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People Matter September 2019

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Have your say in our Voice of the SME survey

Atypical working is no stranger to the pages of People Matter or our blogs. We know it can bring useful flexibility to both workers and companies. But it can also be open to abuse.

It’s widely felt that there’s no problem with using freelancers, zero-hour contracts and self-employed contractors when done for genuine reasons of flexibility, meeting irregular demand and scalability. But when used as a short cut to save money at the expense of a workforce, that’s not right.

The courts are firm in this view. In high-profile cases, such as ones involving Uber and Pimlico Plumbers, they have ruled that worker status was incorrectly classified, causing respective workforces to miss out on employment entitlements and protections.

The government is seeking to update the law to better regulate the practices of atypical working practices They are currently consulting on protections for workers on flexible or zero-hour contracts. These include compensation for cancelled shifts and how long a reasonable notice period might be when withdrawing weekly hours. It also covers protections for workers who turn down shifts offered to them at the last minute.

In such consultations it is often large corporate organisations with an army of HR professionals and lawyers whose voices are heard the most.

So we have created our Voice of the SME survey to give companies like you a louder voice. Because of our nationwide client base, we can collect, collate and represent the opinions of thousands of SME businesses across the country. And amplify their voices to ensure they are heard in the corridors of power. Please spare a few moments to have your say, click here to complete our survey and help shape future regulation of flexible working arrangements. The survey closes on 30th September.

The government is consulting on reforming sick pay and frameworks for getting people back to work after long-term sickness. While this year our Voice of the SME survey is focused on workers’ rights and whether they can have sick pay, you may also want to give your views on the wider aspects of absence management. You can do so here.

Holiday pay for term-time staff

Just when you thought it was safe to start calculating holiday pay, a recent court case has thrown up a new complication.

Over the past few years, a slew of cases has made it increasingly complicated to calculate holiday pay. And increasingly expensive for employers. We have had sales commission needing to be taken into account and overtime too. Now it is part-time, part-year workers under the microscope.

A music teacher took her employer to court saying the way that they calculated holiday pay was not compliant with the Working Time Directive. She worked variable hours during term time and had agreed to take all holiday out of term. She was paid holiday three times a year at a rate of 12.07% of her wages for the previous term.

She argued that this equated to an amount below the Working Time Directive minimum. In short, the judge agreed with her. Although he accepted that it will throw up anomalies. He coined a new phrase: part-year employee. In the case of the music teacher, she will actually be paid 17.5% of annual earnings. So, as a part-year employee, she has a higher rate of holiday pay than full-time or regular hours part-time workers.

If you employ term time only staff members, we would advise reviewing how you calculate their holiday pay. Ask us if you are unsure.

Get ready for Brexit

(At the time of print) the prime minister assures us we’ll be leaving the EU on 31 October. Halloween, of course, and leaving aside whether you think Brexit will be a trick or treat, there may well be steps you need to take to be prepared.

The government has published a number of online resources. These include pdf guides you can share with employees affected by change. And an interactive calculator called “Get ready for Brexit” which suggests what you specifically might need to do. This covers points like customs tariffs, travel arrangements and new labelling requirements.

Another specific consideration is if you employ UK nationals required to drive in the EU or vice versa. There’s specific drivers’ guidance too.

It’s helpful to be pointed in the right direction, but there’s still the hard graft to do. If you need extra support with your Brexit HR, then get in touch.

Claws and effect

It’s something we’ve discussed before, and a high-profile petition from a sacked worker has raised the issue again. Should bereavement leave be offered following the death of a pet?

There’s no legal provision for this. Of course, for human bereavement there is a right for a reasonable amount of time off if they are a dependant. But bereavement affects everyone differently, and some people may be overwhelmingly affected by the loss of a pet.

You may notice unexpected absence, a drop in performance or even temporarily not being able to perform certain roles.

With no law to steer you, your response to this comes down to your discretion. Showing compassion often pays dividends in the long run. But be careful! You should apply a strong rationale and consistency. For instance you may feel some time off (whether paid or unpaid) for the loss of a cat or dog is appropriate. But draw the line at the goldfish. And there’ll be an expectation that what’s offered to one employee will be provided for another in similar circumstances.

Clowning around

If you want a whole new take on receiving bad news, consider Josh Thompson’s approach. When Josh, a copywriter from New Zealand, received an email from his employer asking him to meet to discuss his role, he guessed the writing was on the wall. In accordance with New Zealand law, he was encouraged to bring a support person to the HR meeting. Instead of a family member or union rep, he hired a clown to ease the tension. His employers saw the funny side but did have to ask him to quieten down several times while he was making balloon animals. In Josh’s words “Boy, oh boy, are clowns noisy”!


Employees at protests

Climate change and political unrest are giving rise to increasing protests, globally and in the UK.

So what do you do if employees skip work to join a mass protest? Even those who have a previously unblemished unauthorised absence record? It could be on the cards with trade unions mooting a Greta Thunberg inspired general strike.

Employees can’t expect to skip off work to protest and not face repercussions. You need to make it very clear that they have to book holiday to take time off to protest. If they do go AWOL or pull a sickie on the day, you need to attempt to contact them and document everything. Alternatively if you see them on TV gluing themselves to a bank, press record quickly and ring us for advice.

If however the issue is climate change and your company ethos plays a part in addressing this, actively communicate it to staff so that they feel they are already contributing.

People Matter August 2019

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More support for victims of abuse

It is thought that two million adults suffer domestic abuse each year. This can take the form of emotional, financial or economic abuse. On average, it leads to two women dying every week and one man every month. Many people suffer in silence, so it is good to be aware how prevalent this issue is, as it is statistically probable that some of your employees will be victims.

Before she left her role as prime minister, Theresa May moved it up the agenda in parliament. The Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced. It gives domestic abuse an official definition for the first time and puts a more substantial support framework in place. This is sure to raise awareness. So what can you as an employer do to support employees who may be affected?

Employers have a general duty of care towards their staff. And as part of this you need to provide a safe and effective work environment. If you find that one of your employees is, or has, suffered from domestic abuse, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, a charity, has produced a helpful resource. It is called the Domestic Abuse Toolkit and you can download it directly from their website.

Of course abuse is not just confined to the home. Bullying and sexual harassment remain entrenched in the workplace. Separate to the Domestic Abuse Bill, the government is planning to legislate to dismantle one of the main ways in which companies sweep abuse under the carpet: excessive use of non-disclosure agreements, or Settlement Agreements as they are usually called in an employment situation, and rightly so.

Settlement Agreements do however serve a useful and legitimate function. When used properly they allow the victim to move forward with their life, so we do not agree with a widespread ban on these. They have to have received advice from a solicitor before signing, who would always recommend reporting serious crimes. Sometimes governments can be guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Boards of Directors though should seriously investigate the conduct that has resulted in a Settlement Agreement and take the appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator. If you need help with a sensitive issue like this do ring us for advice.

An unexpectedly high penalty

Don’t think that a case of discrimination will be treated leniently at tribunal because it is isolated. Awards which apply to compensation for injury to feelings, fall into one of three tiers, known as “vento” bands to decide the level of damages.

Typically, a one-off claim for injury to feelings will sit in the lower band. But actually, the judgement will always be fact specific, with an emphasis on the impact of the discrimination. This means that any of the vento bands can apply. What follows is a cautionary tale.

A children’s clothing company recently had the book thrown at them for a string of wrongdoings that followed from an isolated discrimination claim. A photographer was made redundant after just three months. When she cried foul and suggested race discrimination, the company ignored her grievance and refused to engage in the Acas early conciliation process, thereby aggravating the first error.

The eventual employment tribunal and appeal found against the company. They were ordered to pay damages of about £30,000. It is pertinent to note that the injury to feeling aspect of the award sat in the middle Vento band.

Enhanced protection for new parents

The Government gave its’ response to a consultation on 22 July which proposes to give mothers returning from maternity leave an additional six months of protection against redundancy. The rules will also protect those returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave.

New mothers already have special protection from redundancy whilst on maternity leave. Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 says that such an employee, when faced with redundancy, should be given priority over other employees and offered another suitable vacancy if possible.

If a suitable job isn’t available, only then can they be made redundant. But the proper redundancy procedures must be followed, and pregnancy or maternity cannot be the reason for redundancy.
Now it is proposed that this redundancy protection will last from the moment an employee tells their company they are pregnant, until six months after they have returned to work.

This enhanced protection following the government consultation, is part of their Good Work Plan. It goes further than what the EU requires. The Government feels it needs to do more because, despite existing regulations making it illegal to discriminate due to pregnancy or maternity, discrimination still occurs, and far too often.

In fact, research indicates that 54,000 women a year feel they have to leave employment because of pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

There are stiff financial penalties for companies found guilty of such discrimination. And let’s not forget the poor publicity and the potential for a toxic workplace culture to develop. For help and guidance on how to manage employees on maternity leave, please contact us.

Mental health awareness in schools

It’s fair to say that mental health awareness has never been higher. But as awareness has risen, it only highlights how much needs to be done.

A key battleground is in schools. World Health Organisation figures show that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. And, of course, teachers and other staff feel a lot of pressure themselves which can lead to mental health struggles.

Because teachers spend so much time observing children, they are well placed to notice the warning signs of a mental health issue. Properly trained they can also be an important first point of contact, and positioned to signpost support. So upskilling teachers in mental health awareness provides a valuable resource to the school.

We offer eLearning training on mental health awareness tailored specifically for educational professionals. So if of interest, please enquire to find out more.

Inside the mind of an introvert

Did you know that up to 50% of the population are introverts? Maybe that’s not so surprising seeing that the main alternative is to be an extrovert. Both behavioural types have strengths and weaknesses. But what is interesting is that most companies are set up to suit extroverts. Think open plan offices, social events and generally the loudest voices being heard first.

This won’t be a deal breaker for most introverts. But it does mean that conditions are not optimised for their performance. And they have a lot to offer. Restoring balance could help drive your business forward.

We’re not talking about difficult actions. Giving introverts a safe platform to speak in meetings, creating quieter working zones, and not putting pressure on people to attend every social event are all achievable. A great place to start is with some Myers-Briggs training to help identify your team’s personality traits and how they work best.

Sleeping on the job

Can you believe an employment tribunal judge fell asleep twice during a hearing? After we’d finished raising our eyebrows, we found that it’s not as uncommon as you might think! We’re not just talking about dozy judges. Apparently 12% of office workers have confessed to falling asleep in a meeting.

We’ll hope this phenomenon does not spread to air traffic controllers. But in the meantime what should you do if you catch someone, well, catching 40 winks? It may be gross misconduct if, say, they were hungover. But don’t jump to conclusions. Check there’s not an underlying medical condition or other mitigating factor before deciding on your course of action.

Safety Matters Q3

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Take the wheel on managing
moving vehicle risk at work

Managing the risk of moving vehicles at work is not something that every business has to contend with. But in warehouses, large retail stores, and airports, for example, it is a key area of health and safety. Poor procedures and systems of work present risks to the employee and customer alike. As an employer, you are legally required to be aware of such risks and take steps to eliminate or reduce them.

Much of this is governed by general health and safety legislation such as The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. But be aware that there may be more specific legislation to consider too, including the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998.

A moving vehicle risk assessment is essential to build a clear picture of where vehicles are, why they are there and what they are doing. This will help you identify potential vehicle hazards so you can take mitigating action.

Every year there are over 5,000 incidents involving transport in the workplace. And around 50 of these are fatal, so the risk is very real.

Common types of accidents involving moving vehicles include: people being struck or run over by a vehicle, people being hit by something falling from a vehicle, people falling from vehicles and vehicles overturning.

A court case following the death of a worker who walked in front of a moving lorry was recently reported on. While the driver had checked his mirrors, he did not see the employee and moved forward resulting in the fatal injury. The grain store company where the accident occurred was fined £180,000, as well as having to pay costs of £20,000.

In this instance the HSE found that pedestrians could not move safely around the site, as they had not provided measures to prevent employees walking into areas where large vehicles were moving. The company’s failure to implement simple H&S measures was cited as the cause for this avoidable incident.

Stop such potential disasters before they occur by managing the risks of workplace transport. Good practice measures include:

● Keeping people and vehicles apart
● Having clear site rules which are communicated to all staff members
● Avoiding the need to work at height on vehicles
● Ensuring your employees only operate vehicles when authorised to do so.

If you need help carrying out a moving vehicle risk assessment, or think your staff may need some extra training, contact us.

Is your care home heatwave resilient?

If you own or manage a care home, how well prepared are you and your staff for rising temperatures this summer? A study of four care homes found the heating was left on 24 hours a day, even during the summer months. And in a previous major heatwave, back in 2003, care home deaths related to heat increased by 42% that August.

“Heatwave resilience” is a term being used by MPs after last summer’s heatwave, to describe the best practice care homes should be seeking. Long-term trends suggest that UK summer temperatures are rising. So there is likely to be a smaller margin for error in managing this risk as the years pass. You’ll want to look at how temperature is controlled with both heating and cooling systems. Consider also the hydration and nutritional requirements of the people under your care during extremes of temperature.

Warning signs, aside from the obvious increase in temperature, could include a rise in incidents of urinary tract infections, dizziness and falls. Heatwave resilience is sure to move up the agenda of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) when they are inspecting care homes for safety and the effectiveness of their care. Regularly carrying out a heat risk assessment not only feeds into delivering the highest levels of care, but also helps you stay compliant with regulations.

If you operate a care home and have concerns over your staff’s readiness for a heatwave, or need help carrying out a heat risk assessment, get in touch with us today.

Extracurricular work in schools

Summer holidays are the time when schools get major building work done. Although there won’t be children around, you’ll still want to ensure health and safety regulations are followed if you have responsibility in this area.

Your schedule of work may range from a few thousand pounds for play equipment, to hundreds of thousands of pounds for major developments like roofing works. However big or small your project, you’ll have responsibilities under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Classified as a client, you’ll be responsible for ensuring your project is suitably managed, considering the health and safety of anyone who might be affected.

Building activities over the summer holidays aren’t quite “business as usual”, so don’t get caught out. There may be fewer or no children about, but ensure you plan for other people on site, including contractors and your teachers coming in to prepare their classrooms for next year.

Make sure your shop is
hot on fire regulation

A member of the public has been banned from every branch of a popular homeware store in the UK, after arguing in the carpark with a manager that the store breached health and safety laws. The customer, Derek, raised concerns over the fact that staff were locked into the store for 15 minutes at the end of the day. He also criticised the store’s covered fire extinguishers.

Despite his ban, Derek raised some important fire safety issues. If you own or manage a shop, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of them. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that emergency doors must not be locked if they cannot be easily and immediately opened in an emergency. It also states that they must be kept clear at all times.

It was reported that the front door of the store was its main fire escape. The locking of fire doors presents a clear obstacle to an immediate exit. If you want to signal that your shop is closed for business, but still have employees inside, consider hanging a closed sign or have an employee at the front door to turn customers away, or specifically to open it in the event of an emergency.

When it comes to fire extinguishers, you must ensure they are maintained and ready for immediate use. The regulation doesn’t mention covers specifically, but they should be fitted properly (for example not used to prop open a door), and easily accessible.

HSE Myth Busters

When we are off on a plane for our summer holidays or relaxing in a pool, being denied a reasonable request due to health and safety will not cut the mustard. Here are two examples of summer holiday businesses which did that and earned a place on the HSE Myth Busters panel. The lesson is: don’t blame management decisions on health and safety without a good explanation.

Something to chew on
One adult passenger was forced to put up with popping ears after an airline refused to provide boiled sweets on the grounds of health and safety. They claimed that because children could choke on them, they were banned outright. While it is sensible to avoid giving hard sweets to young children, there is no health and safety legislation that prevents the provision of boiled sweets on flights.

Sink or swim
One swimming pool banned inflatables and other items that people enjoy in swimming pools on the grounds of health and safety. Health and safety law does apply to the management of public swimming pools but does not explicitly ban these items. They may have had a good reason, like impeding a lifeguard’s ability to have complete sight of the pool, but it would have been better to say this rather than making health and safety legislation the killjoy.

People Matter July 2019

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Do you remember when holiday pay
used to be simple?

The empty spaces in the car park are proof that the holiday season is in full swing. And with it our HR advice phonelines are getting busy answering all the questions about holiday pay.

The first question is always: how much holiday should an employee have? The statutory minimum is 5.6 weeks, made up from about 20 days plus the bank and public holidays. And zero-hour staff accrue holiday for every hour worked, 8.3 hours worked equals one hour’s holiday.

Pay used to be relatively simple, with an employee’s weekly salary or usual weekly working hours being the amount they earned whilst on holiday. But over the last two years all that has changed.

The first challenge was Lock v British Gas. He wanted his results-based commission included in his holiday pay. He won and that started the change. A survey recently found that workers in Britain were owed £1.8bn in unpaid holiday pay and the government is campaigning to ensure employers and employees understand their rights and obligations.

Holiday entitlement is part of the health and safety legislation. It is there to protect staff on the basis that we all need a break from work for our health and well-being. Therefore there must be no disincentive to take that time off. This might be the case if someone’s pay was less during periods of annual leave.

This has resulted in a number of claims. First for compulsory overtime to be included. And now firefighters have won the right to have voluntary overtime included too in the average week’s pay. This is in addition to payments such as on call and commission.

Staff working irregular hours should have the average pay calculated over the previous 12 weeks. And do remember that holiday must be taken. So paying an additional amount each week to cover the holiday pay, which is referred to as rolled-up holiday pay, is not allowed. For all your holiday queries do ring us, so you don’t pay more later with a tribunal claim.

Restrictive covenants offered
protection by Supreme Court

A dark cloud had been hanging over many businesses which rely on restrictive covenants. But it has passed following a Supreme Court ruling.

As you’ll probably know, restrictive covenants are used to stop employees competing against you after they leave, or poaching key staff and clients from you. What you may not know is that a restrictive covenant must be reasonable and not be so restrictive that a person is prevented from earning their living.

A former director at an executive research firm argued that some wording in her restrictive covenant was unreasonable, making the whole clause unenforceable. Her former employer successfully obtained an injunction preventing her from joining a rival, and some expensive toing and froing in the courts has followed.

It centred on two words: “interested in”. She had signed to say she would not “directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition [with her former company] for six months after leaving the business”.

As those words prevented her taking even a minor shareholding in a competing business, the Court of Appeal ruled it an unreasonable restraint of trade. And they found that removing the words would change the meaning of the clause.

Now the Supreme Court has found that those two offending words can be removed – but leaving the overall effect of the restrictive covenant intact, without the need for words to be added or amended.

This sets an important precedent and safety net for employers: that a restrictive covenant can be generally enforceable, despite one aspect being deemed unfair. However, having them correctly drafted in the first place is essential and having insurance in place to be able to enforce them through the Courts brings better protection for your business.

Contact The HR Dept for a review.

Is hotdesking still hot?

As flexible working practices become more popular, it makes sense that hotdesking will follow suit. After all, why pay for vacant space?

Adopting hotdesking means you can gain efficiencies by downsizing your square footage. Or make your workplace more attractive and useful by transforming the redundant desk space. How about a break-out area or new meeting room?

But hotdesking is not a one-way street to success. If only! In one survey of 1,001 office workers by a transformational consultancy, 22% of respondents found hotdesking made bonding with colleagues more difficult. And nearly half said they wasted time setting up equipment. The worry of whether a desk is available will affect the well-being of some, too.

Other potential problems include hygiene concerns and the development of cliquey behaviour. However, with a well-managed approach – including desk scheduling and clear guidance on conduct – these obstacles can largely be overcome.

How might the new school week
affect working parents?

A top performing state school in England has announced plans to move to a four-and-a-half-day academic week. Wow! School’s out from lunchtime on Friday for kids and teachers alike. So who is going to look after the children? We can see this will have an unfair additional pressure on parents, particularly women who bear the brunt of child care responsibilities.

Already working parents have to manage their working hours when their children first start school, as the first few weeks are usually half days. But a permanent four-and-a-half-day working week is going to affect businesses. If your employees are affected by this shorter week, you are bound to see an increase in flexible working requests. As much as we actively support flexible working, the number who can finish early on Friday is going to be limited and could create jealousy from colleagues.

The reason schools are looking at this is twofold. Firstly to save money as their budgets are under tremendous pressure. And secondly to minimise teacher stress and burnout, which is sadly a real and ongoing issue. So if this happens at a school near you, contact us to see if we can find innovative ways to help you reach a solution.

How emotionally intelligent
is your team?

In olden days people were expected to switch off their emotions when they went to work. Now it’s far more widely recognised that this isn’t possible. And that, actually, harnessing emotional intelligence can help individuals and organisations be more successful.

It has been established that emotional intelligence is a skill which can be nurtured with practice. The psychologist Daniel Goleman identifies five pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. And it’s easy to see why these would be desirable traits in your workforce. In fact, a survey back in 2011 found that almost three-quarters of hiring managers rated emotional intelligence over IQ.

When trying to instil an emotionally intelligent culture, you should lead from the front. Staff who know that you genuinely care about them are far more likely to buy in to your plans. For guidance and advice, speak to The HR Dept.

Outrageous expense claims

What’s the most jaw-dropping item your employees have put through expenses? Can you beat lottery tickets, cosmetic surgery, half a cow? They’ve all actually happened. Admittedly in America! And while we can raise an eyebrow and perhaps smile at the nerve, it is a serious issue.

Expenses are to reimburse staff for travel and other costs incurred in the line of duty. While “half a cow” would be easy to spot, there will inevitably be greyer areas. These can be minimised through good line management drawing clear boundaries, rather than being left to the finance manager to notice.

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

Posted by

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.