Find your local office
OR

Newsletter

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter July 2017

How family friendly are you?

Most parents will tell you that it can be a struggle when it comes to balancing work and family life. The school run, unexpected sickness, sleepless nights and costs…lots and lots of costs. Many companies are now beginning to realise the importance of supporting employees who have children.

Tech giant Google is well-known for its pioneering work culture, and its Mountain View campus in California boasts four childcare centres.

Facebook offer free meals and a free laundry service, alongside $4,000 ‘baby cash’ given to employees with new-borns. The company also subsidises the cost of childcare and provides help with adoption costs.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of bad practice too – both through ignorance and deliberate acts. Such actions are very likely to see employers fall on the wrong side of a tribunal judgement. For example, you should never assume that pregnant women want to immediately be taken off big accounts or that they will no longer want to travel for work. Even if your intentions are positive, this is a form of discrimination. And that’s before we even talk about more overt discrimination like bullying or forced redundancy.

It’s not always easy for SMEs, but providing parenthood perks can be beneficial to you as an employer too. If you want to recruit and retain talented staff, they can be a major attraction, as well as enhancing your reputation. Whatever you do, it’s important to ensure that you give benefits equally – extending them to adoptive parents and same-sex couples too for instance.

Contact The HR Dept for expert advice on family benefits.

New court ruling on shared parental leave

A tribunal judgment has shaken the conventional view on how fathers should be paid under shared parental leave. It was believed that, if men and women were treated equally within a shared parental scheme, discrimination was not occurring. Even if a company’s maternity pay policy was more generous than their paternity scheme.

However, in the case of Ali Vs Capita, a father successfully claimed that he was being discriminated against due to being paid less whilst taking shared parental leave when his wife returned to work.The judgement is quite nuanced and similar claims have failed due to subtle differences.

If in doubt, you should have your policies reviewed to ensure that they are not discriminatory.

It’s raining babies!   

Count back nine months from September and October, and you may not be surprised to find that those autumn months are when most babies arrive. The cold, dark nights of the previous winter, the Christmas parties and all that!

We’re only a couple of months out from that period now, so are you managing any expectant mothers correctly? It’s essential to maintain communication with employees on maternity leave, be aware of contractual benefits, and know the appropriate pay rates.

Are any of your staff pregnant right now? If so, The HR Dept are here to advise.

Does adoption leave and pay differ from maternity/paternity leave and pay?        

A survey by Slater Gordon showed that 40% of managers try to avoid recruiting women of childbearing age because of fear of them having children.

Well, we hate to break it to them, but not only is that illegal, but nowadays any member of staff could opt to become an adoptive parent. They would thereby have the equivalent rights that are given to employees through pregnancy and maternity.

In 2008, same sex adoption was approved and the numbers have steadily grown to the point that last year, gay, lesbian and single adoptions formed nearly 20% of adoptions in the UK.

For adoptive couples, one person must be nominated as the primary adopter. They would receive the same rights as if they were on maternity leave. The secondary adopter would then have parental leave rights.

Prospective adopters must go through a rigorous assessment and training process before they are approved to be capable of parenting a child. Don’t you wish, when watching hopeless parents trying to manage unruly kids, everyone had to do the same?

To accommodate these training and approval panel days, primary adopters may attend five appointments as paid leave. Secondary adopters may attend two appointments as unpaid leave, although they may have more adoption meetings that need holiday or, with your approval, additional unpaid leave time off. A maximum of six and a half hours is given for each appointment. Agency workers must have 12 weeks service in the same role with the same employer to be eligible for this.

This period is likely to be an emotional rollercoaster, particularly once approved parents start searching for the right child – therefore, your support will be essential. Once approved, it can take a year or even longer to be matched. The key here is to keep communication lines open so that you’re aware of the stage they’re at.

After the employee has been matched with a child, they have seven days to inform you, and their 52 weeks’ adoption leave can start up to 14 days before placement – or 28 days before for children born outside the UK.

If any of these issues affect you, get in touch to ensure you handle them correctly.

Time off for dependant leave

All male and female staff have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with dependant emergencies. But this is not time to stay at home waiting for deliveries or service engineers.

It is unpaid time to deal with emergency situations. For example, when childcare arrangements break down, a dependant is taken to hospital, or putting care in place for elderly relatives. The key phrase here is ‘reasonable time’. This should usually be one or two days to enable other arrangements to be made. Not time off – a whole two weeks of chicken pox and the like.

You must ensure your policy clarifies this and that it states staff must ring you as early as possible, explaining what the problem is, and how long they plan to be away. This should not be a regular occurrence. If it is, particularly during school holidays, ask The HR Dept for help managing it.

Second birthday for shared parental leave

We don’t think the government will be hiring a bouncy castle and putting party bags together for the birthday of two-year-old shared parental leave.

The progressive, but complicated policy that allows both parents to split up to 50 weeks of parental leave has had an exceedingly low take up. However it is very complex and Maternity and Adoption statutory pay means many couples simply cannot afford the higher earner to take time off. There are undoubtedly cultural issues at play too – the kind of gender stereotypes that such a policy intends to break down.

One thing to watch out for is a new layer of complication. In 2018, grandparents will be included in the scheme. You may need an aspirin if you have to implement that!

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter June 2017

Seasonal employment – Your employer’s checklist

With the arrival of the summer, many businesses need additional staff to cover increased demand or to cover existing staff holiday or sickness but it is important to get the right contractual relationship in place.

Firstly be clear about what additional hours and commitment you need. If it is for set hours and time then a Fixed term employment contract is ideal. These staff have the same benefits as your other employees but with a fixed end date. Having notice periods and the right to extend makes this contract more flexible.

To cover fluctuating demand the much maligned Casual or Zero hour contract is best. The people on these contracts are workers and have fewer employment rights but the flexibility of casual work suits many people and is an ideal way to manage seasonal work.

On a more regular basis for drivers or warehouse staff in particular agency workers can be the answer. This is a highly regulated area and can be expensive but in high turnover roles provide the solution.

If you think you can manage using your current staff remember the dreaded Working Time Regulations limit on weekly hours and that overtime could have to be included in future holiday pay.

Whether worker or employee the National Minimum or Living Wage applies and holiday accrues from day one, but to be clear about what is best for you and the rules that apply ring The HR Dept.

How should employers behave during general elections?

Keeping an eye on workplace political discussions to ensure they don’t get too heated? Good.

On polling day, being flexible with working hours to ensure members of staff can vote? Right.

Advising employees which way to vote and threaten them with redundancy if an ‘undesirable’ party gets into power? WRONG.

That’s what two company bosses were accused of in the previous election, claiming that a Labour win would jeopardise the fortunes of the company, and therefore the employment prospects of staff.

One claimed he was joking and that comments saying Labour voters would be the first out of the door were taken out of context. The other acknowledged that employees were entirely in control of how they vote, but that his comments were factually correct.

Our advice to employers is to be wary of expressing political opinions within the workplace, especially when you consider that there may be yet another election around the corner!

A healthy commute works wonders  

A study of UK workers by OnePoll unveiled that if you want to boost your employees’ morale, then an active commute could be the answer!

Rather than rewarding employees with one off-perks like socials and lunches, the survey suggests it is more valuable to offer benefits that promote long-term happiness, like a cycle-to-work scheme.

And with the political uncertainty reportedly making the UK workforce uneasy, it’s more important than ever to keep your staff happy and motivated. Long-term solutions focused on health and work/life balance may be the answer you are looking for.

Hack attack from own employee

To get hacked by an employee once is unfortunate. To be hacked twice by the same employee looks like carelessness. But that’s what happened to a Californian security firm.

The first time, the employee hacked into the payroll system and falsified records to show that he was working vast amounts of overtime. When this was uncovered in 2014, he was dismissed.

The “ex” employee then hacked into the firm’s system again. This time he went on a spree of causing malicious damage. It included, stealing client information to lure them to his own new venture, deleting or corrupting back-up files and sabotaging the company’s website. In what must be a business owner’s worst nightmare, this included posting unflattering pictures of them on the site with the words “Are you ready?”.

The damage this caused was described as debilitating, and the ex-employee was ordered to pay the equivalent of £248,000 in damages.

Not a pretty picture. So what can you do to mitigate the risk of an employee going rogue? Clearly, much of the defence you can put up will come from your IT department or consultant rather than HR. That said, HR can play an important role too.

First, let’s consider the execution of a cyber-security policy. Unfortunately, 90% of all successful cyber-attacks are down to human error. So, you can use HR to ensure that all staff understand the cyber policies and their responsibilities under them.

For instance, who’s in charge of granting access to sensitive data stored online? Do they fully understand the consequences of inadvertently dishing out a username and password? Does everyone know how to identify a suspicious email and what they should do? And the old chestnut of not leaving a laptop without password protection (or any laptop) in the pub!

But you can go further than this with HR. Good recruitment in the first place to minimise the risk of a bad egg. And putting restrictive covenants in employment contracts to stop staff taking clients with them if they leave. For further advice, give us a call.

The decline of the CV

In the digital age, we can legitimately ask if CVs are on their way out. When employers are looking for great talent, more and more are using creative and online ways to find the right candidates.

With the recruitment world constantly changing, big hitters such as Ernst and Young have decided to remove their ‘2:1 degree only’ policy, because it excludes a large pool of otherwise eligible, high quality candidates.

An increasing number of employers feel that CVs are no longer relevant and that they do not accurately represent the individual. In their place, they are using online personality tests and online talent databases. If you know what you are looking for, online platforms could now be the default recruitment tool for you.

If you need assistance in finding the perfect candidate, The HR Dept is here to help.

Election uncertainty- What next?

It’s fair to say that the election result took the country by surprise. With no party having a clear majority, the roadmap for policy implementation looks far from clear – including all the proposed changes to employment law.

The potential effects of such uncertainty will be felt by most people, including your workforce: “What kind of Brexit will we have, and how will it affect me?” “How secure is my job?” “Will proposed changes to employment law be implemented?” are the kind of questions that employees may be wrestling with.

The CIPD have restated their commitment to work with government to tackle workplace issues. Don’t forget, in an uncertain world you can use HR to help your staff. And of course, we’ll keep you posted with the latest developments from the government and the CIPD.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter May 2017

General election: What the parties are promising

Election campaigning is in full swing and the main political parties have provided details of workplace policy proposals.

The blue side are the incumbents and also appear to be leading the polls (although that doesn’t mean much if recent experience has been anything to go by!). Theresa May has made announcements heralded as a big expansion of workers’ rights.

These include extending the right to maternity, paternity and holiday pay to more categories of worker. This should be tackling the ‘Gig Economy’ so that the so called self-employed staff get workers rights such as maternity, paternity, holiday and sick pay. The announcement retains the current EU-based employment laws; increasing the National Living Wage in line with average earnings until 2022; widening the remit of the Equality Act to cover shorter term mental health conditions; giving workers more rights to take time off to care for dependants and receive training; also to beef up the powers of The Pensions Regulator;  and charging businesses more for hiring migrant workers… And breathe!

The red side have been busy making announcements too. If Jeremy Corbyn wins the keys to Downing Street he has promised: four new bank holidays; an increase in the National Living Wage to £10 per hour; unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU nationals living in the UK; a hefty rise in corporation tax; and a banning of zero-hour contracts… And more!

The SNP are pushing against a hard Brexit and government cuts in Scotland, as well as a second independence referendum. UKIP are focusing their campaign on socio-cultural issues following their success in the EU referendum. This includes a banning of the headscarf worn for religious reasons.

It’s a fast-moving world, so keep an eye on our blog and Twitter feed for the latest updates.

How to accommodate Ramadan

26th May to 24th June is Ramadan, a religious period observed by Muslims. Those participating in Ramadan will be fasting – from dawn until sunset every day. Employers should acknowledge this and make reasonable adjustments so they do not fall foul of the Equality Act 2010.

You may want to consider a few issues that could arise. These could include fatigue caused by disrupted sleep patterns. Fasting can also reduce blood sugar levels, causing lethargy and irritability. And participants may be required to pray more often than usual throughout the working day.

One way to be accommodating could be to schedule demanding work for the morning. It is a good idea to inform other employees that Ramadan is taking place, and if you are arranging any social events, don’t be offended if people participating decline an invite!

Spotting an unhappy employee

In any organisation, however well run, sooner or later employees may want to leave for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it might be for the best – which is not an issue. But other times you may be at risk of losing a talented team member.

Holding regular appraisal/feedback chats can help you spot signs of unhappiness but an appraisal that discusses their career ambitions can identify risks. Even then, make clear that the door is always open to discuss issues.

If you know there is a problem you can see if you can fix it but encouraging openness can give you more notice time to plan their replacement. But ultimately, if they do resign you have to respect their decision.

Health and safety gone mad? Are you sure?

Health and safety (H&S) often finds itself on the receiving end of jokes and gags. To many it’s viewed as just another form of red tape.

But despite “’elf and safety’s” jobsworth reputation, it’s crucial to keep your employees safe and prevent work-related injuries from occurring.

The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) is fighting to reclaim the term – they have even taken to Twitter to debunk some of the myths. Here, they make it clear that many of the ludicrous decisions that are blamed on health and safety are, in fact, nothing to do with them.

A prime example from the Twitter feed was when the Daily Mail reported that, due to H&S, a young girl had been put into isolation at school for having beads in her hair. The HSE tweeted, “’H&S regulations’ for beaded hair? @DailyMailUK are you sure? #bustedmyth”.

The HSE also had their say when the Nuneaton Tribune claimed that council workers who operate in dusty conditions are required to be clean shaven to comply with health and safety regulations. HSE sent a tweet saying “These ‘new’ rules have existed for years to prevent inhalation when working with dust and asbestos etc. #bustedmyth

Taking health and safety seriously has major benefits for businesses, such as reduced costs, lower employee absenteeism, less likelihood of legal action, improved reputation of employee care and corporate responsibility, and (through all that) higher levels of productivity.

In 2015/16, over 30 million working days were lost as a direct result of workplace-related injuries. So not only will your employees benefit from health and safety rules, so will your business. Win-win.

And if you get it wrong?

There is the risk of fines, compensation and even jail. In 2016 alone, £61m of fines were paid out, and penalties for businesses with a turnover of more than £50 million can receive fines as high as £10 million for health and safety offences.

We have a dedicated health and safety team at The HR Dept, so if you need help with this important area, get in touch.

How to remunerate sleeping shifts

On first thoughts, sleeping whilst working might sound cushy. But a recent BBC news article revealed that council-employed care staff working sleep-shifts might not be getting paid the statutory minimum wage.

Despite many of these shifts lasting up to 10 hours, some workers were paid just £34 for the whole shift. This meant it was likely some carers would only reach the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage each month if they worked additional hours on top of their normal rate.

In accordance with minimum wage legislation, employers must pay workers for the entire ‘sleep-in’ shift, if they are liable to be woken to deal with incidents.

We recently wrote a blog on working time and pay. Although it does vary case by case, if you get it wrong it will cost you!

If you are uncertain about pay legislation and working hours, get in touch and speak to one of our HR specialists.

References. How reliable are they?  

Last year, Aussie radio hosts Hamish & Andy uncovered “the best bloke in the world” who was perfectly happy to give a job reference for a stranger. And (not knowing he was live on air) what a reference he gave!

Funny though it was, it drew attention to the validity of CV references and how much you can rely on them. As recruiting the right staff is crucial to the success of SMEs, it is certainly a concern.

Whilst we always recommend taking up written references, previous employers are often far more forthcoming about an individual on the telephone than they are on paper.

The HR Dept can help with all aspects of the recruitment process. If you need any help, get in touch.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters – Spring 2017

A case at Wilko

ImageWilko were fined £2.2million in January. The fine related to an incident which left an employee paralysed after being crushed by a roll cage containing 230kg of paint. The prosecution found that there was no risk assessment for the lift or the use of the roll cages, and that the training and supervision was inadequate.

This case emphasises, once again, that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are fining employers higher amounts than ever before. It also highlights the importance of assessing all risks faced by employees, and training employees on how to work safely.

Since the new sentencing guidelines in February 2016, there have been more fines of over £1 million than there were since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974. Therefore, it is more important than ever that employers do everything correctly.

PAT Testing: Do you need to do it?

We dispel a health and safety myth in every issue of Safety Matters. This time, we’re looking at the requirement for Portable Appliance Testing (PAT).

Many employers believe they need to PAT test annually. However, for many employers, this simply is not true. There is no legal requirement for appliances to be PAT tested at all – but this does not mean you should stop testing them altogether!

PAT testing is the most effective way to demonstrate that you have had your electrical appliances inspected and tested to ensure they are safe. We always recommend employers complete this to reduce the risks associated with faulty electrical equipment.

We also advise that most office equipment is tested every two years; although this is down to your risk assessments and the type of equipment you have.

Please do feel free to send in any other health and safety ‘myths’ for us to dispel or confirm!

Legislative changes

The HSE are in the process of reviewing legislation relating to the examination and inspection of work equipment. This means we can expect a few changes to legislation later in 2017.

The regulations being reviewed are:

– The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)
– The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)
– Pressure System Safety Regulations 2000
– Work at Height Regulations 2005

We will ensure that we keep you posted with regards to any changes. Watch this space!

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter April 2017

New terror guidelines announced

Westminster recently announced new guidelines that include how employers should prepare for, recognise and respond to a terrorist attack. They were published two days before the shocking events of the Westminster terror attack, which serves as a stark reminder of why we must all be prepared for the worst. Let’s take a look at what is included.

The new guidelines are comprehensive, covering a range of threats through 14 different sections. These include:

  • Weapons and firearms attacks where details of the “Run, hide and tell” tactics are provided.
  • How to deal with suspicious items, the threat of attack through incoming mail and bomb threats. For suspicious items, the four C’s are recommended – Confirm (it’s suspicious), Clear (the immediate area), Communicate (call 999) and Control (access to the cordoned area).
  • The danger of suicide bombers, vehicle bombs and other vehicle-based attacks. Notably, the National Police Chief Council has approved wider use of roof markings on HGVs to assist airborne police units when tracking stolen lorries.
  • Chemical, biological and radioactive threats.
  • How to protect against insider threats and cyber-attacks.
  • The guide, available on the government website, is intended for use by the public as well as organisations. For employers, considering and acting upon the advice could form an essential part of their duty of care towards employees.

    Often an HR department will be one of the key parts of an organisation responsible for delivering recommendations. If you would like help implementing anti-terrorism measures, particularly if you are in a sensitive industry, for instance a haulier, then get in touch with your local HR Dept. 

    Science of seating plans

    How much thought do you put into where employees sit? If the answer is not much, then you could be missing a trick. Mixing things up can have a dramatic effect on productivity. Flexi-desks, also known as hot desks, are one way to ensure that people do not get too cosy in established spots.

    However, if you want to get more scientific, research from Cornerstone On Demand – a US-based consultancy – will be of interest. They categorised workers into three camps:

    1. High productivity, low quality
    2. Average productivity, average quality
    3. Low productivity, high quality

    They found that if you sit 1’s and 3’s together it helps them bring out the best in each other – improving quality in 1’s and productivity in 3’s. The same benefit was not seen in 2’s, so they are best seated together. They found that adopting this method could lead to a significant 15% boost in organisational performance. Worth investigating!

    What’s causing the absence?

    It’s essential for a well-run organisation to manage absence effectively, and often helpful for employees’ well-being too. However, the cause of absence may not always be down to the employee. When examining absence data, it’s helpful to look for patterns beyond the behaviour of individuals. For example, do people from one team display more absence than average? That could point to a bad line manager, causing absence through poor management technique. Where this, or other factors, might be the underlying cause, the quicker it’s identified the better. We run training courses on managing absence. Get in touch for more information.

    Making HR  a walk in the park

    We all know what a challenge HR can be at times, especially dealing with a disciplinary or managing performance. So here is a top tip to help with the lighter side of HR.

    May is National Walking Month, when charities, employers and other organisations will be encouraging people to get out for anything from a light stroll to making some serious strides.

    With many roles in the modern workplace leading to workers being sedentary for most of the day, getting people to walk more is a sure-fire way to increase productivity and job satisfaction.

    There are numerous health benefits to walking, which can boost the mind as well as body. These include:

    • Releasing endorphins to boost your mood and act as a natural energiser.
    • Helping you lose weight and tone up muscles in your lower body. A half-hour walk can burn between 75-150 calories, which soon adds up if you make it habitual.
    • It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions. For instance, the risk of stroke can be reduced by 27% with a daily half-hour walk, whilst the chances of getting type 2 diabetes are said to be cut by 60%.
    • It’s even said that dementia can be warded off by walking at least six miles a week.

    That’s a big thumbs up for walking and clearly will benefit employers as well as individuals. So what could you bring in to promote it?

    Some companies implement challenges to get staff walking: taking the stairs instead of the lift or setting competitions to see which teams can walk the furthest (technology can help here, with the rise of Fitbits and other pedometer devices).

    Another idea is to team up with a charity. The British Heart Foundation, for instance, has a fundraising initiative called Just Walk which includes a free fund raising kit.

    Encouraging walking is a great proactive HR policy that contributes to employee well-being, team spirit, and even a bit of positive PR through association with a charity. For help with your first steps contact The HR Dept.

    Sickness absence falling

    Sickness absence has fallen considerably since records began. Back then, in 1993, the average worker took 7.2 days of sick leave annually. In 2016, the figure was just 4.3 days. After the 90s, the figure fell steadily with a marked decrease after the 2008 financial crisis. However, workers aged 65 and over bucked the trend in the latest figures, and in 2016 posted a higher absence rate (2.9%) than in 1993 (2.7%).

    So this data presents an opportunity for businesses to support them with targeted occupational health support which will also help control absence levels. These could include devising return to work programmes, making reasonable adjustments and identifying workplace issues that may contribute to absence.

    The statistics suggest this will be a growing issue, so if you need support call The HR Dept.

    Ties out, slippers in?

    Relaxed dress codes are now common in some sectors. Will the latest fad from Sweden catch on? That is, taking your shoes off at the workplace door and donning slippers. The idea being that comfortable staff equals productive staff.

    Your dress code will be influenced by many factors, including the industry you’re in, the day-to-day activities of staff and the image you want to portray.

    Perhaps a financial services firm may want to retain a strict code to demonstrate professionalism, trust and accountability, while a digital agency may go relaxed to show creativity.

    Even if your dress code is smart, bear in mind the seasons. With summer coming, many companies relax dress codes so things don’t get too uncomfortable in hot weather.  

    Whatever you do, get it down in a proper policy and apply the rules consistently.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter March 2017

April Updates

It’s that time when many employment law changes come into force. We’ve blogged about many of these recently to give our clients and readers plenty of warning, but let’s do a handy recap now.

First, we’ll draw your attention to the statutory pay increases that are revised each April. Check out The Indicator below to see the new 2017 rates. But what else is changing?

The Apprenticeship Levy finally comes into force. This is something that has been on the radar for some time, and you can read a full description here.

Briefly, if your annual wage bill is below £3 million, it will not affect you for now. However for larger employers, you will now have to pay a 0.5% toll. This is allocated to a digital account for you and given a 10% uplift by the government. The money is then available as vouchers to spend on apprentice related activity, for instance apprenticeship training.

Another big change this April is the start of the restriction to most salary sacrifice arrangements that was announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. Again, you can see the details in this blog, but most benefits offered under salary sacrifice will now have to be taxed.

Gender pay gap reporting launches this April, only for organisations with a workforce numbering 250 and above. They’ll have to calculate and publish their gender pay gap.

Finally, the immigration skills charge will come into force. This will see companies that sponsor skilled Tier 2 workers having to pay a £1,000 charge per certificate per year (reduced to £364 for small businesses and charities).

ECJ ruling on religious dress

The European Court of Justice ruled  that workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” need not constitute direct discrimination.

Though employers should not take the ECJ ruling at face value as its far more complex than that. Courts would only support a ban in limited circumstances, so it’s not as straightforward as it may seem upon first reading.

A concern for many is the potential response from colleagues and customers misunderstanding the ban. It must be based on internal company rules, requiring all employees to “dress neutrally”. And it should encompass all religious symbols, not just focussing on one from a single religion.

Employers, tread carefully when considering this. You must show that you’re not indirectly discrimination against your employees, the policy must be a legitimate response to a genuine necessity for the business. Campaign and religious groups have already voiced concerns.

Here’s informative summary to resolve any confusion. Check it out.

Budget brief

If you exclude the self-employment National Insurance debacle, it was a quiet Budget this spring for employment law. Nevertheless, there are a couple of points to flag up.

There was confirmation that the National Living Wage would rise from £7.20 to £7.50 as of April, which had been expected.

Fresher news was that, in a bid to boost skills, the government will introduce T-Levels which will sit alongside A-Levels, but with a technical slant. Also, Philip Hammond announced a £5 million fund to promote “Returnships” –  a scheme to help people get back into the workplace after a career break.

The HR Dept goes to Parliament!

In December, we made a submission to the government’s consultation on The Future World of Work, calling for an abolition of the “Worker” status. This sits somewhere between employment and self-employment

The rise of the gig economy – in which some five million people are thought to operate – has repeatedly exposed the worker status as confusing. This confusion has led to an erosion in employment rights for people who are essentially in a state of false self-employment.

If you haven’t heard us talking about it directly, you will probably have seen the high-profile news stories. Cases concerning Uber, Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers have centred on this topic.

Our submission was welcomed, and in March we were invited to give evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Alongside The HR Dept was Hannah Reed, Senior Employment Rights Officer for the TUC and Stephen Devlin, Senior Economist for the New Economics Foundation.

Our view is that in place of the worker status there should be revised definitions of self-employment and employment. The benefit would be to eliminate the grey area that currently exists and to afford people who are in false self-employment the same rights as the employed.

As things stand, worker’s are already entitled to statutory benefits and protections, and the National Minimum Wage. So under our proposal it would not be too onerous to reclassify them as employees. Doing so would reduce the risk for businesses of getting things wrong, whilst helping to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers. And a clearer definition of self-employment would help those people who genuinely want that, too.

It should be noted that businesses have faced a number of additional cost pressures recently: the introduction of the National Living Wage and auto-enrolment being the most significant. We recommend that any changes in this area should be sensitive to this, as piling on further costs to business will have far reaching implications.

We are experienced in helping SMEs in every industry and we know that defining workforces correctly is a major problem. If you need help ensuring your personnel are categorised correctly, we’re here to help.

Flexible working

Working from home is a great perk. Although sometimes we can get distracted – perhaps the TV or the cat wanting to be fed.

For viral sensation (20 million YouTube views in a week!) Professor Robert Kelly, the distraction came from his two young children.  And, comically, they did their thing during a live Skype interview on BBC News.

Moments into the interview Professor Kelly’s two young children burst into the room, strutting about like they owned the place! Click here though we’re sure you’ve seen it already.

Hilarious for millions around the world, but it highlights the challenges of flexible working. Working from home isn’t for everyone, ignoring the abundance of distractions both employees and employers lose the benefits gained from personal interaction across the team.

That said, 38% of millennials believe they do their best work outside the office. Flexible working has also become an identifier of a good employer, demonstrating  their compassion for employee needs – particularly for those with families or a difficult commute.

But to be effective, flexible working must be managed properly, a consistent approach in line with your documentation is recommended.

Don’t shoot the messenger

It has been revealed that Parcelforce charge self-employed drivers £250 per day if they are sick and unable to find a replacement driver.

Approximately 25% of Parcelforce’s couriers are self-employed and, as you can imagine, this has not gone down well!

This is only the latest in a long line of “gig economy” stories where the balance of the relationship between the company and person doing the work seems to have tipped too much in favour of the company.

There are two issues here. First is legal compliance. Here the waters are muddied by confusing variances in different worker statuses and the rights that go with them. At what point is someone considered self-employed, a worker or employed? Second is treating people decently, which is one of the hallmarks of a good employer and one that we believe will add value to a business in the long run.