That was the year…

2003 provided HR professionals and employment lawyers with a steady stream of new laws, cases, and European regulations that ranged from the sensible to the ridiculous. We wouldn’t have it any other way! See if you were paying attention to some of the sillier or more surprising stories from last year, answers at the bottom.

1. In 2003, the Ministry of Defence paid out an estimated £50,000 to soldiers. Was it for?

a) being run over by tanks
b) falling out of bed
c) shooting themselves in the foot
d) expense allowances for visiting nightclubs

2.The Department of Work and Pensions was successfully sued by a man who complained that he should not be made to wear

a) a tie
b) a name badge
c) a pair of trousers
d) black shoes

3. Which long-service award given to an employee constituted unlawful discrimination?

a) a pair of false teeth given to an employee at a denture factory
b) a bra given to an employee at an underwear shop
c) a fountain pen given to an employee at a stationery shop
d) a Lego model given to an employee at Legoland Windsor

4. How much money were Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones awarded for the breach of their rights under the Data Protection Act by Hello magazine?

a) £50
b) £500
c) £5,000
d) £50,000

5. For what reason did a steward claim he lost his job at Goodwood Golf Club?

a) his golf handicap was too high
b) he wore a red sweater
c) he crashed the chairman’s car
d) he sold lost golf balls to tourists

6. In which job did a court determine that hours spent sleeping counted as hours spent working?

a) when you are a dentist
b) when you are a lawyer
c) when you are a doctor
d) when you are a mattress tester

7. Which legal right are new fathers not entitled to?

a) right to request flexible working arrangements
b) two weeks’ paternity leave
c) extra sleep at work to make up for the sleepless nights
d) 13 weeks off work before your child is five

8. Which UK executive earned 247 times more than his average employee?

a) Sir Clive Thompson, Rentokil
b) Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco
c) Sir Christopher Bland, BT
d) Sir Ken Morrison, Morrisons

9. Whose directors’ pay policies were sensationally voted down by shareholders in May 2003?

a) Manchester United
b) British Telecom
c) Powergen
d) GlaxoSmithKline

10. What do the Road Vehicles Regulations relate to?

a) using your car radio while driving
b) using your mobile telephone
c) eating while driving
d) talking to your passengers

11. What have employees threatened to sue a City law firm for?

a) requiring them to work longer than their contractual hours
b) moving offices away from the City
c) outsourcing jobs abroad
d) refusal to adopt a dress-down policy on Fridays

12. Whom did an employer refuse to allow to use the female toilets?

a) a male employee
b) a homosexual female employee
c) a pre-operative transsexual employee
d) a post-operative transsexual employee

2004 promises even more quirky stories from the world of employment law. The new regulations on Sexual Orientation and on Religion or Belief introduced in December will no doubt prove fertile ground for claims.

There are at least seven other major pieces of employment legislation in the pipeline for this year. The question is, with the ever increasing burden of employment law, can your business stay out of the headlines in the year ahead?

James Baker works in the Employment, Pensions and Benefits Group at City law firm Macfarlanes

1. b) The Ministry of Defence paid out a record £100m in compensation in the last financial year. Its annual report says more than £50,000 has been claimed by soldiers who hurt themselves falling out of bed.

2. a) A civil servant who complained about being made to wear a collar and tie to work won a sex discrimination case, successfully claiming that it was unfair that he had to dress formally to work at the Jobcentre Plus, in Stockport, Greater Manchester, when women did not.

3. d) An employee at Legoland had a permanently withered left arm that he wore in a sling. He was one of 58 employees presented with a long-service award modelled in Lego, with most models having some work-related element. This employee’s model, however, depicted a man with his arm in a sling and this was held to be discriminatory.

4. a) In November, Hello magazine was ordered to pay the couple £3,750 each for the distress they suffered, a “nominal” award for breach of their rights under the Data Protection Act and £3,500 each to cover the cost of OK! running its pictures early – a total award of just £14,600.

5. b) The Transport and General Workers Union picked up the case for Trevor Proctor, who was fired and served with a notice to quit his four-bedroom tied cottage on the Earl of March’s Goodwood estate in July 2003 – all because he wore a red jumper in breach of the club’s strict dress code.

6. c) The European Court of Justice considered whether time spent by doctors on- call, either at the medical centre or away from it, counted as working time and therefore towards the 48-hour week as part of the Working Time Directive. It ruled that it did, meaning effectively, time spent on-call by doctors, even when they are asleep, is actually hours worked for the purposes of the Working Time Directive.

7. c) As part of new family-friendly policies, fathers have new rights in relation to their newly born and newly adopted children.

8. a) The annual reports season made for interesting reading for some people.  According to a report by the Observer newspaper, the £2.9m paid to Sir Clive Thompson, Rentokil chairman, last year represented 247 times the £11,696 earned by an average employee.

9. d) Almost 51 per cent of shareholders in drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline voted down the remuneration proposals that would have doubled the salary of its chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier. It was described, by institutional shareholders, as the most significant defeat of a big company.

10. b) In December 2003 it became an offence to hold a mobile phone while driving a vehicle. Hands-free kits escape the ban, provided the phone is actually attached to the dashboard or in a cradle, and does not need to be held at all during the operation of the call

11. c) In September, employees at City law firm Allen & Overy threatened to sue for breach of contract after it announced it would be outsourcing jobs to India.

12. c) In January, Consignia required a pre-operative transsexual undergoing gender realignment to use the gender-neutral disabled toilets after complaints from female staff. This was held not to be discriminatory, provided the employee could use the female toilets once the process was complete.

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