In brief

This week’s news in brief

Global ban on mobile phones at Exxon

Petrochemical giant Exxon Mobil has banned all its employees worldwide from
using mobile phones while driving. While drivers are not required to turn off phones,
calls must be answered by voicemail and retrieved from parked locations. Safety
programmes manager Mike Henderek said the company
asked some of its scientists to do a thorough study of available research,
which produced "compelling" results. A review of nine independent
reports stated that phone use while driving "significantly degrades
driving performance and contributes to an increased risk of vehicular
incidents." It noted that braking was three times slower than by a person
under the influence of alcohol. US National Safety Council president Alan C
McMillan praised the corporation for "acting to reduce this hazard for
thousands of employees and contractors". Exxon Mobil employees and
contractors drive up to 2.4m kilometres daily.

corporation wins right to staff ideas

A Texas appeal court has ruled
that telecoms company Alcatel owns the rights to a former employee’s idea to
convert old computer code into new languages, even though it existed only in
his head. The case was brought in 1997 against employee Evan Brown, who never
committed his thoughts to paper during his time with the company. Alcatel
argued that Brown withheld his idea for software, despite of a contract
requiring him to disclose any inventions he conceived or developed in the course
of his employment. When Brown refused to disclose it, he was fired and sued. In
2002, a district court reasoned that Brown’s employment contract was
enforceable. Brown appealed, claiming his idea had not been completely
"made or conceived" by that time and therefore the terms of the
contract did not apply. However, the Court of Appeal rejected this, saying
Alcatel "owns full legal right, title and interest to the process and/or
method" that forms Brown’s idea. Brown’s lawyer is seeking a rehearing.

Czech chain scoops most un-PC award

A supermarket chain in the Czech Republic
reportedly wanted its female cashiers to wear red headbands when they have
their periods because they ask to go to the toilet more often. A local work
safety inspector eventually talked the company out of the idea, but declined to
name the chain concerned. Czech daily newspaper MF Dnes
– which reported the case – said all major retailers in the country insisted
that their employees were not barred from going to the toilet whenever they
need to. Local trade unions, meanwhile, have not been surprised by the affair,
noting that harassment of supermarket workers is quite common in the Czech Republic. A similar incident happened a few years ago
in Poland, where retail managers ordered cashiers (both female and male) to
wear nappies so they wouldn’t have to go to the toilet at all.

Austrian women to get access to mine

should allow women to work in its mines, an advocate general of the European
Court of Justice has concluded. If approved, as expected, by the full court,
the ruling would set an EU-wide precedent – although the UK has allowed women
to work in mines since 1989. Advocate General Francis Jacobs said the court
should order Austria to change its laws, as they break the EU equal treatment
directive. He said Austria had produced no evidence showing mine work affected
men and women differently in health terms and so the ban was unlawful, except
in special circumstances, such as when women are pregnant. Jacobs said the directive
"does not allow women to be excluded from employment on the grounds that
they should be given greater protection against risks, which affect men and
women in the same way". The Austrian Government had claimed that
"underground mining entails greater physical strain and exposes [women] to
greater health risks than men".

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