Employer uncertainty grows over implications of Human Rights Act

Employers were this week facing growing uncertainty over the impact of the new Human Rights Act. Some experts predicted that the act, which came into force on Monday, will result in a deluge of legal claims against employers. Others say the impact will only become clear gradually, as a result of case law. Human resources […]

Employers were this week facing growing uncertainty over the impact of the new Human Rights Act. Some experts predicted that the act, which came into force on Monday, will result in a deluge of legal claims against employers. Others say the impact will only become clear gradually, as a result of case law.

Human resources professionals said they felt confident they were prepared for the introduction of the act. Nevertheless, they had reviewed procedures to ensure issues involving contracts and employee privacy and dignity were addressed, if necessary.Human resources experts advise any company using surveillance for its own security reasons to examine staff contracts to make sure employees are made aware from the start of their employment that they might be picked up by the cameras.

Employers should check that internal procedures allow staff dignity and privacy.It is difficult to predict the effect of the act given the wide-ranging nature of the articles which include the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and access to justice.

According to legal experts, the first could lead to employees gaining the right to observe religious festivals, while the second might lead to claims that they should receive legal aid intribunal cases.

Employers are urged to keep policies under constant review in the light of any cases brought.

Rob McCreath, a partner at law firm Eversheds, said he did not expect large numbers of direct claims. But he said that the requirement introduced by the act for employers to respect a claimant’s human rights — with ‘reasonableness’ as the legal test — could lead to the results of unfair dismissal cases being deemed unfair. Another area

covered by the act is respect for private life. This could lead to employers being prevented from monitoring staff correspondence such as e-mails, lawyers said.

Other articles in the act cover the issues of freedom of assembly and association. These articles raise the possibility of a lifting of restrictions regarding secondary picketing.

And lawyers also predict that discrimination claims could soar as a result of legislation in the act providing general protection from discrimination.

Helen Rowe writes for Personnel Today magazine