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People Matter June 2019

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Fathers’ flexibility needs rejected

The poor treatment that mothers often receive in the workplace is well documented. What does not hit the headlines so regularly is the father’s lot at work in 21st century Britain.

A new survey by Deloitte and parenting website DaddiLife sheds some light on this. It’s not particularly pleasant reading for families. Nearly half of dads experience regular tension at work when trying to balance family life. It affects one in three dads’ mental health negatively.

Four out of ten working dads request flexible working and about half of these requests are rejected. Of course, as an employer you are entitled to reject a flexible working request. But you must handle these requests in a reasonable manner. A rejection must be justified to the applicant with a good business reason.

Handling flexible working requests reasonably will involve a face-to-face meeting to discuss the request, properly weighing up the pros and cons and offering an appeals process. Taking the time to do this may help you to make a better decision as well as to stay legally compliant.

At first sight it may seem clear-cut that flexible working will not aid your business. But a considered appraisal of the impact of not granting it may change your mind. For example, if there is, as the survey suggests, a 33% chance of an unsupported father developing a mental health issue, maybe the cost in lost productivity of denying flexible working will exceed the perceived cost of allowing it.

Flexible working is also known to improve staff loyalty. So you may see the same story with recruitment and retention costs. The survey revealed that a third of new fathers have switched jobs and another third are actively looking to switch.

Flexible working is more highly valued by employees than ever. And traditional parental dynamics of the father being the bread-winner are increasingly perceived as outdated. So is it time to review your attitudes towards flexible working? Talk to your local HR Dept to review how you handle requests and how you can make flexible working work for your business.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

About 85% of people are neurotypical. This means that their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say “think different” to quote Apple’s famous advertising slogan. They are neurodivergent.

Neurodivergent people are often diagnosed with a condition, which can come with stigma. The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia. While they can each be associated with specific difficulties which are well documented, they also often give rise to strengths which come from thinking differently.

For instance, people with ADHD may be good at completing urgent tasks, those with autism at developing deep specialist knowledge, people with dyslexia at problem-solving and employees with dyspraxia at strategic thinking.

It all varies from person to person. But recognising neurodiversity, which is often recognised as a disability, and building a supportive working environment with reasonable adjustments where necessary, could give you a key advantage when trying to get the right blend of skills in your business.

LGBTQ equality in your workplace

With 2019’s calendar of Pride events just around the corner, it’s timely to consider LGBTQ equality in your workplace.

In a TUC poll of more than 1,100 LGBT workers, more than two thirds of respondents said they had been sexually harassed at work. It is a shockingly high number. It suggests that such discrimination is widespread, despite sexual orientation and gender reassignment being protected characteristics under equality law.

Transgender employees may be particularly vulnerable in the workplace. For the first time in 2018, LGBT equality charity Stonewall featured trans-inclusive employers in its list of top employers for inclusivity. But only 20% of the top 100 employers had a policy which focused on trans employees.

It is proven that diversity pays. Inclusive companies are able to recruit from a wider talent pool and benefit from a positive workplace culture. Workforces which reflect the full gamut of society can also connect better with broad customer bases.

So with the motivation of legal obligation and better productivity, what could you be doing to foster greater LGBTQ inclusion at work?

The first technical check is whether you have an anti-discrimination policy. We’d advise this to be a day one requirement when you start employing people. It will be broader than just covering sexual orientation as there are nine legally protected characteristics. It will let employees know what is and isn’t acceptable and give you the tools to address any policy breach.

Assuming a policy is in place you can look at further proactive steps. Variations of the phrase: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance” do the rounds on social media. And while they may over-simplify a complex issue, they are of some use. Talk to your team, sensitively, about what an inclusive workplace looks like to them and use that as a steer.

If you find yourself without an anti-discrimination policy, or you want professional support in developing your inclusivity, talk to your local HR Dept.

Cultural etiquette

According to research, two thirds of workers want clear guidelines on what form of physical contact is acceptable in the workplace. While to some this may seem a bit “nanny state”, we should not forget the impact of the #metoo movement, and the wrongdoing it has highlighted.

The survey revealed just how frequently embarrassing greeting misunderstandings occur. One in eight workers have been accidentally kissed on the mouth and a quarter have been trapped in an unwanted hug. In total, 42% of workers would like at least one form of greeting prohibited.

Shaking hands is still the preferred form of greeting. However while nearly half of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer it, a hand shake is only first choice for 35% of workers in their 20s.

It’ll be a cultural decision as to whether you want to introduce guidelines for your business. But the survey suggests there is some demand for boundaries to be set.

Breaking the ice

It’s a perennial issue – How do you get those creative juices flowing at the start of a meeting or training session? Love them or loathe them, ice breakers are often turned to.

If you’re currently burying your face in your hands, we understand. There are some terrible examples of ice breaking out there. From being asked to bark like a dog and find peers with the same barking style, to removing a shoe and have a stranger pair it back up to you, they can make people feel uncomfortable and invade personal boundaries.

But despite the litany of bad examples, there is merit in an ice breaker done well. The more contextualised to the gathering the better. By this we mean consider the time and space you have available and the expectations of your participants. Good ice breakers often have some link to the topic to be addressed.

Rest assured

Working time has been under scrutiny in the courts of late. A European legal decision suggests that companies may soon have to document precise working hours to prove legal weekly limits aren’t exceeded. And at a UK employment appeals tribunal, a worker was awarded personal injury damages when a consistent denial of a lunch break aggravated a bowel condition. Everyone must be permitted at least a 20-minute break when working more than six hours continuously.

It’s worth checking you are contractually offering this minimum and granting it in practice. There’s no need to provide a dedicated break area, though, or pay people for break time.

People Matter May 2019

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Is suspicion a good enough
reason to sack someone?

Imagine you’ve held a confidential meeting with your directors about an extremely sensitive issue. Then in the following days, some of the subject matter becomes the talk of the town amongst your wider workforce. Or worse still, outside your company. You’d be fuming. And rightly so. Trust is essential in successful workplace relationships.

If, after some preliminary asking around you have your suspicions, your first instinct may be to summarily sack your culprit. But we would urge you to temper your instincts. This is a high-risk action which exposes you to an unfair dismissal claim.

Such a sacking has just been played out across the national press. You’ll have read about the prime minister, Theresa May, dismissing her defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, for allegedly leaking the details of a National Security Council meeting. He described the process leading to his dismissal as trial by a kangaroo court.

While employment tribunals will not be at the front of the prime minister’s thoughts, they should be for SME businesses who act in a similar way. Awards for unfair dismissal can easily run into five figure sums. They are normally capped at the lesser of one year’s salary or £86,444, but in the case of whistleblowing or discrimination are uncapped.

If the above scenario, or some other serious wrongdoing occurs, it’s essential to follow the correct procedures, which should be outlined in your disciplinary policy. This will include a fair investigation. Once these have been followed, dismissal may then be a perfectly acceptable outcome.

Of course, in the case of the defence secretary’s sacking, someone must have leaked the story. In such cases the workplace culture, the expectations of management and the communication of company policies are so important in defending against indiscipline.

Incidents like this are among the problems that our advice line was designed to solve. When you are signed up, we’ll be there to advise you on the correct handling of such issues. And as long as you follow our advice from the outset, you will be protected from tribunal costs and awards by our tribunal indemnity insurance.

Ramadan in the workplace

From 5 May and lasting 30 days until 4 June it’s Ramadan, a holy period for Muslims. With three million Muslims in the UK, it is a time of the year that will impact many workplaces.

A good workplace culture will foster open dialogue between managers and employees about their needs, and Ramadan is no exception. So talk and find out if Muslim staff need any temporary adjustments. Ramadan features several customs, but fasting (food and drink) between sunrise and sunset is likely to be the one most noticeable at work.

Be accommodating where possible, as not being so without good cause could amount to religious discrimination. But if you have a strong business reason to deny a request, then you can do so.

The fasting is likely to cause tiredness and maybe irritability as the day wears on. Could you reschedule workflows to allow creative or demanding projects to be done in the morning, with more mundane tasks left for the afternoons? Staggered breaks, flexible lunch hours and even more general flexible working may be options too.

You’ll have a holiday policy and annual leave requests should be processed in line with that. But you may find scope to prioritise Ramadan (and Eid) related requests given that Christian festivals are often marked with bank holidays.

While it’s possible productivity will temporarily fall with any measures you permit, the long-term value of treating people well cannot be overstated.

And it is not all on you. A bit of consideration from your wider team would not be amiss: not talking gratuitously about food for example.

One final thought. Be mindful that some who would normally observe Ramadan may not this year for deeply personal reasons, such as medication or their menstrual cycle. Manage conversations tactfully.

Do you know what your
employees say about you online?

You can find a review for anything online nowadays. Movies, cars and you, yes you! As an employer.

Websites like allow current and former employees to post reviews and other telling information about their employment for all to see.

This is great if you have a raft of gushing reviews. But what if the reviews are not glowing?

It’s good practice to respond to negative reviews, rather than leaving a vacuum. So assign someone to do this. Consider who your response is addressing – it will probably be current and future employees rather than the person who posted the review.

If you really have got a culture problem, the feedback may be useful in helping you address it. If this is the case, you can say so in your response. Just remember, such reviews are a “thing” now – so they should be considered in your recruitment strategy.

Sorry, I’m out of the office

They’re a staple of modern business, but how do you like your out-of-office email messages? Strictly functional? Preaching about switching off? Or with lashings of humour?

One thing we can all agree on is that they should be accurate. This means ensuring the dates are correct, and that a colleague’s contact details actually work.

Sacha Romanovic, CEO of Grant Thornton, recently left an unusually detailed out-of-office message describing her holiday plans. The intention was to signal to staff that it’s ok to switch off. Meanwhile, one financial services industry worker is in competition with a colleague to write the most humorous messages, including one to the lyrics of Rick Astley’s 80s classic Never gonna give you up.

Whatever your team’s out-of-office messages say, they will leave an impression with recipients – it’s worth checking it’s the right impression. Ensuring they distinguish their message between internal and external senders may help strike the right balance.

Clocking change

Traditionally, only hourly paid staff clock in and out to ensure they are at work for their required hours and paid correctly. Some firms who charge on site engineers out to the customer have also completed time sheets. Going forwards, you may be forced to log absolutely everybody’s working hours to ensure employees don’t work too many hours.

This comes after a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A Spanish trade union had taken Deutsche Bank to court. They argued that the Working Time Directive meant Deutsche Bank should be recording working hours to demonstrate that staff did not work more time than the weekly limits prescribed in the directive.

The ECJ agreed and said that in the absence of such records it was too difficult, if not impossible, for workers to ensure their rights were respected. This interpretation puts an obligation on member states, which at present includes the UK, to enact a requirement to record all actual hours worked in national law. We’ll keep you updated on any law changes that ensue.


Moving forward by giving back

It’s no secret that a bit of charitable activity can be good for business: the chance for some positive PR, and a teambuilding opportunity as your staff rally behind a good cause. There are pitfalls too, but none which you can’t sidestep with good people management.

Strong internal comms are key: in person, digitally or even a notice board. Make them two-way and get buy-in from your staff by letting them help pick the charity and methods of fundraising. Clarify that all donations are voluntary (you never know who may be struggling financially), and keep tabs on the choice of fundraising activity to ensure it doesn’t impair operations or cause offence.


Minimum wage rates

The minimum wage rates changed at the beginning of April. Find what you need to know below:

• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) increased from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate increased from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP increased from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Since 1 April the new pay rates are as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older increased from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 increased from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 increased from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) increased from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate increased from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, increased from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation increased from £83,682 to £86,444.

Safety Matters Q2

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Don’t let changes on your shop floor
trip you up

Almost all businesses will have to consider visitors on their premises as well as employees, when assessing health and safety risks. But if you run a shop, or group of stores, and you are hoping for a large customer footfall, understanding the risks to the public will take on heightened importance. When they are getting some retail therapy, or picking up a few essentials, your customers will expect to be safe.

Local authorities enforce health and safety law on retail premises, and they will expect you to have assessed the risks in your business and taken precautions to manage them. Bear in mind, as you will see below, that this is not a one-off exercise.

The most common risk to customers in retail is of slips, trips and falls, so this must be properly assessed and controlled. Wet or dirty floors, spillages, damaged floors and other trip hazards are the most likely causes of an accident, but your business might have its own particular risks too.

Other health and safety considerations that are likely to be relevant to retail include manual handling, violence, working at height (if ladders are used), and workplace transport e.g. deliveries.

And then there are the hazards that are very specific to your store. Be especially aware when you introduce new equipment, fixtures, furniture or furnishings to your shop floor. Even though a change may be ad hoc, it’s essential to update your risk assessment.

In January 2019, the owners of Top Shop, Arcadia, were fined £450,000 when part of a queuing system barrier fell on a ten-year-old girl and fractured her skull. The barrier was successfully used in flagship stores but had been deployed to a smaller store which were not accustomed to using them.

The barrier should have been fixed firmly to the floor but was installed incorrectly. So when the young girl swung on it, it toppled over causing the serious injury which led her to miss eight weeks of school and left her with a permanent scar. In court, Arcadia admitted breaking health and safety laws, and has since put processes in place to reduce the risk of such an accident happening again.

If you are planning changes to your retail space, are opening a new store or just think your staff may need some extra training, contact us for expert health and safety support.

Maintenance procedures

Failing to design an adequate process for maintaining machinery and checking it’s operating safely is a reason for HSE prosecution should an accident occur.

This spring, two waste companies were each fined tens of thousands of pounds for accidents which resulted in severe limb injuries. Parallels can be drawn because the injuries were inflicted when workers were trying to remove blockages and waste material from machinery.

In the first case, the worker had his hand crushed between a conveyor belt and a drive roller. A few weeks earlier guard plates had been removed. A main part of the prosecution was that there were no adequate procedures for checking guard plates were in place. Additionally, adequate training for using the machine and suitable supervision of operatives had not been provided.

In the second case, a worker fell three metres into a compactor chamber, activating the ram which crushed his legs. He had climbed into the infeed hopper and jumped up and down on a blockage with a colleague. When it cleared, he fell through with it. In particular, the HSE noted that there was no safe system for isolating the system from power when dealing with blockages.

For a review of your maintenance procedures, get in touch.

Safeguarding record-keeping
in schools

Adequately documenting procedures and keeping records are often an essential part of complying with health and safety law. In schools, this is particularly sensitive. And also, more likely to be publicly exposed as inadequate if you are not doing it properly – because of the routine Ofsted inspections and ratings.

An independent school in Yorkshire had to accept the bad PR consequences of this earlier in the year, when they were stripped of their “Outstanding” rating and declared “Inadequate”. Among other things, safeguarding was found to be ineffective and they had not met the standards for ensuring all necessary checks were carried out on adults working in the school.

Whilst apologising and confirming the issues had been addressed, the head teacher explained that the safeguarding issues related to record checking and keeping, and that safety and security of pupils was not directly put at risk.

Away from this specific case, and aside from the fallout from Ofsted reports and the potential to employ someone who would do harm to children, how else could poor record checking/keeping impact health and safety in schools? One example is in first aid.

If you don’t have a record of which team members are qualified first-aiders, you’ll lose track of when certificates expire and when staff with the qualification leave. This will make it likely that you don’t comply with your own first aid policy.

If you need help independently reviewing your record-keeping and checking procedures call The H&S Dept and one of our experienced local consultants will help.

Myth busters

We like to wrap our children in cotton wool to protect them from danger, and very often from themselves. Most of the time this is entirely sensible and helps to prevent harm. But sometimes people go too far. Or businesses give health and safety a bad name by claiming a rule is because of H&S when in reality there’s a different underlying reason.

Sock it to ‘em
More cotton socks than cotton wool, but a soft play centre insisted that all children wear socks for health and safety reasons. While there is a public health need to cover feet infected with warts and verrucas, there’s no health and safety law mandating that socks are worn in soft play centres by all. The sock policy may meet this need, but it’s not specifically a health and safety requirement.

Don’t be a dummy
A café manager’s prohibition of baby’s dummies forced a family to leave prematurely. As with the case of the socks, the ban was blamed on the catch-all term health and safety. You can probably guess that there’s no health and safety legislation which stops babies being pacified with dummies in cafés. Digging deeper it was the café’s own strict internal food hygiene rules behind the ban. Better to just say that to begin with.

Is your work equipment
fit for purpose?

Failing to stay on top of seemingly innocuous maintenance issues on your premises can lead to tragic outcomes. That was the case at a Scottish care home, when a failing door lock led to the death of a resident.

After going missing, the resident was found with fatal head injuries at the bottom of a staircase leading to a boiler room. The staircase was kept off limits by a locked door, but the locking mechanism did not always work.

The death and a £60,000 fine show why even minor snags should not be left to lie. The technical breach was of Regulation 4(3) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This places a duty on you to ensure that equipment at work is suitable for the reason it is provided.

If you operate a care home and have concerns that your staff may not be carrying out the necessary control

People Matter April 2019

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UK Government raise awareness over
holiday entitlement

I don’t have to pay holiday because my staff are on zero-hour contracts.” “Staff need to work three months before they are entitled to paid holiday leave.” These are two myths which, though erroneous, appear alive and well, with more than 50% of workers in the UK believing both (according to a survey of 2,000 workers by Kantar).

It’s symptomatic of a wider problem of employers and employees regularly failing to understand how holiday leave and pay works – normally at the expense of workers. This has prompted the government to embark on a campaign to raise awareness of holiday pay. It is part of their response to the Taylor Review of workers’ rights. Their message is that it’s the responsibility of employers to get it right.

So how can we help?

First of all, if we have prepared your employment contracts, we will have drafted the details of employees entitlement and the holiday year in which it should be taken.

If you haven’t asked us to do this and would like a review, get in touch.

The statutory minimum is 5.6 weeks of paid holiday, made up of 20 days of annual holiday plus the eight statutory bank and public holidays. These are pro-rata for part time staff. To help, the government have released new guidelines and an online entitlement calculator.

Beyond this you may offer more generous contractual holiday pay.

With this foundation laid, you should have the basis for offering the correct number of days and communicating them to your staff. If it looks like they will not naturally take their full entitlement, you should remind them or face too many people suddenly wanting holiday at the end of the year. Holiday in excess of the statutory amount may be carried over but as holiday is deemed to be necessary for an individual’s well-being, it is better to ensure all staff take it. Only on termination of employment can accrued holiday be paid rather than taken.

What about managing holiday leave? It can be an arduous task: logging leave, prioritising conflicting requests and answering queries. If you are looking for a simpler way, ask your local HR Dept about our HR Toolkit. It is a software system that does all the hard work for you, freeing you up to leave work that little bit earlier in the evening.

Harsher penalties for breaching
employment rights

The Good Work Plan – the government’s response to the Taylor Review of the UK employment framework – promised better protections of workers’ rights. In the modern workplace shifts in technology and society have blurred the lines between employment and self-employment, stripping some workers of rights that they should retain – like entitlements to holiday pay and the minimum wage.

Tougher penalties for aggravated breaches of employment rights came into force on 6 April under The Employment Rights (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019. They rise considerably from £5,000 to £20,000. These are payable to the government rather than the worker, and where a separate award is payable to the worker the maximum penalty to the government rises again to £40,000.

And to put a further change on your radar, this time to be introduced in April 2020, all workers will have the right to receive a written statement of the particulars of their employment. At present, it’s only employees that must be supplied with this.

We can provide advice to ensure you designate your staff correctly as employed, self-employed or workers and give them the corresponding rights. With these new penalties in place, it’s more important than ever to get this right.

Is unlimited paid holiday leave as crazy
as it sounds?

Not necessarily! An Australian company has offered this policy for three years and it’s been a roaring success. Here’s why.

The business, a management consultancy, had employees who regularly worked 50+ hour weeks travelling the country. Staff were frazzled and the CEO decided that the standard four weeks of holiday was insufficient. She introduced unlimited paid holiday entitlement, but labelled it “rebalancing leave” to reflect her intention that staff use it to correct their work/life balance.

She recognised the obvious flaw in unlimited leave was abuse: staff never showing up to work. And not so obviously, some staff taking less holiday than they needed in order to please management.

Her assessment was that the culture in her business was strong enough so people wanted to show up to work and not take liberties. She was right. She reported staff self-managing whether their leave should be paid as they were rebalancing their lives, or if the leave was for another purpose and should go unpaid.

She also felt it was important to lead by example. She has settled on taking five and a half weeks’ leave and this has encouraged her team to do the same, knowing that they’re not being judged for taking extra holiday.

While costs are incurred through the extra holiday, she considers she has saved money overall through better retention and fewer sick days.

It won’t work for every business, but it is food for thought. If you would like to explore how creative employee benefits can help your company, talk to our experts at The HR Dept.

Pranks at work

Were there any shenanigans amongst your team this April Fool’s Day? Pranking may start out as harmless but can quickly become more serious than anybody wants.

On the Richter Scale of pranks a level one or two may contribute to a fun workplace. We heard of one employee who left a random penny on her colleague’s desk every day to make him question himself.

But, higher-stakes pranks which show poor taste or judgement could have grave consequences for staff or your business.

There have been incidents in America of false claims that schools and shops are under armed assault which led to police being called and arrests made. And vicarious liability may be a factor too, meaning a company can be held accountable for the actions of its employees. Carphone Warehouse was found liable in court for the prank of two employees falsely outing their manager. If you need help setting the right expectations of behaviour in your business, call us.

Making a difference

When it comes to attracting talent for your business, , how tuned in are you to the outlook of today’s applicants? Whilst a competitive salary, opportunity for progression and a shiny benefits package are all still desirable, there may be something more that could give you the edge over the competition.

Last year the Deloitte Millennial Survey revealed that millennials are seeking something different from employers. Due to a growing scepticism in political leaders, it’s their employers that millennials are looking to for guidance on making a difference in the world. Recent largescale protests on climate change and waves of people now rejecting single-use plastics, suggest it’s not just millennials that are seeking a sustainable future.

So how can your business lead on this and give you some competitive edge? We have plenty of ideas. Implementing a cycle-to-work scheme, facilitating recycling or taking a resource efficiency pledge are all good places to start. To explore other ways of demonstrating your environmental care and community spirit talk to your local HR Dept.


Acting on Stress Awareness Month
this April

Stress is not an illness in itself but can lead to serious conditions like anxiety. While a bit of short-term tension from a deadline can aid productivity, having permanently stressed-out staff will help no-one.

So it’s important to ensure your policies and processes consider employee well-being. If you don’t offer one already, an Employee Assistance Programme is an excellent and cost-effective way to provide some professional, third-party support through your benefits package. It’s also possible to train staff as mental health first aiders. This can help raise awareness and provide early intervention and support pathways for struggling employees. Talk to us to find out more.


Minimum wage rates

The minimum wage rates changed at the beginning of April. Find what you need to know below:

• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) will increase from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate will also increase from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP will rise from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) From 1 April the new pay rates will be as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older will increase from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 will increase from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 will increase from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) will increase from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate will increase from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, will increase from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation will increase from £83,682 to £86,444.

People Matter March 2019

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Does your dress code discriminate?

You arrive at work and find your receptionist wearing running trainers instead of his usual smart shoes. With two clients already in the waiting area you don’t want to make a scene, but you’re not happy.

It’s good you didn’t blow your top though, as it’s always wise to check for a simple explanation. And here, your receptionist sprained his ankle earlier. It was either wear the trainers or go home incapacitated, leaving you in the lurch.

But if it was just standards slipping, then it’s a dress code policy that gives you the framework to deal with it appropriately.

A dress code helps you maintain a certain image for your business. It can include personal grooming and there may well be health and safety considerations as well. But if not devised and implemented well, a dress code can give rise to discrimination and then tribunal cases or mockery in the national press.

The general rule is that you’re free to set your own dress code as long as it’s justifiable for a business or health and safety reason. But you should be careful of anything that imposes a requirement on an employee which encroaches a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (for example sex, gender reassignment or religion).

That’s not to say there cannot be any divergence of dress code for, say, men and women. A ban on beards may be justifiable for men if, for example, facial hair interferes with a safety mask. And in customer facing roles, you may be able to justify a degree of gender-defined requirements based on cultural expectations.

But be warned, the more subjective your policy, the more at risk you are to a discrimination claim and/or bad publicity. Blunders abound. For example, makeup and high heels are two areas to be particularly wary of – it’s hard to justify either for any reason. Virgin Atlantic has just removed its infamous makeup requirements for female flight attendants, and PwC was caught up in a high-heels media storm a year or two ago.

There are rarer issues to contend with too. Like how to manage a transgender employee’s appearance. Or where a policy discriminates indirectly, say on religious grounds.

Whether it’s because of sexism, a sex change or something else, don’t let your dress code bring you down. Ask us for a review to ensure it does not discriminate.

Auto enrolment contributions are increasing

There’s a payroll chore this month if you have an auto enrolment pension scheme. And, more significantly, a higher ongoing cost burden for employing people.

From 6 April 2019, the minimum percentage of salary that you must contribute to eligible employees’ auto enrolment pensions is increasing from 2% to 3%. The overall contributions rise to 8% of salary each month. So for staff, their minimum contributions are rising from 3% to up to 5%, depending on the amount you decide to put in.

As the employer it is your responsibility to ensure that these increases are implemented. You’ll need to assess which employees are affected, make the necessary adjustments to your payroll and communicate the changes to your staff. The Pensions Regulator does have the power to issue fines for non-compliance with April’s rises. We’d also advise reviewing your budgets to ensure they can account for the extra cost.

Please note that, depending on your pension scheme rules, there may be a provision for your employees to avoid their contribution rises. It is known as opting down. You can refuse an opt down request, but if you permit it, your employee would have to go through the auto enrolment process again as required.

It’s important to flag that you are not allowed to actively promote opting down as it goes against the intention of the legislation, and can have knock-on effects that disadvantage your staff. Therefore we only mention this so you are informed, in case your staff raise it with you.

Avoid an awkward first day

We recently blogged about best practices when you are inducting new employees. But what about the opposite – avoiding first day disasters.

You know, like not letting a new employee lock themselves in a walk-in fridge within hours of joining your company. Or leaving a mysterious spray in a desk drawer only for your recruit to discover the hard way that it’s mace. Or adorning your latest hire’s desk with a beautiful bouquet of flowers… which were embarrassingly intended for someone else who’s off on maternity leave.

Those are all real examples, and our favourite (no, that should be least favourite!) is the confession of a newbie who on day one was allowed loose on an email system that let him send 10,000 customers an email wrongly saying their insurance had expired.

It’s essential to prep for first days: among other things readying workstations, providing a tour and setting up training.

Spring clean your HR documents

March marks the start of spring. The first quarter of the year is nearly done and it’s the season when many get their house in order with a spring clean. What better time to review your employment contracts and handbooks, making sure they’re up to date?

These documents underpin your whole employment relationship with your staff. They describe what rights they have, what rules they must follow and what happens if they breach them.

Law changes will normally mean some updates are required each year. For our Advice Line + clients, we’ll automatically update yours as part of our service. But your business and its culture will evolve too, maybe your dress code for instance. When was the last time you considered how your culture is reflected in your contracts and handbook? Get in touch if you want to discuss.

Asda’s landmark equal pay dispute

They don’t come any bigger than this when it comes to private sector equal pay claims. With a significant gender pay gap still prevalent, all employers should take note.

The Court of Appeal has agreed with an employment appeals tribunal ruling which favoured an equal pay claim against Asda. More than 7,000 mainly female workers based in Asda’s retail stores took their employer to court, claiming that they were not receiving equal pay with the depot workers – mostly male.

Asda argued that the two pay structures were distinct and could not be compared. But the courts have found that, as the employment relationships can ultimately be traced back to Asda’s executive board, there is a basis for comparison. It’s an interesting point which many businesses may like to reflect upon.

This is not the end of the story. But it does allow the next chapter to begin. A tribunal will now establish whether the work carried out by each set of employees is of equal value to Asda. If so, they’ll decide whether there are any objective grounds for the variation of pay.

#InternationalWomensDay has been trending in March bringing workplace discrimination into focus. The gender pay gap is just one aspect of this. Last year, the Office for National Statistics figures revealed it had dropped from 9.1% to 8.6% for full-time workers – its lowest rate yet. But further improvement is required.

The UK government has been introducing measures like gender pay gap reporting for larger organisations. But as it’s illegal to pay different rates based on gender, the courts can play a big part in closing the gap too. Given the scale of the Asda case, the impact will be significant whatever decision the courts reach.

The clocks spring forward

At long last, the clocks go forward on 31 March! So we can all start to enjoy longer evenings, brighter mornings and an extra spring in our steps as we approach summer. The downside of the spring clock change is that we lose an hour of sleep over the weekend. But hey: short-term pain, long-term gain!

To reduce the likelihood of employees rolling in an hour late on the next working day, be sure to remind your team of the switch to British Summer Time – particularly if you have staff working on Sunday mornings.


New wage rates from April

The minimum wage rates will be changing from April. Find what you need to know below:

• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) will increase from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate will also increase from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP will rise from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) From 1 April the new pay rates will be as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older will increase from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 will increase from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 will increase from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) will increase from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate will increase from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, will increase from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation will increase from £83,682 to £86,444.

People Matter February 2019

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More protection for
pregnant women

Following government research suggesting that one in every nine women returning to work after giving birth is made redundant, fired or forced out, more robust protections are at last being sought.

Pregnancy and maternity are already characteristics protected against discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act. And there is a host of maternity rights that are available to pregnant employees and new mothers, with statutory maternity leave and pay being two of the main ones. There is also some protection against redundancy.

If redundancy is considered necessary within an organisation while an employee is on maternity leave, she must be offered an alternative role if one is available ahead of any other member of staff in the selection pool. If no such role is open, then she can be made redundant. But only if some strict criteria is met.

These are that it is a genuine redundancy with proper consultation process followed, and that pregnancy or maternity is not the reason.

The government research, alongside other studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence, suggests that the current rules do not offer pregnant women sufficient protection.

So the government has proposed increasing the period of legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and (no change for them) new mothers to six months after their return to work. Others associated with the arrival of a child, including men  and women returning from shared parental or adoption leave, could also be protected.

The proposals were announced in January and a 10-week consultation has been launched, so we’ll keep you posted on developments.

Despite the current legal protections, it’s clear that too often women who go through pregnancy are being discriminated against. As we’ve explained, it may be possible to make a pregnant employee, or one that is on maternity leave, redundant. But there is a low threshold for establishing discrimination.

If discrimination occurs, the employee can take an employer to tribunal. And so they should.

For advice on successfully managing employees whilst pregnant or on maternity leave, get in touch with your local HR Dept.

Now you can check
their right to work online

It’s a legal requirement to check and record that your prospective hires have a right to work in the UK. Failure to do so can result in fines for you of up to £20,000 per illegal employee.

Until now this has been done by checking paper documentation from the employee, such as a passport or relevant visas. Last April the government launched a secure online checking service which was free to use. However, paper checks still had to be conducted alongside this. Now the online check is sufficient on its own to demonstrate compliance with this rule.

It is not the end of paper checks altogether though, as sign-up to the online service is voluntary for individuals and employers. In other words, if both parties are happy to go online then that method can be used. But if not, you’ll still need to do it the old-fashioned way.

Pay… attention to detail!

If you employ staff and pay them a variable amount based on the time they work, the way you prepare their payslip is changing in April this year.

To aid transparency for you and them, you will be required to itemise the number of hours worked.

If, on top of variable hours they also have variable rates of pay, for say different tasks or working bank holidays, there is no extra requirement to itemise the hours and rates separately – an aggregate sum for total hours is sufficient. But you may wish to include this further itemisation for even greater transparency.

April is not far away, so if this will affect you ensure your payroll systems are up-to-date to accommodate the new requirements beforehand. And once April comes around, don’t forget to itemise accordingly.

Mental health first aiders

In January, we moved a step closer towards the appointment of trained mental health first aiders in workplaces. This followed a debate in parliament which recommended a change in the law.

All employers have a duty of care towards their staff under the 1974 Health and Safety Act. In larger organisations this includes an obligation to have an appropriate number of trained medical first aiders.

But times have changed, and mental ill health is far better understood nowadays than it was in 1974. A number of statistics were put forward during the debate to suggest the scale and impact of the problem.

That five million people in work could be experiencing an issue like depression, stress-related illness or anxiety. That 300,000 people annually leave their jobs because of long-term mental health problems. And that people affected by a mental health condition who remain in work for longer than they should, costs the economy £15 billion per year.

With these in mind, it seems entirely logical to take action. Mental health first aiders are thought to be an effective approach. But what are they? Just as medical first aiders are not considered a replacement for an A&E doctor or surgeon, their mental health counterparts would not be a replacement for trained mental health professionals.

Instead they would operate as an early warning system. They’d help identify mental health issues and support workers in getting them addressed by professionals before they worsen. Avoiding more serious problems for the individual and the company would be a welcome outcome all round.

Do you have staff who are experiencing mental health difficulties? If you want to explore ways of helping them before these changes come in, call us.

The spy who hired me?

From time-cards to internet monitoring, the idea of companies keeping some sort of tabs on employee activity is nothing new.

But with technology affording ever more opportunity to collect, store and analyse data, how much monitoring is too much?

Sky News staff were reportedly shocked to hear that cameras and microphones were being installed in their newsroom to livestream and broadcast activity for a day. Separately, it was reported that Amazon has patented goggles with direction and movement sensors which raised concerns about surveillance.

The key principles underpinning employee monitoring are that it must be justifiable and that you have a written policy. You should inform employees beforehand of what you record and why, and how long it will be kept. It is not acceptable to collect information for one reason and then use it for another. As with all data it must be stored securely.

Pawternity leave

As many pregnant women and new mothers struggle with discrimination over new arrivals in their families, employees at some companies enjoy the flip side of this coin. Yes, not only are maternity rights respected, but they also give their staff paid time off if they get a puppy or have some other major pet-based event in their life.

What else could this be dubbed other than pawternity leave? While such policies will be dismissed as “fluffy” by some, they are implemented quite deliberately to give the company an edge in the recruitment market and, from there, commercial advantage.

Safety Matters Q1

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Caring during a cold snap

It’s not too often each year that we have to contend with snow and the disruption it brings. But recently it has been one of those times. It sure has been cold, although not quite to the extent of the polar vortex in the States.

Extremes of temperature present particular problems to the care sector, where you are often dealing with very vulnerable people.

A report was published in December 2018 which found that a pensioner died in a freezing care home in 2016. The central heating had broken three weeks previously and had not been fixed. The 1960s heaters were known to be in poor condition before they broke down.

Already unwell with a chest infection and without medication because the care home had faxed the prescription to the wrong chemist, the 95-year-old was stuck in a room in which the window did not close properly, letting in a freezing draft. Early one morning staff became concerned and called the emergency services.

The ambulance crew found the pensioner with a body temperature 9°C below normal levels at just 27.5°C and sadly she passed away. The inquest found the cause of death to be bronchopneumonia and hypothermia.

In England the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the enforcing authority for patient and service user health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) takes this role in Scotland and Wales. The CQC rated the care home as inadequate and it shut down in 2017. The manager or care home owner may yet be prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act.

Clearly, during cold weather it is vital to have heating equipment appropriately functioning to keep the premises at comfortable temperatures. And that your property is maintained so that windows close as they should. Annual servicing and regular maintenance checks are important to achieve this – just waiting for problems to show themselves during a deep freeze is not acceptable.

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 is relevant here. These state that premises and equipment must be properly maintained which means holding a sufficient budget for such maintenance.

A good risk assessment will help to identify where things could go wrong and put suitable contingency plans in place to address them.

While temperature control may be particularly important in a care setting, maintaining heating equipment is also relevant to all workplaces.

Movement of goods risk assessments –
A must have for all businesses?

From offices to warehouses, pubs to shops, most businesses will handle or receive goods. It may be a key part of your daily activities, or it could be more occasional. Either way, it’s essential to have carried out a movement of goods risk assessment.

Because there are so many types of organisation (and therefore issues) to regulate, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities coordinate a national Moving Goods Safely project. Either the HSE or your local authority could be the enforcement authority, depending on the nature of your business. And it can be costly if you get it wrong.

Colchester Borough Council successfully prosecuted the fourth largest pub company in the UK for health and safety failures in this area.

In October 2017 an accident whilst unloading a drinks delivery left an employee with broken fingers. The injury was caused by an unsecured cellar door falling shut. The local authority found that gas struts designed to allow the door to open and close safely had been removed and not replaced the year before. Moreover, there were no controls in place to stop someone falling down the cellar shaft.

As you might imagine, appropriate risk assessments were found not to be in place for the delivery of goods. Showing the severe consequences of getting this wrong – beyond the harm that came to the employee – the company was fined £100,000 plus costs and a victim surcharge. If you need help preparing or reviewing your movement of goods risk assessment, call The H&S Dept today.

H&S concerns impact
university expansion

In a reminder of how health and safety can impact organisational growth plans, the University of Chester may have to move its Faculty of Science and Engineering from Thornton Science Park. The site opened in 2014 and 500 students are based there.

This follows an intervention from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the university applied to change the site’s use from business to educational in order to aid future planning applications.

However, the HSE consider there is a risk to students as the science park is situated within the inner zone of a hazardous installation – The Stanlow Oil Refinery. The HSE classify students as members of the public, bringing in extra health and safety considerations. The university want them classed as employees and subject to site security procedures.

Whether you are an academic institution or another organisation with big growth plans, ensure you do your H&S due diligence before implementing expansion plans.

Health and Safety Myth Busters

Many people go to nightclubs to cut loose. And whilst out for a good time, punters may sometimes do things that aren’t in their own best interests. Venues have a responsibility not to allow people to break the law. And they are also bound by stringent health and safety regulations. But where do they draw the health and safety line?

The HSE myth busters panel have highlighted two occasions in recent months when nightclubs have “blamed” policies on health and safety law, when in fact it’s their own management decisions. The problem is, this gives good health and safety advice a bad name. So let’s look where they got it wrong.

Banning headbanging

Headbanging – the dancing practice of violently but rhythmically shaking your head – cannot be very good for the old brain cells. But it’s a personal choice and there is no legislation prohibiting it. One nightclub incorrectly hid behind H&S when telling clientele to cut out the headbanging.

Lick-sip-suck stop!

In another case a nightclub barman refused to serve salt and lemon with tequila. This prevented the shot being enjoyed in the famous lick the salt, sip the drink, suck the lemon fashion. As with headbanging, it may not be too good for your health to down shots of tequila, but it’s not against the law for adults to drink it with these accompaniments.

The ABCs of asbestos

For businesses involved in property, such as landlords and construction firms, asbestos risk should be firmly on the radar.

Asbestos can be found in all manner of construction materials used prior to the year 2000. Considered not to pose a direct risk when undisturbed, these materials release fibres into the air when disturbed which, if inhaled, can cause fatal diseases like asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma. The effects are long-term, with 20 tradesmen a week dying from past exposure.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 primarily govern this risk. When any work is carried out on buildings where asbestos may feature you need to determine if it’s present and the form and condition it is in. If present, or you are unsure, you’ll need to conduct a risk assessment.

Most work with asbestos needs to be carried about by an HSE-licensed contractor. While some activities do not have this requirement, they may still require special procedures. These are called notifiable non-licensed work. Anyone who may disturb asbestos during their normal work activities needs to be appropriately trained.

A Birmingham Magistrate’s Court recently fined a landlord and building contractor after they caused large amounts of asbestos fibres to be released at a rented property. Making fundamental errors, the landlord should have commissioned an asbestos survey and the builder should not have commenced work without seeing and being guided by the report of such a survey.

The risks are high and the regulatory obligations wide-ranging. So if you need help getting the basics right with asbestos, talk to us at The H&S Dept

People Matter January 2019

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Finding flex appeal

With unemployment at historically low levels, and staff turnover a problem for many businesses, flexible working is one way to differentiate yourself. Or at least keep up with what your competitors may be doing. Indeed, the government are keen to see as many jobs as possible advertised as flexible, and may legislate in this direction.

Currently, the law says that whether you promote flexible working or not, you must deal with a request for flexible working in a reasonable manner. For instance, weighing up the pros and cons, discussing the request with your employee and making an appeal process available.

That said, you’re not obliged to accept a request if it does not work for your business – just act reasonably or you could be penalised by a tribunal.

It’s worth noting that flexible working is a bit of a catch-all term. It could relate to working hours, the location where work is carried out or something else specific to your business. Part-time hours are the most popular form of flexible working, with flexitime, term-time hours and annual-hours contracts also popular.

Flexible working is often seen as an attractive and inclusive perk. So it can boost recruitment, widen your talent pool, and improve retention by promoting staff loyalty and engagement. Research even shows it can make your staff more productive.

If there are no insurmountable obstacles and you are planning to trial flexible working, you’ll naturally be concerned as to whether you’ll be able to manage it effectively. This is why consideration into how it will impact service is important. Likewise, an appraisal of your business culture – Could overtime be abused? Or do managers need retraining to recognise work completed rather than presenteeism?

You might need to review your IT systems to ensure they run smoothly. Embracing cloud software solutions for your staff may be required, and perhaps absence management software, such as that which is built into our own HR Toolkit.

To explore the benefits and feasibility of flexible working at your company, why not talk to your local HR Dept today?

Five New Year’s resolutions
from The HR Dept

One. Address that underperforming employee. It’s easy to put off, but underperformance is a major drag on business, impacting any or all of service delivery, morale, profits and opportunity-cost.

Two. Look into new learning and development opportunities. Continuous learning is a key to success and helps engage staff. It doesn’t have to be formal training. How about some monthly in-house knowledge-sharing sessions, led by different team members?

Three. Check your contracts and employment statuses. The rise of the gig economy has led to many people being wrongly classified as self-employed. They’re taking their companies to court to claim the employment rights they’ve been denied.

Four. Carry out a risk assessment. Every business is legally required to have done this, but risks change over time. So why not ensure you’re still on top of health and safety in 2019?

Five. Plan a fun activity or team-building day. Now’s a great time to do this and lift the spirits in deepest, darkest January.

The small print

Legally, a written statement of terms and conditions of employment should be provided within two months of work commencing. But for sectors which experience high staff turnover, the recent decision of an employment appeals tribunal (EAT) judge effectively reinterprets this.

The case concerned three hotel workers, employed on short-term contracts who were dismissed for questioning persistent irregularities with their wages, including deductions, shortfalls and late payments.

Two of the workers were employed for more than two months and the third for only six weeks, and none received their terms and conditions. The EAT judge found that, having each worked for more than a month, each were entitled to have received terms. Automatic unfair dismissal was ruled in all three cases.

This sets a precedent and companies should now be looking to provide these terms (properly drafted, not copy/pasted from a template which may be incorrect or irrelevant) within one month, with the second month regarded as a grace period.

UK unemployment
at it’s lowest since 1971

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the unemployment rate in the UK is at its lowest since 1971. An estimated 32.48 million people are in work – 396,000 more than in the previous quarter (August to October 2018). This is made somewhat remarkable when the number of jobs that have been lost on the high street in the last 12 months are considered.

Research by the British Retail Consortium shows that 93,000 retail jobs were lost last year as big names such as Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld all went under.

And it’s not just retail jobs that have been lost. A leading accountancy firm reports that restaurant insolvencies in the 2017/18 year were up 24% on the previous year to 1,219. Just this month, Jaguar Land Rover announced it was shedding another 4,500 jobs.

So, what does all this mean to you as an employer? Well, on the one hand the talent pool from which you can recruit is potentially smaller than at any point in recent memory. This means it’s important to nail your recruitment processes to ensure you’re as competitive as can be. From writing your job descriptions to interviewing candidates, you need to get it all right. If you think you have an area of weakness here, talk to us.

But, on the other hand, is opportunity knocking? As we witness seismic shifts in the economy brought about by phenomena like the Internet and Brexit, you may be able to use the decline of some sectors to your advantage by offering retraining to experienced professionals who are looking to transfer into new areas of expertise.

The importance of
a good first impression

“Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” is a maxim that’s often given to interviewees. But it can equally apply to the interviewer if you are to make a good impression yourself. To do this, your questions should be considered in advance. There’s an obvious need to avoid subjects that could breach equality law, such as pregnancy. And it’s also wise to steer clear of contentious subjects like politics, or pressing for answers too vehemently.

Think about the time and place of the interview, making sure they are reasonable and set the right tone for your company. Some people like to stage interviews in the informal setting of a café or restaurant. If you opt for this, ensure it’s not a place where you or your interviewee could be interrupted by acquaintances. For help upping your interview game, talk to your local HR Dept.

Fighting the January blues

The weather’s generally rubbish, the days are short, and many people are broke and on diets after Christmas. It’s not surprising January supposedly features the most depressing day of the year, known as Blue Monday. How does all this affect your team each January?

If productivity takes a dive or the atmosphere sours, showing a little awareness and taking a couple of proactive steps could work wonders. Think what will work for your team, of course. But for many people, encouraging achievable exercise goals – like a daily step challenge, for example – and simply getting some fresh air and daylight at lunchtime could be a great start.

People Matter December 2018

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Holiday how-to’s

Ok, so you’re navigating the seasonal rush (or lull!), you’ve survived the Christmas party, and then Tom asks if he can carry over two weeks of holiday. You’ve got big plans for 2019 – do you really want to be losing a team-member for that extra time if you can help it?

Firstly, if your holiday year ends in December, why has no one made sure Tom and the others have taken their holiday entitlement? Holiday legislation is covered by health and safety law on the basis that employees need time away from working. Many of the rules relate to this principle.

Managing holiday requests so that the business runs smoothly is important, and you might want to look at HR Dept Toolkit for next year. HR Dept Toolkit is software for making managing holiday requests and other HR admin simple.

Legally speaking, holiday entitlement is broken down into an EU required 20 days, followed by eight days covered by UK law (pro rata for part time staff). Finally, there’s any additional contractual leave that you as an employer provide beyond the statutory minimums.

Dealing with the EU’s four weeks first, the intention behind these is that everyone requires this for their health and wellbeing. Therefore, this cannot be carried over unless they have been on long-term sickness absence, when apparently according to the EU they still need time away from work. And so any holiday accrued during this period of sickness can be carried over. We know what you are thinking!

Thankfully, any holiday entitlement above the 20 days gets simpler after that and you make the rules. So you’re in control. Usually the eight days covers bank and public holidays and any more generous holiday will be detailed in the contract of employment.

With holiday bookings at their peak in January, contact us for a demo of HR Dept Toolkit to make managing next year’s requests simple.

It’s normal to chip dogs, but people!

The pace of technological progression never ceases to astound us. Driverless cars, virtual reality and advanced artificial intelligence are all here. But what about when technology goes too far and becomes a concern?

British and Swedish firms have developed working implant chips that companies can roll out into their workforces. Inserted in the fleshy part between the index finger and thumb, the chip can be used to open doors (replacing the need for ID cards) and store medical data.

With it being claimed that 150 people have been chipped in the UK and 4,000 others (mostly) in Sweden, this is yet another technology of tomorrow that is with us today.

It may send a shudder down the spine, metaphorically speaking. Whatever the perceived benefits, with any initiative as invasive as this, it’s important not to pressure employees into participating. If you are unsure whether, or how, to unleash a new technology on your team, talk to us to cover the HR angle.

Staff retention

A modest seasonal bonus could be worth its weight in gold to your employees as they look to have a merry Christmas. But it could be worth many more times its weight in gold to you as the employer.

January is a prime time when people look for new job opportunities. But a survey from an employee benefits company found that nearly half of UK employees who received a Christmas bonus or gift recently would not look for a new job. And about the same amount would not accept a job offer if they received one.

With the cost of recruitment stretching to as much as a year’s salary for some roles, it’s clear that a little Christmas bonus really could go a long way for you, as well as your staff.

The gig’s up

Another month, another court case about worker status. This time it concerns transport services firm Addison Lee. They have lost an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) initiated by three of their 4,000 private hire drivers. The drivers wished to be classified as workers rather than independent contractors. This would grant them rights such as National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.

The contracts between the firm and the drivers described them as independent contractors with no obligation to offer or accept work. However, taking a strong steer from a Supreme Court case, the EAT said it was right to look beyond the contract and consider actual working practices with a “realistic and worldly-wise” view.

They found that drivers typically worked up to 60-hour weeks and had to work at least 25-30 hours just to cover their fixed costs. They drove vehicles with Addison Lee livery and were told that they were representing the company at all times when in the vehicles. And that they might face sanctions if, without good reason, they turned down work offered to them.

The EAT concluded that it did all add up to worker status, rather than that of independent contractor as stated in the contracts.

There is place for all types of contract and some individuals will seek flexibility just as much as companies. However, what’s not right is for companies to impose false self-employment as a device to cut costs. This erodes workers’ rights, undercuts competitors who behave properly and short-changes HMRC, which, of course, ultimately costs everyone.

To avert this risk, you should review your contracts and ensure that they accurately reflect the true nature of working relationships. If you need help, call us.

Grant funding available for employing marginalised women

The UK government has announced a £600,000 pot for small businesses to help them employ vulnerable and marginalised women looking to return to work. Much government attention is already focused on gender inequality at board level of FTSE companies – with progress being made. So this support at the other end of the careers ladder is to be welcomed.

You can bid for a grant which can be used to fund training, refresher courses or offering work placements. £100,000 of the pot is specifically ringfenced for bespoke support to women who face multiple barriers to returning to work, including caring for people at home, limited English-language skills and mental health issues.

Diversity pays in the workplace, and this funding could help you diversify your workforce. For strategies to ensure you hire from a pool of all available talent, contact your local HR Dept adviser.

Deck the halls

Many organisations like to get into the Christmas groove and spruce up the workplace with tinsel and a tree in December. But spare a thought for a Texan lady who, having vehemently declared she didn’t want to see any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, was pranked by her sister with a barrage of decorations worthy of Lapland itself. It was so over-the-top that she could do nothing but surrender to it. That aside, don’t let decorations get in the way of people doing their jobs. And remember that some items could pose a health and safety trip or fire risk.

People Matter November 2018

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Budget 2018

Last month, chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his 2018 budget. And as usual there were some announcements particularly relevant to employers. So here is our round up for SME business owners.

National living wage – This was introduced by George Osborne in 2016. In effect it’s an enhanced minimum wage for most people over 25. It was announced that this will rise by 4.9% in April, from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour. This will affect some sectors more than others. For businesses with low-paid workers such as in care and hospitality, we’d advise factoring these new rates into your budgeting for next year as soon as possible.

Apprentices – Apprenticeships are a useful option within the recruitment market if you’re looking to take people on and train them up in new skills. The government will significantly help to pay for the training, and in this budget it was announced that this help will be extended. Currently, as an SME with an annual wage bill of less than £3million, The Apprenticeship Levy does not apply and you only have to pay 10% of the training costs. The good news is that this will be reduced to just 5%. However, a date for this reduction has not been set.

IR35 – Originally introduced in 1999 this is a tax rule designed to stop freelancers and companies sidestepping tax through disguised employment. So very relevant to all the news we have about the gig economy right now.

Last year a requirement under IR35 was introduced for public sector organisations to deduct tax and national insurance from contractors. Now, it’s been announced that from 2020 private sector firms employing more than 250 people will be responsible for checking their contractors’ statuses and deducting the appropriate tax. And if they get it wrong, they will be liable for tax fines.

So IR35 is starting to affect the SME market more, and who is to say where it will stop? We regularly talk about the importance of getting the status of your workers correct in contracts at the outset. And this development in the budget only heightens the importance. If in doubt, call us.

Beware the Christmas bash

‘tis nearly the season to be jolly, and therefore, as your friendly neighbourhood HR advisers we need to begin our warnings about the dreaded office Christmas party. Here’s an interesting one concerning vicarious liability – that’s when a company is held responsible for the actions of other people.

In a recent Court of Appeal judgement, a company has been found vicariously liable for its managing director punching an employee at an after-party which followed their main Christmas bash. The assault resulted in brain damage and happened after a dispute about the terms given to a new employee.

The ruling is of interest because technically the incident did not occur at the company event. However, because of the seniority of the staff member, the fact he was asserting his authority, and that the company had paid for alcohol and the taxis to the after-party, there was a strong enough link for vicarious liability. Do plan your party carefully and remind all those attending of expected standards of behaviour.

How to Hygge at work

Cold winds, short days and rain… lots of rain. If our abrupt transition into Autumn has got you or your team feeling glum, you need a bit of Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) in your workplace. Fresh from Denmark, it is the latest Scandinavian craze to sweep our shores. While there is no exact translation, it broadly means feeling cosy through your experiences.

So rather than merely turning the radiators up to 11, it is about creating warming interactions with your colleagues. It could be bringing cupcakes into the office to share impromptu, taking an extra coffee break and chatting about something other than work, or structuring tasks so that they are teamwork-based.

It’s certainly more charming than Kalsarikänni, anglicised to Päntsdrunk – a Finnish lifestyle trend to cope with the harsh weather which involves drinking at home alone in your underwear!

Landmark whistle-blowing case

In the classic MR James ghost story Oh, whistle, and l’ll come to you, my lad, a university professor is hounded by a spectre after discovering a relic whistle from a bygone age and blowing on it. He’s eventually set free from his haunting by the intervention of a retired colonel.

There can be similarly troubling consequences for employees who blow the metaphorical whistle when they uncover malpractice in their workplace. But instead of kindly colonels, there are robust laws in place to protect the employees. And the judgement in a recent court case has added further weight to these whistle-blowing laws.

The CEO of an oil company was first excluded from decision-making processes, and then dismissed, after raising concerns about the award of contracts in Africa and corporate governance. No notice period was given, the reason provided was that the firm only had a very small HR department and therefore couldn’t follow proper procedures. Ahem!

The employee won his original tribunal, the employment appeal tribunal and then the case at the Court of Appeal. What is most striking however is the size of the award – about £2 million – which was revised upwards during the appeals. And particularly that two individual directors were held personally liable in addition to the company.

It’s vital to be aware of whistle-blowing laws and identify whistle-blowing complaints at an early stage so that you can handle them appropriately. To do this properly you’ll need to train managers and staff. If you would like professional advice to understand the frameworks you need, training or help on an actual case, contact your local HR Dept adviser.

The problem with productivitytime wasting at work

It is not news that the UK suffers from low productivity – we are said to lag competitor nations such as Germany, France and the USA by one third. And worryingly, it is a problem that is getting worse. So what is to be done?

The Institute of Directors has recently published a major new report into the issue for SMEs (you can find it online). In it they make a list of recommendations. Many of these are directed at central government, but some can be considered directly by SME owners and managers. Encouraging knowledge transfer between higher education institutions and small businesses is one. And creating a culture of technological leadership within SMEs is another. If you are seeking to raise productivity yourself, these may provide a practical starting point for you to explore for your own business.

Sticks and stones

You might consider it’d be an open and shut case of harassment and discrimination at an employment tribunal: An overweight employee with type-1 diabetes and Traveller Community heritage dismissed after repeatedly being called names such as “fat ginger pikey” and “salad-dodger”.

But, in fact, the company won its cases at the employment tribunal and on appeal. Key factors in their favour were that the employee used coarse language at work himself and showed no umbrage at the time of being insulted. Also, that other colleagues left the company at the same time following poor performance, which was the company’s reason for his dismissal.