Power to the people
Working in housing can be a legal minefield but do you know your rights? Here our legal experts explain how to fight your corner in two common scenarios - whether you are an employer or an employee
You have been asked to hand deliver a notice (as a preliminary step to court action) to the home of a person known to be a paranoid schizophrenic, but are concerned about your safety. What are your rights?
Andy Cross, partner at Brabners Chaffe Street, says: ‘First I hope that your employer has properly explained the situation to you and discussed the problems and dangers. Paranoid schizophrenia is characterised by mood disturbances such as irritability, sudden anger, fearfulness and suspicion. As part of its legal duty under the Health and Safety Act 1974 (Section 2) the employer would need to warn the employee of the possibility of violence directed at them by the person suffering from this condition.
‘An obvious safeguard would be for at least two people to attend. If, having had the situation and risks explained to you, as an employee you feel that they are too great, do not be afraid to say that you do not want to go.
‘Part five of the Employment Rights Act 1996 Section 44 allows an employee to walk away from and refuse to return to what they perceive to be a dangerous situation in the course of their work - and not be penalised for doing so.
‘An employee must not be subjected to any detriment - whether in the form of less favourable treatment or perhaps even dismissal - because they bring to the employer’s attention, by reasonable means, circumstances connected with their work which they believe are potentially harmful to their health or safety. An employee can thus effectively ‘stop the job’ in the knowledge that under Section 27 of the Equality Act 2010 their employer is prevented from placing them at a disadvantage as a result. Importantly, the employee does not need to provide proof of the ‘victimisation’ in the form of actual adverse physical or economic consequences.’
‘While the exact circumstances would have to be considered, it would be a foolish employer that forced you to undertake this. The employer is only entitled to require you to comply with reasonable requests judged in the context of what your job is.’
You are pressurised to give out information about your tenants by an external agency and are concerned that your employer could lose out financially if you don’t share data. What should you do?
Katrina Day, associate at Coffin Mew says: ‘You are probably asked for information about your tenants on many occasions. This might be a utility company asking for the tenant’s details when they move in, sharing information as part of a case conference or giving former tenant details to a tracing agency to deal with rent arrears.
‘In these situations you may feel under pressure to share the information, or, it may be in your employer’s best interests to do so.
‘But before you give out the information you need to be remember that your tenants’ information is protected by confidentiality and data protection laws.
‘Failure to comply with these laws could result in a complaint or legal claim being made against your employer and this could lead to disciplinary action against you.
‘The first rule of thumb is that tenants should be told what information the association holds about them and how it will be used.
‘In some cases the tenant’s consent may also be needed - particularly if it is “sensitive”, such as involving information about a tenant’s race or sexual life or about any offences they have been involved in.
‘So the best starting place is to check whether your organisation has a policy or statement which it gives out to tenants. This should explain to tenants what you do with their data and when you might share it with others. If your scenario is covered by the policy then you should be OK.
‘If, however, the scenario is not covered (or there is no policy at all) then you may need to speak to the tenant first before going ahead and, depending on what it is you are giving out, get their consent to avoid any repercussions on you and your organisation.’