a job and then they get someone new to fill that job, that is not redundancy! Redundancy happens when the job you are supposed to be doing no longer exists.

It is illegal in the UK to use redundancy as a reason for a dismissal when there no legitimate issues with employee performance.

Redundancy is often used as a convenient excuse for firing employees for reasons less sensitive to voice. It may be a matter of job performance, friction in the workplace, business income failing to support the number of employees, or some form of discrimination. If you get a notice that you may be let go for reasons of redundancy, it may be prudent to look behind that for the real reason.

There are upcoming laws in 2020 that make the excuse of redundancy easier to challenge. It is also sometimes advantageous for an employee to claim redundancy, since there are enhanced redundancy pay arrangements for long-serving employees. Get all that you are entitled to in a dismissal.

 

woring beyond Retirement Age

Working Beyond Retirement Age

The UK does not have a default retirement age anymore, and employers may no longer force employees to retire. Now, a company may have its own retirement cut-off age policy, but all dismissals must come from a justifiable basis instead of simply entitled discrimination, age-related or otherwise.

In a recent judgment of Ewart v The Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford, the Employer Justified Retirement Age policy was meant to provide a proportionate means of creating opportunities of employment for younger and more diverse staff. However, the statistical evidence provided by the claimant proved that the policy only created a small number of vacancies. It was decided by the tribunal that the University did not show sufficiently that the policy contributed to the achievement of its legitimate aims to an extent that it can justify the discriminatory effect.

State pension age in the UK is increasing, and age discrimination is something that concerns many employees who are at approaching an age where finding a new job is quite unlikely if dismissed.

 

Maternity Leave

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Protection

Many employers don’t like paying out for maternity leave because it is a long period of time of reduced productivity, and there is an urgent need to find someone else to perform the job that the pregnant employee must leave behind. Then once the new normal has settled in, is there a need anymore for the previous employee? This is why women need stronger maternity protections as the mere mention of ‘pregnancy’ sends alarm bells ringing for employers.

According to a government report, one in nine women had been fired or made redundant when returning to work after having a child, or were forced out from unfair treatment. Research estimated that up to 54,000 women a year felt they had to leave their jobs due to maternity discrimination.

Maternity discrimination is of course illegal, and those on maternity leave have special protections in a redundancy situation. Under the Good Work Plan of 2020, there will be expanded redundancy protections – six months after return to work, and up to two years in total for the maternity period.

According to Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, if your job is at risk of redundancy but you need to be present for interviews – if for health reasons you cannot be present, you do not have to attend interviews. Regulation 10 says that you should be given first refusal over suitable alternative jobs that are not substantially less favorable than your original job, over other employees being made redundant.

Sefton Borough Council v Wainwright EAT 2014 notes that a woman on maternity leave should be considered alongside other employees when assigning employees into other posts.

Men also have protections under Shared Parental Leave in the first year after birth or adoption to be immediately offered suitable alternative employment.

Dismissal Comes before Redundancy Trial Periods

The case of East London NHS Foundation Trust v O’Connor has Mr. O’Connor working as a Psycho-Social Intervention (PSI) worker for an NHS trust. In March 2017 he was informed that the role was being deleted under restructuring on 3rd of July 2017 and he was offered an alternative role of Care Co-ordinator. He began a trial of the role on that date.

O’Connor raised a grievance that the role was not a suitable alternative and the trust agreed to extend the trial period until this was resolved. In Nov 2017 his appeal was rejected and he declined the offer of the Care Coordinator role again. He was dismissed on Dec 2017, and the trust refused to make statutory redundancy payments on the grounds that it believed that the alternative employment had been unreasonably refused.

A tribunal decided that O’Connor had not actually been dismissed until December, and as such the trial period was not in actuality a statutory trial period.

If you are given notice that your role is being deleted, there is no rule of law that the notice of deletion was inevitably amount to a dismissal. Employment solicitors have noted that an employer must also carefully follow procedures in removing employees for redundancy instead of assuming things.

What if the Whole Company Goes Bust?

How will you get redundancy payments when your employer or company turned insolvent and now completely unable to pay your wages? Then you can claim it from the Redundancy Payments Office and the National Insurance Fund.

The Redundancy Payments Service was started to allow employees to receive their Statutory Redundancy Pay in a much more timely manner than having to wait for their employer’s assets to be liquidated.

You may claim your:

  • redundancy pay
  • holiday pay
  • unpaid wages/overtime
  • statutory notice pay

You may apply online at https://www.gov.uk/claim-redundancy.

abortion in the UK

Abortion is a question of morality. Which has the greater moral value – the social and psychological impact of a child unborn and mothers having to leave with themselves after the fact, or the inherent right of women to have complete decision-making autonomy over their own bodies?

This is a discussion that cannot be settled anytime soon. Boil it down to the context of a certain problem and its corresponding solution. Therefore the most important question becomes: Just how easy is it to get an abortion in the UK? Is it even legal?

The answer is yes. But also no.

It is somewhat expedient. But sometimes you can still get arrested for it.

The reason, as always, is from the intersection of UK laws generally seeking to help the greatest number of people but also as a relic of an older, much less informed sociopolitical era. The more you lean on existing regulations, the more it just tends to do the opposite of what it was originally intended to do.

 

UK Abortion Laws

Abortion is legal under certain conditions in the UK (but not in Northern Ireland) based on the Abortion Act of 1967, at its time one of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe.

Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act goes thus:

Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith –

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated

(d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

The way the law is written, if the abortion is conducted by an unlicensed practitioner without the support of two other medical practitioners, it will by default be a crime.

This means that if a woman seeks an abortifacient on her own, even if the pregnancy is still at a very early stage, may find herself unlawfully liable to the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. Those who assist in her procurement of tools and drugs would also be indictable.

 

Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861

The relevant sections go thus:

  1. 58. Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whosoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman whether she be or be not with child … shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude for life …
  2. Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude . . .

The Abortion Act of 1967 largely papers over the conditions of the Offenses against the Person Act of 1861. A hundred years separate these laws. How do they hold up against modern conventions on Human Rights and queries about pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest?

The answer: They don’t.

Westminster’s needed to bounce this hot potato as either a health issue or a human right issue. Advocacy groups whether pro-choice or pro-life both claim to protect the mother. Even those who object to abortions on ethical or religious grounds want to resolve the issue via discouraging abortion as an option instead of punishing those who seek it.

 

Why Legal Abortion?

Through the 19th to the first half of the 21st century, laws were in place to limit access to legal abortion. None of these, of course, prevented unwanted pregnancies or the need for abortions. Thousands of women had no recourse but to rely on dubious abortionists, risking death or permanent infertility. Many women died of infection in back-street clinics.

Abortifacents disguised as menstrual cures were sold – most of them were ineffective or outright poisonous. Some of them were even based on lead, which if not poisoning and blinding the mother would have caused mental damage to the child that survived.

The landmark case for abortion rights was the trial of Dr. Alex Bourne in 1938, who argued that abortion should be legal in exceptional circumstances, and he admitted to having performed an abortion for a 14-year old girl who was gang-raped and now was suicidal after her ordeal.

He was acquitted on the note that when the mother’s physical and mental health was in danger it was permissible to do so. However a psychiatrist’s permission was still required so it was only relatively well educated or wealthy women who could find or pay for a favorable psychiatrist.

Safe access to abortion would prevent more women from putting themselves in more life-threatening situations. Legalization of abortion access was therefore a public health measure, as the crime of preying upon desperate women with unsafe practices is worse than the act of seeking abortion in the first place.

 

Parents, Young Mothers and Abortion Law

Abortion is not so much a concern anymore for adults who can approach the issue from multiple vectors, for those that are the victims of sexual assault, or those diagnosed with a congenital defect in the fetus. The modern medical system is tailored to deal with those who use reason as a motive for abortion.

Largely the moral panic about abortion is how it will affect young teens who become unprepared very young mothers and the social acceptability of promiscuity in the youth. Fear and disgust drives the engine for both sides of the argument.

It is argued that parents should retain legal rights to be informed before their child who is a minor may request an abortion from the NHS.

It is argued that a minor who is pregnant from rape might be allowed to travel to have an abortion against the express wish of her parents.

It is argued that parents who attempt to aid their children with something like buying pills online should not run afoul of 100-year-old law whose provisions have already be redefined in all other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is argued that unborn children have rights that must be upheld too.

It is argued that being an underaged mother is a clear danger to a young woman’s mental and financial health.

It is argued that the health risks of abortion is unacceptable.

It is argued that the health risks of underage child delivery is unacceptable.

It is argued that prevention is better than the cure.

It is argued that a safe public cure is better than a secretive illegal cure.

 

A Deeper Struggle

But unfortunately most of all it has become a political issue. Northern Ireland is currently in review about whether its abortion laws represent a failure to abide by European consensus of human rights. But if that is so, what about Republic of Ireland?

If it passes, it would now be much easier to travel to have an abortion on the Isle, and in sense it represents an attack on their values.

Female body autonomy unfortunately has become a rallying symbol for unspoken other fears about social autonomy and political self-consistency. Many parents don’t feel like their own opinions should be discarded about the life of their own children who still live with them. Others still feel that the UK should be careful about unintended consequences specially after their mess of a vote back in 2016.

Pro-choice and pro-life represent equal but conflicting moral platforms that unfortunately paints the other side as ‘bad people’.

But perhaps the worst part is that the law as written is an either-or rule between external authority vs internal self-rule for a woman’s own body; parents vs children; murder vs suicide; self-help vs government clinics – very little compromise in between.