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People Matter February 2017

Twits on Twitter

An interesting tribunal case in January brought social media misconduct back into sharp focus.

The case, Creighton Vs Together Housing Association Ltd, centred on tweets sent up to three years previously.

The longstanding employee, a heating engineer, was being investigated for bullying. During the investigation, the employer uncovered historic derogatory tweets posted about the company by the employee. We can’t print them here but, rest assured, they were full of profanity!

After carrying out a disciplinary process, the employer threw out the bullying charges but dismissed the employee due to the tweets. They judged that they constituted gross misconduct.

The case ended up in a tribunal, which ultimately found in favour of the employer. The judge dismissed the employee’s arguments that the tweets were posted two to three years ago, were assumed to be private and that he deserved to be treated sympathetically for 30 years’ service.

The case is highlights several points.

First, that private social media use should be on organisations’ radar. We strongly recommend having a social media policy. It not only educates employees about what is and isn’t acceptable, but also gives employers a clear framework to take disciplinary action.

Second, it highlights the importance of following due process. The judge noted that the organisation had given the employee the chance to explain his tweets, and he had not come up with a satisfactory explanation.

Third, the age of the tweets was not material to the dismissal.

For help writing social media policies, or carrying out a disciplinary for someone whose been a twit on twitter, call The HR Dept.

Statutory wage rises

On 1st April, the National Minimum and Living Wages will rise. The big news this year is that they will now rise together in April (the National Living Wage rise has been brought forward from October). Good news here, as that should streamline administration somewhat. So what will the new rates be?

There are many new cost pressures on employing people, with some sectors hit particularly hard. But failure to comply with these statutory wages should not be seen as an option. Aside from the financial squeeze a shortfall puts on staff, HMRC has significant fining powers plus the ability to name and shame offenders. Tread carefully.

Shared Parental Leave update      

Shared Parental Leave (SPL), that allows parents to split 52 weeks of parental leave, is still seriously underused. The latest research, carried out by The CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook, found that only 5% of fathers and 8% of mothers were using the scheme. If there’s good news here, it’s that these modest figures are an improvement on previous surveys! There are almost certainly cultural issues at play, but it doesn’t help that there’s a financial penalty to a couple in opting for SPL instead of maternity leave, plus the rules are fiendishly complicated. The government is expected to review.

Tipping point

Prominent players in the restaurant industry have come under fire recently. The reason? Various perceived underhand, or even illegal, practices when it comes to paying staff. Let’s take a look at some of these cases with our HR hats on.

How tips are allocated is one issue. Prominent chains such as Las Iguanas and Turtle Bay require waiting staff to pay 3% of sales each evening to their managers – regardless of how much they are actually tipped. Employees have equated this to having to pay to work a shift.

There are several issues here that we would be looking at as HR advisers. Considering the law first, there is a chance that taking money from staff could result in their overall pay dropping below the National Living or Minimum Wages. This could lead to fines, naming and shaming and the awarding of back pay. Even if contracts were worded to cover this eventuality, it’s essential to ensure that what happens on the ground reflects the contract.

Then there is the question of employee morale and motivation. If you get your remuneration package wrong or inflict perceived injustices, you may find it difficult to hang on to good staff, or to get decent productivity – not good for the long-term prospects of a business.

The restaurants in question explain that the funds collected go back into incentive schemes for non-waiting staff. This may be fair enough but, as with all policies, it is important to communicate these effectively to employees to ensure they are understood.

It is not just tipping that has landed restaurant owners in a pot of hot water! Celebrity chef Michelle Roux Jr got into trouble for paying staff below the minimum wage at his acclaimed La Gavroche in Mayfair. How did this come about? Because of the long hours that staff worked beyond their normal shifts. It highlights the importance of keeping on top of payroll as well as staff time and attendance.

For help complying with the law and putting effective remuneration packages in place, call The HR Dept.

A coffee a day means productivity’s here to stay

Want a 7% increase in productivity? Get a coffee machine! That’s according to Survey Partner ONE. And there are plenty of other indications that coffee can be the lifeblood of the workplace:

It fights off sluggishness – It’s well-known that caffeine is a stimulant that enables employees to remain focused for extensive periods of time.

It can lower the risk of depression – Of course it is a serious condition, but a Harvard study found that women who drink four or more cups of coffee per day have a 20% lower risk of developing depression.

It improves employee relations – A chat over a coffee is the perfect way for employees to develop good relationships – and that’s according to MIT.

It could even maintain integrity – Fortune reports that employees are less likely to adopt unethical practices if they are awake and alert.

Sniff Sniff…

…Or in Japanese: KunKun! It is also the name of a new gadget that you can plug into a smartphone to create a body odour smelling device.

It was invented in Japan to by-pass awkward conversations with ‘whiffy’ colleagues, by allowing them to monitor themselves using technology. Ultra-polite manners in Japan make such conversations difficult. But let’s be honest – they are not the most fun ‘chats’ to have here either.

So could KunKun spare blushes in the UK? Body odour can certainly be a workplace issue: unpleasant for colleagues, but also a cause of tension and bullying. Of course, managers should be proactive. But if not handled correctly, conversations addressing the issue can cause offence or even irretrievably damage professional relationships.

It’s a big leap to imagine KunKun catching on over here. So, for now, a professional approach to the awkward conversation is what’s required. If in doubt, call The HR Dept for support.

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