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

Proposals to enhance workplace rights for fathers

Could there be drastic changes to UK paternity rights on the horizon?

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has examined the situation of fathers in the workplace and made bold recommendations.

These include: allowing fathers paid time off for ante-natal classes (they currently are allowed two unpaid visits); increasing statutory paternity pay from about £145 a week to 90% of earnings (capped for high earners); and considering replacing shared parental leave with 12 weeks of dedicated paternity leave.

Moreover, they propose immediate legislation to ensure jobs are advertised as flexible unless there’s a strong business reason not to; harmonising the rights of agency, self-employed and employed fathers where possible; and adding the characteristic of “paternity” to the scope of the Equality Act 2010 to encourage cultural change.

The report considered international evidence of better outcomes for children when fathers take paternity leave – particularly if longer than two weeks. These are numerous, but include improved performance on cognitive tests and, over the long term, less chance of social problems.

Counterintuitively, this raft of improvements to fathers’ workplace rights is partly suggested to improve women’s workplace prospects. It could even help to reduce the gender pay gap. This is because with an easier environment in which fathers can share childcare duties, it is also easier for women to return to work and continue their career at closer to their pre-children pace.

At this stage, these are just proposals. And they’re not guaranteed to become law. However, there has been a growing trend towards family-friendly employment law, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see further legislation in this direction.

For a long time we have championed the implementation of family-friendly policies. Long-term benefits of staff loyalty, retention of in-house skills and a wider talent pool from which to recruit can be difficult to appreciate before you have them. And let’s not forget that SME business owners face all kinds of pressures. But you don’t have to wait for law changes to go family-friendly. So to get ahead of the curve, contact us for help drafting your own family-friendly policies.

LOL office gripes

While we’re enjoying a beautiful summer in 2018, it can make people tetchy if they are cooped up in an office. Especially if you don’t have air conditioning. So we thought we’d look at some of the funniest passive-aggressive notes and responses that colleagues have left each other in their workplaces:

“Please remember to date the food cans! Thanks.” Response – “Tried on three occasions to date cans, they only think of me as a friend…”

“To the person who ate my lunch… Pay no attention to the mouth sores you’ll be getting. They’re probably nothing…”

“The printer is here temporarily.” – Response “In the greater scheme of things, aren’t we all?”

“Please do not unplug the coffee maker.” – Response “Please do not use whimsical fonts.”

It may be a bit of fun when it’s happening to someone else, but such notes could indicate an underlying cultural problem, so take heed if they start appearing in your office.

Wellness benefits on the rise

With low unemployment and ever-increasing attention on mental and physical health, health and wellness benefits are appealing ways to recruit and retain talent.

Businesses like them because they’re a cost-effective way to improve remuneration, and they can help to reduce absenteeism. And for employees they are valuable benefits which may not otherwise be attainable.

Looking at the USA where they also have historically low unemployment, 34% of organisations have increased their benefits offerings over the last year. About three quarters of these say this was to aid retention and more than half did it for recruitment purposes. This was from a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Are you struggling to attract or keep talent in your business? Introducing or improving wellness benefits could be the answer. Ask us about the excellent range that we can offer.

Holiday pay headache

We have entered the holiday season for 2018. And whether your staff take time off to enjoy the gorgeous summer we have been experiencing in the UK or are venturing further afield, calculating their holiday pay has got a whole lot more complicated in recent years.

It started off with having to include guaranteed overtime which staff were required to take by their employer. Subsequently, commission for sales staff had to be reflected too. And now voluntary overtime pay must also be calculated and added to holiday pay unless it is genuinely occasional.

Cases like this are regularly being tested in the courts, and the answer is always coming back the same – regular forms of pay must be included in holiday pay. The principle that underpins these judgements is that people should not be discouraged from taking their annual leave. And through the indirect financial penalty for not having overtime included in their holiday pay, it is judged that this would occur.

The laws, which come from Europe, only concern the first four weeks of holiday pay. However, in practice, most businesses will blanket apply the rules, as it would be an even bigger headache to run parallel holiday pay systems.

There is some danger of back pay claims being made, although limits are in place to restrict these.

It is advisable to take extra care when calculating your holiday pay rates this summer. If you want help getting it right, then speak to your local HR Dept advisor, and they will ensure you consider all relevant factors.

Protecting your interns from harassment

Hiring summer interns can be a rewarding experience for company and intern alike. There are challenges, as well as benefits, though. One such challenge is the potential for harassment of these most junior of staff.

The #metoo movement has put perpetrators of harassment in sharp focus. It has also highlighted all-too-common institutional failings in exercising the employer’s duty of care. So what practical steps should you be taking to ensure your interns are protected?

The key activity is training. Make time for this for both permanent staff (including managers) and interns. You should cover respect and the standards of behaviour expected. Some companies ban managers from dating interns. Training should include clear instruction on what harassment is and how to report it. Work parties may be an area of higher risk, particularly if alcohol fuelled. So give extra consideration to interns when planning summer staff socials.

Obesity in the workplace

A government adviser has suggested overweight employees should be allowed to arrive late to work. This is so they can avoid the morning rush hour if they have mental or physical difficulties with it. He even suggests that obesity should be made a protected characteristic so that overweight people can claim discrimination at a tribunal. The ideas, presented at a European Congress, have met with resistance from other quarters. We ran our own Twitter poll, asking whether obese workers should be allowed to start late to miss the rush hour. The results show 79% replying no to 21% in favour.

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

Meeting demand with seasonal workers

For many businesses, dealing with peaks and troughs in demand is a real challenge – especially when it comes to staffing levels.

Hiring seasonal workers to level them out is a sensible solution for many. But it’s important their employment status is clear. Will they be employees, workers or self-employed? Their status will determine how they work and what rights they have. For example, a casual or zero hour person with worker status can decline to work, while an employee is obliged to carry out duties that fall within their role, and while employees have many statutory rights including the right not to be unfairly dismissed, workers have very few rights but are entitled to paid holiday.

So how can you ensure seasonal workers are treated fairly? Those on a fixed-term contract should, by law, receive the same treatment as their permanent colleagues. So if permanent employees share tips, those on fixed-term contracts must be included too. The same goes for part-time employees who are entitled to be treated in the same way as their full-time colleagues.

For many businesses, the busiest times coincide with students’ holidays when they are looking to boost their funds. So this can be a useful pool to recruit from. If they’re over 18, it should be plain sailing. Any younger and you’ll need to consider strict rules governing the employment of someone under the compulsory school age, as well as additional working-time obligations.

Hiring agency workers might seem the simplest solution – but that doesn’t let you off the hook entirely! You’ll need to give them access to all the facilities your employees enjoy, and let them know about any permanent vacancies. And under the terms of the Agency Workers Regulations, once they’ve been with you for more than 12 weeks, they’re entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions you give your own employees.

It’s clear that there are pitfalls in taking on seasonal workers. With employment law changing all the time, you may need some help to get it right. If there’s anything you’re not sure about, talk to The HR Dept.

Moving towards a more inclusive workforce

You’d think in this day and age, employees could feel comfortable being open about their sexuality. But according to LGBT charity Stonewall, more than 35% of LGBT people hide or disguise their sexuality, fearing discrimination at work.

And for anyone thinking that young workers will be more upfront, it’s worth pointing out that the highest proportion of people who hid their sexuality in the workplace were aged 18-24.

How can organisations and their staff become more inclusive? The first step is to encourage an open and supportive culture, making it clear intolerance and discrimination isn’t acceptable. Remember it’s ok to admit you don’t know everything – so practise reverse mentoring and learn from less senior employees who understand more than you.

Throughout June, LGBT Pride events will be happening around the country. Could your organisation support one of these, sending a clear signal that inclusivity is firmly at the top of your agenda?

Holiday management

Holidays… they’re meant to be fun, relaxing, a time of the year to look forward to. So why do they have to be so stressful to organise?

Your staff may be wrestling with school-holiday price jumps, inconvenient (but cheaper) mid-week flights or last-minute deals. And their pressures may transfer to you in the guise of a short-notice holiday request, conflicting bookings and the need to handle frequent questions about holiday entitlement.

Having a clear written holiday policy and communicating it to staff gives you the framework to manage these issues and should be considered a bare minimum.

Looking at advanced solutions for SMEs, our HR Dept Toolkit software is the smart choice. It allows employees to self-manage holiday entitlement, taking much of the headache away from you. For a free demonstration, get in touch.

How SMEs can compete with large companies in the fight for talent

Naturally you want to attract and retain the best people. But if you’re an SME, how can you possibly compete with the salaries and perks offered by some of the big players? That’s a dilemma faced by many.

Indeed in a recent SME confidence-tracking survey from Bibby Financial Services, 27% of SMEs said they’re struggling to hire the right skills. More than one in five are having to increase remuneration to retain talent.

While that’s not a very positive picture, it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that as an SME, you have plenty to offer. A 2017 survey showed that career progression and development tended to be more important to employees than working for a big brand. In a smaller company employees have more opportunity to be involved in different aspects of the business building their skills and experience quickly. And if they have ambitious plans for their career, they’ll probably have their sights set on great things for your business as well.

Don’t forget the importance of training too. That’s an extremely attractive benefit which can help you recruit and retain the right people. SMEs are recognising this, with 42% planning to invest in training. And if you currently have a skills gap, it often makes more sense to develop someone in your team, rather than trying to find a ready-made solution from outside. It’s a great way to improve performance, foster loyalty and turn your workforce into even more of an asset.

If you’re concerned about attracting the right talent for your business, give us a call.

Could you win during the world cup?

The bookies have Brazil, Germany and Spain as the favourites for this summer’s world cup. But could your business be a winner too, indirectly?

Many people will be looking forward to watching their favourite team in action. And with games coming thick and fast on weekdays and weekends, most businesses will have staff who would appreciate flexibility so they can catch a match.

Your options for facilitating this will depend on your circumstances. But ideas to consider include showing the game onsite; allowing employees to follow matches on personal devices; and permitting flexible working.

Research suggests that the distraction of major sporting events can become a management problem for about one in four businesses, with issues like reduced productivity and unauthorised absence. But by taking a proactive approach you can prevent this own goal and actually boost employee engagement, goodwill and therefore productivity.

Dogs at work

A cute canine will bring a smile to most people’s faces. So if you haven’t considered letting your employees bring their furry friends to work, perhaps now’s the time.

No, we haven’t gone barking mad! It’s ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’ on 22 June – so why not give it a go? Research shows that enrolling a four-legged friend can reduce stress, strengthen relationships and make the office a happier place. It might even help you attract top talent.

Do bear in mind that some may have a phobia or allergies, so check your whole team are wagging their tails at the idea.

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


It’s almost here. Not the fabled English summer, but the equally fabled GDPR. As you probably know, that’s the new General Data Protection Regulation. It comes into force on 25 May.

It’s something to take seriously as has been demonstrated by the flurry of opt-in emails that we have all been receiving in our inboxes. They relate to marketing, but GDPR is far broader. It includes the employee data you handle.

Think about it from recruitment to termination of employment; you’ll have contact details, bank info, NI numbers, possibly medical information, performance records and if applicable a disciplinary and grievance history. That is all highly sensitive stuff.

You’ll need to inform individuals how you intend to use and store this information. And for some things this will require explicit consent. You’ll also need to train all employees in GDPR compliance – as they say, any system is only as strong as its weakest link. The penalties for non-compliance are ferocious.

Retained HR Dept clients needn’t worry about gaining GDPR-compliant consent from employees. We’ve made the necessary changes to your HR documentation. So you’ll have what you need to implement that.

There’ll be further actions you need to take as part of your wider GDPR compliance though.

You should audit all the data that you currently hold. Be thorough and honest with yourself… that box of old files in the warehouse still counts! GDPR covers all electronic and paper records where an individual can be identified.

Now you can create an audit trail of personal data and identify more sensitive information. If you do not use it already, My HR Toolkit is a fantastic software solution for handling employee data.

Once your data is audited and you have new systems in place, don’t forget to train up your staff. We can help with staff training too. To find out more about this, or My HR Toolkit, give us a call.

So now you’re well on your way to compliance, you can sit back and watch out for the next instalment of GDPR… which will probably be “Who’s the first test case?”. You know it won’t be you!

Asthma and hay fever in the workplace

A worker at the Department of Work and Pensions was recently awarded £26,000 following unfair treatment from his bosses after suffering an asthma attack.

He’d been forced into an unsuitable role, given a written warning for taking sick leave and pressurised into moving offices.

Asthma is a serious, occasionally fatal, condition; sometimes classified as a disability. An employee doesn’t have to inform you that they suffer from it. But it would be hoped they’d want to, and that you could work together to ensure they have the right environment in which to work. This may include identifying triggers such as dust and mitigating them, ensuring first aiders are aware and handling sickness absence correctly.

It would also be good to have hay fever on your radar at this time of year. It’s less serious, but still no fun. Sufferers are sure to appreciate a boss who’s sympathetic to the condition.

Too scared to use the loo!

They say all publicity is good publicity, but that most definitely doesn’t extend to press accounts of banning your staff from taking loo breaks. You couldn’t do this directly, but by creating a culture of fear with strict policies regarding breaks and other informal downtime, it may happen indirectly. It was reported in the national press that the like occurred at an Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire, with a “toilet bottle” being implemented (Amazon don’t recognise the accusation).

They’re not the only high-profile employers accused of regressing to Victorian-era HR. Firms which have been caught up in such practices have been panned. If your policies aren’t fit for purpose and risk making headlines for the wrong reasons, talk to us about getting them right. We can help you with a PR crisis communications service too!

Work and weddings

The wedding season is now upon us, with the Royal wedding just around the corner! For at least the last year the Bride to be has been busily planning venues, searching for the perfect florist, band and wedding dress. But how much of their time is spent browsing online or discussing details with their colleagues during work hours? A clear policy for online activities should be seen, understood and agreed by employees. Banning wedding discussions all together may dampen the office atmosphere, so why not add an extra ten minutes on to your weekly team meeting dedicated to a wedding catch up.

Then the Best Man, Maid of Honour and Chief Bridesmaid are organising the stag and hen weekend to which an email lands in your employee’s inbox and half the team are invited.

They all leave on a Friday and with a bit of luck stagger in on Monday rather the worse for wear and that’s before the wedding. How does the business manage multiple requests for this time off? What about the one employee that got left in Dublin last seen singing ‘The Final Countdown’? Then you may be thrown with the bride and/or groom requesting two weeks or more off for their beloved honeymoon.

Managing these holiday requests whilst ensuring your business has adequate staff cover is enough to make you want to take a holiday yourself! The running of your business is your priority, so if an employee wedding may be on the horizon, a discussion of your requirements before all the party planning gets started could save you from a HR headache.

Don’t get a shock from PILON

Payment in lieu of notice (PILON) rules have changed. Once payable free from income tax and National Insurance where it was not specified in the contract, PILON will now attract these charges.

Since 6 April if an employee leaves without working their full notice period, you’ll have to process the termination payment under these new rules. We would advise you check that your payroll software has been updated.

In fact, this is just one of a series of hidden traps within changes to termination payments. You should also be aware that injury to feelings payments are now subject to income tax (subject to the £30,000 threshold) unless they relate to a disability.

The government also signalled an intent to make employer National Insurance payments payable on the excess of termination payments above £30,000. This has been postponed until April 2019.

Snooping bosses!

The judgement from a recent employment tribunal serves as a reminder that it’s best to leave covert surveillance to the cops in Hollywood movies.

A credit controller was awarded £4,414 for being unfairly dismissed following leave taken while her father battled terminal cancer. Colleagues had accused her of partying during this time, and a director’s response was to scour the employee’s social media posts and even keep watch on her home.

It’s rare that such an approach will be justified, so if you have a situation where this crosses your mind, speak to us for professional advice.

VIEWCLOSEExpand panel 'People Matter' Newsletter: Safety Matters Q2 2018

How much damage can a workstation do?

Dangerous places, offices are. Sure, perhaps not as dangerous as working with heavy machinery or at height. But a computer workstation can cause more than its fair share of problems, if not set up correctly.

Let’s consider the desk surface. A bad set-up can lead to back and neck pain and also contact stress on the arms. The top of the desk should be at an appropriate height for the user (adjustable height desks are becoming more common). Computer monitors should be placed at head height and about 50cm from the eyes. These will help to avoid strain on both the eyes and neck.

The desk should provide enough space to accessibly house all equipment which the user frequently uses. Having to stretch repeatedly to reach stationery, or twist into unnatural positions is bad for posture.

It’s best to have desks with rounded edges. These help the circulation when arms rest on them – compared to angled edges – helping to prevent tingling and soreness in the fingers. If your desks have sharper edges, you could consider overlaying a softer material like foam.

And what about under the desk? In a busy office, it’s tempting to pile boxes or files under desks, but this isn’t advisable. Such obstructions can force the worker too far away from the desk top, or restrict leg movement – both of which can cause back and neck problems.

Who’d have thought there was so much to consider with the humble desk! But normally a little care and attention can render them harmless, and help you keep a healthy, productive workforce.

Good health and safety is great for your business

When people talk about health and safety, it’s often with just legal compliance in mind, and preventing people (and equipment) coming to harm – reactive policies to stop bad things happening. But what about the positives that a proactive health and safety policy brings to your business?

Being seen to take health and safety seriously by your staff brings you significant benefits. First, there is the cultural impact. You create a culture in which you clearly care about your employees, and an environment in which they can carry out their work effectively. This professional approach will play its part in recruiting and retaining high calibre workers.

Good health and safety will also help you operate more efficiently. According to the HSE, 31.2 million working days were lost last year due to work-related illness and injury. Reduce the lost days in your business and think of the management time saved and the avoided costs of covering for absent workers.

So investing a little in health and safety can deliver valuable returns through more effective employees and reduced absences. And that’s before you even consider savings in legal costs and compensation when things go badly wrong.

April Showers

 April is a month notorious for its changeable weather, and in particular showery rain. This can pose extra risks for employees who work outside, and to the entrance areas of buildings.

For outside workers, the correct clothing and equipment for rain are essential. Slips and falls become much more likely. So footwear with non-slip rubber and thick grooves in the soles are a must, particularly for people working at height. Other waterproof clothing is important but ensure that vision and hearing aren’t compromised. Hand tools should be suitable for outdoor use and have non-slip handles.

And for those lucky enough to be working indoors when the heavens open, there is still a heightened risk to manage. Main entrances to buildings can become extra slippery. So good quality entrance matting is advisable. If you do not have permanent matting up to the task, you could store reinforcement matting for especially wet days along with slip hazard signage.

Need help conducting a wet weather risk assessment? Call The Health and Safety Dept.

Health and Safety Myth Busters

It’s unfortunate but enduringly true that health and safety is a go-to excuse for managers and frontline staff when they introduce or enforce an unpopular policy. The HSE calls out such policies when they wrongly blame health and safety legislation. Here is our round-up of some of the latest myths they have dispelled.

Myth: Packed lunches banned from being eaten in the playground
With the weather turning warmer, nothing could be more pleasant than eating your lunch in the gentle sunshine. One school outlawed their children from eating their packed lunches alfresco, citing health and safety as the reason. However, government regulations do not touch upon this. Therefore, the decision was part of an internal management policy and should have been presented as such.

Myth: Providing empty tester perfume bottles
Most of us like to smell nice, and for many this means buying an expensive fragrance. Or if we’re lucky, being given one as a present. Some of us even like to collect empty tester perfume bottles, apparently. But one unfortunate enthusiast was prohibited by a store assistant from taking away such perfume bottles for, you’ve guessed it, health and safety reasons. Could it be that they were made of glass? Or were somehow unhygienic? Who knows? But in fact there is no legitimate health and safety reason why these empty glass bottles couldn’t be given away. It turns out that this was simply an internal waste and recycling policy.

Myth: Ban the safety pins
Do you have fond memories of your local swimming pool? Perhaps the changing rooms are not held so dear. Soggy floors, cramped cubicles, and those fiddly safety pins used to attach the locker key to your swimming costume. Thankfully, these safety pins are becoming a thing of the past as wristbands and clips are now preferred. One swimming pool blamed the demise of the safety pin on health and safety. Again, aside from general common sense, the HSE are not concerned with safety pins, so it was simply a commercial decision that there are better ways of attaching a key to your person when entering a swimming pool.

If you have a good reason for introducing a policy that is unpopular, then why not just use it to explain the policy? If there is no good reason, then perhaps you should change the policy. But don’t blame it on “health and safety”.

2017 sees huge rise in health and safety enforcement fines

When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its enforcement figures for 2017, they showed huge rises in fines. They were up 74% on the previous year to about £61 million. Significant custodial sentences were handed out, too. This follows the introduction in 2016 of harsher sentencing guidelines and penalties.

There were some stand-out cases. These included a £2.2 million fine for Wilko when a 20-year-old female worker was crushed under a cage full of paint tins and paralysed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was fined just under £1 million following two employees being severely burned. And Aldi was fined £1 million after a new employee damaged his foot while operating an electric pallet truck without the proper training.

Lengthy jail sentences were handed out to the directors of more than one company following the deaths of employees falling from height.

That should be more than enough to make business owners sit up and take notice. And it is not just the punishments meted out by the HSE which business owners should be concerned about.

Depending on the nature of the accident, there could be further financial cost from repairing damage to machinery and equipment, lost revenue if operations are shut down for any length of time, and the time and money spent in preparing for the court proceedings.

Then there’s the human cost to consider. There will often be physical or mental damage to the immediate victim. But bad feeling could permeate throughout your workforce if it is perceived that you do not take workers’ welfare seriously. This could lead to recruitment and retention problems.

Appropriate risk assessments are at the heart of good health and safety policy. These include learning from near misses at your own organisation, and from the mistakes of others. To ensure you are handling health and safety correctly, get in touch with The Health and Safety Dept for an initial consultation.

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

A call to ban trial by unpaid labour

Trials by water or fire were outlawed centuries ago, but there is one type of potentially unfair trial that is currently not illegal – and what’s more, it is on the rise. We are talking about unpaid trial work shifts. These see job candidates come in and work for free for a period to demonstrate they have the right skillset to do the job.

Used fairly and as part of a recruitment process; short, relevant unpaid trials can be effective. They can even work as a two-way process, with the applicant seeing if they like the work and the employer seeing if they are suited to it. However, where businesses insist on full day unpaid trials, a sensible approach to recruitment degenerates into exploitation and free labour. It is a particular problem among organisations in the hospitality sector such as bars and cafes, and it is a growing trend.

Real examples of bad practice in this area include forcing new employees to undertake 40 hours of unpaid training or using unpaid trial staff to cover holiday or sickness absences of regular staff. There is a clear unfairness in such practices, and in the case of absence cover, the business is actually commercially gaining from it at the candidate’s expense. In light of this, a group of MPs have supported a private member’s bill that prohibits such unpaid trial shifts.

The bill would require employers to pay at least the National Minimum Wage and to structure the trial so that a job description is provided as well as a list of the qualities they are looking for. Key information, like how many roles are available and feedback to unsuccessful applicants, would also have to be given. Unfortunately this bill has now been dropped, but no doubt will be raised again.

Time will tell whether the bill becomes law, but much of what is included in it is what we would describe as part of a fair approach to recruitment. For advice in structuring your recruitment processes fairly and effectively to help your business fly, speak to The HR Dept.

 Childcare vouchers extended by six months

For many businesses, childcare vouchers have been an important employee benefit. If you offer them, you will probably be aware that the scheme was due to be closed to new applicants this April.

However, following a parliamentary intervention by Labour and then a DUP MP, the government has reluctantly extended childcare voucher registration until October.

A replacement tax-free childcare scheme has been running in parallel since April 2017. It works differently – some parents would be better off under the new scheme whilst others gain more from childcare vouchers.

If you offer childcare vouchers and have employees who may be eligible but have not signed up, now would be a good time to publicise the scheme. As long as your employees are registered before October 2018, they can continue using childcare vouchers as long as you offer them. But after that date, only the newer tax-free childcare scheme will be available.

The danger of wearing high heels at work

Having high standards is one thing, expecting your employees to totter around in high heels is something entirely different. It’s an issue that hit the headlines last year when a receptionist was sent home from work for not wearing heels.

After challenging the decision, an inquiry threw the spotlight on the unfair demands placed on some women at work. Although there is protection against sex discrimination, no men we know have been asked to wear heels, many still feel pressure to look a certain way – with 76% unsure what’s appropriate.

But it’s not just about looks. Asking your employees to wear heels may have serious health implications. It alters the centre of gravity, putting pressure on the spine, heart and lungs – probably not something you want to be responsible for! For advice on dress codes, talk to The HR Dept.

New case law: How to calculate part-time holiday leave

In an important decision in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (Brazel v The Harpur Trust), a judge has clarified how a part-time teacher’s holiday pay should be calculated.

Mrs Brazel, a part-time music teacher, worked at a school in term time on a zero-hour contract, and her hours fluctuated weekly. She had a contractual right to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday, mirroring her statutory right.

The school calculated her holiday pay using the Acas guidance for casual workers. This is pro rata to the proportion of the year worked. For her, the calculation was:

5.6 weeks (statutory holiday entitlement) / 46.4 weeks (number of working weeks per year) = 12.07%.

So 12.07% of her total pay.

However, on a working ‘year’ of 32-35 weeks, this approach disadvantaged her. She had less holiday pay than she would have been entitled to if the school had calculated her holiday pay in line with the Working Time Regulation. This looks at the normal rate of pay averaged over the 12 weeks prior to holiday being taken. In this instance, the school were required to take a 12 week average of pay from weeks actually worked, ignoring out-of-term weeks.

The appropriate calculation is therefore:

46.4 (number of working weeks per year) / 32 (number of working weeks per school year) x 12.07% = 17.5%

This case highlights how holiday pay for these types of workers should be calculated. Use a percentage of the average hours they have worked in the preceding 12 weeks immediately before the payment is made.

Japanese woman “guilty” of ignoring pregnancy timetable

We all like to be organised, but one company, a childcare centre in Japan, could be accused of taking it a bit far.

Their director worked out a schedule showing when female workers could marry and when they might have children, depending on their seniority in the company. But it seems one employee forgot to check the schedule before finding herself with child!

The worker who got pregnant “before her turn” was reprimanded by the director and labelled “selfish”. Her stunned husband wrote to one of Japan’s leading newspapers highlighting their plight, and was met with overwhelming support.

Although this is an extreme that would never happen in this country, illegal maternity discrimination is still all too common. If you need advice on how best to support your pregnant employees, that’s where The HR Dept can help.

Tribunals up 90%

Following last summer’s Supreme Court ruling to abolish tribunal fees, the number of employment court cases has virtually doubled. The work load for Acas advisors has increased so much that their union said they had “major concerns” about issues facing Acas, claiming the service was “severely under-resourced” with the increase in calls and talks are being held to avoid strike action.

Now that there’s no financial barrier to being taken to court, it makes the complexities of employment law a heightened business risk, particularly for SMEs where one successful claim could bankrupt you.

The HR Dept offer an insured advice line which gives you unlimited telephone and email access to an HR expert. You’ll also be fully insured against tribunal claims as long as you follow our advice. Call us to find out more.

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

Avoid HMRC fines for minimum wage breach

Recently, 179 employers were fined by HMRC for breaching minimum wage legislation. They were also named and shamed. Fines totalling £1.3 million were levied, in addition to back pay awards of £1.1 million. And let’s not forget the cost of reputational damage.

It is not a situation you want to find yourself in. But could you inadvertently be in breach of the minimum wage laws? Even large companies – Wagamama’s and TGI Fridays – were caught out in this latest purge. And it is no coincidence that many of the companies were restaurants, catering venues or hair and beauty salons where staff are often on minimum wage.

Typically these types of establishments have a dress code, for example requiring staff to wear black trousers, white top and black shoes. The sort of clothes all of us have in our wardrobe. But for HMRC this is a uniform and should be bought by the company.

The HMRC definition of a uniform is any specific clothing that you stipulate employees must wear. So the cost of those clothes is deducted from the minimum wage payment and low and behold they have breached the regulations.

They not only have to pay the back pay to the employee but HMRC will fine them 200% of the total amount owed to staff.

Understanding your pay period is an important aspect of getting this right. Whether you pay your employees monthly or weekly could make all the difference as to whether uniform costs take staff below the minimum wage. The solution is simple if this affects you. You either need to provide the uniform yourself or pay a reimbursement for the cost of the specific clothing.

Everyone reading this will know one place where the staff wear a uniform. We are sure if you tell them about this they will be very grateful and you may even find a few extra chips on your plate. Or better still, point them towards The HR Dept so we can help them avoid all the employment pitfalls.

Should women disclose pregnancy at an interview?

In a recent YouGov survey, six out of ten small to medium sized business owners believed women should disclose whether they are pregnant during the recruitment process. And 41% said that pregnant employees put an unnecessary burden on the workplace.

Any manager tempted to act out these views, would be seriously advised not to. It is illegal and you can be taken to a tribunal even if the recruitment process went no further. If the judge finds against you, and they take a dim view of any form of discrimination, the best case scenario is likely to be paying an award for injury to feelings.

If the tribunal decides that were it not for discrimination, the candidate would have got the job, it could get much more expensive. Compensation may have to be paid for the financial loss of the person not getting the job.

But let’s not dwell on those penalties. What about the benefits of having a progressive, family-friendly attitude to business? Acting in accordance with the law and supporting a woman through pregnancy is likely to leave you with a good will dividend that may prove very valuable over time. Think of the loyalty and commitment to your company, as well as the experience retained.

One good practice to consider in this area is to advertise roles as being flexible, including part time or as job shares. There are many talented people either with families or thinking of starting one, and this can be an excellent way to recruit from this pool of high quality staff.

40 winks

The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that all staff working for more than six hours must have a 20 minute break away from the workstation (four hours for under 18s). But Public Health England are going a step further, saying that sleep and recovery should be embedded into an organisation’s culture.

They explain that after just a short period of reduced sleep, people are less productive at work and more likely to succumb to infection. Brain function also deteriorates increasing the risk of accidents.

But by providing a quiet space where staff are able to rest, you can reduce stress and improve sleep patterns in them.

Lower absence rates and fewer accidents looks like a winning combination to us. So if you want to review working patterns, do talk to The HR Dept.

Payroll changes ahead!

April is the big time for payroll changes. On 6 April, new Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates kick in. See the latest rates in The Indicator, just below this article.

A detail that does sometimes get forgotten regards apprentices: if 19 or older, they’re entitled to the age-appropriate minimum wage after their first year of apprenticeship.

Employers also need to be mindful of employees’ birthdays. Higher wage rates become an entitlement immediately following a birthday that takes them into the next bracket. Fortunately our Toolkit personnel system can remind you of all such important dates.

Another change this 6 April affects termination payments. HMRC are ironing out a quirk that allowed pay in lieu of notice to be tax free if it wasn’t a contractual provision. Now, this will be subject to tax and National Insurance. We await HMRC guidance on post-employment notice pay (PENP) as to whether this also includes bonus and commission payments.

Equal pay claims soar

Some of the UK’s largest supermarkets are facing supersized equal pay claims. Morrisons is the latest to be targeted. The crux of the claim relates to whether jobs are of comparable value to a company, rather than how much the individual tasks of roles differ.

In this case, warehouse staff (mainly men) have been paid approximately £2 per hour more than shop floor staff – who are mainly women. If the two roles are deemed to be of equal value, it is irrelevant, for instance, if one involves heavy lifting whilst the other is customer service. They should be paid the same.

It shows the level of care that needs to be taken when working out remuneration structures. Taking expert advice is the best way of ensuring you don’t inadvertently breach equal pay laws.

What would you do?

When it was announced that Ant McPartlin had been arrested for drink driving, most of us felt sympathy for this popular North East legend and hoped he could get his life back on track.

But what if he was an employee coming into work today? How would you react?

Would your decision to support be based on the employee’s likeability, or would you manage to be objective?

There really are no easy answers, but consistency in your approach to managing staff is essential. This is where our Advice Line clients find talking through difficult situations with an HR Dept adviser really helps.

Also, if there is reputational damage our Crisis Communication team can be there to help manage any press interest.