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Employment rights - what to do if you're mistreated at work
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This year female unemployment hit a 25-year high of 1.12 million. With the power seemingly on the side of the employer, it's worth reminding ourselves not to put up with being mistreated at work just because the job market is tough.
Here three women share their work horror stories and consultant employment solicitor at Setfords, Jo Plumstead, offers expert legal advice for each situation.
When starting your first job, it's natural to want to make a good impression. So when Gemma Andrews began working as an editorial assistant, she agreed to her boss's meeting invitations. "He asked me to come to several meetings at his office saying 'I want to make sure you're comfortable here'. He was sneaky because the meetings were at 6pm, we finished at 5.30pm, so no-one else was around. I was worried about saying no, as I didn't want to look rude or annoy him."
Jo: "If you don't feel comfortable about tackling the person directly to explain that this behaviour is upsetting you, check whether your company has an anti-harassment policy, and follow that. If not, talk to HR, or another line manager you trust to ask for help. The company has a duty to protect their staff from harassment."
Checking your Facebook at work; a bit cheeky but accepted as the norm, watching porn and masturbating to it in the office, not so much. Not long after Charlie Lawson began working as a sales executive at a publishing house, she noticed a colleague watching porn. She pointed it out to another male colleague and he simply smiled and shrugged. It had previously been reported to the managers that he watched porn in the office. One evening she and the same male colleague were working late, she recalls: "I heard him masturbating, turned around and he'd stop, but as soon as I'd start typing again he'd start. I could see the porn on his computer screen."
Jo: "This looks like a clear case of being expected to work in an 'intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment' contrary to the Equality Act 2010. If the company don't tackle it, you would be able to make a tribunal claim against both them and the co-worker. It's likely he is also committing a criminal offence, if he is exposing himself. This calls for formal written complaint to the company."
Lies are so easy to tell but the damage they can do is unparalleled, Georgina Holmes, a care assistant in an EMI nursing home, has first hand experience. "I'd handed my notice in and had about three weeks left to work when a colleague made an accusation that I'd been abusive towards a resident 18 months earlier. I was put on a disciplinary, therefore lost the job I'd been offered and because I'd already handed my notice in, I was left jobless with a career damaging accusation on my record."
Jo: "If the disciplinary wasn't completed, ask your employer to continue so you can clear your name. If it was, consider appealing against the decision. You probably need some legal help with this. Look for a specialist employment solicitor, or contact an advice agency like the CAB. If your employer has given a reference which is not true, accurate and fair you could claim damages."
Knowing your rights at work is vital, offering a brief reminder of the basics is Lucy Rigdon from Blacks Solicitors LLP.
- Full-time employees are entitled to at least 28 days paid holiday (inclusive of bank holidays) per year.
- Part-time employees are entitled to a number of days' holiday equivalent to 5.6 multiplied by the number of days worked a week.
- If you become pregnant, then (subject to when the expected date of birth is and how many weeks' service you have) you will be entitled to up to one year's maternity leave of which 39 weeks' will be paid maternity leave.
- During the first six weeks you will be entitled to be paid at a rate of 90% of your average earnings, for the next 33 weeks you will be entitled to be paid at the 'prescribed rate' set out by the government for that year (currently £135.45 per week) or 90% of average earnings if lower.
- If you perform the same job as a colleague you are entitled to the same contractual terms (including salary). If the man has more generous terms then you may have a claim for Equal Pay under the Equality Act 2012.