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People Matter September

What to do when your staff go AWOL

You breathe a sigh of relief; it’s September and the holiday season stress is over. Time now to crack on with all those projects. And then you discover a key member of staff has not returned from their “trip of a lifetime”.

It may not be possible to accurately record your initial reaction here. But safe to say words like “murder” probably spring from your lips.

However, as we always advise: look for the simple explanation first. Were the flights delayed by strikes or weather? Have they been taken seriously ill? Or maybe simply overslept?

Only after making every effort to make contact by telephone, text and email is it reasonable to assume they are not coming back. If they live nearby, you could even try calling at their house or contacting next of kin before reaching this conclusion. But once all avenues have been exhausted, you can start to resolve this problem of unauthorised absence.

When there is less than two years’ service and no known disability, then it should be relatively straightforward because there is less risk of a claim for unfair dismissal. But for longer serving employees, do make sure you follow the correct process.

As we always stress, keep a record of everything you’ve done to prove you have taken all reasonable steps to make contact. This means sending a recorded letter, so you know who received it. The letter should state that you would like them to contact you so that you can establish if they have resigned. It should also explain that if they continue to be absent without contacting you, then you’ll have no option but to take steps to terminate their employment.

Unauthorised absence is a fair reason for dismissal but does not negate the responsibility to follow the Acas code. And as dismissal only becomes effective when it is received, it’s worth trying to contact them in as many ways as possible.

Do remember that whilst they remain an employee they continue to accrue continuous service and holiday rights. So to make sure you have help managing these situations, do call us.

The value of supporting mental health 

With the August bank holiday done and dusted, it’s a long old haul to Christmas! Do you relish the opportunity to knuckle down? Or do your spirits fall with those long nights drawing in?

Spare a thought for your team too. We all have mental health. And, like physical health, it fluctuates. The realisation that summer and its holidays are finished will affect some adversely. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) may come into play too.

There’s real value in incorporating good mental health and wellbeing into your company culture. In fact, a fifth of GDP is produced by people who’ve experienced mental health difficulties according to research by the Mental Health Foundation. So how do you achieve such a culture? It will vary, but it could mean reviewing operations to ensure they consider mental health and protect or improve it where possible or designating a mental health champion. Talk to us if you want to get started.

What’s in a name?

What do your job titles say about your business? Traditionally, they might describe what someone does and their seniority. But has this become too restrictive or unappealing today?

Microsoft recruited a “chief storyteller” – responsible for changing the perception of Microsoft through stories. Google has an “in-house philosopher” who solves engineering problems through a humanistic perspective. And many techies seem to prefer being called “networking ninja” or “C# Sherpa” rather than good old fashioned “developer”.

This may be useful if it’s giving employees a feel-good factor, or conveys your company culture. And sometimes customer-facing roles may require more nuanced names – sales staff may be better presented as “customer services” for example.

Can inventive naming go too far though? Of course it can! We’ve seen people professionally described as a “shredded cheese authority”, an “executive sensei” and even a “teen exorcist”.

Uptake is low for shared parental leave

Take up of shared parental leave remains stubbornly low three years after its launch. Figures were released recently to show that in 2017-18, only 9,200 parents used the scheme. This was just 500 more parents than in the previous year.

The scheme is, of course, notoriously difficult to administer. Coordination is potentially required between more than one business. And parents have the right to request non-consecutive blocks of time, although employers are not obliged to grant the requests.

This administrative burden on employers, coupled with out-dated cultural issues relating to men taking extended periods of leave, has led to the suggestion that employers are not doing enough to signpost the option.

There is a complicated application process too, which is seen as a barrier for parents. And another factor attributed to low take up is that many couples decide that it would be unaffordable – that they would be financially better off using the maternity leave scheme only.

Indeed, there have been legal cases exploring the level of pay that men receive when taking time off after the birth. None has been definitively successful for the employee. But a tribunal has made initial findings that a police constable suffered indirect discrimination as his employer only offered statutory rates for shared parental leave but full pay for maternity leave. The case is now back with the tribunal for them to reconsider.

Do you want help to better signpost shared parental leave to your staff? If so, contact your local HR Dept.

Are you welcoming to older workers? 

Let’s throw some stats at you. Over-50s make up a third of the UK workforce, and that’s rising. A quarter of businesses are unprepared for managing an increase of older workers. And the skills of over one million over-50s are being squandered due to old-fashioned employment practices.

These all come from a major new study by the Centre for Better Aging. And a Parliamentary Select Committee has recently slammed age discrimination in the workplace, too. When you consider skills gaps and staff shortages in the economy, there’s real opportunity for mutual benefit by embracing older workers.

To combat ageism and even get ahead by being proactive, there are many areas you could review. These include flexible working, your recruitment processes, your approach to workplace adjustments in managing health conditions, training for line-managing older workers and equal opportunities in career progression for all ages. For bespoke advice, get in touch.

Disciplined for unfair disciplinary

At a disciplinary hearing an employee is entitled to bring a companion such as a trade union representative. If this companion is unavailable, your employee may propose a reasonable alternative date within five working days. You must agree to this date unless there’s a good reason to reject it.

A recent court case shows it may be wise to be even more accommodating than this. An engineering firm was found guilty of unfair dismissal by an employment appeals tribunal after, among other factors, they refused a longstanding employee such a postponement beyond five days and held the disciplinary in her absence. In situations like this, take professional advice.

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