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People Matter April 2015

Talking politics

With the general election looming the political classes have wasted no time in hurling abuse at one another: “two kitchens” and “running scared” spring to mind. If the so-called political elite can’t keep the debate civil, can it be done any better in the workplace?

Unlikely. There is scope now for opinion to become really distilled. Where once politics tended to be two-tone: you were either Labour red or Tory blue, it’s now become a whole lot more colourful. There is the yellow of the Lib Dems, green of the, well, Greens, purple of UKIP – not to mention the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Northern Irish parties. If, for example, a former Labour voter found a once Conservative colleague’s opinions distasteful (and vice versa!), imagine how they might feel now they have been able to fan out left and right to become ‘Greens’ and ‘UKippers’.

And if co-workers may struggle with their differences, it could be even worse between bosses and their employees. It would be a shame to lose a star employee over polarised political opinion, and would be downright dangerous for a boss to risk clouding their professional judgement during appraisals, after learning of staff political leanings.

Many topics are best left private, and although it may dominate the news for the next few weeks, it may be best if politics is one of them. While an outright ban may be heavy handed you could discourage political discussion by requesting that political leaflets and the like aren’t left in communal areas. And if you have to deal with fall-out from political debate call The HR Dept.

New rules arrive

Have you been paying attention to your recent editions of People Matter? Good. Then it will come as no surprise that April sees the introduction of two big employment rule changes. Yes Shared Parental Leave and Fit for Work are finally here. To recap, the first gives parents the flexibility to split 52 weeks of leave between them when a child is born – great for 21st century parents but likely to cause difficulties for employers trying to coordinate a workforce! The second should in theory help with coordinating a workforce – at least any that become long-term sick. Fit for Work helps the employee, employer and GP plan the return to work of employees absent for four weeks. For help with either of these new schemes speak to your local HR Dept today.

Parenting: the toughest job in the world?

If you have children you may well sympathise with this thought. And if you need some persuading a recent study qualified and quantified exactly what is involved. The study found that on average a stay-at-home parent’s day begins at 7am and doesn’t finish until 11pm. Scale that and it leads to working 119 hours per week! Then there is the range of jobs: from Housekeeper to Head Chef, Chauffer to Lawyer and Teacher to Psychologist – to name just a few. When all these pay rates are totted up, it would come to an annual salary of £172,000 – more than the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately for parents it goes down as voluntary work, so there is no financial reward. Working parents do, of course, have entitlement to various paid and unpaid leave to help them with raising children. And some organisations use flexi-time arrangements as a way of helping parents juggle work and life (or if the study is to be considered, work and work). If you need help accommodating the rights and needs of parents in your workforce, get in touch with your local HR Dept.

Named and shamed

What happens if the rate you pay falls below the National Minimum Wage (NMW)? Putting aside ethical considerations, you should be aware there is a hierarchy of actions that can be taken against you. First, HMRC advises that the employee takes it up directly with the employer (they have the right to see records). If pay still does not rise to NMW (and with arrears paid), the employee can get input from ACAS. They could also go to the employment tribunal.

If HMRC discovers an employer not paying NMW they can issue an arrears notice plus penalty. Another tactic HMRC additionally employs is to name and shame. They appear to be ramping up their efforts. In January and February they listed 37 and 70 businesses respectively. Prior to this they had only named 55 since October 2013. By February arrears had totalled £316,000 (plus £111,000 of penalties). So big bills for what are often smaller businesses.

It is not necessarily simple to check whether you comply. MiHomeCare – one of the UK’s largest care providers – found in an internal report that one branch probably underpaid staff £80,000. It identified that they had no system to check NMW compliance. One practice highlighted was ‘clipping,’ where an employee is not allocated travel time between appointments. It looks like a short cut to hot water.

For help avoiding NMW disputes, costly arrears and penalties, and even public humiliation, speak to the HR Dept.

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