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People Matter August 2016

Employee or not employee? 

That is the question being discussed at an employment tribunal this summer, as we shall see later.

There are several legitimate ways of hiring people to work for you. The classic way is taking someone on as an employee – full or part time. This comes with statutory obligations like holiday and sick pay, and the employee is entitled to other rights like the National Living/Minimum Wage. The employer is also responsible for administering PAYE tax and paying Employer National Insurance.

Then there’s the freelancer or contractor route. Here the individual is self-employed and does not have the same rights. Subject to the terms of their contract they must make their own provision for things like holiday and sick pay through their fees. They are also responsible for taxes.

So far so good, but what about when the lines become blurred? Uber, the taxi app, has found itself on a rocky road this summer as two of its UK drivers have taken it to an employment tribunal disputing their employment status.

Uber insists they are self-employed: drivers are their own boss – free to accept or turn-down work. The drivers claim they are ‘workers’, a legal term that grants similar rights to employees. A bone of contention from one of the drivers is that, after expenses, he was paid just £5.03 per hour – less than the National Minimum Wage.  Now it’s up to the judges to decide!

Such disputes could be costly for small businesses. The best defence is to have really clear contracts and policies for people that work for you. For advice and professionally drafted documents speak to The HR Dept.

Pokéjobs: When Apps invade the Workplace

Love it or loathe it, Pokémon Go is a phenomenon – enchanting children and adults alike. Most grown-ups have jobs, so what happens when such apps start encroaching on the workplace?

In one extreme case, New Zealander Steve Currie quit his job to hunt down all 151 Pokémon full time!

Assuming your staff don’t walk out forever, a well-worded IT policy should prevent productivity from dipping. If you don’t mind employees occasionally trying to snaffle a Jynx or Dragonair behind a plant pot, be aware of Health and Safety.

Staff walking around with their head in a smartphone could bump into something more than virtual! And what about positives? Apps like Pokémon Go encourage staff to move about whilst playing, perhaps getting exercise at lunchtime: something that is often all too lacking in the modern workplace.

Easy on the eye

Following hot on the (high) heels of PwC/Portico’s shaming over insisting an agency receptionist wore stilettoes comes another case of sex discrimination – this time from the tribunal.

Erin Sandilands, working as a waitress at Cecchini’s Bistro in Ayrshire, had been told to have her hair down, put on a full face of make-up and wear a skirt so that she was ‘easy on the eye’ for customers.

The judge agreed with her claim that this was discriminatory and awarded £2,500 in compensation and £1,060 in lost wages.

A warning to all small businesses to avoid unfair dress codes.

Three strikes and you’re out!

Taken from the rules of baseball, the term ‘three strikes and you’re out’ is often applied in other contexts. In California, it can mean a mandatory life sentence for any felony after two serious or violent crimes, and in employment it is an approach to disciplining and dismissing staff. But is it a useful or fair tool for managers?

At face value, it seems a simple, easily understood process. But in practice it can be riddled with complexity – especially if policy wording is unclear. What if an employee has two ‘strikes’ in quick succession followed by a year’s exemplary service (or longer) before a third misdemeanour? Does automatic sacking follow? Does it tempt managers to ignore the proper disciplinary process?

Then there’s the impact on culture. In small teams where individuals grow into their roles to add value to your business, it may become divisive among the team members if they take sides when a colleague falls foul of the rule. And it could be counterproductive if you corner yourself into dismissing an experienced employee who has notched up a third strike over the length of their long service.

There are pitfalls with large workforces too.

Sports Direct, for example, has been under the microscope for creating a climate of fear with its ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy. This included ‘taking too long on a toilet break’ as one of the strikes. The working conditions apparently led to people showing up to work sick (known as presenteesim), with one lady giving birth in a staff toilet and ambulances being called to the premises more than 100 times in a three-year period.

Amazon, too, has been criticised. Practices included electronically monitoring staff efficiency while they worked ten-hour plus shifts and walked 11 miles within the warehouse. Disciplinary action was threatened if efficiency slipped out of tightly defined parameters.

Lots of downside then from disciplinary processes expressed as a soundbite. Smaller businesses may find simple good people management a better option. For advice on your disciplinary policies, get in touch with The HR Dept.


We have looked at absenteeism in last month’s newsletter, so what about its opposite: presenteeism. This is the phenomenon of employees working longer hours than they’re contracted for. And it appears to be prevalent among younger workers keen to make a good impression with the boss.

A recent study by tech company Ricoh UK revealed that 67% of employees in the 18-26 age bracket tried to impress managers by exaggerating their workload. 41% thought bosses would favour those who worked more than they were required to. This can take the guise of working when unwell, staying late and not taking holiday allowance. Whatever your take on dedication, there are obvious risks here: stress, spreading sickness and quality of work taking a dip due to overtiredness to mention a few. Employee well-being is important and we would suggest it’s often better to value quality over quantity in your work culture. For ideas on promoting a healthy workplace culture, speak to The HR Dept.

Trapped abroad

What’s good practice for an employer with employees stranded overseas after a terrorist attack?

Providing practical and emotional support is key!

Even if an employee was not directly caught up in an incident, they may be scared, stressed and alone. Stranded employees may not have a right to be paid, but where it’s affordable a good employer would show leniency – a lighter pay packet may seem like insult after injury!

If hours turn into days or even weeks, our connected world may enable remote working. Tread carefully if emotions are still raw, but it is an option. Of course, any work costs should be reimbursed. As with normal leave, manage the workload carefully, and explain the situation to the rest of your team.

We advise all employers to have policies in place recognising transport disruption and to have disaster contingency plans. For advice and drafting call us today.

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