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VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter September 2019

Have your say in our Voice of the SME survey

Atypical working is no stranger to the pages of People Matter or our blogs. We know it can bring useful flexibility to both workers and companies. But it can also be open to abuse.

It’s widely felt that there’s no problem with using freelancers, zero-hour contracts and self-employed contractors when done for genuine reasons of flexibility, meeting irregular demand and scalability. But when used as a short cut to save money at the expense of a workforce, that’s not right.

The courts are firm in this view. In high-profile cases, such as ones involving Uber and Pimlico Plumbers, they have ruled that worker status was incorrectly classified, causing respective workforces to miss out on employment entitlements and protections.

The government is seeking to update the law to better regulate the practices of atypical working practices They are currently consulting on protections for workers on flexible or zero-hour contracts. These include compensation for cancelled shifts and how long a reasonable notice period might be when withdrawing weekly hours. It also covers protections for workers who turn down shifts offered to them at the last minute.

In such consultations it is often large corporate organisations with an army of HR professionals and lawyers whose voices are heard the most.

So we have created our Voice of the SME survey to give companies like you a louder voice. Because of our nationwide client base, we can collect, collate and represent the opinions of thousands of SME businesses across the country. And amplify their voices to ensure they are heard in the corridors of power. Please spare a few moments to have your say, click here to complete our survey and help shape future regulation of flexible working arrangements. The survey closes on 30th September.

The government is consulting on reforming sick pay and frameworks for getting people back to work after long-term sickness. While this year our Voice of the SME survey is focused on workers’ rights and whether they can have sick pay, you may also want to give your views on the wider aspects of absence management. You can do so here.

Holiday pay for term-time staff

Just when you thought it was safe to start calculating holiday pay, a recent court case has thrown up a new complication.

Over the past few years, a slew of cases has made it increasingly complicated to calculate holiday pay. And increasingly expensive for employers. We have had sales commission needing to be taken into account and overtime too. Now it is part-time, part-year workers under the microscope.

A music teacher took her employer to court saying the way that they calculated holiday pay was not compliant with the Working Time Directive. She worked variable hours during term time and had agreed to take all holiday out of term. She was paid holiday three times a year at a rate of 12.07% of her wages for the previous term.

She argued that this equated to an amount below the Working Time Directive minimum. In short, the judge agreed with her. Although he accepted that it will throw up anomalies. He coined a new phrase: part-year employee. In the case of the music teacher, she will actually be paid 17.5% of annual earnings. So, as a part-year employee, she has a higher rate of holiday pay than full-time or regular hours part-time workers.

If you employ term time only staff members, we would advise reviewing how you calculate their holiday pay. Ask us if you are unsure.

Get ready for Brexit

(At the time of print) the prime minister assures us we’ll be leaving the EU on 31 October. Halloween, of course, and leaving aside whether you think Brexit will be a trick or treat, there may well be steps you need to take to be prepared.

The government has published a number of online resources. These include pdf guides you can share with employees affected by change. And an interactive calculator called “Get ready for Brexit” which suggests what you specifically might need to do. This covers points like customs tariffs, travel arrangements and new labelling requirements.

Another specific consideration is if you employ UK nationals required to drive in the EU or vice versa. There’s specific drivers’ guidance too.

It’s helpful to be pointed in the right direction, but there’s still the hard graft to do. If you need extra support with your Brexit HR, then get in touch.

Claws and effect

It’s something we’ve discussed before, and a high-profile petition from a sacked worker has raised the issue again. Should bereavement leave be offered following the death of a pet?

There’s no legal provision for this. Of course, for human bereavement there is a right for a reasonable amount of time off if they are a dependant. But bereavement affects everyone differently, and some people may be overwhelmingly affected by the loss of a pet.

You may notice unexpected absence, a drop in performance or even temporarily not being able to perform certain roles.

With no law to steer you, your response to this comes down to your discretion. Showing compassion often pays dividends in the long run. But be careful! You should apply a strong rationale and consistency. For instance you may feel some time off (whether paid or unpaid) for the loss of a cat or dog is appropriate. But draw the line at the goldfish. And there’ll be an expectation that what’s offered to one employee will be provided for another in similar circumstances.

Clowning around

If you want a whole new take on receiving bad news, consider Josh Thompson’s approach. When Josh, a copywriter from New Zealand, received an email from his employer asking him to meet to discuss his role, he guessed the writing was on the wall. In accordance with New Zealand law, he was encouraged to bring a support person to the HR meeting. Instead of a family member or union rep, he hired a clown to ease the tension. His employers saw the funny side but did have to ask him to quieten down several times while he was making balloon animals. In Josh’s words “Boy, oh boy, are clowns noisy”!


Employees at protests

Climate change and political unrest are giving rise to increasing protests, globally and in the UK.

So what do you do if employees skip work to join a mass protest? Even those who have a previously unblemished unauthorised absence record? It could be on the cards with trade unions mooting a Greta Thunberg inspired general strike.

Employees can’t expect to skip off work to protest and not face repercussions. You need to make it very clear that they have to book holiday to take time off to protest. If they do go AWOL or pull a sickie on the day, you need to attempt to contact them and document everything. Alternatively if you see them on TV gluing themselves to a bank, press record quickly and ring us for advice.

If however the issue is climate change and your company ethos plays a part in addressing this, actively communicate it to staff so that they feel they are already contributing.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter August 2019

More support for victims of abuse

It is thought that two million adults suffer domestic abuse each year. This can take the form of emotional, financial or economic abuse. On average, it leads to two women dying every week and one man every month. Many people suffer in silence, so it is good to be aware how prevalent this issue is, as it is statistically probable that some of your employees will be victims.

Before she left her role as prime minister, Theresa May moved it up the agenda in parliament. The Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced. It gives domestic abuse an official definition for the first time and puts a more substantial support framework in place. This is sure to raise awareness. So what can you as an employer do to support employees who may be affected?

Employers have a general duty of care towards their staff. And as part of this you need to provide a safe and effective work environment. If you find that one of your employees is, or has, suffered from domestic abuse, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, a charity, has produced a helpful resource. It is called the Domestic Abuse Toolkit and you can download it directly from their website.

Of course abuse is not just confined to the home. Bullying and sexual harassment remain entrenched in the workplace. Separate to the Domestic Abuse Bill, the government is planning to legislate to dismantle one of the main ways in which companies sweep abuse under the carpet: excessive use of non-disclosure agreements, or Settlement Agreements as they are usually called in an employment situation, and rightly so.

Settlement Agreements do however serve a useful and legitimate function. When used properly they allow the victim to move forward with their life, so we do not agree with a widespread ban on these. They have to have received advice from a solicitor before signing, who would always recommend reporting serious crimes. Sometimes governments can be guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Boards of Directors though should seriously investigate the conduct that has resulted in a Settlement Agreement and take the appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator. If you need help with a sensitive issue like this do ring us for advice.

An unexpectedly high penalty

Don’t think that a case of discrimination will be treated leniently at tribunal because it is isolated. Awards which apply to compensation for injury to feelings, fall into one of three tiers, known as “vento” bands to decide the level of damages.

Typically, a one-off claim for injury to feelings will sit in the lower band. But actually, the judgement will always be fact specific, with an emphasis on the impact of the discrimination. This means that any of the vento bands can apply. What follows is a cautionary tale.

A children’s clothing company recently had the book thrown at them for a string of wrongdoings that followed from an isolated discrimination claim. A photographer was made redundant after just three months. When she cried foul and suggested race discrimination, the company ignored her grievance and refused to engage in the Acas early conciliation process, thereby aggravating the first error.

The eventual employment tribunal and appeal found against the company. They were ordered to pay damages of about £30,000. It is pertinent to note that the injury to feeling aspect of the award sat in the middle Vento band.

Enhanced protection for new parents

The Government gave its’ response to a consultation on 22 July which proposes to give mothers returning from maternity leave an additional six months of protection against redundancy. The rules will also protect those returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave.

New mothers already have special protection from redundancy whilst on maternity leave. Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 says that such an employee, when faced with redundancy, should be given priority over other employees and offered another suitable vacancy if possible.

If a suitable job isn’t available, only then can they be made redundant. But the proper redundancy procedures must be followed, and pregnancy or maternity cannot be the reason for redundancy.
Now it is proposed that this redundancy protection will last from the moment an employee tells their company they are pregnant, until six months after they have returned to work.

This enhanced protection following the government consultation, is part of their Good Work Plan. It goes further than what the EU requires. The Government feels it needs to do more because, despite existing regulations making it illegal to discriminate due to pregnancy or maternity, discrimination still occurs, and far too often.

In fact, research indicates that 54,000 women a year feel they have to leave employment because of pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

There are stiff financial penalties for companies found guilty of such discrimination. And let’s not forget the poor publicity and the potential for a toxic workplace culture to develop. For help and guidance on how to manage employees on maternity leave, please contact us.

Mental health awareness in schools

It’s fair to say that mental health awareness has never been higher. But as awareness has risen, it only highlights how much needs to be done.

A key battleground is in schools. World Health Organisation figures show that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. And, of course, teachers and other staff feel a lot of pressure themselves which can lead to mental health struggles.

Because teachers spend so much time observing children, they are well placed to notice the warning signs of a mental health issue. Properly trained they can also be an important first point of contact, and positioned to signpost support. So upskilling teachers in mental health awareness provides a valuable resource to the school.

We offer eLearning training on mental health awareness tailored specifically for educational professionals. So if of interest, please enquire to find out more.

Inside the mind of an introvert

Did you know that up to 50% of the population are introverts? Maybe that’s not so surprising seeing that the main alternative is to be an extrovert. Both behavioural types have strengths and weaknesses. But what is interesting is that most companies are set up to suit extroverts. Think open plan offices, social events and generally the loudest voices being heard first.

This won’t be a deal breaker for most introverts. But it does mean that conditions are not optimised for their performance. And they have a lot to offer. Restoring balance could help drive your business forward.

We’re not talking about difficult actions. Giving introverts a safe platform to speak in meetings, creating quieter working zones, and not putting pressure on people to attend every social event are all achievable. A great place to start is with some Myers-Briggs training to help identify your team’s personality traits and how they work best.

Sleeping on the job

Can you believe an employment tribunal judge fell asleep twice during a hearing? After we’d finished raising our eyebrows, we found that it’s not as uncommon as you might think! We’re not just talking about dozy judges. Apparently 12% of office workers have confessed to falling asleep in a meeting.

We’ll hope this phenomenon does not spread to air traffic controllers. But in the meantime what should you do if you catch someone, well, catching 40 winks? It may be gross misconduct if, say, they were hungover. But don’t jump to conclusions. Check there’s not an underlying medical condition or other mitigating factor before deciding on your course of action.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters Q3

Take the wheel on managing
moving vehicle risk at work

Managing the risk of moving vehicles at work is not something that every business has to contend with. But in warehouses, large retail stores, and airports, for example, it is a key area of health and safety. Poor procedures and systems of work present risks to the employee and customer alike. As an employer, you are legally required to be aware of such risks and take steps to eliminate or reduce them.

Much of this is governed by general health and safety legislation such as The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. But be aware that there may be more specific legislation to consider too, including the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998.

A moving vehicle risk assessment is essential to build a clear picture of where vehicles are, why they are there and what they are doing. This will help you identify potential vehicle hazards so you can take mitigating action.

Every year there are over 5,000 incidents involving transport in the workplace. And around 50 of these are fatal, so the risk is very real.

Common types of accidents involving moving vehicles include: people being struck or run over by a vehicle, people being hit by something falling from a vehicle, people falling from vehicles and vehicles overturning.

A court case following the death of a worker who walked in front of a moving lorry was recently reported on. While the driver had checked his mirrors, he did not see the employee and moved forward resulting in the fatal injury. The grain store company where the accident occurred was fined £180,000, as well as having to pay costs of £20,000.

In this instance the HSE found that pedestrians could not move safely around the site, as they had not provided measures to prevent employees walking into areas where large vehicles were moving. The company’s failure to implement simple H&S measures was cited as the cause for this avoidable incident.

Stop such potential disasters before they occur by managing the risks of workplace transport. Good practice measures include:

● Keeping people and vehicles apart
● Having clear site rules which are communicated to all staff members
● Avoiding the need to work at height on vehicles
● Ensuring your employees only operate vehicles when authorised to do so.

If you need help carrying out a moving vehicle risk assessment, or think your staff may need some extra training, contact us.

Is your care home heatwave resilient?

If you own or manage a care home, how well prepared are you and your staff for rising temperatures this summer? A study of four care homes found the heating was left on 24 hours a day, even during the summer months. And in a previous major heatwave, back in 2003, care home deaths related to heat increased by 42% that August.

“Heatwave resilience” is a term being used by MPs after last summer’s heatwave, to describe the best practice care homes should be seeking. Long-term trends suggest that UK summer temperatures are rising. So there is likely to be a smaller margin for error in managing this risk as the years pass. You’ll want to look at how temperature is controlled with both heating and cooling systems. Consider also the hydration and nutritional requirements of the people under your care during extremes of temperature.

Warning signs, aside from the obvious increase in temperature, could include a rise in incidents of urinary tract infections, dizziness and falls. Heatwave resilience is sure to move up the agenda of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) when they are inspecting care homes for safety and the effectiveness of their care. Regularly carrying out a heat risk assessment not only feeds into delivering the highest levels of care, but also helps you stay compliant with regulations.

If you operate a care home and have concerns over your staff’s readiness for a heatwave, or need help carrying out a heat risk assessment, get in touch with us today.

Extracurricular work in schools

Summer holidays are the time when schools get major building work done. Although there won’t be children around, you’ll still want to ensure health and safety regulations are followed if you have responsibility in this area.

Your schedule of work may range from a few thousand pounds for play equipment, to hundreds of thousands of pounds for major developments like roofing works. However big or small your project, you’ll have responsibilities under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Classified as a client, you’ll be responsible for ensuring your project is suitably managed, considering the health and safety of anyone who might be affected.

Building activities over the summer holidays aren’t quite “business as usual”, so don’t get caught out. There may be fewer or no children about, but ensure you plan for other people on site, including contractors and your teachers coming in to prepare their classrooms for next year.

Make sure your shop is
hot on fire regulation

A member of the public has been banned from every branch of a popular homeware store in the UK, after arguing in the carpark with a manager that the store breached health and safety laws. The customer, Derek, raised concerns over the fact that staff were locked into the store for 15 minutes at the end of the day. He also criticised the store’s covered fire extinguishers.

Despite his ban, Derek raised some important fire safety issues. If you own or manage a shop, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of them. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that emergency doors must not be locked if they cannot be easily and immediately opened in an emergency. It also states that they must be kept clear at all times.

It was reported that the front door of the store was its main fire escape. The locking of fire doors presents a clear obstacle to an immediate exit. If you want to signal that your shop is closed for business, but still have employees inside, consider hanging a closed sign or have an employee at the front door to turn customers away, or specifically to open it in the event of an emergency.

When it comes to fire extinguishers, you must ensure they are maintained and ready for immediate use. The regulation doesn’t mention covers specifically, but they should be fitted properly (for example not used to prop open a door), and easily accessible.

HSE Myth Busters

When we are off on a plane for our summer holidays or relaxing in a pool, being denied a reasonable request due to health and safety will not cut the mustard. Here are two examples of summer holiday businesses which did that and earned a place on the HSE Myth Busters panel. The lesson is: don’t blame management decisions on health and safety without a good explanation.

Something to chew on
One adult passenger was forced to put up with popping ears after an airline refused to provide boiled sweets on the grounds of health and safety. They claimed that because children could choke on them, they were banned outright. While it is sensible to avoid giving hard sweets to young children, there is no health and safety legislation that prevents the provision of boiled sweets on flights.

Sink or swim
One swimming pool banned inflatables and other items that people enjoy in swimming pools on the grounds of health and safety. Health and safety law does apply to the management of public swimming pools but does not explicitly ban these items. They may have had a good reason, like impeding a lifeguard’s ability to have complete sight of the pool, but it would have been better to say this rather than making health and safety legislation the killjoy.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter July 2019

Do you remember when holiday pay
used to be simple?

The empty spaces in the car park are proof that the holiday season is in full swing. And with it our HR advice phonelines are getting busy answering all the questions about holiday pay.

The first question is always: how much holiday should an employee have? The statutory minimum is 5.6 weeks, made up from about 20 days plus the bank and public holidays. And zero-hour staff accrue holiday for every hour worked, 8.3 hours worked equals one hour’s holiday.

Pay used to be relatively simple, with an employee’s weekly salary or usual weekly working hours being the amount they earned whilst on holiday. But over the last two years all that has changed.

The first challenge was Lock v British Gas. He wanted his results-based commission included in his holiday pay. He won and that started the change. A survey recently found that workers in Britain were owed £1.8bn in unpaid holiday pay and the government is campaigning to ensure employers and employees understand their rights and obligations.

Holiday entitlement is part of the health and safety legislation. It is there to protect staff on the basis that we all need a break from work for our health and well-being. Therefore there must be no disincentive to take that time off. This might be the case if someone’s pay was less during periods of annual leave.

This has resulted in a number of claims. First for compulsory overtime to be included. And now firefighters have won the right to have voluntary overtime included too in the average week’s pay. This is in addition to payments such as on call and commission.

Staff working irregular hours should have the average pay calculated over the previous 12 weeks. And do remember that holiday must be taken. So paying an additional amount each week to cover the holiday pay, which is referred to as rolled-up holiday pay, is not allowed. For all your holiday queries do ring us, so you don’t pay more later with a tribunal claim.

Restrictive covenants offered
protection by Supreme Court

A dark cloud had been hanging over many businesses which rely on restrictive covenants. But it has passed following a Supreme Court ruling.

As you’ll probably know, restrictive covenants are used to stop employees competing against you after they leave, or poaching key staff and clients from you. What you may not know is that a restrictive covenant must be reasonable and not be so restrictive that a person is prevented from earning their living.

A former director at an executive research firm argued that some wording in her restrictive covenant was unreasonable, making the whole clause unenforceable. Her former employer successfully obtained an injunction preventing her from joining a rival, and some expensive toing and froing in the courts has followed.

It centred on two words: “interested in”. She had signed to say she would not “directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition [with her former company] for six months after leaving the business”.

As those words prevented her taking even a minor shareholding in a competing business, the Court of Appeal ruled it an unreasonable restraint of trade. And they found that removing the words would change the meaning of the clause.

Now the Supreme Court has found that those two offending words can be removed – but leaving the overall effect of the restrictive covenant intact, without the need for words to be added or amended.

This sets an important precedent and safety net for employers: that a restrictive covenant can be generally enforceable, despite one aspect being deemed unfair. However, having them correctly drafted in the first place is essential and having insurance in place to be able to enforce them through the Courts brings better protection for your business.

Contact The HR Dept for a review.

Is hotdesking still hot?

As flexible working practices become more popular, it makes sense that hotdesking will follow suit. After all, why pay for vacant space?

Adopting hotdesking means you can gain efficiencies by downsizing your square footage. Or make your workplace more attractive and useful by transforming the redundant desk space. How about a break-out area or new meeting room?

But hotdesking is not a one-way street to success. If only! In one survey of 1,001 office workers by a transformational consultancy, 22% of respondents found hotdesking made bonding with colleagues more difficult. And nearly half said they wasted time setting up equipment. The worry of whether a desk is available will affect the well-being of some, too.

Other potential problems include hygiene concerns and the development of cliquey behaviour. However, with a well-managed approach – including desk scheduling and clear guidance on conduct – these obstacles can largely be overcome.

How might the new school week
affect working parents?

A top performing state school in England has announced plans to move to a four-and-a-half-day academic week. Wow! School’s out from lunchtime on Friday for kids and teachers alike. So who is going to look after the children? We can see this will have an unfair additional pressure on parents, particularly women who bear the brunt of child care responsibilities.

Already working parents have to manage their working hours when their children first start school, as the first few weeks are usually half days. But a permanent four-and-a-half-day working week is going to affect businesses. If your employees are affected by this shorter week, you are bound to see an increase in flexible working requests. As much as we actively support flexible working, the number who can finish early on Friday is going to be limited and could create jealousy from colleagues.

The reason schools are looking at this is twofold. Firstly to save money as their budgets are under tremendous pressure. And secondly to minimise teacher stress and burnout, which is sadly a real and ongoing issue. So if this happens at a school near you, contact us to see if we can find innovative ways to help you reach a solution.

How emotionally intelligent
is your team?

In olden days people were expected to switch off their emotions when they went to work. Now it’s far more widely recognised that this isn’t possible. And that, actually, harnessing emotional intelligence can help individuals and organisations be more successful.

It has been established that emotional intelligence is a skill which can be nurtured with practice. The psychologist Daniel Goleman identifies five pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. And it’s easy to see why these would be desirable traits in your workforce. In fact, a survey back in 2011 found that almost three-quarters of hiring managers rated emotional intelligence over IQ.

When trying to instil an emotionally intelligent culture, you should lead from the front. Staff who know that you genuinely care about them are far more likely to buy in to your plans. For guidance and advice, speak to The HR Dept.

Outrageous expense claims

What’s the most jaw-dropping item your employees have put through expenses? Can you beat lottery tickets, cosmetic surgery, half a cow? They’ve all actually happened. Admittedly in America! And while we can raise an eyebrow and perhaps smile at the nerve, it is a serious issue.

Expenses are to reimburse staff for travel and other costs incurred in the line of duty. While “half a cow” would be easy to spot, there will inevitably be greyer areas. These can be minimised through good line management drawing clear boundaries, rather than being left to the finance manager to notice.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter June 2019

Fathers’ flexibility needs rejected

The poor treatment that mothers often receive in the workplace is well documented. What does not hit the headlines so regularly is the father’s lot at work in 21st century Britain.

A new survey by Deloitte and parenting website DaddiLife sheds some light on this. It’s not particularly pleasant reading for families. Nearly half of dads experience regular tension at work when trying to balance family life. It affects one in three dads’ mental health negatively.

Four out of ten working dads request flexible working and about half of these requests are rejected. Of course, as an employer you are entitled to reject a flexible working request. But you must handle these requests in a reasonable manner. A rejection must be justified to the applicant with a good business reason.

Handling flexible working requests reasonably will involve a face-to-face meeting to discuss the request, properly weighing up the pros and cons and offering an appeals process. Taking the time to do this may help you to make a better decision as well as to stay legally compliant.

At first sight it may seem clear-cut that flexible working will not aid your business. But a considered appraisal of the impact of not granting it may change your mind. For example, if there is, as the survey suggests, a 33% chance of an unsupported father developing a mental health issue, maybe the cost in lost productivity of denying flexible working will exceed the perceived cost of allowing it.

Flexible working is also known to improve staff loyalty. So you may see the same story with recruitment and retention costs. The survey revealed that a third of new fathers have switched jobs and another third are actively looking to switch.

Flexible working is more highly valued by employees than ever. And traditional parental dynamics of the father being the bread-winner are increasingly perceived as outdated. So is it time to review your attitudes towards flexible working? Talk to your local HR Dept to review how you handle requests and how you can make flexible working work for your business.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

About 85% of people are neurotypical. This means that their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say “think different” to quote Apple’s famous advertising slogan. They are neurodivergent.

Neurodivergent people are often diagnosed with a condition, which can come with stigma. The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia. While they can each be associated with specific difficulties which are well documented, they also often give rise to strengths which come from thinking differently.

For instance, people with ADHD may be good at completing urgent tasks, those with autism at developing deep specialist knowledge, people with dyslexia at problem-solving and employees with dyspraxia at strategic thinking.

It all varies from person to person. But recognising neurodiversity, which is often recognised as a disability, and building a supportive working environment with reasonable adjustments where necessary, could give you a key advantage when trying to get the right blend of skills in your business.

LGBTQ equality in your workplace

With 2019’s calendar of Pride events just around the corner, it’s timely to consider LGBTQ equality in your workplace.

In a TUC poll of more than 1,100 LGBT workers, more than two thirds of respondents said they had been sexually harassed at work. It is a shockingly high number. It suggests that such discrimination is widespread, despite sexual orientation and gender reassignment being protected characteristics under equality law.

Transgender employees may be particularly vulnerable in the workplace. For the first time in 2018, LGBT equality charity Stonewall featured trans-inclusive employers in its list of top employers for inclusivity. But only 20% of the top 100 employers had a policy which focused on trans employees.

It is proven that diversity pays. Inclusive companies are able to recruit from a wider talent pool and benefit from a positive workplace culture. Workforces which reflect the full gamut of society can also connect better with broad customer bases.

So with the motivation of legal obligation and better productivity, what could you be doing to foster greater LGBTQ inclusion at work?

The first technical check is whether you have an anti-discrimination policy. We’d advise this to be a day one requirement when you start employing people. It will be broader than just covering sexual orientation as there are nine legally protected characteristics. It will let employees know what is and isn’t acceptable and give you the tools to address any policy breach.

Assuming a policy is in place you can look at further proactive steps. Variations of the phrase: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance” do the rounds on social media. And while they may over-simplify a complex issue, they are of some use. Talk to your team, sensitively, about what an inclusive workplace looks like to them and use that as a steer.

If you find yourself without an anti-discrimination policy, or you want professional support in developing your inclusivity, talk to your local HR Dept.

Cultural etiquette

According to research, two thirds of workers want clear guidelines on what form of physical contact is acceptable in the workplace. While to some this may seem a bit “nanny state”, we should not forget the impact of the #metoo movement, and the wrongdoing it has highlighted.

The survey revealed just how frequently embarrassing greeting misunderstandings occur. One in eight workers have been accidentally kissed on the mouth and a quarter have been trapped in an unwanted hug. In total, 42% of workers would like at least one form of greeting prohibited.

Shaking hands is still the preferred form of greeting. However while nearly half of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer it, a hand shake is only first choice for 35% of workers in their 20s.

It’ll be a cultural decision as to whether you want to introduce guidelines for your business. But the survey suggests there is some demand for boundaries to be set.

Breaking the ice

It’s a perennial issue – How do you get those creative juices flowing at the start of a meeting or training session? Love them or loathe them, ice breakers are often turned to.

If you’re currently burying your face in your hands, we understand. There are some terrible examples of ice breaking out there. From being asked to bark like a dog and find peers with the same barking style, to removing a shoe and have a stranger pair it back up to you, they can make people feel uncomfortable and invade personal boundaries.

But despite the litany of bad examples, there is merit in an ice breaker done well. The more contextualised to the gathering the better. By this we mean consider the time and space you have available and the expectations of your participants. Good ice breakers often have some link to the topic to be addressed.

Rest assured

Working time has been under scrutiny in the courts of late. A European legal decision suggests that companies may soon have to document precise working hours to prove legal weekly limits aren’t exceeded. And at a UK employment appeals tribunal, a worker was awarded personal injury damages when a consistent denial of a lunch break aggravated a bowel condition. Everyone must be permitted at least a 20-minute break when working more than six hours continuously.

It’s worth checking you are contractually offering this minimum and granting it in practice. There’s no need to provide a dedicated break area, though, or pay people for break time.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter May 2019

Is suspicion a good enough
reason to sack someone?

Imagine you’ve held a confidential meeting with your directors about an extremely sensitive issue. Then in the following days, some of the subject matter becomes the talk of the town amongst your wider workforce. Or worse still, outside your company. You’d be fuming. And rightly so. Trust is essential in successful workplace relationships.

If, after some preliminary asking around you have your suspicions, your first instinct may be to summarily sack your culprit. But we would urge you to temper your instincts. This is a high-risk action which exposes you to an unfair dismissal claim.

Such a sacking has just been played out across the national press. You’ll have read about the prime minister, Theresa May, dismissing her defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, for allegedly leaking the details of a National Security Council meeting. He described the process leading to his dismissal as trial by a kangaroo court.

While employment tribunals will not be at the front of the prime minister’s thoughts, they should be for SME businesses who act in a similar way. Awards for unfair dismissal can easily run into five figure sums. They are normally capped at the lesser of one year’s salary or £86,444, but in the case of whistleblowing or discrimination are uncapped.

If the above scenario, or some other serious wrongdoing occurs, it’s essential to follow the correct procedures, which should be outlined in your disciplinary policy. This will include a fair investigation. Once these have been followed, dismissal may then be a perfectly acceptable outcome.

Of course, in the case of the defence secretary’s sacking, someone must have leaked the story. In such cases the workplace culture, the expectations of management and the communication of company policies are so important in defending against indiscipline.

Incidents like this are among the problems that our advice line was designed to solve. When you are signed up, we’ll be there to advise you on the correct handling of such issues. And as long as you follow our advice from the outset, you will be protected from tribunal costs and awards by our tribunal indemnity insurance.

Ramadan in the workplace

From 5 May and lasting 30 days until 4 June it’s Ramadan, a holy period for Muslims. With three million Muslims in the UK, it is a time of the year that will impact many workplaces.

A good workplace culture will foster open dialogue between managers and employees about their needs, and Ramadan is no exception. So talk and find out if Muslim staff need any temporary adjustments. Ramadan features several customs, but fasting (food and drink) between sunrise and sunset is likely to be the one most noticeable at work.

Be accommodating where possible, as not being so without good cause could amount to religious discrimination. But if you have a strong business reason to deny a request, then you can do so.

The fasting is likely to cause tiredness and maybe irritability as the day wears on. Could you reschedule workflows to allow creative or demanding projects to be done in the morning, with more mundane tasks left for the afternoons? Staggered breaks, flexible lunch hours and even more general flexible working may be options too.

You’ll have a holiday policy and annual leave requests should be processed in line with that. But you may find scope to prioritise Ramadan (and Eid) related requests given that Christian festivals are often marked with bank holidays.

While it’s possible productivity will temporarily fall with any measures you permit, the long-term value of treating people well cannot be overstated.

And it is not all on you. A bit of consideration from your wider team would not be amiss: not talking gratuitously about food for example.

One final thought. Be mindful that some who would normally observe Ramadan may not this year for deeply personal reasons, such as medication or their menstrual cycle. Manage conversations tactfully.

Do you know what your
employees say about you online?

You can find a review for anything online nowadays. Movies, cars and you, yes you! As an employer.

Websites like allow current and former employees to post reviews and other telling information about their employment for all to see.

This is great if you have a raft of gushing reviews. But what if the reviews are not glowing?

It’s good practice to respond to negative reviews, rather than leaving a vacuum. So assign someone to do this. Consider who your response is addressing – it will probably be current and future employees rather than the person who posted the review.

If you really have got a culture problem, the feedback may be useful in helping you address it. If this is the case, you can say so in your response. Just remember, such reviews are a “thing” now – so they should be considered in your recruitment strategy.

Sorry, I’m out of the office

They’re a staple of modern business, but how do you like your out-of-office email messages? Strictly functional? Preaching about switching off? Or with lashings of humour?

One thing we can all agree on is that they should be accurate. This means ensuring the dates are correct, and that a colleague’s contact details actually work.

Sacha Romanovic, CEO of Grant Thornton, recently left an unusually detailed out-of-office message describing her holiday plans. The intention was to signal to staff that it’s ok to switch off. Meanwhile, one financial services industry worker is in competition with a colleague to write the most humorous messages, including one to the lyrics of Rick Astley’s 80s classic Never gonna give you up.

Whatever your team’s out-of-office messages say, they will leave an impression with recipients – it’s worth checking it’s the right impression. Ensuring they distinguish their message between internal and external senders may help strike the right balance.

Clocking change

Traditionally, only hourly paid staff clock in and out to ensure they are at work for their required hours and paid correctly. Some firms who charge on site engineers out to the customer have also completed time sheets. Going forwards, you may be forced to log absolutely everybody’s working hours to ensure employees don’t work too many hours.

This comes after a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A Spanish trade union had taken Deutsche Bank to court. They argued that the Working Time Directive meant Deutsche Bank should be recording working hours to demonstrate that staff did not work more time than the weekly limits prescribed in the directive.

The ECJ agreed and said that in the absence of such records it was too difficult, if not impossible, for workers to ensure their rights were respected. This interpretation puts an obligation on member states, which at present includes the UK, to enact a requirement to record all actual hours worked in national law. We’ll keep you updated on any law changes that ensue.


Moving forward by giving back

It’s no secret that a bit of charitable activity can be good for business: the chance for some positive PR, and a teambuilding opportunity as your staff rally behind a good cause. There are pitfalls too, but none which you can’t sidestep with good people management.

Strong internal comms are key: in person, digitally or even a notice board. Make them two-way and get buy-in from your staff by letting them help pick the charity and methods of fundraising. Clarify that all donations are voluntary (you never know who may be struggling financially), and keep tabs on the choice of fundraising activity to ensure it doesn’t impair operations or cause offence.


Minimum wage rates

The minimum wage rates changed at the beginning of April. Find what you need to know below:

• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) increased from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate increased from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP increased from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Since 1 April the new pay rates are as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older increased from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 increased from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 increased from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) increased from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate increased from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, increased from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation increased from £83,682 to £86,444.