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VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter May 2015

Getting sick of summer sickies?

Do you ever get suspicious of your employees being struck down with illness when the sun comes out? You are not alone. Previous summers have shown a remarkable correlation between soaring temperatures, surging barbeque sales and – yes! – increased rates of absenteeism down to alleged illness. A term for it has even been coined: ‘summer sickies’.

Our weather is famously unpredictable – but there are other indicators you could look out for when confronted with suspicious absence. Sporting events for one. This year we have the Ashes sprawling across the summer, followed by the Rugby Union World Cup in the Autumn. And of course there is Wimbledon, which is with us every year in the last week of June and first week of July. A pattern of sick days appended to Bank Holidays or weekends may be another indicator that sickness is not genuine.

Standard procedure for an employee off absent on short-term sickness should be a direct conversation with their Line Manager before or in the first hour of the time they were due in – explaining the reasons and the expected length of absence. On their return they should attend an interview with the line manager to discuss it. They should then complete a self-certification form. Further investigation by the company is permitted, although it is good practice to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions before establishing as many facts as possible.

If a ‘summer sickie’ is discovered it can be treated as an unauthorised absence which is a disciplinary offence. For help dealing with this tricky issue give the HR Dept a call.

Standing up for well-being

If you were told a secret killer was lurking in your office, you may be forgiven if you pointed the finger at ‘creepy Graham from accounts’ before you ever suspected the furniture. (Sorry Graham – we are sure you are just misunderstood).

But actually the office chair – and the act of sitting for seven or eight hours every day – is increasingly being recognised as a significant contributing factor in killer health conditions including heart disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes and obesity. In the UK, 67% of men and 57% of women are classified as overweight or obese.

And of course we all know about back pain caused by sitting down for long periods – particularly if the chairs are not orthopedically designed. So what about solutions?

In the party game Musical Chairs, the one left standing is the loser. But in the office, standing could be the answer. Standing desks are incredibly popular in Scandinavia. Apparently, over 80% of office workers use them over there!

We are certainly not suggesting chucking out all the traditional sitting desks. But having some alternative standing desks – which employees could use for one or two hours a day – could bring both the company and them real benefits.

For the company a nicer atmosphere and more productivity: people who use standing desks are reported to have a more positive attitude, be less lethargic and take shorter breaks.

For employees, the positive action of combating serious illness over the long-term would probably be a key driver of using stand-up desks. But the health benefits can be more immediate too. Surprisingly, working in a standing up position burns about 50 calories an hour more than doing so sitting down. Integrating this behaviour into a weekly routine would be a simple way to burn some serious calories! Not to mention, help people who suffer with back pain.

It is certainly an interesting way to consider boosting employee well-being. To discuss this and other employee well-being tactics speak to the HR Dept today.

Stay cool

Nothing splits a workplace like a temperature dispute: the ‘too hots’ vs. the ‘too colds’. Opening and closing windows, seizing control of the air conditioning and helpful suggestions to ‘wear more layers’ or ‘roll your sleeves up.’ Can we turn to the law for a judgement? Not really. There is no law for minimum or maximum temperatures, although guidance does suggest a bare minimum of 16°C or 13°C if employees are doing physical work. Health and Safety Law is unlikely to solve any arguments either: it decrees keeping the temperature at a comfortable level. A rather subjective metric!

New turban freedoms passed into law

An important issue among Sikh employees has been resolved: namely the extension of their right to wear a turban in place of a safety helmet (with effect form 1 October 2015).

As far back as 1989 an exemption had been in place that afforded Sikhs working on construction sites this right. But the Sikh Council UK pressed for this freedom to be broadened following instances of disciplinary action taken against practicing Sikhs in other sectors. Now all sectors except the Armed Forces and some Emergency Response roles must offer the exemption.

So a minority community can be happy that consideration is given to their practices. And employers should also be pleased that (where relevant) they have clarity on this specific issue. Getting the balance between health and safety and religious preferences in other scenarios may remain less clear.

Ending mobile madness

All kinds of statistics can be wheeled out to show how dependent we are on mobile phones. Apparently 65% of Americans would rather have their mobile with them than their lunch. And one study suggested that on average we can’t go six minutes without checking our phones.  Not a healthy obsession!

And neither is it very conducive to an industrious workplace. Whilst for some, mobiles are a vital business tool, for many they are not. They can cause stress, anxiety, irritation, and distraction to everyone within earshot. In some instances they may represent a health and safety issue where concentration is key, where there is a risk of explosion, or where electrical signals can be jammed.

Companies can set their own rules, so we advise having a policy in place – things like setting phones to silent during office hours, and only making/taking personal calls on a lunch break. For more detailed advice get in touch.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter April 2015

Talking politics

With the general election looming the political classes have wasted no time in hurling abuse at one another: “two kitchens” and “running scared” spring to mind. If the so-called political elite can’t keep the debate civil, can it be done any better in the workplace?

Unlikely. There is scope now for opinion to become really distilled. Where once politics tended to be two-tone: you were either Labour red or Tory blue, it’s now become a whole lot more colourful. There is the yellow of the Lib Dems, green of the, well, Greens, purple of UKIP – not to mention the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Northern Irish parties. If, for example, a former Labour voter found a once Conservative colleague’s opinions distasteful (and vice versa!), imagine how they might feel now they have been able to fan out left and right to become ‘Greens’ and ‘UKippers’.

And if co-workers may struggle with their differences, it could be even worse between bosses and their employees. It would be a shame to lose a star employee over polarised political opinion, and would be downright dangerous for a boss to risk clouding their professional judgement during appraisals, after learning of staff political leanings.

Many topics are best left private, and although it may dominate the news for the next few weeks, it may be best if politics is one of them. While an outright ban may be heavy handed you could discourage political discussion by requesting that political leaflets and the like aren’t left in communal areas. And if you have to deal with fall-out from political debate call The HR Dept.

New rules arrive

Have you been paying attention to your recent editions of People Matter? Good. Then it will come as no surprise that April sees the introduction of two big employment rule changes. Yes Shared Parental Leave and Fit for Work are finally here. To recap, the first gives parents the flexibility to split 52 weeks of leave between them when a child is born – great for 21st century parents but likely to cause difficulties for employers trying to coordinate a workforce! The second should in theory help with coordinating a workforce – at least any that become long-term sick. Fit for Work helps the employee, employer and GP plan the return to work of employees absent for four weeks. For help with either of these new schemes speak to your local HR Dept today.

Parenting: the toughest job in the world?

If you have children you may well sympathise with this thought. And if you need some persuading a recent study qualified and quantified exactly what is involved. The study found that on average a stay-at-home parent’s day begins at 7am and doesn’t finish until 11pm. Scale that and it leads to working 119 hours per week! Then there is the range of jobs: from Housekeeper to Head Chef, Chauffer to Lawyer and Teacher to Psychologist – to name just a few. When all these pay rates are totted up, it would come to an annual salary of £172,000 – more than the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately for parents it goes down as voluntary work, so there is no financial reward. Working parents do, of course, have entitlement to various paid and unpaid leave to help them with raising children. And some organisations use flexi-time arrangements as a way of helping parents juggle work and life (or if the study is to be considered, work and work). If you need help accommodating the rights and needs of parents in your workforce, get in touch with your local HR Dept.

Named and shamed

What happens if the rate you pay falls below the National Minimum Wage (NMW)? Putting aside ethical considerations, you should be aware there is a hierarchy of actions that can be taken against you. First, HMRC advises that the employee takes it up directly with the employer (they have the right to see records). If pay still does not rise to NMW (and with arrears paid), the employee can get input from ACAS. They could also go to the employment tribunal.

If HMRC discovers an employer not paying NMW they can issue an arrears notice plus penalty. Another tactic HMRC additionally employs is to name and shame. They appear to be ramping up their efforts. In January and February they listed 37 and 70 businesses respectively. Prior to this they had only named 55 since October 2013. By February arrears had totalled £316,000 (plus £111,000 of penalties). So big bills for what are often smaller businesses.

It is not necessarily simple to check whether you comply. MiHomeCare – one of the UK’s largest care providers – found in an internal report that one branch probably underpaid staff £80,000. It identified that they had no system to check NMW compliance. One practice highlighted was ‘clipping,’ where an employee is not allocated travel time between appointments. It looks like a short cut to hot water.

For help avoiding NMW disputes, costly arrears and penalties, and even public humiliation, speak to the HR Dept.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter March 2015

Help us help you – and win

On 20 March you will receive a customer satisfaction survey from us via email. Please, please, please complete it to give us the information we need to give you even better service. Last year one out of every two surveys was completed. We value everyone’s feed back and would love to get this number as high as possible.

What’s in it for you? A fair question, as we’re sure you are busy and get many such requests. First, we genuinely do take notice of every response. It’s great that last year satisfaction was measured at 93.5% but we are just as interested in service gaps, or if you feel we have fallen short – so we can rectify it. This is how we will push towards the Holy Grail of 100% satisfaction! And as proof we do act on what you tell us, as a direct response to feedback from last year’s survey, we introduced our Flying Start Programme to specifically help micro-businesses.

If the first reason to complete the survey is so you continue to get great and improving service, the second reason is good old-fashioned bribery. Everyone who completes the survey before 8 May will have their name entered into a prize draw to win £100 of John Lewis vouchers. You could get a stylish addition to your wardrobe, some fancy tech or some tasteful home ware.

We hope you find that sufficient incentive to complete the survey. It will be issued from [email protected] via so keep an eye out for it in the second half of March.

Wish you weren’t here

Easter is known as the second most contentious time of year after Christmas for employees clashing over holiday-leave bookings. People clamour to get more bang for their holiday-leave buck by booking time off next to the double bank holiday weekend. And there are plenty of clashes over the Summer holidays too – demand for time off to coincide with school breaks is strong.

There have even been reports of some co-workers taking it to a whole other level, by maliciously booking time off when they know a colleague was planning to go away. Others, aware of the levels that some can sink too, refuse to talk about their holiday plans at all. Or even give false information with a view to double bluff their colleagues cum dastardly adversaries.

As is so often the case, it tends to be the manager, HR representative or owner who ends up having to deal with the fall-out and work out a solution. Having clear written policies in place is a big help. It at least sets some ground rules, even if some employees may try to play dirty. But what else can you do?

Knowledge is power and being in control of all relevant information can make things so much easier. That’s where HR Toolkit comes in. It’s a low-cost, web-based HR software system that can manage the entire holiday leave process. Everyone in the company can log on but with different access levels: so basic employees can see their own record and book time off, a manager can see records of employees they are responsible for and approve or reject holiday time. Meanwhile, the business owner or HR manager can access all records.

HR Toolkit actually does much more than just manage holiday leave – it can bring the same level of efficiency to many other areas of the HR function too including training, appraisals, and employment contracts among other things. To discover more about this must-have HR accessory for this year’s Easter and Summer holidays, speak to your local HR Dept today.

Avoiding staging date fright

Auto-enrolment – the compulsory government scheme that opts just about every UK employee into a pension – is in full swing. It went live in October 2012 with larger companies required to comply first. Now in 2015 it is the turn of smaller companies. The staging dates for companies with fewer than 50 employees run between 1 June 2015 and 1 April 2017.

However, some surveys suggest SMEs are in the dark when it comes to auto-enrolment, with about 50% knowing little or nothing about it, and three quarters having done nothing to prepare for their staging date. The Pensions Regulator has wide-ranging enforcement options including issuing stiff penalty notices. So, to avoid auto-enrolment stage fright, and the penalties that come with it, speak to the HR Dept today and get prepared!

How not to reject someone

It’s not uncommon for an unsuccessful job applicant to hear nothing, or get an obviously generic letter.

What’s less common is for an unsuccessful interviewee to receive a written tirade attacking them personally and professionally. That’s what happened to James Allen, an interviewee at Right Price PVCU. His rejection letter included: “[you are] one of the most irritating, rude, obnoxious and arrogant people I have ever had the misfortune to meet” and “…I actually have a job, and other things to do with my day other than replying to you…” as well as offensive comments regarding his appearance.

However tempting it may be to unleash, it’s important to remain professional, keep criticism constructive and if in doubt count to ten before sending (or show it to someone else first). Otherwise, like this case, you may end up spread across the national press! For help running a professional recruitment process call the HR Dept.

National Apprentice Week (9-13 March)

The government is pushing apprenticeships, but what are the pros and cons? On the plus side apprentices are cheap, with wages way under the National Minimum Wage. Statistically they’re more loyal than staff that trained elsewhere and you can mould them into your business culture. All rosy then? Not quite, because while cheap they still represent a commitment – lasting up to four years and with normal employee rights. Productivity may fall in the short-term as you will have to devote resource into training. So, not altogether straightforward – for guidance speak to us.

Uh oh, there’s a calculator        

It’s worrying when a new rule needs an online calculator to help you understand it. And we are not surprised that Shared Parental Leave has turned out to be one such rule. Statutory leave here, flexible leave there. Employers potentially juggling staff members taking alternate blocks of leave over a whole year. It’s no wonder heads may be spinning. While the new rule came into force last December, it only affects the parents of babies born after 5th April 2015. But with that date bearing down upon us, the first requests for this leave will be in. Have you received any, and do you know what to do?

Don’t worry, there’s always the DWP calculator! And if that fails, call your trusted local HR Dept and we will help you get your policies in place and apply them.


VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter February 2015

Are you missing out on this pool of talent?

More than one in three disabled jobseekers feel they have been discriminated against during the recruitment process, according to a survey carried out by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI).

This should make companies sit up and listen. Aside from the fact that it’s illegal to discriminate, a whole host of talented people may be being overlooked when a business is searching for the best candidate. One out of every eighteen applicants is classified as disabled, so in a workforce of over 30 million, a big talent pool is being ignored. Part of the problem could be down to a perception gap. Employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustment’ to accommodate disabled applicants. But the survey also revealed that whilst 82% of recruiters think they make this reasonable adjustment, 58% of candidates said that they experienced no such adjustment. That maths does not add up.

This is obviously a sensitive subject. And sometimes a tricky one to get right during what can already be a stressful process. But for businesses that invest the time to fulfil their requirements, their reward could be to find a star performer who would otherwise have been missed. If you need guidance in formulating your recruitment policy, including adequately catering for disabled applicants, then contact your local HR Dept today and let our experts help you get your processes compliant and optimised.

Nothing more romantic than a contract

With Valentine’s Day nestled at its heart, February is a time when love is in the air. And the workplace is as fertile ground as any. In fact, co-workers don’t need the cover of Valentine’s Day to get together. Given all the time we spend at work, it is little wonder that staff fall in lust or love with each other throughout the year. It is also unsurprising that the fall-out of office trysts can be damaging for the workplace environment and often, sadly, for the individuals involved. Gossip, affairs, inappropriate sexual conduct at work, sexual harassment claims, jealousy… They’re all nasty by-products of love in the workplace and the stuff of an HR nightmare.

For all the highs and lows that an office romance will bring to various parties, it is the unfortunate Boss or HR Manager who is likely to be encountering the lows. And owing to the collision of professional and private life it may feel like a blurred line as to where and how you should get involved. It will certainly help if expectations of appropriate conduct are clearly communicated. A ‘love contract’ is one route to go down. These have been making their way over from America and not only set out expected behaviour, but also help defend a company against a sexual harassment claim. Whilst for many a less formal approach will be preferred, some may even go one step further. Fashion giant American Apparel recently banned certain workplace romances outright.  For guidance on this, call us and we will gladly be your office Love Doctor.

“So fat you can hardly walk…”

…Was at the milder end of a litany of un-pleasantries inflicted upon a morbidly obese employee.

This playground-like bullying by a colleague became newsworthy because it prompted the first instance of a UK Employment Tribunal finding obesity to be a disability. This follows a ruling last year by the European Court of Justice on the dismissal of an overweight Danish child-minder. The UK case (in Northern Ireland) was Bickerstaff v Butcher. The judge said he was satisfied the claimant was “harassed for a reason which related to his disability, namely his morbid obesity condition.” It is significant that the tribunal appeared to pay little regard to a medical report stating the obesity was self-inflicted and could have been reversed with life-style changes. The tribunal was most concerned with the impact of the condition on the employee, not its origins.

For its part, the employer, Randox Laboratories, said it had dealt with the issue as soon as it became aware of it – dismissing the antagonist, and was committed to a zero-tolerance attitude to discrimination. However, the ruling represents a new level of workplace protection for the obese. Now that it can be regarded as a disability, employers need to take additional measures. So if this might affect you, what do you need to do? A unique feature of disability discrimination law is that an employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments.  If a policy or task puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage then the employer should take steps to remove that disadvantage: maybe allocating a specific task to another person or changing a place of work.

It is a judgement call and if you get it wrong it could lead to a tribunal. Call the HR Dept for help with managing the HR risks associated with obesity, and other forms of disability.

Talk to the hand

Who hasn’t become exasperated with the number of cards in their purse or wallet? Bank cards, driving licence, and in the last ten years, a proliferation of loyalty cards. Many of us also have a swipe card to gain access to the workplace.If yours is bursting at the seams and you pray they will all just disappear, be careful what you wish for! A company in Sweden is pioneering a bionic chip – injected under the skin in the hand – that the wearer (is that the right word?!) can use to gain access to their workplace.In fact it does more.

In the trial they can use the photocopier with a wave of the hand and in the future pay for food in the café. We are all for progression, but the application seems a bit underwhelming given the whole ‘injection in the hand’ process you must suffer first.Time will tell whether this sort of thing catches on, but if you have had any issues with ‘wearable tech’ (such as the ill-fated Google Glass) at work already, speak to your local HR Dept to get some policies in place.

£100 John Lewis voucher up for grabs!

In the next few weeks we shall send out our annual client surveys, and we would love to hear your views. Last year we scored over 93.5% for satisfaction. But we understand that we will only continue to excel if we seek and act upon your feedback. Last time round half of respondents replied which was fantastic, but we aspire for even more. Therefore we are adding a prize draw to the survey this year. Complete the survey within the deadline (TBC) and we will enter your name into a hat to win £100 worth of John Lewis vouchers. Keep your eye out for the survey which will be coming to an Inbox near you soon and tell us what you think to be in with a chance!

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: People Matter January 2015

Your checklist for 2015 Employment Law changes

With 2015 set to be a busy year in the world of HR here is a checklist of changes on the horizon. All are launched in April unless otherwise stated:

  • Shared parental leave – OK not technically on the horizon as it was launched on 1 Dec 2014. This gives parents freedom to choose how they split childcare in the first year after birth. For more information go here.
  • Managing sickness absence – A free service for employees, employers and GPs to provide an occupational health assessment after four weeks of sickness absence.
  • New statutory pay rates – Statutory pay for maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave will rise to £139.56 per week. Statutory sick pay will rise to £88.45.
  • Statutory adoption leave and pay – The 26-week qualifying period will go. Adoption pay will match maternity pay (90% of normal earnings for first six weeks).
  • Unpaid parental leave – On 5th April this right will extend to parents of any child below 18.
  • Surrogate parents eligible for adoption leave – Surrogate parents will have the same leave and pay rights as ordinary parents. These include unpaid time off for two antenatal appointments.
  • Reservists’ exemption – Reservist employees will be exempt from the two year qualifying period for bringing an unfair dismissal claim, if it’s related to their service: timing to be confirmed.
  • Young people – All must remain in education/training until aged 18.
  • Jury service – The upper age limit will increase from 70 to 75 in England and Wales: launch date to be announced.

What a misfire!

A man in India has finally been fired after not turning up for work for 22 years! The engineer last showed up in December 1990, but the company has been unable to fire him due to the country’s labour laws. Compare this to employment legislation her and never complain again! Employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed, but they will have had to have been employed for at least two years’ continuous service. This doesn’t mean there is no risk to the employer. A fair process should always be followed and remember that an employee with less than two years’ service (minus notice period) can still take a claim forward for discrimination. For all matters hiring and firing get in touch.

Should you be concerned by staff’s New Year resolutions?

What are your employees’ New Year resolutions? Knowing these – and helping with them – could be a powerful management tool. Aside from the rapport it builds, you may well find their interests are aligned with the company’s.

For instance, the old cliché: “I want to get more healthy!” Achieving this could obviously lead to fewer sick days being taken and a more energised and productive workforce. There are simple measures you can take to facilitate this.

How about stocking fruit-bowls? It discourages less healthy snacking and brightens up the office. Subsidised gym membership is another idea. Some businesses we know even bring in an in-office masseuse to ease tensions.

One New Year resolution especially popular this year is pledging to find a new job! In fact, more than one in three people have this in their sights – nearly double the amount of people who aspired to do this the year before, and three times as many as in January 2013 (Source: The Institute of Leadership and Management).

OK, you may be glad to wave some staff goodbye, but for others it could be a disaster. A knowledge gap. Short-staff issues. An employee walking off to a competitor with your prized customer list.

How can you handle this proactively? The quoted survey cited “More opportunity for progression”, “Better pay”, and “A more interesting job” as the top reasons. All things normally within your control.

So why not survey your own staff and find out what they want from their role before they start looking elsewhere? It could be as simple as more recognition for a job well done, or perhaps more training and development. There is real scope to use this to grow the company as well as improve staff satisfaction.

And failing that, make sure you have strong restrictive covenants in place! The HR Dept advice line can now provide insurance cover for restrictive covenants, ensuring you can afford to take out injunctions to protect your customer base. Call us for more information.

Holiday-pay overtime: Retrospective claims limited to two years

Employers can breathe a little more easily on the holiday-pay overtime issue. The Employment Tribunal ruling last November not only left companies with a future cost burden of having to take non-guaranteed overtime into consideration for holiday-pay, but also left the door open for claims for past holiday leave.

But the government has acted to limit these back-dated claims to two years. This prompt action will be greeted with relief, although there is of course still liability there.

For guidance on this issue, contact your local HR Dept.

From the High Court

Amidst the Christmas rush an important ruling was made at the High Court.

A Judge rejected a judicial review brought by Unison who wanted to have tribunal fees ruled unlawful. It was the second time in 2014 that the trade union has failed in this objective and it has promised to appeal.

Employers will be relieved that, as the law remains the same, there will be no short-term surge in tribunal cases. However, the world of HR is fluid. And in this an election year, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have indicated that they want to see the current fees go south. So these could be back on the agenda in the second half of 2015.

If you are facing a tribunal make sure you get in touch with your local HR Dept for assistance through the process.

Anti-social media

Sackings, data disputes, snooping…

The murkier side of social media has come to the fore in the last month.

Stockbroker Rayhan Qadar made an ill-judged tweet suggesting he had perpetrated a hit-and-run. Cue online outrage, police investigation, national news coverage and instant dismissal for poor conduct.

Then a law firm warned: who owns LinkedIn contacts when an employee leaves? Restrictive covenants normally protect against ex-staff soliciting clients. And most sensitive data sits on company infrastructure. But a LinkedIn contact list resides on third party servers. And LinkedIn can automatically notify someone’s contacts when they change jobs. Solicitation by proxy? It’s a grey area.

Finally, for ‘Big Brother’ bosses, software is available to track staff social media usage to monitor who may imminently hand in their notice. Useful? Ethical?

Whether you embrace social media or not, it’s important to have clear social media policies and ensure other legal documents are fit for purpose in this digital age.