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

More protection for
pregnant women

Following government research suggesting that one in every nine women returning to work after giving birth is made redundant, fired or forced out, more robust protections are at last being sought.

Pregnancy and maternity are already characteristics protected against discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act. And there is a host of maternity rights that are available to pregnant employees and new mothers, with statutory maternity leave and pay being two of the main ones. There is also some protection against redundancy.

If redundancy is considered necessary within an organisation while an employee is on maternity leave, she must be offered an alternative role if one is available ahead of any other member of staff in the selection pool. If no such role is open, then she can be made redundant. But only if some strict criteria is met.

These are that it is a genuine redundancy with proper consultation process followed, and that pregnancy or maternity is not the reason.

The government research, alongside other studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence, suggests that the current rules do not offer pregnant women sufficient protection.

So the government has proposed increasing the period of legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and (no change for them) new mothers to six months after their return to work. Others associated with the arrival of a child, including men  and women returning from shared parental or adoption leave, could also be protected.

The proposals were announced in January and a 10-week consultation has been launched, so we’ll keep you posted on developments.

Despite the current legal protections, it’s clear that too often women who go through pregnancy are being discriminated against. As we’ve explained, it may be possible to make a pregnant employee, or one that is on maternity leave, redundant. But there is a low threshold for establishing discrimination.

If discrimination occurs, the employee can take an employer to tribunal. And so they should.

For advice on successfully managing employees whilst pregnant or on maternity leave, get in touch with your local HR Dept.


Now you can check
their right to work online

It’s a legal requirement to check and record that your prospective hires have a right to work in the UK. Failure to do so can result in fines for you of up to £20,000 per illegal employee.

Until now this has been done by checking paper documentation from the employee, such as a passport or relevant visas. Last April the government launched a secure online checking service which was free to use. However, paper checks still had to be conducted alongside this. Now the online check is sufficient on its own to demonstrate compliance with this rule.

It is not the end of paper checks altogether though, as sign-up to the online service is voluntary for individuals and employers. In other words, if both parties are happy to go online then that method can be used. But if not, you’ll still need to do it the old-fashioned way.


Pay… attention to detail!

If you employ staff and pay them a variable amount based on the time they work, the way you prepare their payslip is changing in April this year.

To aid transparency for you and them, you will be required to itemise the number of hours worked.

If, on top of variable hours they also have variable rates of pay, for say different tasks or working bank holidays, there is no extra requirement to itemise the hours and rates separately – an aggregate sum for total hours is sufficient. But you may wish to include this further itemisation for even greater transparency.

April is not far away, so if this will affect you ensure your payroll systems are up-to-date to accommodate the new requirements beforehand. And once April comes around, don’t forget to itemise accordingly.


Mental health first aiders

In January, we moved a step closer towards the appointment of trained mental health first aiders in workplaces. This followed a debate in parliament which recommended a change in the law.

All employers have a duty of care towards their staff under the 1974 Health and Safety Act. In larger organisations this includes an obligation to have an appropriate number of trained medical first aiders.

But times have changed, and mental ill health is far better understood nowadays than it was in 1974. A number of statistics were put forward during the debate to suggest the scale and impact of the problem.

That five million people in work could be experiencing an issue like depression, stress-related illness or anxiety. That 300,000 people annually leave their jobs because of long-term mental health problems. And that people affected by a mental health condition who remain in work for longer than they should, costs the economy £15 billion per year.

With these in mind, it seems entirely logical to take action. Mental health first aiders are thought to be an effective approach. But what are they? Just as medical first aiders are not considered a replacement for an A&E doctor or surgeon, their mental health counterparts would not be a replacement for trained mental health professionals.

Instead they would operate as an early warning system. They’d help identify mental health issues and support workers in getting them addressed by professionals before they worsen. Avoiding more serious problems for the individual and the company would be a welcome outcome all round.

Do you have staff who are experiencing mental health difficulties? If you want to explore ways of helping them before these changes come in, call us.


The spy who hired me?

From time-cards to internet monitoring, the idea of companies keeping some sort of tabs on employee activity is nothing new.

But with technology affording ever more opportunity to collect, store and analyse data, how much monitoring is too much?

Sky News staff were reportedly shocked to hear that cameras and microphones were being installed in their newsroom to livestream and broadcast activity for a day. Separately, it was reported that Amazon has patented goggles with direction and movement sensors which raised concerns about surveillance.

The key principles underpinning employee monitoring are that it must be justifiable and that you have a written policy. You should inform employees beforehand of what you record and why, and how long it will be kept. It is not acceptable to collect information for one reason and then use it for another. As with all data it must be stored securely.


Pawternity leave

As many pregnant women and new mothers struggle with discrimination over new arrivals in their families, employees at some companies enjoy the flip side of this coin. Yes, not only are maternity rights respected, but they also give their staff paid time off if they get a puppy or have some other major pet-based event in their life.

What else could this be dubbed other than pawternity leave? While such policies will be dismissed as “fluffy” by some, they are implemented quite deliberately to give the company an edge in the recruitment market and, from there, commercial advantage.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters Q1

Caring during a cold snap

It’s not too often each year that we have to contend with snow and the disruption it brings. But recently it has been one of those times. It sure has been cold, although not quite to the extent of the polar vortex in the States.

Extremes of temperature present particular problems to the care sector, where you are often dealing with very vulnerable people.

A report was published in December 2018 which found that a pensioner died in a freezing care home in 2016. The central heating had broken three weeks previously and had not been fixed. The 1960s heaters were known to be in poor condition before they broke down.

Already unwell with a chest infection and without medication because the care home had faxed the prescription to the wrong chemist, the 95-year-old was stuck in a room in which the window did not close properly, letting in a freezing draft. Early one morning staff became concerned and called the emergency services.

The ambulance crew found the pensioner with a body temperature 9°C below normal levels at just 27.5°C and sadly she passed away. The inquest found the cause of death to be bronchopneumonia and hypothermia.

In England the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the enforcing authority for patient and service user health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) takes this role in Scotland and Wales. The CQC rated the care home as inadequate and it shut down in 2017. The manager or care home owner may yet be prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act.

Clearly, during cold weather it is vital to have heating equipment appropriately functioning to keep the premises at comfortable temperatures. And that your property is maintained so that windows close as they should. Annual servicing and regular maintenance checks are important to achieve this – just waiting for problems to show themselves during a deep freeze is not acceptable.

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 is relevant here. These state that premises and equipment must be properly maintained which means holding a sufficient budget for such maintenance.

A good risk assessment will help to identify where things could go wrong and put suitable contingency plans in place to address them.

While temperature control may be particularly important in a care setting, maintaining heating equipment is also relevant to all workplaces.


Movement of goods risk assessments –
A must have for all businesses?

From offices to warehouses, pubs to shops, most businesses will handle or receive goods. It may be a key part of your daily activities, or it could be more occasional. Either way, it’s essential to have carried out a movement of goods risk assessment.

Because there are so many types of organisation (and therefore issues) to regulate, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities coordinate a national Moving Goods Safely project. Either the HSE or your local authority could be the enforcement authority, depending on the nature of your business. And it can be costly if you get it wrong.

Colchester Borough Council successfully prosecuted the fourth largest pub company in the UK for health and safety failures in this area.

In October 2017 an accident whilst unloading a drinks delivery left an employee with broken fingers. The injury was caused by an unsecured cellar door falling shut. The local authority found that gas struts designed to allow the door to open and close safely had been removed and not replaced the year before. Moreover, there were no controls in place to stop someone falling down the cellar shaft.

As you might imagine, appropriate risk assessments were found not to be in place for the delivery of goods. Showing the severe consequences of getting this wrong – beyond the harm that came to the employee – the company was fined £100,000 plus costs and a victim surcharge. If you need help preparing or reviewing your movement of goods risk assessment, call The H&S Dept today.


H&S concerns impact
university expansion


In a reminder of how health and safety can impact organisational growth plans, the University of Chester may have to move its Faculty of Science and Engineering from Thornton Science Park. The site opened in 2014 and 500 students are based there.

This follows an intervention from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the university applied to change the site’s use from business to educational in order to aid future planning applications.

However, the HSE consider there is a risk to students as the science park is situated within the inner zone of a hazardous installation – The Stanlow Oil Refinery. The HSE classify students as members of the public, bringing in extra health and safety considerations. The university want them classed as employees and subject to site security procedures.

Whether you are an academic institution or another organisation with big growth plans, ensure you do your H&S due diligence before implementing expansion plans.


Health and Safety Myth Busters

Many people go to nightclubs to cut loose. And whilst out for a good time, punters may sometimes do things that aren’t in their own best interests. Venues have a responsibility not to allow people to break the law. And they are also bound by stringent health and safety regulations. But where do they draw the health and safety line?

The HSE myth busters panel have highlighted two occasions in recent months when nightclubs have “blamed” policies on health and safety law, when in fact it’s their own management decisions. The problem is, this gives good health and safety advice a bad name. So let’s look where they got it wrong.

Banning headbanging

Headbanging – the dancing practice of violently but rhythmically shaking your head – cannot be very good for the old brain cells. But it’s a personal choice and there is no legislation prohibiting it. One nightclub incorrectly hid behind H&S when telling clientele to cut out the headbanging.

Lick-sip-suck stop!

In another case a nightclub barman refused to serve salt and lemon with tequila. This prevented the shot being enjoyed in the famous lick the salt, sip the drink, suck the lemon fashion. As with headbanging, it may not be too good for your health to down shots of tequila, but it’s not against the law for adults to drink it with these accompaniments.


The ABCs of asbestos

For businesses involved in property, such as landlords and construction firms, asbestos risk should be firmly on the radar.

Asbestos can be found in all manner of construction materials used prior to the year 2000. Considered not to pose a direct risk when undisturbed, these materials release fibres into the air when disturbed which, if inhaled, can cause fatal diseases like asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma. The effects are long-term, with 20 tradesmen a week dying from past exposure.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 primarily govern this risk. When any work is carried out on buildings where asbestos may feature you need to determine if it’s present and the form and condition it is in. If present, or you are unsure, you’ll need to conduct a risk assessment.

Most work with asbestos needs to be carried about by an HSE-licensed contractor. While some activities do not have this requirement, they may still require special procedures. These are called notifiable non-licensed work. Anyone who may disturb asbestos during their normal work activities needs to be appropriately trained.

A Birmingham Magistrate’s Court recently fined a landlord and building contractor after they caused large amounts of asbestos fibres to be released at a rented property. Making fundamental errors, the landlord should have commissioned an asbestos survey and the builder should not have commenced work without seeing and being guided by the report of such a survey.

The risks are high and the regulatory obligations wide-ranging. So if you need help getting the basics right with asbestos, talk to us at The H&S Dept

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

Finding flex appeal

With unemployment at historically low levels, and staff turnover a problem for many businesses, flexible working is one way to differentiate yourself. Or at least keep up with what your competitors may be doing. Indeed, the government are keen to see as many jobs as possible advertised as flexible, and may legislate in this direction.

Currently, the law says that whether you promote flexible working or not, you must deal with a request for flexible working in a reasonable manner. For instance, weighing up the pros and cons, discussing the request with your employee and making an appeal process available.

That said, you’re not obliged to accept a request if it does not work for your business – just act reasonably or you could be penalised by a tribunal.

It’s worth noting that flexible working is a bit of a catch-all term. It could relate to working hours, the location where work is carried out or something else specific to your business. Part-time hours are the most popular form of flexible working, with flexitime, term-time hours and annual-hours contracts also popular.

Flexible working is often seen as an attractive and inclusive perk. So it can boost recruitment, widen your talent pool, and improve retention by promoting staff loyalty and engagement. Research even shows it can make your staff more productive.

If there are no insurmountable obstacles and you are planning to trial flexible working, you’ll naturally be concerned as to whether you’ll be able to manage it effectively. This is why consideration into how it will impact service is important. Likewise, an appraisal of your business culture – Could overtime be abused? Or do managers need retraining to recognise work completed rather than presenteeism?

You might need to review your IT systems to ensure they run smoothly. Embracing cloud software solutions for your staff may be required, and perhaps absence management software, such as that which is built into our own HR Toolkit.

To explore the benefits and feasibility of flexible working at your company, why not talk to your local HR Dept today?


Five New Year’s resolutions
from The HR Dept

One. Address that underperforming employee. It’s easy to put off, but underperformance is a major drag on business, impacting any or all of service delivery, morale, profits and opportunity-cost.

Two. Look into new learning and development opportunities. Continuous learning is a key to success and helps engage staff. It doesn’t have to be formal training. How about some monthly in-house knowledge-sharing sessions, led by different team members?

Three. Check your contracts and employment statuses. The rise of the gig economy has led to many people being wrongly classified as self-employed. They’re taking their companies to court to claim the employment rights they’ve been denied.

Four. Carry out a risk assessment. Every business is legally required to have done this, but risks change over time. So why not ensure you’re still on top of health and safety in 2019?

Five. Plan a fun activity or team-building day. Now’s a great time to do this and lift the spirits in deepest, darkest January.


The small print

Legally, a written statement of terms and conditions of employment should be provided within two months of work commencing. But for sectors which experience high staff turnover, the recent decision of an employment appeals tribunal (EAT) judge effectively reinterprets this.

The case concerned three hotel workers, employed on short-term contracts who were dismissed for questioning persistent irregularities with their wages, including deductions, shortfalls and late payments.

Two of the workers were employed for more than two months and the third for only six weeks, and none received their terms and conditions. The EAT judge found that, having each worked for more than a month, each were entitled to have received terms. Automatic unfair dismissal was ruled in all three cases.

This sets a precedent and companies should now be looking to provide these terms (properly drafted, not copy/pasted from a template which may be incorrect or irrelevant) within one month, with the second month regarded as a grace period.


UK unemployment
at it’s lowest since 1971

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the unemployment rate in the UK is at its lowest since 1971. An estimated 32.48 million people are in work – 396,000 more than in the previous quarter (August to October 2018). This is made somewhat remarkable when the number of jobs that have been lost on the high street in the last 12 months are considered.

Research by the British Retail Consortium shows that 93,000 retail jobs were lost last year as big names such as Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld all went under.

And it’s not just retail jobs that have been lost. A leading accountancy firm reports that restaurant insolvencies in the 2017/18 year were up 24% on the previous year to 1,219. Just this month, Jaguar Land Rover announced it was shedding another 4,500 jobs.

So, what does all this mean to you as an employer? Well, on the one hand the talent pool from which you can recruit is potentially smaller than at any point in recent memory. This means it’s important to nail your recruitment processes to ensure you’re as competitive as can be. From writing your job descriptions to interviewing candidates, you need to get it all right. If you think you have an area of weakness here, talk to us.

But, on the other hand, is opportunity knocking? As we witness seismic shifts in the economy brought about by phenomena like the Internet and Brexit, you may be able to use the decline of some sectors to your advantage by offering retraining to experienced professionals who are looking to transfer into new areas of expertise.


The importance of
a good first impression

“Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” is a maxim that’s often given to interviewees. But it can equally apply to the interviewer if you are to make a good impression yourself. To do this, your questions should be considered in advance. There’s an obvious need to avoid subjects that could breach equality law, such as pregnancy. And it’s also wise to steer clear of contentious subjects like politics, or pressing for answers too vehemently.

Think about the time and place of the interview, making sure they are reasonable and set the right tone for your company. Some people like to stage interviews in the informal setting of a café or restaurant. If you opt for this, ensure it’s not a place where you or your interviewee could be interrupted by acquaintances. For help upping your interview game, talk to your local HR Dept.


Fighting the January blues

The weather’s generally rubbish, the days are short, and many people are broke and on diets after Christmas. It’s not surprising January supposedly features the most depressing day of the year, known as Blue Monday. How does all this affect your team each January?

If productivity takes a dive or the atmosphere sours, showing a little awareness and taking a couple of proactive steps could work wonders. Think what will work for your team, of course. But for many people, encouraging achievable exercise goals – like a daily step challenge, for example – and simply getting some fresh air and daylight at lunchtime could be a great start.

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

Holiday how-to’s

Ok, so you’re navigating the seasonal rush (or lull!), you’ve survived the Christmas party, and then Tom asks if he can carry over two weeks of holiday. You’ve got big plans for 2019 – do you really want to be losing a team-member for that extra time if you can help it?

Firstly, if your holiday year ends in December, why has no one made sure Tom and the others have taken their holiday entitlement? Holiday legislation is covered by health and safety law on the basis that employees need time away from working. Many of the rules relate to this principle.

Managing holiday requests so that the business runs smoothly is important, and you might want to look at HR Dept Toolkit for next year. HR Dept Toolkit is software for making managing holiday requests and other HR admin simple.

Legally speaking, holiday entitlement is broken down into an EU required 20 days, followed by eight days covered by UK law (pro rata for part time staff). Finally, there’s any additional contractual leave that you as an employer provide beyond the statutory minimums.

Dealing with the EU’s four weeks first, the intention behind these is that everyone requires this for their health and wellbeing. Therefore, this cannot be carried over unless they have been on long-term sickness absence, when apparently according to the EU they still need time away from work. And so any holiday accrued during this period of sickness can be carried over. We know what you are thinking!

Thankfully, any holiday entitlement above the 20 days gets simpler after that and you make the rules. So you’re in control. Usually the eight days covers bank and public holidays and any more generous holiday will be detailed in the contract of employment.

With holiday bookings at their peak in January, contact us for a demo of HR Dept Toolkit to make managing next year’s requests simple.


It’s normal to chip dogs, but people!

The pace of technological progression never ceases to astound us. Driverless cars, virtual reality and advanced artificial intelligence are all here. But what about when technology goes too far and becomes a concern?

British and Swedish firms have developed working implant chips that companies can roll out into their workforces. Inserted in the fleshy part between the index finger and thumb, the chip can be used to open doors (replacing the need for ID cards) and store medical data.

With it being claimed that 150 people have been chipped in the UK and 4,000 others (mostly) in Sweden, this is yet another technology of tomorrow that is with us today.

It may send a shudder down the spine, metaphorically speaking. Whatever the perceived benefits, with any initiative as invasive as this, it’s important not to pressure employees into participating. If you are unsure whether, or how, to unleash a new technology on your team, talk to us to cover the HR angle.


Staff retention

A modest seasonal bonus could be worth its weight in gold to your employees as they look to have a merry Christmas. But it could be worth many more times its weight in gold to you as the employer.

January is a prime time when people look for new job opportunities. But a survey from an employee benefits company found that nearly half of UK employees who received a Christmas bonus or gift recently would not look for a new job. And about the same amount would not accept a job offer if they received one.

With the cost of recruitment stretching to as much as a year’s salary for some roles, it’s clear that a little Christmas bonus really could go a long way for you, as well as your staff.


The gig’s up

Another month, another court case about worker status. This time it concerns transport services firm Addison Lee. They have lost an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) initiated by three of their 4,000 private hire drivers. The drivers wished to be classified as workers rather than independent contractors. This would grant them rights such as National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.

The contracts between the firm and the drivers described them as independent contractors with no obligation to offer or accept work. However, taking a strong steer from a Supreme Court case, the EAT said it was right to look beyond the contract and consider actual working practices with a “realistic and worldly-wise” view.

They found that drivers typically worked up to 60-hour weeks and had to work at least 25-30 hours just to cover their fixed costs. They drove vehicles with Addison Lee livery and were told that they were representing the company at all times when in the vehicles. And that they might face sanctions if, without good reason, they turned down work offered to them.

The EAT concluded that it did all add up to worker status, rather than that of independent contractor as stated in the contracts.

There is place for all types of contract and some individuals will seek flexibility just as much as companies. However, what’s not right is for companies to impose false self-employment as a device to cut costs. This erodes workers’ rights, undercuts competitors who behave properly and short-changes HMRC, which, of course, ultimately costs everyone.

To avert this risk, you should review your contracts and ensure that they accurately reflect the true nature of working relationships. If you need help, call us.


Grant funding available for employing marginalised women

The UK government has announced a £600,000 pot for small businesses to help them employ vulnerable and marginalised women looking to return to work. Much government attention is already focused on gender inequality at board level of FTSE companies – with progress being made. So this support at the other end of the careers ladder is to be welcomed.

You can bid for a grant which can be used to fund training, refresher courses or offering work placements. £100,000 of the pot is specifically ringfenced for bespoke support to women who face multiple barriers to returning to work, including caring for people at home, limited English-language skills and mental health issues.

Diversity pays in the workplace, and this funding could help you diversify your workforce. For strategies to ensure you hire from a pool of all available talent, contact your local HR Dept adviser.


Deck the halls

Many organisations like to get into the Christmas groove and spruce up the workplace with tinsel and a tree in December. But spare a thought for a Texan lady who, having vehemently declared she didn’t want to see any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, was pranked by her sister with a barrage of decorations worthy of Lapland itself. It was so over-the-top that she could do nothing but surrender to it. That aside, don’t let decorations get in the way of people doing their jobs. And remember that some items could pose a health and safety trip or fire risk.

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

Budget 2018

Last month, chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his 2018 budget. And as usual there were some announcements particularly relevant to employers. So here is our round up for SME business owners.

National living wage – This was introduced by George Osborne in 2016. In effect it’s an enhanced minimum wage for most people over 25. It was announced that this will rise by 4.9% in April, from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour. This will affect some sectors more than others. For businesses with low-paid workers such as in care and hospitality, we’d advise factoring these new rates into your budgeting for next year as soon as possible.

Apprentices – Apprenticeships are a useful option within the recruitment market if you’re looking to take people on and train them up in new skills. The government will significantly help to pay for the training, and in this budget it was announced that this help will be extended. Currently, as an SME with an annual wage bill of less than £3million, The Apprenticeship Levy does not apply and you only have to pay 10% of the training costs. The good news is that this will be reduced to just 5%. However, a date for this reduction has not been set.

IR35 – Originally introduced in 1999 this is a tax rule designed to stop freelancers and companies sidestepping tax through disguised employment. So very relevant to all the news we have about the gig economy right now.

Last year a requirement under IR35 was introduced for public sector organisations to deduct tax and national insurance from contractors. Now, it’s been announced that from 2020 private sector firms employing more than 250 people will be responsible for checking their contractors’ statuses and deducting the appropriate tax. And if they get it wrong, they will be liable for tax fines.

So IR35 is starting to affect the SME market more, and who is to say where it will stop? We regularly talk about the importance of getting the status of your workers correct in contracts at the outset. And this development in the budget only heightens the importance. If in doubt, call us.


Beware the Christmas bash

‘tis nearly the season to be jolly, and therefore, as your friendly neighbourhood HR advisers we need to begin our warnings about the dreaded office Christmas party. Here’s an interesting one concerning vicarious liability – that’s when a company is held responsible for the actions of other people.

In a recent Court of Appeal judgement, a company has been found vicariously liable for its managing director punching an employee at an after-party which followed their main Christmas bash. The assault resulted in brain damage and happened after a dispute about the terms given to a new employee.

The ruling is of interest because technically the incident did not occur at the company event. However, because of the seniority of the staff member, the fact he was asserting his authority, and that the company had paid for alcohol and the taxis to the after-party, there was a strong enough link for vicarious liability. Do plan your party carefully and remind all those attending of expected standards of behaviour.


How to Hygge at work

Cold winds, short days and rain… lots of rain. If our abrupt transition into Autumn has got you or your team feeling glum, you need a bit of Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) in your workplace. Fresh from Denmark, it is the latest Scandinavian craze to sweep our shores. While there is no exact translation, it broadly means feeling cosy through your experiences.

So rather than merely turning the radiators up to 11, it is about creating warming interactions with your colleagues. It could be bringing cupcakes into the office to share impromptu, taking an extra coffee break and chatting about something other than work, or structuring tasks so that they are teamwork-based.

It’s certainly more charming than Kalsarikänni, anglicised to Päntsdrunk – a Finnish lifestyle trend to cope with the harsh weather which involves drinking at home alone in your underwear!


Landmark whistle-blowing case

In the classic MR James ghost story Oh, whistle, and l’ll come to you, my lad, a university professor is hounded by a spectre after discovering a relic whistle from a bygone age and blowing on it. He’s eventually set free from his haunting by the intervention of a retired colonel.

There can be similarly troubling consequences for employees who blow the metaphorical whistle when they uncover malpractice in their workplace. But instead of kindly colonels, there are robust laws in place to protect the employees. And the judgement in a recent court case has added further weight to these whistle-blowing laws.

The CEO of an oil company was first excluded from decision-making processes, and then dismissed, after raising concerns about the award of contracts in Africa and corporate governance. No notice period was given, the reason provided was that the firm only had a very small HR department and therefore couldn’t follow proper procedures. Ahem!

The employee won his original tribunal, the employment appeal tribunal and then the case at the Court of Appeal. What is most striking however is the size of the award – about £2 million – which was revised upwards during the appeals. And particularly that two individual directors were held personally liable in addition to the company.

It’s vital to be aware of whistle-blowing laws and identify whistle-blowing complaints at an early stage so that you can handle them appropriately. To do this properly you’ll need to train managers and staff. If you would like professional advice to understand the frameworks you need, training or help on an actual case, contact your local HR Dept adviser.


The problem with productivitytime wasting at work

It is not news that the UK suffers from low productivity – we are said to lag competitor nations such as Germany, France and the USA by one third. And worryingly, it is a problem that is getting worse. So what is to be done?

The Institute of Directors has recently published a major new report into the issue for SMEs (you can find it online). In it they make a list of recommendations. Many of these are directed at central government, but some can be considered directly by SME owners and managers. Encouraging knowledge transfer between higher education institutions and small businesses is one. And creating a culture of technological leadership within SMEs is another. If you are seeking to raise productivity yourself, these may provide a practical starting point for you to explore for your own business.


Sticks and stones

You might consider it’d be an open and shut case of harassment and discrimination at an employment tribunal: An overweight employee with type-1 diabetes and Traveller Community heritage dismissed after repeatedly being called names such as “fat ginger pikey” and “salad-dodger”.

But, in fact, the company won its cases at the employment tribunal and on appeal. Key factors in their favour were that the employee used coarse language at work himself and showed no umbrage at the time of being insulted. Also, that other colleagues left the company at the same time following poor performance, which was the company’s reason for his dismissal.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters Q4

When health & safety and equality law collide

In 2011, the default retirement age was abolished, meaning that companies could not automatically retire workers on age grounds at 65. Some people will welcome the opportunity to retire, but nowadays many workers will need or want to continue working.

Physical and mental health is strongly correlated to age, so this poses a problem for organisations. With no default retirement age, how do you monitor whether people have the physical ability or mental faculty to carry out their work?

This is especially risky when the job in question involves driving.

When a 77-year-old bus driver drove into the side of a supermarket in 2015, it resulted in the death of a pedestrian and a seven-year-old boy. The driver was diagnosed with dementia after the collision, and was found medically unfit to stand trial.

He had been previously warned about his “erratic” driving following four road accidents in the three years leading up to the 2015 collision. The bus company who hired the man pleaded guilty to health and safety law breaches.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency says there is no evidence to suggest that older drivers are more likely to cause a serious accident than anyone else, and statistics actually show that the opposite is true.

Employers have a responsibility to look into cases where an employee has a health condition that could be affecting their ability to drive safely.

This is especially important when it comes to older drivers, since age is associated with a higher risk of certain diseases and health conditions. While motorists over the age of 70 are required to answer written questions about medical conditions and eyesight every three years, they are not required to submit any proof.

Relying on self-reporting in this way can be risky – and sometimes devastating. As was the case with the 77-year-old bus driver, where he, his employer and doctor were all unaware of his health condition leading up to the collision.

If management failures are identified as a significant factor contributing to a fatal accident, companies can be at risk of being prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

This is why employers must take responsibility to ensure they are aware of a driver’s health conditions and properly manage them, irrespective of age. Health and safety law applies to work activities on the road in the same way as it does to all work activities in the office. And employers must manage the risks associated with drivers as part of their health and safety arrangements.


Cagey behaviour

It’s one thing to understand the health and safety risks within your workplace, and another to come up with the appropriate solutions for managing them.

Many employers welcome robotics in the workplace. They can improve efficiency and quality whilst lowering costs. But as sometimes complex and powerful pieces of machinery they may pose a risk to human workers. What to do?

What NOT to do is cage your workers for their own protection. Amusingly, the online retail giant Amazon appeared to be mooting this. In 2016 they filed a patent depicting an enclosed cage that was intended to carry employees around its warehouses to protect them from robots whizzing around.

The company described it as a “system and method for transporting personnel within an active workplace”. It must be stressed that this solution was never greenlighted by Amazon. When the patent came to public attention, a spokesperson said it had been a bad idea.

In case you were wondering, there are tight health and safety restrictions around using cages in the workplace. But what this example shows us is the broad consideration that needs to go into complex health and safety solutions. Of course, the solutions need to be fit for purpose. But you need to understand how it will impact your team, your operations, and, yes, sometimes your public image.

If you need help making sure your ideas are H&S approved, and also won’t lead to a PR disaster, give the experts at The H&S Dept a call.


Whistle-blowers

Whistle-blowing can uncover serious malpractice, and it’s important employees feel safe and confident in their ability to do so. There are laws to protect whistle-blowers, but these are not always adhered to.

A national newspaper recently reported that whistle-blowers were sacked, threatened with violence and blocked from taking other jobs after attempting to shed light on life-threatening health and safety malpractice in the construction industry.

Three whistle-blowers from separate insulation companies said they’d witnessed attempts to cut costs by deliberately and consistently manufacturing products that fell below certified safety standards. This included one man who reported his employer manufacturing cheap insulation – not related to Grenfell – that would “go up like petrol and explode and burst into flames” when a match was put close to it. The man was fired, and found it impossible to get another job in the same industry.

Whistle-blowing laws include raising health and safety concerns. If an employee goes through the correct channels to report health and safety concerns they must be taken seriously and treated fairly. An employment tribunal will automatically deem a dismissal unfair if it is strongly related to a case of whistle-blowing.


Health and Safety Myth Busters

In this feature, we look at some unpopular organisational policies that have been wrongly attributed to health and safety. They often give H&S a bad name, and the Health and Safety Executive loves to challenge them.

Bus drivers under 18 stone

There are, for obvious reasons, some restrictions when it comes to hiring bus drivers. They need to have good vision, for one thing, and they should be pretty adept drivers, to say the least.

But they certainly don’t need to weigh in at under 18 stone, contrary to what one job advert stated. A bus company is alleged to have stipulated in a job ad that, due to new health and safety rules, all new bus driver recruits must be under 18 stone in weight. There are no rules, however, that place any weight limits on people driving buses.

Supermarket bike ban

Fold-up bikes are loved by many commuters for being easy to take on and off public transport, and folding away nice and neatly into offices and homes. But one fold-up bike owner was told they couldn’t bring their compact commuter companion into the supermarket. Needless to say, the would-be customer was confused, especially since pushchairs and suitcases are allowed in supermarkets.

Whether this was a company-wide policy or one person’s agenda against fold-up bikes is unclear, but it certainly isn’t a health and safety issue. Thankfully, the supermarket in question later retracted their ban. Fold-up bikes are small, compact and lightweight – they’re built to not cause any restrictions, and it would be very difficult to make one a fire hazard.

If you are ever unsure about where health and safety begins and ends in your business, be sure to speak to one of the experts at The H&S Dept.


Alton Towers pay-out

It should never be forgotten that the purpose of health and safety law is to protect people from harm. Minor or serious injury, long-term health conditions and death can all be consequences of health and safety failings. Very recently, we have seen a number of fatal incidents involving food labelling. But one of the most high-profile examples of harm in the UK in recent years was the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash.

In 2015 a string of oversights led to a crash on Alton Tower’s Smiler rollercoaster. It left 16 people hurt, five of whom suffered life-changing injuries. Two teenage girls required leg amputations.

The accident occurred when two trains stalled on different sections of the ride. Engineers assumed the computer wasn’t working, and they overrode the stop, sending another train out, which crashed into an empty carriage.

As well as the terrible injuries, the financial implications for the business have been huge. Following an investigation, the Health and Safety Executive secured a £5m fine against the owners of Alton Towers for “catastrophic failure to assess risk”. This was reduced from the £7.5m it would have been if the case had gone to court. However, the owners pleaded guilty. There will also likely be multi-million pound compensation pay-outs.

And of course, this was a major PR disaster for Alton Towers, as visitor numbers to the park plunged in the aftermath.

This case shows just how seriously catastrophic injury at work and in public is taken, particularly when it’s the fault of an employer. It should serve as a reminder to business owners how carefully we should all be when the public puts their wellbeing and safety in our hands.