Personnel's preparation for the forthcoming Human Rights Act should involve policy vigilance, not panic
The expression, "I know my rights" is likely to make any personnel manager's heart sink. Many are dreading the introduction of the Human Rights Act (HRA) on 2 October this year. Much press coverage suggests it will let loose an army of barrack room lawyers, while others are unconcerned. Who is right?
Neither. There are traps, but only for the unprepared.
The HRA incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. Individuals will now be able to enforce it in the UK, whereas before they had to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The convention, however, is concerned primarily with protecting the individual against the state, so the HRA applies directly only to public authorities. Many writers have dismissed the area of employment as being largely unaffected, and this will trip up the unwary.
First, the HRA applies directly to public-sector employers. Second, courts and tribunals are included in the definition of "public authority". They have an express duty to interpret UK legislation as far as possible in a way that is compatible with the convention.
For example, the convention states, "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence." Employment tribunals may take this into account in determining the fairness of dismissals, for instance, unauthorised absence for a family reason. Similarly, employees may be able to claim constructive dismissal if they are video-taped at work without their knowledge or are subjected to random drugs tests.
The convention also states, "Everyone has a right to freedom of expression". This could affect dress codes, even sex-neutral ones. Employers may ban nose studs but an employee could claim that this infringed their right of free expression. Similarly, the convention right to a fair trial could have a bearing on the fairness of disciplinary proceedings.
But the convention is not a barrack room lawyer's charter. Many of its provisions have very limited or no application in the employment field. Employees may feel their job contravenes the convention right not to be "held in slavery or servitude", but as a matter of law that is very unlikely. Similarly, the convention proh