Employment experts predict whistleblower boom

As the national lockdown is eased and millions of Brits ditch home offices for communal workspaces, health and employment experts are voicing concern over the lack of protection in place for vulnerable employees.

Under current guidance, all employees able to work from home should do so. But from August 1, employers will be able to decide whether their staff can safely return to the office. The move, which policymakers hope will give the UK economy a much-needed boost, could see workers return to their workplace at the “discretion” of their bosses, provided the work environment is ‘COVID-secure’.

What safety measures will be in place?

To aid the return to work, the government has published in-depth guidance for employers about how to minimise the risk of infection in their workplace. The information spans 14 separate documents, each focused on the specific measure that should be implemented across a range of industries.

The safety measures include ensuring one metre plus social distancing, revised rotas to minimise contact, ensuring a good supply of ventilation and increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning. Bosses must be vigilant to ensure that these safety requirements are met, and take proactive steps to maintain health and safety standards. This will include measuring distances between desks and new entry/exit rules. Employers will also have to carry out a COVID risk assessment. It is strongly advised that employers share the results of their assessment with workers, and discuss any concerns in an open manner. The government also expects all firms with over 50 employees to publish the results online.

However, for many British workers, the prospect of returning to public and private offices, factories, and shops, is concerning. A survey, carried out by YouGov for the CIPD, revealed that 44 per cent of employees felt anxious about returning to their workplace because of Covid-19, and a further 31 per cent were anxious about commuting to work. Many employees said they felt pressured to work even when sick or unwell, and feared that others would come into the workplace when ill, due to sick day stress.

These worries have many asking what to do if their employer fails to protect their health, and how to go about reporting their concerns.

Whistleblowing and the law

According to employment and whistleblowing experts at leading UK law firm, Axiom Stone, all employees have a legal right to hold their company to account if it fails to protect their health. A spokesman for the firm said its lawyers anticipated an increase in the number of complaints relating to wrongdoing in the workplace, particularly concerning health and safety.

They went on: “When the activity comes to an employee or worker’s attention, they should notify the employer or anyone else identified within a policy or procedure as the person to whom the complaint should be made.”

Although whistleblowing may seem like career suicide, UK employment lawyers have been quick to highlight the legal protection afforded to employees who decide to speak out about health and safety issues at their place of work.

An employment expert at Axiom Stone said: “A whistleblower is protected irrespective of how long they have been in the workplace and whether they are directors, partners, freelancers, agency workers, workers or employees. To qualify for protection, the whistleblower must have a reasonable belief that a wrongdoing has occurred, or is likely to occur, and it is in the public interest to make a disclosure.”

Keeping the law on your side

However, despite the protection afforded to whistleblowers in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (ERRA), workers are being warned about the potential risks of pursuing legal action without due cause.

According to Workright, a blog which provides free legal advice about UK employment, recent changes to the ERRA have limited the circumstances which allow employees to qualify for whistleblower protection.

It said: “The changes of ERRA, meant that for an employee to make a disclosure, there had to be “reasonable belief” that the case was in the public interest.”

Employees would qualify for this if they had evidence that official safety advice was not being followed, or if bosses were creating a hostile environment for workers taking sick days.

Work Right said that in most cases, issues could be resolved by discussing concerns with a manager, or the company’s appointed health and safety representatives. Alternatively, if the employee fears the repercussions of internal reporting, or is concerned about a potential coverup, then they should make a protected disclosure to HMRC, their MP, or an external body like the FCA.

There are also many charities and independent organisations which provide practical and confidential guidance for whistleblowers. These include Protect, the NSPCC, and WhistleblowersUK.

What do I do if I have suffered a medical misdiagnosis?

Getting the news that you have a serious illness like cancer or heart disease is a devastating blow at the best of times. But when this diagnosis is delayed, and your condition has got worse as a result, the news will be even harder to bear. If you have suffered a misdiagnosis then you may be able to claim compensation for medical negligence.

What is misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis is where a medical professional offers a patient a prognosis on a condition based on their symptoms, but the prognosis ends up being incorrect and the condition is actually something else. Similarly, misdiagnosis can be where a patient is told they are fine, when they have a condition.

Fortunately, most of the time patients get correctly diagnosed and treated. However, when a patient receives an incorrect diagnosis, or their condition is missed altogether, the results can be potentially life-changing or even life-threatening,

What kinds of misdiagnosis are there?

The most common types of misdiagnosis are:

  • Where you have been told that you have something less serious than your actual condition and as a result you’ve had delayed treatment.
  • If you’ve been told you had a condition, but you did not and had unnecessary surgery.
  • Where you have received the wrong diagnosis and had unnecessary treatment.
  • If you had a condition but it was completely missed by the medical professional.
  • If you suffered psychological harm at being told a medical diagnosis that was not true.

There are a number of ways that misdiagnosis can happen, from not carrying out the correct tests to misinterpreting results.

What can I do if I’m not able to work after a misdiagnosis?

Unfortunately, the misdiagnosis of a serious condition like cancer could leave you extremely unwell and unable to work as a result. This can make a difficult time even more stressful as you worry about your condition and how you are going to make ends meet.  If you have suffered medical negligence then you may be able to secure interim payment to get you through while your claim progresses.

The amount you can ultimately claim in compensation varies greatly from case to case. This is based on how seriously you have suffered and the impact the misdiagnosis has had on your life. You will also be able to claim for loss of earnings and for any long-term rehabilitation that you may need.

Claims must generally be made no more than three years after the misdiagnosis is discovered. While this is a challenging time, getting compensation for your suffering will help you get you the rehabilitation and support you need.

Fatalities at work fall, but how can accidents be avoided?

According to work accident specialists First4Lawyers, a total of 111 workers died in the UK last year in an accident at work, according to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The figures represent a decrease of 38 from the previous year and is the lowest annual number on record. The HSE has stressed that the pandemic may have skewed the figures as the vast majority of people were either working from home or furloughed for the final two months of the year.

What were the most dangerous sectors to work in?

The construction industry came out top with a total of 40 deaths last year, up from 30 the previous year. A total of 20 workers in the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector lost their lives in accidents at work, down from 32 on the previous year, while 15 died in the manufacturing sector – down from 26 the previous year.

In terms of risk of injury, the waste and recycling and the agricultural, forestry and fishing sectors were the worst culprits. Shockingly the rate of injury in these sectors was 18 times higher than the average sector.

The most common cause of a fatal accident was falling from height, with 29 deaths. This was followed by being struck by a moving vehicle with 20 deaths, being struck by a moving object with 18 deaths, being trapped by something collapsing or overturning with 15 deaths and having contact with moving machinery accounting for 11 deaths.

The figures show that 97% of those who died were men.

How can accidents at work be avoided?

As the HSE says nobody should be killed or hurt because of the work they do. While it is impossible to avoid all accidents, it is possible to minimise the risk of them in the workplace. Things that employers can do to avoid accidents include:

  • Give proper training to employees for their job and the equipment they use.
  • Keep vehicles maintained.
  • Provide proper equipment needed for the job, whether this be safety harnesses or goggles.
  • Keep the workplace tidy and uncluttered to avoid falls or things falling from height.
  • Make sure employees don’t take shortcuts, such as not using a harness or other safety equipment.
  • Ensure dangers and accidents are reported.
  • Remind employees of proper safety procedures with signs in noticeable places.

While the number of workplace fatalities has fallen by half in the past 20 years, employers have a duty to get this figure down and employees have a duty to follow procedures and act responsibly. Only then will the number of accidents at work fall.

No-fault divorce

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill recently progressed through the House of Commons, offering hope to those seeking amore amicable separation.

In early June 2020, the proposal to offer a more conciliatory route toward divorce passed through commons with little contest, offering greater hope to those wishing to move on from a fractured marriage without lengthy periods of waiting, or bitter disputes over blame.  Rather than insisting on lengthy separations or for faults to be attributed on one party, this new revision represents a more understanding approach toward divorce. Read more below.

What are the current requirements for divorce?

Under current legislation, a couple wishing to divorce will need to live separately for at least two years before divorce proceedings can take place; if one person refuses to agree to the divorce, however, then this period of separation must last for five years.

If both parties are in agreement, however, and want to divorce before the two years have been completed, then at least one of the following reasons must be given:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour, including violence, drug use, drunkenness, verbal abuse or refusing to pay toward the costs of living.
  • Desertion

Of course, whatever route both parties choose to take, lengthy periods of separation and drawn-out disputes can be extremely mentally taxing for all involved, and can cause those suffering to feel ‘trapped’ within a stage of their life from which they feel ready to move on. For many couples looking to circumvent a lengthy separation, the only option is for one to allocate blame to the other, which can turn an otherwise amicable split into something far more bitter, and cause a great deal more emotional upheaval than necessary.

For couples with children, maintaining stability amid significant upheaval is often made much more difficult by these lengthy procedures. A solution that facilitates family life and seeks to “reduce parental conflict”, say Cheltenham divorce lawyers Willans, is long overdue.

What is the no-fault divorce?

The proposition for a no-fault divorce under the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will make the process of ending a marriage much simpler for both parties. Most notably, it will allow for a joint application for divorce to be made by both parties, and for the ascription of blame to be replaced by the formal assertion that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Furthermore, the opportunity for the divorce to be contested will be removed

Under these proposed changes, the process of seeking a divorce will have the potential to be far more manageable for both parties. The emotional upheaval of a long separation or the allocation of blame for unacceptable behaviour can be avoided, and couples can aim to end their union without resorting to hostilities.

Despite a few obligations owing to the importance of reconciliation over disunion — and the pressures the outbreak of Covid-19 has placed on marriages — the bill has been agreed by the house of commons. This marks a clear, long-awaited breakthrough for those seeking greater flexibility and understanding when a lifelong commitment is no longer possible.

Lessons learned from remote personal injury hearings in Ireland

COVID-19 has moved a lot of things formerly that were formerly conducted in person onto the internet. While many transitional moves to the web were inevitable, it greatly accelerated the process. In Ireland, courts have been developing technology to facilitate hearings by making them remote. This process has been significantly changed by the pandemic and has made remote hearings an imperative in the last few weeks.

The infrastructure was under development to facilitate remote hearings, which was confirmed by the Chief Justice and the Presidents of all Jurisdictions of the Courts, who confirmed that this technology was in place in April. Mock trials will be conducted to determine the viability of remote courtrooms. The first remote hearing was conducted on April 20th for a case-management hearing related to a number of cases. In a statement to the Supreme Court, Justice Frank Clarke outline mock trials that have been conducted, which indicates that the courts are ready to gradually move towards conducting trials virtually.

How does it work?

Remote court hearings operate by using a video streaming app that enables the people involved in the court proceedings attending a court date online. Justice Frank Clarke suggested that issuing a statement of case that would be implemented prior to remote trials. Over the case some 10 to 14 days before the hearing, it will set out the court’s understanding of the facts. All of the relevant findings of the courts that deal with the case, the issues that arise, and where the court is unclear on any of these matters are deliberated beforehand.

While many hope that new clarity will come from preparing in advance and reduce the need for interventions from the court, this most likely means that substantive appeals will not go ahead for a few weeks to allow for the statements to be prepared. This delay is temporary, however. When the courts catch up and complete the transition process, it will likely move faster than ever.

How this will impact personal injury hearings

Since personal injuries are physical, it remains to be seen how these examinations of injuries will be dealt with in remote court. Still the first hearing for a personal injury was conducted remotely in April. The High Court took an ongoing case relating to an alleged cancer diagnosis. In this case, Justice Hyland presided over Court 29, which is a part of the Four Courts. The judge heard submissions from counsel on both sides of the case remotely. They spoke with Siobhan Freeney over a video link in the courtroom.

While this case was opened in February, the hearing lasted 12 days before the High Court. Siobhan Freeney claims that her mammogram taken in 2015 was read incorrectly. While Freeney alleges that the mammogram should have been studied more closely for signs of cancer, the clinic failed to do so. She also says that she should have been referred to someone for further assessment and whatever necessary treatment she needs for cancer.

Freeney was diagnosed with cancer six months after the mammogram. They found cancer in Freeney’s right breast. She claims that she should have been diagnosed earlier. She alleges that she was misdiagnosed, with an alleged failure to ensure any proper treatment. Her earlier claims were denied.

This reveals that past failures of the court can be looked at again and corrected. According to McGinley Law, a firm that focuses on personal injury claims, the time-saving ability or virtual and remote court proceedings. With more time, the courts can look at cases more thoroughly. However, it remains to be seen whether the lack of physical interaction will lead to people faking injuries in order to win a court case and obtain a settlement.

So much is changing in the wake of COVID-19. Many areas of life will be facilitated by making the inevitable move to remote and virtual operations, whether it’s in courtrooms, meetings, interviews, or something else. Other areas are hindered by it. People are out of work and have more time on their hands. This free time can be implemented in positive, encouraging ways while pursuing a safe, just, and productive transition into a world after Coronavirus. Personal injury court cases are just one of the areas that can be improved by remote hearings while walking the fine line that this new normal has created.

Accidents at work when at home, who is liable?

The coronavirus crisis has seen more and more of us are working from home. This raises the interesting question of what happens if you have an accident at work while at home, what duties do employers have and who would be liable if you have an accident?

What are an employer’s duties?

Employers have a duty to ensure their employees’ health and safety is protected. This applies to whether you are working on a building site, in the office or at home. However, when working from home your employer’s responsibility would be limited due to the lack of control they have over your home.

The level of your employer’s duty would largely depend on the type of work you are carrying out. An employer would have to carry out a risk assessment and consider whether the type of work carried out would be suitable to be carried out at home, such as is there enough space and would there be a risk of an employee tripping over? The employer also has a duty to provide the correct equipment that is in good working order and ensure it is maintained.

What about an employee’s duties?

People working at home should also carry out their own assessment of their home. All employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and must report any employment-related hazards to their employer. Your employer should inform you of their health and safety policies and then it is incumbent on you to ensure those policies are applied correctly.

If you have an accident at work whilst working from home would an employer be liable?

As you have control over your home you would have a large degree of responsibility to look after your own safety. The main thing that employers are responsible in this scenario is to ensure that you have the tools and skills to do the job and that they maintain that equipment.

Consequently, if you were to suffer an accident at home then your employer would probably only be liable if they did not give the proper training or equipment provided was not maintained properly. The employer would only generally be responsible if the accident was due to their negligence meaning that they failed to take reasonable care for your safety.

How to cope with a brain injury

Suffering a brain injury can be one of the most debilitating things that can happen to a person, whether this be because of an accident, blow to the head or medical negligence. Brain injuries can happen at any stage of your life and can have a devastating impact on yourself or those who may have to care for you. We spoke to leading medical negligence legal firm First4Lawyers about what should you do if you have suffered a brain injury?

Seek support

There are a host of organisations that offer support to people who have suffered brain injuries or to the people who support sufferers. Charities like Headway and the Brain Injury Trust offer invaluable support to you and your family. In addition, you should ask your doctor or neurological team what therapies are available and would be suitable for yourself. It is important to talk about what you are going through with friends and family even if you are struggling to come up with the rights words. Make sure they know if you are struggling to communicate.

Adopt strategies to cope

If you suffer a brain injury you may find that you have developed memory problems. It can make a real difference if you adopt simple adaptations to your home. For example, you could label kitchen cupboards to help you remember what is in each one. Following a daily routine can help as well as setting reminders on your phone for daily events. It is not unusual for people who have suffered brain injuries to get frustrated and lose their temper. If you do, try find a technique to calm you down, such as removing yourself from the situation and going into another room.

Make sure your employer knows

Your employer has a duty to support you if you have suffered a brain injury. If they aren’t aware of what has happened to you then they may think you are slacking or a troublemaker. It’s a good idea to seek the advice of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or ACAS to find out what reasonable adjustments can be made for you that may help you cope.

Be realistic about what you can achieve

Fatigue is common after a person suffers a brain injury and you may find that you aren’t able to do as much as you did beforehand. As a result, set achievable targets for each day and ensure you have time in your schedule to relax. Don’t be hard on yourself if you get tired more easily than before your injury and if you need to have a sleep during the day, have one.

Additionally, if you suffered your brain injury as a result of medical negligence you may want to consult a specialist lawyer as you might be entitled to compensation.

While suffering a brain injury can be extremely difficult to deal with, if you follow these steps it will help you cope.

 

 

 

 

Making a personal injury claim during the pandemic

Suffering a life-changing injury can be devastating for the individual involved and those around them. Many situations, where the victim suffered their injury as result of somebody else’s negligence, will often result in them making a personal injury claim. This can be to cover the victim’s loss of earnings, compensate for the injury suffered and ensure they get the care they need in the future.

But with the coronavirus pandemic still affecting all of our lives there were fears that personal injury claims may not progress. However, a recent announcement by the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) revealed that law firms, insurers and key suppliers have agreed to continue progressing claims despite the health crisis. Importantly, this means that there is nothing to stop people from bringing a new personal injury claim or an existing claim from progressing.

The agreement between ACSO and the Association of British Insurers allows for temporary measures to ensure claims are still possible despite social distancing measures.

It allows for personal injury medical examinations, which are usually carried out in person, to be undertaken via video. Some claims for rehabilitation, both physiotherapy and psychotherapy, can be carried out remotely.

Medco – which oversees whiplash reporting – already allows video consultations, but this agreement has extended this to other types of personal injury case.

While this is only a temporary measure, it does mean that personal injury claims can continue to progress while social distancing measures are in place.

So, what should you do if you want to bring a personal injury claim? All of the rules that are in place for personal injury claims remain the same and there is nothing to stop people from making a claim. One of the most important things to remember is that there is a three-year time limit to making a claim. People are allowed to bring claims for personal injuries suffered before the pandemic.

While it may not be possible to meet legal representatives in person during the health crisis, lawyers are still working and can be talked to over the phone or virtually. All documentation can be shared electronically to keep the touching of physical paperwork to a minimum. Claims can still go to court during the pandemic through ‘virtual’ courts and joint settlement meetings, where settlements are agreed, are still taking place.

While coronavirus has affected the way we all live it has not stopped the wheels of justice from turning. As a result, there are no barriers from individuals making new personal injury claims or from existing ongoing claims from being progressed or resolved.

What should I do if I’m worried about accidents at work during the coronavirus crisis?

The pandemic has seen many workers across the UK working from home to help maintain social distancing rules. But as lockdown restrictions are eased more and more of us are being asked to return to the workplace. It is understandable that some people may be concerned for their safety and that accidents at work could happen when they return.

Accident at work specialists, First4Lawyers say if you are concerned about this the first thing to remember is that it is the duty of your employer to put safety measures in place to protect their employees and ensure accidents at work do not occur. In fact, business owners have been warned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that they could be prosecuted if they don’t stick to safety rules.

As a result, you have the right to report your employer to the HSE if you feel unsafe and think there is a chance that accidents at work could occur. The HSE has the power to inspect workplaces and order them to take immediate action. In really extreme cases they can even ban certain activities if there is a risk of serious injury. Failing to comply with the rules is a criminal offence so your employer could face prosecution.

So, what should you do if you feel that there is a risk of accidents at work? Although it is possible to report your employer to the HSE, the first step should be to approach your boss informally to raise your concerns. Don’t be afraid to ask them to provide their response in writing to you. Always remember, your employer has a duty of care to protect you at work.

If you don’t get the response you would have hoped for you can raise a formal grievance or go to the HSE. Many would ask if they have a right to refuse to work if you feel unsafe? The answer is that you do. The law states that you have the right to refuse to attend, or leave if you have just arrived. The law protects you when it comes to your safety and states that you should not receive any unfair treatment as a result.

While returning to work in the current climate is understandably stressful it is important to remember that your safety is protected by law. Don’t be afraid to speak up, as doing so could prevent you or one of your colleagues from being involved in an accident at work.

 

Accidents at work: what are your rights?

Accidents happen, but it a perfectly reasonable assumption for employees to expect that their workplaces will be safe. After all, it is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees.

Yet the most recent Government statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) looking at accidents at work show that workplaces can be dangerous places:

  • 6 million workers sustained a non-fatal injury in 2018/19
  • 69,208 non-fatal injuries to employees reported by employers in 2018/19
  • 147 fatal injuries to workers in 2018/19
  • 2 billion is the annual cost of workplace injury in 2017/18
  • 2 million working days lost to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2018/19

Your employer must:

  • tell you how to do your job safely in a way that you can understand, and tell you about the risks to your health and safety from current or proposed working practices;
  • tell you how any risks will be controlled and who is responsible for this;
  • consult and work with health and safety representatives and employees to protect everyone from harm in the workplace;
  • tell you how to get first-aid treatment and what to do in an emergency;
  • provide, free of charge, training to enable you to do your job safely;
  • provide any equipment and protection necessary for you at work (such as clothing, shoes or boots, eye and ear protection, gloves, masks etc) and ensure it is properly looked after;
  • provide health checks if there is a danger of ill health because of your work;
  • provide regular health checks if you work nights and a check before you start.

Your employer must also display or make available the following information:

  • the health and safety law poster (www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/lawposter.htm), which must be displayed in a prominent place, or as an alternative, they can provide each worker with a copy of the equivalent pocket card. This should give the contact details of people who can help;
  • a copy of their health and safety policy statement;
  • an up-to-date Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) certificate (www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/hse40.htm) visible in your place of work

Of course, it’s not all one-way traffic and employers have certain responsibilities too, aimed at minimising the risk of any accidents at work. Employees must be sure to cooperate fully with their employers and colleagues to help everyone meet their legal requirements.

As an employee you must:

  • Follow the training you have received when using any work items your employer has given you.
  • Take reasonable care of your own and other people’s health and safety.
  • Co-operate with your employer on health and safety.
  • Tell someone (your employer, supervisor, or health and safety representative) if you think the work or inadequate precautions are putting anyone’s health and safety at serious risk.

If in doubt, or if you have any concerns, then you should talk to your employer. If after doing so you are still concerned, then contact the HSE for advice.