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VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter August

How to manage low staff levels over the holiday season

Being short-staffed can happen for many reasons – an influx of new business, sickness absence and, most definitely, employees taking their annual leave entitlement. That last one is probably the most easy to plan for because it is the most predictable.

So what can you do to ensure it is “business as usual” over the summer when staff are on holiday?

Manage annual leave requests – Let’s start at the beginning and ensure you’re doing all you can to minimise the issue. You have to provide annual leave, but you do get to approve when staff take it. Introducing a “first come, first served” policy could be one fair way to ensure you are not left in the lurch. Professional software to manage annual leave, such as our HR Dept Toolkit, can really help here too (and has wider benefits).

Cross-train your staff – You know that your employees will need to cover for each other, so ensure they have training in advance to handle their additional tasks. Reinforce this with proper handovers so your stand-ins will have a chance to ask informed questions of their colleagues before they depart.

Bring in temporary staff – Do you have former staff members available who you’d welcome back on a temporary basis – a retiree or someone taking a career break, for example? They can step in and hit the ground running. A temping agency or intern programme is another option to take the pressure off, although they’d likely require more direction. Depending on your business, developing relationships with freelancers or specialist outsourcing agencies can be another effective way to manage variable workflows and resourcing throughout the year.

Supportive management – If your team is feeling the pressure, providing strong but supportive leadership will really help: prioritise tasks for them, encourage teamwork, make sure breaks are taken so that they get a chance to recharge, and keep lines of communication between you and the team open.

If you want to explore summer holiday resourcing in more detail with an expert, speak to your local HR Dept adviser.


Could you be spot checked by The Pensions Regulator?

Auto-enrolment has been around for a number of years now, so all employers should have some awareness of this mandatory employee benefit. Indeed you should be set up for it and probably making payments.

However, The Pensions Regulator receives about 80 calls a week from whistle-blowing employees who think their employers are failing to comply with workplace pension law.

Non-compliance is wrong on many levels. Notably, it is effectively stealing from staff pension pots. And it also creates an uneven playing field where one business can undercut another by not bearing these pensions costs.

The Pensions Regulator has had enough and is going to start spot-checking 100 employers a month to see if they are meeting their full obligations. The regulator will be particularly interested in businesses where there is inconsistency between two sets of data filings, such as PAYE and auto-enrolment figures.


Brexit toolkit

If you employ EU nationals, you’ll be relieved to know that the government has published a Brexit toolkit. It provides a framework for transitioning EU nationals to their post-Brexit immigration status. It also includes all the communication tools (flyers, videos etc.) you’ll require to let them know what they need to do. These will be translated into 23 languages.

The new immigration status will depend on how long an EU national has resided in the UK. If they’ll have been resident for five or more years by 31 December 2020 they can apply for settled status. Those residing here for less time can apply for pre-settled status. There will be phased applications for the new statuses until March 2019, when it will be fully open, and it closes on 30 June 2021. This toolkit is available on the government website


The right to disconnect

In the information age we live in, we’re always connected. Professionally, this can mean that employees (and business owners for that matter), may feel they never escape their email or phone calls.

So just because people can be contacted by phone, email and other electronic communications outside normal working hours, should we expect engagement or a response from them?

A debate about our reliance on phones and tablets is raging. There is growing recognition that serious mental health problems can be caused by overusing mobile devices. Phone companies are even building usage monitoring and over-use warning functionality into their software. And when work pressures are a factor too, it only exacerbates the problem: stress, anxiety, mental and physical fatigue, even burn-out could follow.

Elsewhere in Europe, legislators and courts are starting to respond to this. In France, legislation known as the El-Khombri law (named after an ex labour minister) requires companies to reach agreement with their workforce on work/life balance boundaries so staff can properly switch off.

It hasn’t gone that far in the UK yet, but a British company has been caught up in the French approach. A former director of the company’s French division was awarded €60,000 due to the expectation on him to answer his phone outside of working hours.

For SMEs in the UK (where businesses tend to have long working hours but low productivity rates), the legal obligations in this area may not be clearly defined yet. But in the absence of formal laws, being proactive in helping your staff disconnect could be a powerful way to differentiate your business.


The cost of injury-to-feelings awards

A clear-cut case of sex discrimination recently concluded at a Watford employment tribunal. The judge heard how a female employee had endured inappropriate sexual comments and touching on the hand from her boss, and verbal abuse from other colleagues. When she raised a grievance she was dismissed and described as “immature”.

She was awarded more than £15,000, and it’s interesting to note how this was broken down. £10,000 was for injury to feelings, and this was enhanced by 12.5% to £11,250 because the employer didn’t adhere to the Acas code. Loss of earnings, holiday pay and notice pay were considered to complete the full award.

The judge observed that: “Employers have to be aware that the vicarious liability provisions in the law open them up to very large injury-to-feelings awards, even when they are not aware that the discriminatory action is taking place.”


To err is human, to forgive divine?

In scorching temperatures, tempers are bound to flare at times. But can we blame it on the heat and forgive outrageous behaviour?

Apparently so, because there are some staggering examples of workplace bad behaviour where the perpetrator was not fired. One Reddit user asked for such examples and received these responses:

Accidentally blending a plaster into a customer’s smoothie (urgh!); throwing a bottle of ketchup at a boss; crushing a BMW under a truck; and calling into work “dead” only to return four days later as if nothing had happened. If you need help getting tough, you know who to call!

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters Q3

Acoustic shock

An interesting court case this year shone the spotlight on an employer’s health and safety obligations concerning noise.

Control of Noise at Work (2005) are the relevant regulations. They normally deal with noise as a by-product of operations, such as machinery in a factory. But in this case, they were applied to an orchestra where noise is the primary product.

A viola player brought the case after suffering symptoms of hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. He had been sitting in a cramped orchestra pit in front of an 18-piece brass section which generated 135 decibels.

As with the case of the spider biting a BA employee elsewhere in this newsletter, the employer recognised the risk. They felt they had followed all reasonable steps to mitigate it.

They educated the musicians about noise protection, offered bi-annual hearing tests and even supplied two types of custom-fitted earplugs with 9 and 28 decibel filters. It was left to each individual’s discretion as to which they used. The employer explored enlarging the orchestra pit, but deemed this to be prohibitively expensive.

The judge sided with the musician and agreed he had suffered acoustic shock. This is the first time this condition has been recognised in the courts. She said that the risk assessments were insufficient, and further preventative measures should have been implemented.

Since the judgment, civil liability is no longer applicable under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Nevertheless the judgement suggests that employers need to go further than previously thought in protecting employees from noise. Music and event venues should pay particular heed.


Postponing ping pong!

When launching a new business you have a million and one things to think about: securing premises, marketing, your supply chain… and maybe employing staff to name a few.

It is unlikely to be your first thought, but don’t forget health and safety too. Missing something here could put you, your staff or the public in harm’s way. Or it could stop you in your tracks.

That’s what happened to a new ping pong parlour in Cambridge in July. It was the latest initiative in a programme called Ping! which has seen the local council and Table Tennis England install more than 40 tables around the city. Sadly, an undisclosed last minute health and safety issue in the shop unit delayed the launch – which had been timed to coincide with National Table Tennis Day.

Health and safety laws apply to all businesses, but if you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write down your risk assessment or health and safety policy – although you may want to. A good principle to understand is that your approach should be proportionate to the nature and size of your business. Want to know how to get started? Give us a call.


Summer sizzler

With the 2018 summer continuing to send records tumbling, it does throw up some health and safety issues for employers in ensuring staff stay safe at work. There’s no maximum temperature which is deemed too hot to work in, so it comes down to conducting your own risk assessment.

This will vary hugely from company to company. For some, working in direct sunlight will be a major threat, whilst for others certain individuals may be particularly vulnerable – a pregnant employee for example. Dehydration will be a hazard to all.

Once you have identified the risks, attention should switch to controlling them. There are five areas which are helpful to explore. These are controlling the environment, employee clothing, reviewing task scheduling, monitoring individual employees and permitting changes in normal behaviours.

We recently covered this topic in detail on our blog, so be sure to check that out for further advice and tips.


Health and Safety Myth Busters

In this feature we look at instances when unpopular organisational policies have been incorrectly attributed to health and safety. They’re the kind of case which gives H&S a bad name and the Health and Safety Executive loves challenging them.

Campsite freezer facilities

The gorgeous summer we are having is bound to have got more people than ever flocking to the great outdoors and pitching their tents. Campers will be familiar with using a cool box and ice packs to keep food and drink cold.

Many campsites install a freezer so that campers can re-freeze their icepacks. This is a management decision to offer enhanced customer service. And equally if a campsite decides that their freezers cannot be used for re-freezing icepacks, that is also a management decision made for commercial reasons. There is no health and safety legislation saying ice packs cannot be refrozen at campsites.

Children at recycling centres

There would definitely be a health and safety issue if you tried to recycle your children. However, leaving them in a car while you drop off some legitimate recycling materials is perfectly acceptable and, indeed, what’s recommended.

One recycling manager asked that children were taken from their parents’ car and left at the gates of the recycling centre as they were not allowed on site due to health and safety. Common sense would suggest that children would be at more risk if they did this than if they stayed in the car. So the recycling manager had it all wrong.

Ban on mains extension leads

Electrical safety is very serious and is governed by many regulations. However one local council took this too far when banning a tenant from using a mains extension lead in their own home. More than likely they were incorrectly applying workplace regulations to a domestic environment. While we would never undermine good practices with electrical safety, some practical guidance would have been more appropriate than a ban in this instance.

These examples show the blurred lines that can exist when interpreting health and safety legislation. They also show the potential consequences which can range from a nuisance to altogether more dangerous scenarios.

If you want health and safety legislation to help and not hinder your business then be sure to speak to one of the experts at The Health and Safety Dept.


Arachnophobia airways

A member of British Airways’ cabin crew was awarded £13,000 compensation after a judge agreed he was probably bitten by a dangerous spider whilst at work.

The employee had felt a nip as he was getting out of a bunk on a long-haul flight. He did not think much of it until a few days later when his hand swelled up terribly. At the hospital, medics felt that he was in danger of losing his hand and even his life.

He pulled through, and although the spider was not found, the judge accepted an expert witness’s testimony that it was probably a brown recluse spider, native to North America.

Bug infestations are a known risk on international flights, and it certainly was not a risk that BA completely disregarded as an employer. In this case, they argued that if the bite occurred on the flight then it was an unexpected accident that could not have been foreseen.

However, the judge found that their management of the risk of bug infestation was too focused on preventing bedbugs in the seating, which was seen as the most prevalent threat. Health and safety failings included inadequate protection from insects in the bunk area, a reactive approach to insects other than bed bugs and poor reporting procedures.

While the airline industry may have many niche risks compared to other sectors, there are important general lessons we can take from this case. In particular, the need to provide a complete response to a risk rather than a limited one that may be effective in one area but not broad enough to provide adequate protection overall.

If you need help translating a risk assessment into full procedures for mitigating the hazards, then give the experts at The Health and Safety Dept a call.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter July 2018

Proposals to enhance workplace rights for fathers

Could there be drastic changes to UK paternity rights on the horizon?

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has examined the situation of fathers in the workplace and made bold recommendations.

These include: allowing fathers paid time off for ante-natal classes (they currently are allowed two unpaid visits); increasing statutory paternity pay from about £145 a week to 90% of earnings (capped for high earners); and considering replacing shared parental leave with 12 weeks of dedicated paternity leave.

Moreover, they propose immediate legislation to ensure jobs are advertised as flexible unless there’s a strong business reason not to; harmonising the rights of agency, self-employed and employed fathers where possible; and adding the characteristic of “paternity” to the scope of the Equality Act 2010 to encourage cultural change.

The report considered international evidence of better outcomes for children when fathers take paternity leave – particularly if longer than two weeks. These are numerous, but include improved performance on cognitive tests and, over the long term, less chance of social problems.

Counterintuitively, this raft of improvements to fathers’ workplace rights is partly suggested to improve women’s workplace prospects. It could even help to reduce the gender pay gap. This is because with an easier environment in which fathers can share childcare duties, it is also easier for women to return to work and continue their career at closer to their pre-children pace.

At this stage, these are just proposals. And they’re not guaranteed to become law. However, there has been a growing trend towards family-friendly employment law, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see further legislation in this direction.

For a long time we have championed the implementation of family-friendly policies. Long-term benefits of staff loyalty, retention of in-house skills and a wider talent pool from which to recruit can be difficult to appreciate before you have them. And let’s not forget that SME business owners face all kinds of pressures. But you don’t have to wait for law changes to go family-friendly. So to get ahead of the curve, contact us for help drafting your own family-friendly policies.


LOL office gripes

While we’re enjoying a beautiful summer in 2018, it can make people tetchy if they are cooped up in an office. Especially if you don’t have air conditioning. So we thought we’d look at some of the funniest passive-aggressive notes and responses that colleagues have left each other in their workplaces:

“Please remember to date the food cans! Thanks.” Response – “Tried on three occasions to date cans, they only think of me as a friend…”

“To the person who ate my lunch… Pay no attention to the mouth sores you’ll be getting. They’re probably nothing…”

“The printer is here temporarily.” – Response “In the greater scheme of things, aren’t we all?”

“Please do not unplug the coffee maker.” – Response “Please do not use whimsical fonts.”

It may be a bit of fun when it’s happening to someone else, but such notes could indicate an underlying cultural problem, so take heed if they start appearing in your office.


Wellness benefits on the rise

With low unemployment and ever-increasing attention on mental and physical health, health and wellness benefits are appealing ways to recruit and retain talent.

Businesses like them because they’re a cost-effective way to improve remuneration, and they can help to reduce absenteeism. And for employees they are valuable benefits which may not otherwise be attainable.

Looking at the USA where they also have historically low unemployment, 34% of organisations have increased their benefits offerings over the last year. About three quarters of these say this was to aid retention and more than half did it for recruitment purposes. This was from a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Are you struggling to attract or keep talent in your business? Introducing or improving wellness benefits could be the answer. Ask us about the excellent range that we can offer.


Holiday pay headache

We have entered the holiday season for 2018. And whether your staff take time off to enjoy the gorgeous summer we have been experiencing in the UK or are venturing further afield, calculating their holiday pay has got a whole lot more complicated in recent years.

It started off with having to include guaranteed overtime which staff were required to take by their employer. Subsequently, commission for sales staff had to be reflected too. And now voluntary overtime pay must also be calculated and added to holiday pay unless it is genuinely occasional.

Cases like this are regularly being tested in the courts, and the answer is always coming back the same – regular forms of pay must be included in holiday pay. The principle that underpins these judgements is that people should not be discouraged from taking their annual leave. And through the indirect financial penalty for not having overtime included in their holiday pay, it is judged that this would occur.

The laws, which come from Europe, only concern the first four weeks of holiday pay. However, in practice, most businesses will blanket apply the rules, as it would be an even bigger headache to run parallel holiday pay systems.

There is some danger of back pay claims being made, although limits are in place to restrict these.

It is advisable to take extra care when calculating your holiday pay rates this summer. If you want help getting it right, then speak to your local HR Dept advisor, and they will ensure you consider all relevant factors.


Protecting your interns from harassment

Hiring summer interns can be a rewarding experience for company and intern alike. There are challenges, as well as benefits, though. One such challenge is the potential for harassment of these most junior of staff.

The #metoo movement has put perpetrators of harassment in sharp focus. It has also highlighted all-too-common institutional failings in exercising the employer’s duty of care. So what practical steps should you be taking to ensure your interns are protected?

The key activity is training. Make time for this for both permanent staff (including managers) and interns. You should cover respect and the standards of behaviour expected. Some companies ban managers from dating interns. Training should include clear instruction on what harassment is and how to report it. Work parties may be an area of higher risk, particularly if alcohol fuelled. So give extra consideration to interns when planning summer staff socials.


Obesity in the workplace

A government adviser has suggested overweight employees should be allowed to arrive late to work. This is so they can avoid the morning rush hour if they have mental or physical difficulties with it. He even suggests that obesity should be made a protected characteristic so that overweight people can claim discrimination at a tribunal. The ideas, presented at a European Congress, have met with resistance from other quarters. We ran our own Twitter poll, asking whether obese workers should be allowed to start late to miss the rush hour. The results show 79% replying no to 21% in favour.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter June 2018

Meeting demand with seasonal workers

For many businesses, dealing with peaks and troughs in demand is a real challenge – especially when it comes to staffing levels.

Hiring seasonal workers to level them out is a sensible solution for many. But it’s important their employment status is clear. Will they be employees, workers or self-employed? Their status will determine how they work and what rights they have. For example, a casual or zero hour person with worker status can decline to work, while an employee is obliged to carry out duties that fall within their role, and while employees have many statutory rights including the right not to be unfairly dismissed, workers have very few rights but are entitled to paid holiday.

So how can you ensure seasonal workers are treated fairly? Those on a fixed-term contract should, by law, receive the same treatment as their permanent colleagues. So if permanent employees share tips, those on fixed-term contracts must be included too. The same goes for part-time employees who are entitled to be treated in the same way as their full-time colleagues.

For many businesses, the busiest times coincide with students’ holidays when they are looking to boost their funds. So this can be a useful pool to recruit from. If they’re over 18, it should be plain sailing. Any younger and you’ll need to consider strict rules governing the employment of someone under the compulsory school age, as well as additional working-time obligations.

Hiring agency workers might seem the simplest solution – but that doesn’t let you off the hook entirely! You’ll need to give them access to all the facilities your employees enjoy, and let them know about any permanent vacancies. And under the terms of the Agency Workers Regulations, once they’ve been with you for more than 12 weeks, they’re entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions you give your own employees.

It’s clear that there are pitfalls in taking on seasonal workers. With employment law changing all the time, you may need some help to get it right. If there’s anything you’re not sure about, talk to The HR Dept.


Moving towards a more inclusive workforce

You’d think in this day and age, employees could feel comfortable being open about their sexuality. But according to LGBT charity Stonewall, more than 35% of LGBT people hide or disguise their sexuality, fearing discrimination at work.

And for anyone thinking that young workers will be more upfront, it’s worth pointing out that the highest proportion of people who hid their sexuality in the workplace were aged 18-24.

How can organisations and their staff become more inclusive? The first step is to encourage an open and supportive culture, making it clear intolerance and discrimination isn’t acceptable. Remember it’s ok to admit you don’t know everything – so practise reverse mentoring and learn from less senior employees who understand more than you.

Throughout June, LGBT Pride events will be happening around the country. Could your organisation support one of these, sending a clear signal that inclusivity is firmly at the top of your agenda?


Holiday management

Holidays… they’re meant to be fun, relaxing, a time of the year to look forward to. So why do they have to be so stressful to organise?

Your staff may be wrestling with school-holiday price jumps, inconvenient (but cheaper) mid-week flights or last-minute deals. And their pressures may transfer to you in the guise of a short-notice holiday request, conflicting bookings and the need to handle frequent questions about holiday entitlement.

Having a clear written holiday policy and communicating it to staff gives you the framework to manage these issues and should be considered a bare minimum.

Looking at advanced solutions for SMEs, our HR Dept Toolkit software is the smart choice. It allows employees to self-manage holiday entitlement, taking much of the headache away from you. For a free demonstration, get in touch.


How SMEs can compete with large companies in the fight for talent

Naturally you want to attract and retain the best people. But if you’re an SME, how can you possibly compete with the salaries and perks offered by some of the big players? That’s a dilemma faced by many.

Indeed in a recent SME confidence-tracking survey from Bibby Financial Services, 27% of SMEs said they’re struggling to hire the right skills. More than one in five are having to increase remuneration to retain talent.

While that’s not a very positive picture, it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that as an SME, you have plenty to offer. A 2017 survey showed that career progression and development tended to be more important to employees than working for a big brand. In a smaller company employees have more opportunity to be involved in different aspects of the business building their skills and experience quickly. And if they have ambitious plans for their career, they’ll probably have their sights set on great things for your business as well.

Don’t forget the importance of training too. That’s an extremely attractive benefit which can help you recruit and retain the right people. SMEs are recognising this, with 42% planning to invest in training. And if you currently have a skills gap, it often makes more sense to develop someone in your team, rather than trying to find a ready-made solution from outside. It’s a great way to improve performance, foster loyalty and turn your workforce into even more of an asset.

If you’re concerned about attracting the right talent for your business, give us a call.


Could you win during the world cup?

The bookies have Brazil, Germany and Spain as the favourites for this summer’s world cup. But could your business be a winner too, indirectly?

Many people will be looking forward to watching their favourite team in action. And with games coming thick and fast on weekdays and weekends, most businesses will have staff who would appreciate flexibility so they can catch a match.

Your options for facilitating this will depend on your circumstances. But ideas to consider include showing the game onsite; allowing employees to follow matches on personal devices; and permitting flexible working.

Research suggests that the distraction of major sporting events can become a management problem for about one in four businesses, with issues like reduced productivity and unauthorised absence. But by taking a proactive approach you can prevent this own goal and actually boost employee engagement, goodwill and therefore productivity.


Dogs at work

A cute canine will bring a smile to most people’s faces. So if you haven’t considered letting your employees bring their furry friends to work, perhaps now’s the time.

No, we haven’t gone barking mad! It’s ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’ on 22 June – so why not give it a go? Research shows that enrolling a four-legged friend can reduce stress, strengthen relationships and make the office a happier place. It might even help you attract top talent.

Do bear in mind that some may have a phobia or allergies, so check your whole team are wagging their tails at the idea.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter May 2018

GDP(H)R

It’s almost here. Not the fabled English summer, but the equally fabled GDPR. As you probably know, that’s the new General Data Protection Regulation. It comes into force on 25 May.

It’s something to take seriously as has been demonstrated by the flurry of opt-in emails that we have all been receiving in our inboxes. They relate to marketing, but GDPR is far broader. It includes the employee data you handle.

Think about it from recruitment to termination of employment; you’ll have contact details, bank info, NI numbers, possibly medical information, performance records and if applicable a disciplinary and grievance history. That is all highly sensitive stuff.

You’ll need to inform individuals how you intend to use and store this information. And for some things this will require explicit consent. You’ll also need to train all employees in GDPR compliance – as they say, any system is only as strong as its weakest link. The penalties for non-compliance are ferocious.

Retained HR Dept clients needn’t worry about gaining GDPR-compliant consent from employees. We’ve made the necessary changes to your HR documentation. So you’ll have what you need to implement that.

There’ll be further actions you need to take as part of your wider GDPR compliance though.

You should audit all the data that you currently hold. Be thorough and honest with yourself… that box of old files in the warehouse still counts! GDPR covers all electronic and paper records where an individual can be identified.

Now you can create an audit trail of personal data and identify more sensitive information. If you do not use it already, My HR Toolkit is a fantastic software solution for handling employee data.

Once your data is audited and you have new systems in place, don’t forget to train up your staff. We can help with staff training too. To find out more about this, or My HR Toolkit, give us a call.

So now you’re well on your way to compliance, you can sit back and watch out for the next instalment of GDPR… which will probably be “Who’s the first test case?”. You know it won’t be you!


Asthma and hay fever in the workplace

A worker at the Department of Work and Pensions was recently awarded £26,000 following unfair treatment from his bosses after suffering an asthma attack.

He’d been forced into an unsuitable role, given a written warning for taking sick leave and pressurised into moving offices.

Asthma is a serious, occasionally fatal, condition; sometimes classified as a disability. An employee doesn’t have to inform you that they suffer from it. But it would be hoped they’d want to, and that you could work together to ensure they have the right environment in which to work. This may include identifying triggers such as dust and mitigating them, ensuring first aiders are aware and handling sickness absence correctly.

It would also be good to have hay fever on your radar at this time of year. It’s less serious, but still no fun. Sufferers are sure to appreciate a boss who’s sympathetic to the condition.


Too scared to use the loo!

They say all publicity is good publicity, but that most definitely doesn’t extend to press accounts of banning your staff from taking loo breaks. You couldn’t do this directly, but by creating a culture of fear with strict policies regarding breaks and other informal downtime, it may happen indirectly. It was reported in the national press that the like occurred at an Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire, with a “toilet bottle” being implemented (Amazon don’t recognise the accusation).

They’re not the only high-profile employers accused of regressing to Victorian-era HR. Firms which have been caught up in such practices have been panned. If your policies aren’t fit for purpose and risk making headlines for the wrong reasons, talk to us about getting them right. We can help you with a PR crisis communications service too!


Work and weddings

The wedding season is now upon us, with the Royal wedding just around the corner! For at least the last year the Bride to be has been busily planning venues, searching for the perfect florist, band and wedding dress. But how much of their time is spent browsing online or discussing details with their colleagues during work hours? A clear policy for online activities should be seen, understood and agreed by employees. Banning wedding discussions all together may dampen the office atmosphere, so why not add an extra ten minutes on to your weekly team meeting dedicated to a wedding catch up.

Then the Best Man, Maid of Honour and Chief Bridesmaid are organising the stag and hen weekend to which an email lands in your employee’s inbox and half the team are invited.

They all leave on a Friday and with a bit of luck stagger in on Monday rather the worse for wear and that’s before the wedding. How does the business manage multiple requests for this time off? What about the one employee that got left in Dublin last seen singing ‘The Final Countdown’? Then you may be thrown with the bride and/or groom requesting two weeks or more off for their beloved honeymoon.

Managing these holiday requests whilst ensuring your business has adequate staff cover is enough to make you want to take a holiday yourself! The running of your business is your priority, so if an employee wedding may be on the horizon, a discussion of your requirements before all the party planning gets started could save you from a HR headache.


Don’t get a shock from PILON

Payment in lieu of notice (PILON) rules have changed. Once payable free from income tax and National Insurance where it was not specified in the contract, PILON will now attract these charges.

Since 6 April if an employee leaves without working their full notice period, you’ll have to process the termination payment under these new rules. We would advise you check that your payroll software has been updated.

In fact, this is just one of a series of hidden traps within changes to termination payments. You should also be aware that injury to feelings payments are now subject to income tax (subject to the £30,000 threshold) unless they relate to a disability.

The government also signalled an intent to make employer National Insurance payments payable on the excess of termination payments above £30,000. This has been postponed until April 2019.


Snooping bosses!

The judgement from a recent employment tribunal serves as a reminder that it’s best to leave covert surveillance to the cops in Hollywood movies.

A credit controller was awarded £4,414 for being unfairly dismissed following leave taken while her father battled terminal cancer. Colleagues had accused her of partying during this time, and a director’s response was to scour the employee’s social media posts and even keep watch on her home.

It’s rare that such an approach will be justified, so if you have a situation where this crosses your mind, speak to us for professional advice.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters Q2 2018

How much damage can a workstation do?

Dangerous places, offices are. Sure, perhaps not as dangerous as working with heavy machinery or at height. But a computer workstation can cause more than its fair share of problems, if not set up correctly.

Let’s consider the desk surface. A bad set-up can lead to back and neck pain and also contact stress on the arms. The top of the desk should be at an appropriate height for the user (adjustable height desks are becoming more common). Computer monitors should be placed at head height and about 50cm from the eyes. These will help to avoid strain on both the eyes and neck.

The desk should provide enough space to accessibly house all equipment which the user frequently uses. Having to stretch repeatedly to reach stationery, or twist into unnatural positions is bad for posture.

It’s best to have desks with rounded edges. These help the circulation when arms rest on them – compared to angled edges – helping to prevent tingling and soreness in the fingers. If your desks have sharper edges, you could consider overlaying a softer material like foam.

And what about under the desk? In a busy office, it’s tempting to pile boxes or files under desks, but this isn’t advisable. Such obstructions can force the worker too far away from the desk top, or restrict leg movement – both of which can cause back and neck problems.

Who’d have thought there was so much to consider with the humble desk! But normally a little care and attention can render them harmless, and help you keep a healthy, productive workforce.


Good health and safety is great for your business

When people talk about health and safety, it’s often with just legal compliance in mind, and preventing people (and equipment) coming to harm – reactive policies to stop bad things happening. But what about the positives that a proactive health and safety policy brings to your business?

Being seen to take health and safety seriously by your staff brings you significant benefits. First, there is the cultural impact. You create a culture in which you clearly care about your employees, and an environment in which they can carry out their work effectively. This professional approach will play its part in recruiting and retaining high calibre workers.

Good health and safety will also help you operate more efficiently. According to the HSE, 31.2 million working days were lost last year due to work-related illness and injury. Reduce the lost days in your business and think of the management time saved and the avoided costs of covering for absent workers.

So investing a little in health and safety can deliver valuable returns through more effective employees and reduced absences. And that’s before you even consider savings in legal costs and compensation when things go badly wrong.


April Showers

 April is a month notorious for its changeable weather, and in particular showery rain. This can pose extra risks for employees who work outside, and to the entrance areas of buildings.

For outside workers, the correct clothing and equipment for rain are essential. Slips and falls become much more likely. So footwear with non-slip rubber and thick grooves in the soles are a must, particularly for people working at height. Other waterproof clothing is important but ensure that vision and hearing aren’t compromised. Hand tools should be suitable for outdoor use and have non-slip handles.

And for those lucky enough to be working indoors when the heavens open, there is still a heightened risk to manage. Main entrances to buildings can become extra slippery. So good quality entrance matting is advisable. If you do not have permanent matting up to the task, you could store reinforcement matting for especially wet days along with slip hazard signage.

Need help conducting a wet weather risk assessment? Call The Health and Safety Dept.


Health and Safety Myth Busters

It’s unfortunate but enduringly true that health and safety is a go-to excuse for managers and frontline staff when they introduce or enforce an unpopular policy. The HSE calls out such policies when they wrongly blame health and safety legislation. Here is our round-up of some of the latest myths they have dispelled.

Myth: Packed lunches banned from being eaten in the playground
With the weather turning warmer, nothing could be more pleasant than eating your lunch in the gentle sunshine. One school outlawed their children from eating their packed lunches alfresco, citing health and safety as the reason. However, government regulations do not touch upon this. Therefore, the decision was part of an internal management policy and should have been presented as such.

Myth: Providing empty tester perfume bottles
Most of us like to smell nice, and for many this means buying an expensive fragrance. Or if we’re lucky, being given one as a present. Some of us even like to collect empty tester perfume bottles, apparently. But one unfortunate enthusiast was prohibited by a store assistant from taking away such perfume bottles for, you’ve guessed it, health and safety reasons. Could it be that they were made of glass? Or were somehow unhygienic? Who knows? But in fact there is no legitimate health and safety reason why these empty glass bottles couldn’t be given away. It turns out that this was simply an internal waste and recycling policy.

Myth: Ban the safety pins
Do you have fond memories of your local swimming pool? Perhaps the changing rooms are not held so dear. Soggy floors, cramped cubicles, and those fiddly safety pins used to attach the locker key to your swimming costume. Thankfully, these safety pins are becoming a thing of the past as wristbands and clips are now preferred. One swimming pool blamed the demise of the safety pin on health and safety. Again, aside from general common sense, the HSE are not concerned with safety pins, so it was simply a commercial decision that there are better ways of attaching a key to your person when entering a swimming pool.

If you have a good reason for introducing a policy that is unpopular, then why not just use it to explain the policy? If there is no good reason, then perhaps you should change the policy. But don’t blame it on “health and safety”.


2017 sees huge rise in health and safety enforcement fines

When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its enforcement figures for 2017, they showed huge rises in fines. They were up 74% on the previous year to about £61 million. Significant custodial sentences were handed out, too. This follows the introduction in 2016 of harsher sentencing guidelines and penalties.

There were some stand-out cases. These included a £2.2 million fine for Wilko when a 20-year-old female worker was crushed under a cage full of paint tins and paralysed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was fined just under £1 million following two employees being severely burned. And Aldi was fined £1 million after a new employee damaged his foot while operating an electric pallet truck without the proper training.

Lengthy jail sentences were handed out to the directors of more than one company following the deaths of employees falling from height.

That should be more than enough to make business owners sit up and take notice. And it is not just the punishments meted out by the HSE which business owners should be concerned about.

Depending on the nature of the accident, there could be further financial cost from repairing damage to machinery and equipment, lost revenue if operations are shut down for any length of time, and the time and money spent in preparing for the court proceedings.

Then there’s the human cost to consider. There will often be physical or mental damage to the immediate victim. But bad feeling could permeate throughout your workforce if it is perceived that you do not take workers’ welfare seriously. This could lead to recruitment and retention problems.

Appropriate risk assessments are at the heart of good health and safety policy. These include learning from near misses at your own organisation, and from the mistakes of others. To ensure you are handling health and safety correctly, get in touch with The Health and Safety Dept for an initial consultation.