#BlackLivesMatter protests, marches and vigils are now taking place across the UK following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. Many organisations have recently expressed support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and may well be supportive of employees who wish to take time off work to participate in BLM events. Employers will therefore be considering the best approach to take when responding to these requests, say Garyn Young and Mary Goldsbrough.
Many employees may request annual leave to enable them to attend. Ordinarily, employees should give employers notice which is twice the length of the period of leave they have requested. The same rules apply where employers request employees to take annual leave.
However, as some BLM events are organised at a short notice, employers may wish to consider authorising leave requests on shorter notice to demonstrate understanding of the employee’s cause and, possibly, their own support for the BLM movement.
If annual leave is unavailable, employees may ask if they can take unpaid leave to attend an event. If the workplace could reasonably manage without the employee on that day then the request should be agreed.
However, if an employee is absent without permission employers are likely to wish to withhold pay for that day and/or consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate.
Corporate Social Responsibility (‘CSR’) policy
Many employers will already have CSR policies in place to allow employees to donate their time or money to charities or other worthy causes, amongst other things. Employers could decide to update these policies to allow for a certain amount of paid time away from the workplace, without exhausting annual leave, to attend events such as the BLM protests, marches and vigils.
If an employer declines a request for leave to attend a BLM event, they may be asked to justify this decision and they must be able to show that the refusal was not for a discriminatory reason. Employers should adopt a consistent approach to requests from employees to attend such events and to dealing with any unauthorised absence. The approach taken should be applied equally and consistently across the business to avoid claims of discrimination.
It may be more difficult for an employer to agree such a request if a number of other employees also wish to attend the event. In this case, employers may wish to operate a “first come, first served” approach.
Conduct at events
Employers may wish to remind employees that, although they will be attending these events outside work time, some of their activities may have an impact on the employer’s reputation. Events which are intended to be peaceful can end up with employees appearing to engage in unlawful conduct or even being arrested.
In this case, employers will need to remember that these activities have taken place outside work time and employers should refrain from taking any action until they have had the chance to thoroughly investigate matters. In many cases the employee’s alleged conduct may prove to have no bearing on their work abilities. Neither may it have had any demonstrable effect on their employer’s reputation.