Jane Fielding helps clients to find commercial solutions to workforce issues, from re-structuring through to individual disputes, Jane's creative and open-minded approach allows her to offer clients the most appropriate solution, not always purely legal.
Discrimination issues in the workplace can be particularly challenging, whether it's an individual issue around bullying or a structural one such as discriminatory pay practices across an organisation. Whatever the situation, Jane's longstanding technical expertise combined with her understanding of how people behave at work, enables clients to work through these issues to find the best solution, within the level of risk they are prepared to accept.
As head of our employment, labour and equalities team, Jane has direct experience of managing people at a range of levels. Clients benefit from her ability to see things as an employer, and as a lawyer. She understands the practical difficulties that can occur when translating advice into practice, and can draw on first-hand experience when advising clients.
Employment and equalities law is constantly changing and evolving as successive governments cannot seem to leave it alone. The frequent changes generate a regular flow of cases. Keeping up with all of this is an enjoyable challenge, for the wider team and for Jane personally. She never wants to be the partner who has lost touch with the basics!
On the other hand, you can't just hone in on the detail. You have to stand back and see the bigger picture in terms of where the client wants to be and how you're going to get them there. Jane achieves this by quickly getting to know the particular client, their objective and their appetite for risk. This allows her to present the options and give a clear recommendation - with no sitting on the fence. There are always unknowns in any project, but building a resilient plan and good relationships from the outset allows you to be flexible without veering off course.
With this approach, Jane helps clients navigate apparently impossible situations. There's always a way to do something. But you have to draw a balance between the quality and quantity of resources you put into it, and the risks you're prepared to take.
Jane helped a major car manufacturer defend a number of race and disability discrimination claims over a period of about two years. Even by discrimination standards, these were very sensitive cases, with the outcome being closely watched by its workforce.
It quickly became apparent that there was no prospect of settlement on terms acceptable to the client. So we had to fight the cases through to the end. We faced or had to make almost every conceivable application available under the Tribunal rules. This included a trip to the Employment Appeals Tribunal on one failed application and lodging a strike out application using a newly introduced rule on the very day that rule came into force. In the end, we won on every count and the client saw a significant reduction in this type of complaint.
In employment and equalities, we can't talk about many of our most challenging jobs, because the client's main objective is to avoid any publicity. One anonymous example advising a public sector organisation on a highly sensitive situation involving conflict of interest at a senior level. The matter was legally and politically complex requiring a high degree of creativity and behind the scenes advice. Jane helped the client resolve it discreetly and in a way that minimised the potential impact for all concerned.
Jane has a particular interest in discrimination issues, especially in the field of mental health, where real taboos still exist in the workplace, reflecting wider society. She once helped an NHS organisation facing tit-for-tat bullying from two individuals with mental health conditions. Due to their specialist skills, it wasn't possible to move them to separate locations. Jane helped the client through the grievances but suggested bringing in a psychiatrist to help the individuals to reach an accommodation. They were able to do so and work alongside each other going forward, avoiding the client losing the specialist skills of one or both of them.
Manufacturing and engineering companies at all levels of the supply chain, both global and UK-based, local authorities and other public sector bodies such as NDPBs and Regulators, construction and logistics companies and financial services institutions.
- Working with Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, successfully implementing Single Status (a new set of terms and conditions and pay and grading system for 10,500 staff). Jane advised the Council on collective and individual consultation processes, while simultaneously representing the Council in defending related mass equal pay claims. This required meticulous attention to detail combined with a wider strategic overview. The strategy itself had to be constantly re-assessed in the light of emerging case law.
- Advising Ofqual on the disciplinary process against a shop steward, dismissed for disclosure of confidential information given to her in her union capacity and successfully defending her interim relief application, unfair dismissal claim and appeal to the EAT.
- Advising Central Bedfordshire Council, successfully bringing in changes to terms and conditions for 3,000 employees. The new terms achieved savings of £2 million, including reducing base pay and harmonising terms for pay protection, annual leave, allowances and car usage, with no resulting litigation.
- Successfully representing a major UK construction company facing numerous claims in the wake of a TUPE transfer, including defeating an assertion that one of the unions involved was recognised, which could have had significant implications for the wider business.
- Advising a global car manufacturer on a collective dispute with its main recognised union about the interpretation of over-time provisions. They approached Jane having worked with her successfully on many sensitive discrimination and union issues in the past. The union lost the case following a tribunal hearing, which avoided the client having to make material back payments and change its arrangements going forward.
- Advising the London Legacy Development Corporation on the TUPE aspects of inheriting responsibility for the Olympic Park following the 2012 Olympics. The project included devising a practical strategy for managers to implement across a complex set of contractual arrangements.