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 productivity
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.
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.
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-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.
17 claims every hour of the working week
Following the abolition of tribunal fees last year we warned it would become much easier for employees to take their employers to court.
The warnings were warranted. The latest figures published by The Ministry of Justice show the number of single claims received is 165% higher than in the same period last year. For multiple claims it is even more striking, with a 344% increase.
They also show this surge in claims has inundated the tribunal courts. The backlog to process these claims can be as much as 6 months a long time for an SME to be focusing on such a distracting issue.
The most common reason for claiming is unauthorised deduction of wages which is not surprising as an employee does not need two years’ service. For unfair dismissal the average compensation pay-out is about £15,000 and the largest was more than £400,000. For discrimination, the largest pay-out was nearly quarter of a million pounds.
So at the very least, being taken to a tribunal will be a distraction, while worst case scenarios could see you facing significant legal fees and a compensation award. There could be reputational damage too.
But stop worrying! Comprehensive protection against all these risks is one of our core services. Our retained advice line provides the expertise of an in-house HR team at the fraction of a cost of hiring one. It gives you unlimited telephone and email support from a local, qualified HR adviser. They’ll help you avoid stumbling into a tribunal court through a lack of knowledge or a poor HR decision.
But better still, if an employee did try their chances at a tribunal now that there’s no fee to pay, our advice line is backed by tribunal insurance. This covers your legal costs and any compensation , as long as you followed our advice from the outset. If you haven’t signed up to our advice line yet, these figures show that now’s a better time than ever.
Tales from the HR Crypt
‘tis the month of Halloween so to send a shiver down your spine we thought we’d serve up horror stories about nightmare colleagues.
Beware the next time an employee goes on a long-haul holiday. One person described on social media how their co-worker took a month’s leave, and while they were gone a spider infestation broke out in their desk drawers.
If that’s too creepy crawly for you, how about the person who accidentally pepper sprayed their entire office. Described as “weird in an office where 50% of staff were weirdos”, this individual took an electric slow cooker into his work cubicle to make a stew for lunch. As you do. When he removed the lid it decimated the workforce with coughing fits and watering eyes as he’d been cooking a piece of chicken in a confection of hot chilli sauces.
Stay safe this Halloween, and if you find yourself in your own HR horror story, let us know!
The latest on childcare vouchers
This month, there have been dramatic changes to the rules on government childcare support that your employees might claim. The established scheme, childcare vouchers, was closed to new applicants on 4 October. In its place, the tax-free childcare scheme, which had been running concurrently, becomes the only option for new claimants.
The key thing for you to know as an employer here is that if any of your employees are on the childcare voucher scheme, which they receive through you, they can stay on it. However, if they voluntarily leave the scheme, take an unpaid career break of more than a year or you close the scheme, the only option open to them will be the HMRC-administered tax-free childcare scheme. For advice on how you design an employee benefits scheme, including childcare, get in touch.
Paid parental bereavement leave
Losing a young child is surely one of the most traumatic experiences imaginable.
In a UK first, parents who experience the trauma of losing a child under the age of 18 will soon be entitled to statutory paid bereavement leave.
If you have managed people who have experienced such loss, it may well be that humanity has prevailed and you have given them this support and space that they need anyway. But what do you need to know, now that it is being written into law?
This legislation was a manifesto promise, and it has been working its way through parliament. In September 2018 it was given Royal Assent which is an important step in its implementation.
Nothing changes just yet, but it is likely to come into force in 2020. It will give all employed parents a day-one right to two weeks’ leave if they suffer a stillbirth from week 24 of pregnancy, or the death of a child under the age of 18. Subject to meeting eligibility criteria, they will also be able to claim pay for this period.
We’ll keep you posted on the introduction of this new statutory leave. Should you need support managing a parent who loses a child, your local HR Dept adviser will be able to help.
Can you give a bad reference?
What happens when you receive that dreaded reference request for the employee who was lousy at their job or had a poor attitude?
The good news is that, with a few exceptions (like financial services), you can dodge this bullet. There’s no legal obligation to respond.
If you are inclined to provide a reference, it can include information detrimental to their cause – as long as it’s accurate and fair. This means it should not include subjective opinion and should be backed up with facts.
Your former employee can ask to see a copy of the reference. If they felt it was inappropriate, they could claim damages if they could prove it was inaccurate and that they suffered loss.
It’s helpful to have a policy for responding to references, especially if more than one manager may be providing them. This ensures they’re all handled consistently and efficiently.
If your business is in the hospitality sector, a shake-up of the laws on tipping is coming your way. The government announced that it would legislate as soon as possible to ensure that tips go to the workers who provided the service, without any deductions being made by the employer for various purposes.
A consultation showed strong support from consumers – whose intention is to reward their waiting staff for good service with their tips – for this measure. This is just one of several pitfalls that hospitality businesses can be trapped by when paying staff, so do take care.
What to do when your staff go AWOL
You breathe a sigh of relief; it’s September and the holiday season stress is over. Time now to crack on with all those projects. And then you discover a key member of staff has not returned from their “trip of a lifetime”.
It may not be possible to accurately record your initial reaction here. But safe to say words like “murder” probably spring from your lips.
However, as we always advise: look for the simple explanation first. Were the flights delayed by strikes or weather? Have they been taken seriously ill? Or maybe simply overslept?
Only after making every effort to make contact by telephone, text and email is it reasonable to assume they are not coming back. If they live nearby, you could even try calling at their house or contacting next of kin before reaching this conclusion. But once all avenues have been exhausted, you can start to resolve this problem of unauthorised absence.
When there is less than two years’ service and no known disability, then it should be relatively straightforward because there is less risk of a claim for unfair dismissal. But for longer serving employees, do make sure you follow the correct process.
As we always stress, keep a record of everything you’ve done to prove you have taken all reasonable steps to make contact. This means sending a recorded letter, so you know who received it. The letter should state that you would like them to contact you so that you can establish if they have resigned. It should also explain that if they continue to be absent without contacting you, then you’ll have no option but to take steps to terminate their employment.
Unauthorised absence is a fair reason for dismissal but does not negate the responsibility to follow the Acas code. And as dismissal only becomes effective when it is received, it’s worth trying to contact them in as many ways as possible.
Do remember that whilst they remain an employee they continue to accrue continuous service and holiday rights. So to make sure you have help managing these situations, do call us.
The value of supporting mental health
With the August bank holiday done and dusted, it’s a long old haul to Christmas! Do you relish the opportunity to knuckle down? Or do your spirits fall with those long nights drawing in?
Spare a thought for your team too. We all have mental health. And, like physical health, it fluctuates. The realisation that summer and its holidays are finished will affect some adversely. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) may come into play too.
There’s real value in incorporating good mental health and wellbeing into your company culture. In fact, a fifth of GDP is produced by people who’ve experienced mental health difficulties according to research by the Mental Health Foundation. So how do you achieve such a culture? It will vary, but it could mean reviewing operations to ensure they consider mental health and protect or improve it where possible or designating a mental health champion. Talk to us if you want to get started.
What’s in a name?
What do your job titles say about your business? Traditionally, they might describe what someone does and their seniority. But has this become too restrictive or unappealing today?
Microsoft recruited a “chief storyteller” – responsible for changing the perception of Microsoft through stories. Google has an “in-house philosopher” who solves engineering problems through a humanistic perspective. And many techies seem to prefer being called “networking ninja” or “C# Sherpa” rather than good old fashioned “developer”.
This may be useful if it’s giving employees a feel-good factor, or conveys your company culture. And sometimes customer-facing roles may require more nuanced names – sales staff may be better presented as “customer services” for example.
Can inventive naming go too far though? Of course it can! We’ve seen people professionally described as a “shredded cheese authority”, an “executive sensei” and even a “teen exorcist”.
Uptake is low for shared parental leave
Take up of shared parental leave remains stubbornly low three years after its launch. Figures were released recently to show that in 2017-18, only 9,200 parents used the scheme. This was just 500 more parents than in the previous year.
The scheme is, of course, notoriously difficult to administer. Coordination is potentially required between more than one business. And parents have the right to request non-consecutive blocks of time, although employers are not obliged to grant the requests.
This administrative burden on employers, coupled with out-dated cultural issues relating to men taking extended periods of leave, has led to the suggestion that employers are not doing enough to signpost the option.
There is a complicated application process too, which is seen as a barrier for parents. And another factor attributed to low take up is that many couples decide that it would be unaffordable – that they would be financially better off using the maternity leave scheme only.
Indeed, there have been legal cases exploring the level of pay that men receive when taking time off after the birth. None has been definitively successful for the employee. But a tribunal has made initial findings that a police constable suffered indirect discrimination as his employer only offered statutory rates for shared parental leave but full pay for maternity leave. The case is now back with the tribunal for them to reconsider.
Do you want help to better signpost shared parental leave to your staff? If so, contact your local HR Dept.
Are you welcoming to older workers?
Let’s throw some stats at you. Over-50s make up a third of the UK workforce, and that’s rising. A quarter of businesses are unprepared for managing an increase of older workers. And the skills of over one million over-50s are being squandered due to old-fashioned employment practices.
These all come from a major new study by the Centre for Better Aging. And a Parliamentary Select Committee has recently slammed age discrimination in the workplace, too. When you consider skills gaps and staff shortages in the economy, there’s real opportunity for mutual benefit by embracing older workers.
To combat ageism and even get ahead by being proactive, there are many areas you could review. These include flexible working, your recruitment processes, your approach to workplace adjustments in managing health conditions, training for line-managing older workers and equal opportunities in career progression for all ages. For bespoke advice, get in touch.
Disciplined for unfair disciplinary
At a disciplinary hearing an employee is entitled to bring a companion such as a trade union representative. If this companion is unavailable, your employee may propose a reasonable alternative date within five working days. You must agree to this date unless there’s a good reason to reject it.
A recent court case shows it may be wise to be even more accommodating than this. An engineering firm was found guilty of unfair dismissal by an employment appeals tribunal after, among other factors, they refused a longstanding employee such a postponement beyond five days and held the disciplinary in her absence. In situations like this, take professional advice.
How to manage low staff levels over the holiday season
Being short-staffed can happen for many reasons – an influx of new business, sickness absence and, most definitely, employees taking their annual leave entitlement. That last one is probably the most easy to plan for because it is the most predictable.
So what can you do to ensure it is “business as usual” over the summer when staff are on holiday?
Manage annual leave requests – Let’s start at the beginning and ensure you’re doing all you can to minimise the issue. You have to provide annual leave, but you do get to approve when staff take it. Introducing a “first come, first served” policy could be one fair way to ensure you are not left in the lurch. Professional software to manage annual leave, such as our HR Dept Toolkit, can really help here too (and has wider benefits).
Cross-train your staff – You know that your employees will need to cover for each other, so ensure they have training in advance to handle their additional tasks. Reinforce this with proper handovers so your stand-ins will have a chance to ask informed questions of their colleagues before they depart.
Bring in temporary staff – Do you have former staff members available who you’d welcome back on a temporary basis – a retiree or someone taking a career break, for example? They can step in and hit the ground running. A temping agency or intern programme is another option to take the pressure off, although they’d likely require more direction. Depending on your business, developing relationships with freelancers or specialist outsourcing agencies can be another effective way to manage variable workflows and resourcing throughout the year.
Supportive management – If your team is feeling the pressure, providing strong but supportive leadership will really help: prioritise tasks for them, encourage teamwork, make sure breaks are taken so that they get a chance to recharge, and keep lines of communication between you and the team open.
If you want to explore summer holiday resourcing in more detail with an expert, speak to your local HR Dept adviser.
Could you be spot checked by The Pensions Regulator?
Auto-enrolment has been around for a number of years now, so all employers should have some awareness of this mandatory employee benefit. Indeed you should be set up for it and probably making payments.
However, The Pensions Regulator receives about 80 calls a week from whistle-blowing employees who think their employers are failing to comply with workplace pension law.
Non-compliance is wrong on many levels. Notably, it is effectively stealing from staff pension pots. And it also creates an uneven playing field where one business can undercut another by not bearing these pensions costs.
The Pensions Regulator has had enough and is going to start spot-checking 100 employers a month to see if they are meeting their full obligations. The regulator will be particularly interested in businesses where there is inconsistency between two sets of data filings, such as PAYE and auto-enrolment figures.
If you employ EU nationals, you’ll be relieved to know that the government has published a Brexit toolkit. It provides a framework for transitioning EU nationals to their post-Brexit immigration status. It also includes all the communication tools (flyers, videos etc.) you’ll require to let them know what they need to do. These will be translated into 23 languages.
The new immigration status will depend on how long an EU national has resided in the UK. If they’ll have been resident for five or more years by 31 December 2020 they can apply for settled status. Those residing here for less time can apply for pre-settled status. There will be phased applications for the new statuses until March 2019, when it will be fully open, and it closes on 30 June 2021. This toolkit is available on the government website
The right to disconnect
In the information age we live in, we’re always connected. Professionally, this can mean that employees (and business owners for that matter), may feel they never escape their email or phone calls.
So just because people can be contacted by phone, email and other electronic communications outside normal working hours, should we expect engagement or a response from them?
A debate about our reliance on phones and tablets is raging. There is growing recognition that serious mental health problems can be caused by overusing mobile devices. Phone companies are even building usage monitoring and over-use warning functionality into their software. And when work pressures are a factor too, it only exacerbates the problem: stress, anxiety, mental and physical fatigue, even burn-out could follow.
Elsewhere in Europe, legislators and courts are starting to respond to this. In France, legislation known as the El-Khombri law (named after an ex labour minister) requires companies to reach agreement with their workforce on work/life balance boundaries so staff can properly switch off.
It hasn’t gone that far in the UK yet, but a British company has been caught up in the French approach. A former director of the company’s French division was awarded €60,000 due to the expectation on him to answer his phone outside of working hours.
For SMEs in the UK (where businesses tend to have long working hours but low productivity rates), the legal obligations in this area may not be clearly defined yet. But in the absence of formal laws, being proactive in helping your staff disconnect could be a powerful way to differentiate your business.
The cost of injury-to-feelings awards
A clear-cut case of sex discrimination recently concluded at a Watford employment tribunal. The judge heard how a female employee had endured inappropriate sexual comments and touching on the hand from her boss, and verbal abuse from other colleagues. When she raised a grievance she was dismissed and described as “immature”.
She was awarded more than £15,000, and it’s interesting to note how this was broken down. £10,000 was for injury to feelings, and this was enhanced by 12.5% to £11,250 because the employer didn’t adhere to the Acas code. Loss of earnings, holiday pay and notice pay were considered to complete the full award.
The judge observed that: “Employers have to be aware that the vicarious liability provisions in the law open them up to very large injury-to-feelings awards, even when they are not aware that the discriminatory action is taking place.”
To err is human, to forgive divine?
In scorching temperatures, tempers are bound to flare at times. But can we blame it on the heat and forgive outrageous behaviour?
Apparently so, because there are some staggering examples of workplace bad behaviour where the perpetrator was not fired. One Reddit user asked for such examples and received these responses:
Accidentally blending a plaster into a customer’s smoothie (urgh!); throwing a bottle of ketchup at a boss; crushing a BMW under a truck; and calling into work “dead” only to return four days later as if nothing had happened. If you need help getting tough, you know who to call!
An interesting court case this year shone the spotlight on an employer’s health and safety obligations concerning noise.
Control of Noise at Work (2005) are the relevant regulations. They normally deal with noise as a by-product of operations, such as machinery in a factory. But in this case, they were applied to an orchestra where noise is the primary product.
A viola player brought the case after suffering symptoms of hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. He had been sitting in a cramped orchestra pit in front of an 18-piece brass section which generated 135 decibels.
As with the case of the spider biting a BA employee elsewhere in this newsletter, the employer recognised the risk. They felt they had followed all reasonable steps to mitigate it.
They educated the musicians about noise protection, offered bi-annual hearing tests and even supplied two types of custom-fitted earplugs with 9 and 28 decibel filters. It was left to each individual’s discretion as to which they used. The employer explored enlarging the orchestra pit, but deemed this to be prohibitively expensive.
The judge sided with the musician and agreed he had suffered acoustic shock. This is the first time this condition has been recognised in the courts. She said that the risk assessments were insufficient, and further preventative measures should have been implemented.
Since the judgment, civil liability is no longer applicable under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Nevertheless the judgement suggests that employers need to go further than previously thought in protecting employees from noise. Music and event venues should pay particular heed.
Postponing ping pong!
When launching a new business you have a million and one things to think about: securing premises, marketing, your supply chain… and maybe employing staff to name a few.
It is unlikely to be your first thought, but don’t forget health and safety too. Missing something here could put you, your staff or the public in harm’s way. Or it could stop you in your tracks.
That’s what happened to a new ping pong parlour in Cambridge in July. It was the latest initiative in a programme called Ping! which has seen the local council and Table Tennis England install more than 40 tables around the city. Sadly, an undisclosed last minute health and safety issue in the shop unit delayed the launch – which had been timed to coincide with National Table Tennis Day.
Health and safety laws apply to all businesses, but if you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write down your risk assessment or health and safety policy – although you may want to. A good principle to understand is that your approach should be proportionate to the nature and size of your business. Want to know how to get started? Give us a call.
With the 2018 summer continuing to send records tumbling, it does throw up some health and safety issues for employers in ensuring staff stay safe at work. There’s no maximum temperature which is deemed too hot to work in, so it comes down to conducting your own risk assessment.
This will vary hugely from company to company. For some, working in direct sunlight will be a major threat, whilst for others certain individuals may be particularly vulnerable – a pregnant employee for example. Dehydration will be a hazard to all.
Once you have identified the risks, attention should switch to controlling them. There are five areas which are helpful to explore. These are controlling the environment, employee clothing, reviewing task scheduling, monitoring individual employees and permitting changes in normal behaviours.
We recently covered this topic in detail on our blog, so be sure to check that out for further advice and tips.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
In this feature we look at instances when unpopular organisational policies have been incorrectly attributed to health and safety. They’re the kind of case which gives H&S a bad name and the Health and Safety Executive loves challenging them.
Campsite freezer facilities
The gorgeous summer we are having is bound to have got more people than ever flocking to the great outdoors and pitching their tents. Campers will be familiar with using a cool box and ice packs to keep food and drink cold.
Many campsites install a freezer so that campers can re-freeze their icepacks. This is a management decision to offer enhanced customer service. And equally if a campsite decides that their freezers cannot be used for re-freezing icepacks, that is also a management decision made for commercial reasons. There is no health and safety legislation saying ice packs cannot be refrozen at campsites.
Children at recycling centres
There would definitely be a health and safety issue if you tried to recycle your children. However, leaving them in a car while you drop off some legitimate recycling materials is perfectly acceptable and, indeed, what’s recommended.
One recycling manager asked that children were taken from their parents’ car and left at the gates of the recycling centre as they were not allowed on site due to health and safety. Common sense would suggest that children would be at more risk if they did this than if they stayed in the car. So the recycling manager had it all wrong.
Ban on mains extension leads
Electrical safety is very serious and is governed by many regulations. However one local council took this too far when banning a tenant from using a mains extension lead in their own home. More than likely they were incorrectly applying workplace regulations to a domestic environment. While we would never undermine good practices with electrical safety, some practical guidance would have been more appropriate than a ban in this instance.
These examples show the blurred lines that can exist when interpreting health and safety legislation. They also show the potential consequences which can range from a nuisance to altogether more dangerous scenarios.
If you want health and safety legislation to help and not hinder your business then be sure to speak to one of the experts at The Health and Safety Dept.
A member of British Airways’ cabin crew was awarded £13,000 compensation after a judge agreed he was probably bitten by a dangerous spider whilst at work.
The employee had felt a nip as he was getting out of a bunk on a long-haul flight. He did not think much of it until a few days later when his hand swelled up terribly. At the hospital, medics felt that he was in danger of losing his hand and even his life.
He pulled through, and although the spider was not found, the judge accepted an expert witness’s testimony that it was probably a brown recluse spider, native to North America.
Bug infestations are a known risk on international flights, and it certainly was not a risk that BA completely disregarded as an employer. In this case, they argued that if the bite occurred on the flight then it was an unexpected accident that could not have been foreseen.
However, the judge found that their management of the risk of bug infestation was too focused on preventing bedbugs in the seating, which was seen as the most prevalent threat. Health and safety failings included inadequate protection from insects in the bunk area, a reactive approach to insects other than bed bugs and poor reporting procedures.
While the airline industry may have many niche risks compared to other sectors, there are important general lessons we can take from this case. In particular, the need to provide a complete response to a risk rather than a limited one that may be effective in one area but not broad enough to provide adequate protection overall.
If you need help translating a risk assessment into full procedures for mitigating the hazards, then give the experts at The Health and Safety Dept a call.