Human Rights Act puts employers on the alert

HR practitioners are facing mounting uncertainty over the likely impact of the Human Rights Act due to come into force next week.

While one law firm predicts an “avalanche” of cases, others say they expect the ramifications to be subtle and more gradual.

HR professionals say they feel prepared for the implementation of the Act next Monday. But they warn that organisations which have not reviewed procedures will be vulnerable.

Lew Swift, HR director at Aintree Hospital Trust, said a review had focused on ensuring respect for employee privacy and dignity at all stages of procedures.

“I don’t say we have been insensitive but when you use these procedures day-in day-out you can become blasé and forget the effect on people. It is good to review things.”

Norman Hodges, HR director at Rank Leisure, endorsed the view in the profession that contracts need to be carefully examined in the light of the Act. He said surveillance was identified as a potential issue.

“We might have surveillance in operation with the police and staff might be picked up on camera. The Act means we must explain this to staff in their contracts of employment.”

Lawyers are split over the issue with some arguing the short-term impact of the Act will be muted because it only applies directly to the public sector or companies with public duties such as Railtrack or the privatised utilities.

Barrister Jennifer Eady said monitoring of staff e-mails or by CCTV was “ripe for litigation”.

But Rob McCreath, partner at Eversheds, said he did not foresee a deluge of direct claims.

He said that in unfair dismissal cases, however, where the legal test is the “reasonableness” of the employer, the tribunal or court will have to make sure the employer respected the claimant’s human rights in the run-up to dismissal. “The dismissal is more likely to have been found unfair,” said McCreath.

By Helen Rowe and Stephen Overell

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