A union representing various people in the legal sector has threatened legal action should any of its members, which includes solicitors, be sanctioned for responding reasonably to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shortly before the prime minister told the public to work from home where possible as part of stringent new measures, the Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU), a branch within the United Voices of the World Union, published an open letter in which it makes three demands to legal sector employers.
As well as full pay for employees and transparency when communicating with staff about Covid-19 policy, LSWU says all legal sector workers should be encouraged to work from home.
LSWU says: ‘Social distancing is now of primary and urgent importance. Where resources permit, employees should be given the option to access databases and software from their homes to continue their work so long as they are fit to do so. Where resources do not permit, or employees hold location reliant roles, employees should be sent home with full pay.’
On transparency, LSWU says employers must not ‘shirk responsibilities’ by, for instance, blaming ‘government inaction’.
The letter cites section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which states that in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believes to be serious and imminent, they leave or refuse to return to work.
LSWU says: ‘We will not hesitate to avail ourselves and our members of any and all legal remedies should they be subjected to any unlawful sanction in connection with their reasonable responses to the pandemic.’
The LSWU also said it had been mapping law firms’ response to the virus across the sector and found that while partners are working from home, the lowest paid staff are being forced to come into the office.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, the group said: ‘This is an outrage. We are organising against this classist allocation of risk, which is an abuse of legal sector workers.’
The Gazette asked how many members LSWU represents. It was told that LSWU does not discuss numbers but has a 'large, diverse and ever growing membership'.
Meanwhile, in a Covid-19 note posted on its website, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association said it and the Law Society are talking to the Ministry of Justice and related agencies such as HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the Legal Aid Agency for guidance. Unresolved issues include possible adjournments or cancellation of hearings, measures to ensure time frames are met for paying legal aid claims, and compliance requirements.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.
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Coronavirus: legal trade union threatens action