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Legal Issues Arising from COVID-19 and HR Management: Essay and Problem Question

Essay Question: Evaluating COVID-19 Measures and Legal Claims in Business Recovery

“It’s all about safety. It’s our customers’ safety and our staff’s safety. The quicker we get on top of this dreadful disease, the quicker we can all return to normal and get this country’s economy back on track. I know there are critics out there painting this as a human rights issue, but all I want is to ensure both our people and our customers are safe”.

Charlie Mullins, Founder and CEO, Pimlico Plumbers Ltd

By reference to appropriate legislation and case law, evaluate the merits of this statement on the measures businesses should take to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential legal claims that may result from those measures.

Best Kitchens Ltd.  Is a company designing and manufacturing fitted and  custom-made kitchen  furniture  operating  from  a  Business  Park  in Chelmsford. The company has further sales outlets in Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich. There are 250 workers in the company, which has been operating successfully for fifteen years.  You are the new Human Resources Manager based at the Head Office.  You have found since you started your job that there appears to have been no formal training on handling difficult HR issues for line management.

There is a formal disciplinary procedure and a formal grievance procedure   in   place, both   of   which   appear   to   have   been   copied   from  an   out-dated Government website without modification. There is also a ‘Staff Handbook’, which is given to all new employees when they start work at Best Kitchens Ltd., but which also appears to be quite flimsy and out of date. 

Extracts from the Disciplinary and Grievance procedures, and the Staff Handbook, are all reproduced at the end of this case scenario.

Note: These Documents Form An Integral Part Of The Assignment. Please Read Them Before You Start To Write Your Advice

Mike Robson has been employed by Best Kitchens since its formation 15 years ago. Three years ago, Mike was appointed Head of Technology & Design by the company. He was provided with an amended contract of employment, important extracts from which are also reproduced at the end of the case scenario. Mike’s role in the company means that he is often working on projects of a confidential and commercially sensitive nature. Mike has always enjoyed his job and has had no disciplinary problems or other issues with the senior managers of the company until an incident four weeks ago.

Problem Question: Best Kitchens Ltd. HR Management Challenges

On that occasion, Mike was called in to the office of Mr Tariq Akram, the CEO of Best Kitchens. According to the note of the meeting prepared by Mr Akram afterwards, the meeting started off fairly cordially. Mr Akram asked ‘What is this I hear about you talking to Jimmy Anderson?’ [James Anderson, otherwise known as ‘Jimmy’, is the founder and CEO of Superb Kitchens Ltd, Best Kitchens’ biggest rival company in East Anglia]. According to Mr Akram’s note, Mike was initially evasive when asked this question and asked Mr Akram what he meant. Mr Akram said ‘You were seen talking to Jimmy Anderson last Saturday night in the Dog and Duck – very cosy and friendly by all accounts. What are you up to?’ Mike explained that Jimmy was an old friend of his from University days and they often meet up for a drink and a chat. 

Mr Akram said that he did not accept this explanation and believed Mike was supplying confidential information about the new range of kitchens he was working on. As a result, Mr Akram said that he was removing Mike from his position as Head of Technology and Design and all the projects he was working on, which would now be handed over to his Deputy Head. In the meantime, Mike would be allocated administrative duties and have his access to some of the company’s network and databases restricted.

At this point, the meeting became quite heated. Mike stated that he had not discussed anything about the projects he was working on with anybody outside the company and protested at being removed from his position. According to Mr Akram’s note, Mike became ‘very aggressive’. Mr Akram responded by saying ‘You are a fucking liar, Mike, and a traitor. I hate liars and disloyalty. If you don’t like my decision, you might as well just fuck off now. In fact, why don’t you do that – get your stuff and fuck off’. Mike replied, ‘I am not being spoken to like that, Tariq. If that is how you feel, you can stick your job up your arse’.

Shortly after this meeting, Mike collected his personal belongings from his office and left the building, escorted by two of the company’s security officers. Mike has not returned to Best Kitchens since.

There is a note prepared by the previous HR manager about this incident in the same folder as the note of the meeting from Mr Akram. This note records that the information that led to this confrontation came from Mr Akram’s PA, who had reported to Mr Akram that she had seen Mike and Jimmy Anderson drinking together in her local pub on the previous Saturday evening. She could not hear all of their conversation but claims that towards the end of the evening both men were quite drunk and she heard Mike say something about ‘coming over to you and bringing all my stuff with me’.

The HR manager’s note also records that, after Mike had left, IT services had looked through his desk computer and company laptop and found numerous emails to and from Jimmy Anderson setting up meetings. IT services also found that, two weeks before this incident, Mike had sent various technical documents and spreadsheets about current projects to his personal email account. The HR manager’s note comments that the use of bad language is ‘part of the culture’ amongst senior employees at the company, but it was out of character for Mr Akram to be offensive to individuals.   

This morning the company has received notification from ACAS that Mike has approached them seeking Early Conciliation of a claim against the company. You have received an email from Mr Akram seeking your advice on two things:

a) What ‘this ACAS nonsense is all about’;

b) What can the company do about the fact that Mike Robson is about to start work for Superb Kitchens Ltd at its Cambridge premises next month.  

Prepare a report for Mr Akram, setting out

i) the potential claims that Mike might bring against the company;

ii) any legal liability the company may have towards Mike;

iii) whether the company can prevent Mike from working for Superb Kitchens Ltd or using information obtained from Best Kitchens Ltd in his new job; and

iv) your recommendations for how the situation might be resolved. Your report and advice should be supported by reference to relevant legislation and case law.

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