People Matter May 2022
Should you, or shouldn’t you, rehire an ex-employee?
When a person leaves your employment, it’s usually the final chapter of your working relationship.
Typically, you would be making arrangements to fill the vacancy and wouldn’t expect to see your leaver show up for work again. It would be a bit strange after the card, speeches and send off, after all.
On rare occasions, however, you may be faced with a situation that leaves you wondering if you should rehire an ex-employee. Perhaps this has become more commonplace since the pandemic and Great Resignation.
Don’t ask them to return that parting gift just yet (or at all). There are a few things to consider before you seal the deal.
Think back to the reasons why they left and whether this was on good terms. How long has it been since they left? Has the business changed? Can they fit in with new team dynamics and meet your current requirements? These are all important questions to ask yourself when deciding.
A positive of rehiring an ex-employee can include their familiarity with your business and vision. If they worked well with existing employees, their return may be a morale booster for the wider team.
What about the negatives? If the business has significantly changed, they may find it hard to slot back into things. It would be wise to prepare them if this is the case to avoid them comparing, or suggesting that the old way was better.
You may also have concerns over loyalty. They left once before, will they do so again?
Talk to them to understand their reasons for wanting to return. Ask about long-term goals to see if these match your business plan. This is equally as important if it is you who has approached them about returning. For example, do you need them for the long or short term? Have their circumstances changed? These factors matter and should be discussed early on.
When it comes to HR admin, legally you can rehire an ex-employee, and there is no specific waiting period before doing so. If it is less than a week they will not have lost their continuity of employment.
If an employee has been made redundant for a genuine business reason and the process, including searching for alternative employment is carried out, but suddenly a significant change occurs, does the employee have to return the redundancy pay? Surprisingly the answer is usually no, but their continuity of employment is automatically severed. Some local authorities have different rules regarding redundancy.
Acas published guidance to help employers better understand this and avoid risky fire and rehire practices focused on changing employee contracts and pay.
Overall, rehiring an ex-employee can be a mutually beneficial arrangement if requirements can be met on both sides. If you have questions on how to manage this in your business, get in touch.
When can I request a fit note from an employee?
A fit note, also known as a sick note, doctor’s note, or statement of fitness for work, is a note that a doctor will provide an employee as evidence of their advice concerning the employee’s fitness for work.
If an employee has been signed off sick by their doctor for more than seven consecutive days, the fit note will support this. It may also provide details to help an employer and employee discuss the return to work. It helps to keep a copy on record, as the employee can keep the original.
If an employee is sick for less than seven days, they will not get a fit note from their doctor. If you require evidence of their sickness to pay statutory sick pay (SSP), the eligible employee can self-certify. SSP only applies if the employee earns above the threshold of £123.00 on average each week and after they have been off sick for four or more consecutive days.
For three days or fewer sick, SSP does not apply. If you still want to see a doctor’s note, you would have to pay the GP for one. If you’re concerned, however, about bogus sick days or too many sick days and want to combat this, always invite all employees to a return-to-work interview after any absence.
If employees know that this is a standard procedure, it can deter them from throwing sickies. This meeting is also useful to determine if those who were genuinely off sick are ready to return.
A sickness and absence policy helps all involved to know what to expect regarding procedures and SSP or company sick pay. If you need advice with yours, we can help.
Managing an effective hybrid team
For many teams, hybrid working has become the norm. It reflects where we’re at in the pandemic. Workplaces are open but not everyone is attending, and when they do, it’s not always at the same time.
Managers of newly hybrid teams will likely be learning as they go, navigating a return to the office along with a continuation of remote working; whilst also fielding questions on COVID – which hasn’t completely gone away.
For hybrid working to be successful, managers and team leaders will need support to navigate the unique challenges that could arise. They may benefit from training.
Good communication and time management are key and will help maximise time spent in the office. For example, planning a day where everyone comes in would be useful for important announcements, ensuring that these don’t get twisted if heard through the grapevine instead.
It can also help to revise any temporary processes that were implemented during the pandemic. If hybrid is the way forward for your business, you’ll need policies and processes that support this.
How not to announce redundancy
Last month we touched on redundancy, noting important takeaways for employers arising from the P&O Ferries scandal. You may remember that employees, and pretty much everyone else, were left stunned due to a lack of communication from company execs on what was about to happen.
This month, we have a new example of redundancy gone wrong. Except this time, it was the way in which it was communicated that has caused a stir.
Two of China’s biggest tech companies, JD.com and Bilibili, tried to put a positive spin on their redundancies by congratulating workers being laid off on “graduating the company”.
We’re all for being positive, but this one misses the mark. Unsurprisingly, some of the employees concerned took to social media to voice their displeasure.
Redundancy is a sensitive topic and should be handled as such. You can’t sugar coat the bad news, but you can opt to provide outplacement support which can be invaluable to those departing.
Aachoo! It’s not COVID, it’s hay fever
As the warmer weather makes a comeback, spare a thought for the itchy-eyed employee who turns down lunch in the local park. They’re suffering from hay fever and assuring everyone it’s not COVID every time they sneeze.
Hay fever can be a real pain and disrupt a person’s day-to-day. It’s not just sneezing either, symptom severity depends on the person and the pollen that they are allergic to. Watery eyes, itchy throat and even brain fog can all be factors, making concentration hard and productivity low.
What, if anything, can you do?
The employee will likely know about over-the-counter antihistamines, and will probably have tried all the alternatives such as local honey and Vaseline around the nose. You can help by keeping windows shut and using air conditioning or air purifiers. Allowing home working, if you can, on high pollen days may also help.
Is a sick day justified? Hay fever is a genuine condition and so should be treated like any other sickness if an employee is really struggling with symptoms.
Allergies and other sensitivities in the workplace can require adjustments to be made. If you’re ever unsure, get in touch.
A rude awakening
We often hear about the risk of vicarious liability around the staff Christmas party, but a recent case has highlighted that this is a risk not just for Christmas.
When two employees were contractually obliged to share a room assigned to them in staff accommodation, one’s midnight drunken antics, which involved him relieving himself over his sleeping colleague, left the Court of Appeal finding the employer vicariously liable and awarding the defendant more than $400,000!
If you need to organise staff accommodation, make sure your behavioural policy is watertight first.
People Matter April 2022
Stress awareness during staff shortages
April is Stress Awareness Month, and although stress can occur at any time throughout the year, it’s a good opportunity to pause and check-in on your own stress levels as well as your employees.
How might you go about this? You wouldn’t want to ask every employee if they are stressed, it wouldn’t be practical, nor would it give you real insight; some people may hide that they are struggling through fear of seeming incapable.
A much more effective method would be to identify and reduce the risk of negative work-related stress in your business.
Believe it or not, some stress can be positive. It can allow people to thrive and reach their potential. It’s important, though, that limits are observed and respected, as pushing a person over the limit is a one-way street to burnout. Every employee will have their own limit, so how do you know when someone is close to theirs?
Regular reviews or 121s with employees are essential to keep communication flowing and for receiving progress updates on work. For example, if a deadline was missed, this is an opportunity to find out why, and if there is a need for clearer communication, training or support.
Work-related stress can be the result of different causes. An HR review can help to identify these, but a major one to be aware of at present is that of an increasing workload. Following the Great Resignation, and at a time when COVID related absences are still impacting teams, low staffing is a problem for many employers, their employees, and subsequently clients.
Those who are in work and covering for others may have an increasing workload. Without the right support, they are at risk of stress, which can impact health, well-being and lead to more absences.
If you’re one of many employers currently dealing with staffing issues, show appreciation for those working hard to keep the business operational. Remind them of the importance of taking a break and if you have any other health benefits in place, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, make sure that staff are aware of the support available to them. Beyond this, remember that we are here to help.
Lessons from P&O Ferries
P&O Ferries has been making waves in the shipping industry for more than 180 years. Just last month however, it made headlines for causing a different kind of wave: by parting ways with 800 of its crew members via a short, pre-recorded video clip.
As news of the mass redundancies spread, so too did details revealing that this was a surprise move, leaving employees, onlookers, and the government dumbfounded.
P&O Ferries has received widespread criticism for the way that it conducted business. Many loyal and long-serving employees were informed of their redundancy on what transpired to be their last day. Some were reportedly escorted from the ships in complete and utter shock.
When a business needs to make essential changes, redundancies should be a last resort. There is a process that must be followed to reduce the risk of legal action from unfair dismissal.
Chief Executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, admitted that their decision to waive the consultation process almost certainly breached UK employment law, but that they felt there was no other financially viable option. The reputational damage that P&O Ferries has and will suffer from this is enormous, particularly after the problems for clients over the bank holiday weekend.
What can employers do to learn from this?
It’s important to seek professional advice so that you can consider all reasonable options before pursuing redundancies. If redundancy is the only option, consultation with affected employees or their representatives must begin in good time. If 20 or more employees are affected, then there must be 30 days of consultation before the first dismissal takes place. There will likely be questions and concerns. It’s important to listen and communicate all information before any dismissal occurs.
It doesn’t have to end there. Redundancy aftercare outplacement can help see that those departing your business receive crucial advice on their next career move. It shows compassion for all staff during what can be a very difficult time.
How to approach poor hygiene in the workplace
As the weather gets warmer and the number of days we spend in the office increase, a new season of HR dilemmas await.
Something you certainly wouldn’t have had to deal with during lockdown is now in the office and causing a stink, one that you simply cannot ignore.
Broaching the subject of body odour or poor hygiene with an employee is no doubt up there on your list of conversations you never wanted to have. Think twice about passing this off on someone else though, a female French tutor won a sex discrimination claim for exactly that. An assumption that women are better at handling such conversations ended up with a £5,000 award at tribunal.
Don’t ignore the issue either. For one, it won’t resolve itself, and the person in question could start to feel victimised if people act differently towards them.
A private, and considerate word to suggest that their current hygiene ritual isn’t working too well is a good opener. If a medical condition is revealed, ask how they plan to manage this.
Adding a requirement for hygiene to your dress code is also a good idea, as you can refer to this if a problem persists and further action is needed. Of course, if the idea alone of having this chat is turning your stomach, remember that our experienced HR advisers can help to prepare you.
Why employees not using their holiday can be a problem
Whether a result of increased homeworking, an increasing cost of living, or staff shortages, employees not using their annual holiday allowance can be a problem for employers.
It may seem like a good thing to not be balancing leave requests, especially if you are short-staffed and need all hands on deck. However, other issues can arise if holiday is not taken, or if it is not spread evenly throughout the year.
Encouraging an even distribution of leave, for example by alerting those with a lot of holiday left two thirds into the year, can avoid situations where everybody wants to be off at the same time.
Committed workers are in demand but should also be reminded to use their leave for some respite, even if it means a staycation. Holiday entitlement is a health and safety requirement, and employees must take their statutory allowance. They cannot be paid in lieu except when they leave.
Having time off makes people more productive. The alternative, wherein employees feel the need to be seen working, can result in burnout and absences due to ill health, which could happen when you need them the most.
Supporting employees through Ramadan
This year the end of Ramadan is expected to fall on May 1st. It is celebrated with a three-day festival known as Eid ul Fitr, the Festival of Breaking Fast.
Until then, Muslim employees observing Ramadan will be following practices that involve fasting between sunrise and sunset, extra prayers which can last up to three hours, and exercising increased patience and virtue.
Although Ramadan is nearing its end, it’s not too late to show your support for employees; especially as you may receive a request for holiday or increased flexibility for early May.
Follow your usual procedure for such requests but be sensitive to those observing religious holidays. Other ways in which you can show your support during Ramadan can include permitting unusual lunch hours or break times and remembering that no one is quite themselves when hunger strikes.
Surprise! How did a birthday party at work cost 450k?
You know how some people say they hate surprises, but then secretly love it when you remember their birthday? Well, that’s not what happened here.
Kevin Berling may not hate surprises, but he absolutely didn’t want a birthday celebration at work, which is something of a tradition for employees of Gravity Diagnostics in Kentucky. In fact he had even asked for them not to celebrate his birthday, and had a good reason too. Mr Berling feared it may trigger a panic attack, which it did. Not only at the party, but at subsequent conversations where he was confronted for “stealing his co-workers joy”.
A lawsuit ensued, following his dismissal, which awarded him $450,000. The lesson here? Appreciation of birthday parties is subjective and there are other, less-expensive ways to show you care.
People Matter March 2022
What is your COVID-19 isolation policy?
As winter becomes yesterday’s news, so too does coronavirus – to an extent. Yet whilst we know when winter will return, an outbreak of COVID-19 is a less predictable event.
For now, the UK government has shifted its focus from legal restrictions to personal responsibility in the management of coronavirus. In the plan, Living with COVID, the government has acknowledged that a successful vaccination programme has allowed restrictions to ease, but reminds us that the virus has not completely gone away.
Employees in England are no longer legally required to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19. Wales will relax all legal guidelines on March 28th, and Scotland relaxed most legal guidelines on March 21st. There is no legal requirement to be vaccinated in the UK. Plans for this to come into force for the health and social care sector in England have been scrapped.
Where does this leave employers? Still with a duty of care to protect their staff and provide a safe working environment. People can still catch COVID and suffer symptoms for a long time afterwards.
To reduce the risk of COVID interruptions in your business, there is much to be considered.
How will you respond to a staff member testing positive? Will this impact sick pay? Remember that the SSP Rebate Scheme ends soon. Can staff work from home? Will you provide lateral flow tests?
In the absence of legal guidelines (check with your local government for up to date health advice), conducting a risk assessment and introducing your own COVID isolation policy that aims to protect staff and support your business is recommended.
Your COVID isolation policy can be a useful tool to reassure employees of your commitment to providing a safe working environment. This is especially true for vulnerable employees who may have reservations about returning to the workplace.
It’s a good idea to speak to your team about any concerns that they might have about attending the workplace. Involving them in the development of your policy, which will be unique to your business, can lead to better co-operation and transparency within the team.
New public health guidance on the matter is expected post-April. Until then, reviewing your sickness absence policy and carrying out a COVID risk assessment would be a wise move.
How can HR reduce cyber security risk?
For any business, cyber security is a real risk. As the world becomes more reliant on digital technology, it’s a risk that cannot be neglected.
You may not have expected to see cyber security crop up in your monthly HR newsletter, but the two areas of your business are in fact deeply intertwined.
A study by IBM found that human error was a major contributing cause in 95% of all cyber security attacks.
HR plays a critical part in staffing, training, and supporting the teams and departments that keep a business functioning day-to-day. So, whilst your IT manager or outsourced IT will likely be on speed dial for any cyber security threats, they too might need support with people management to reduce further risks.
This can be business wide too. For example, customer service agents could be the ones to receive a phishing email, whilst another department might oversee the safe storage of sensitive data. Almost anyone could be using the Internet and accessing passwords.
For a business to be protected from cyber security threats, all staff members should be informed and trained on best practice.
It’s a good idea to make this sort of training mandatory in your business and to have a written policy which details any rules, e.g. permitted access, sharing data, storing passwords, Internet usage and so on. Employee engagement is key, and so involving your managers to create or update your policy is wise.
With these measures in place, you can reduce the risk of cyber security breaches in your business.
However, if after training and enforcement of your policy, human error puts your business at serious risk, you may need help from HR to tackle employee misconduct. If you’re in need of support, our Advice Line can help.
£2m pay-out for sex discrimination
Stacey Macken, a female banker, has won more than £2 million in a sex discrimination case.
Sex discrimination, where a person is treated less favourably because of their sex, is illegal under the Equality Act 2010. It causes harm and threatens well-being, and as this case has shown, can result in substantial fines for an employer who lets it happen.
In this case, managers were not just bystanders, but actively contributed to the problem. An example being when one male boss repeatedly used the phrase “not now Stacey”. The rest of the team picked up on it and adopted the same demeaning behaviour. At one point, a witch’s hat was left on Stacey’s desk, which the tribunal ruled to be a sexist act.
The victimisation would be enough for Miss Macken to raise concerns internally, which she did to no avail. Making matters worse, she was also being paid less than a male colleague doing the same job as her.
These issues combined resulted in the colossal £2m pay-out. It’s an expensive lesson for an employer to learn, and the bank has said that it is making changes as a result.
Providing references for ex-employees
Just as you may request references for new employees, you too could be asked to provide one for an ex-employee of your business.
Hearsay will tell you that you can’t refuse or give a bad reference. However, there is a bit more to it than that.
Generally, you can refuse to provide references, but in doing so you would need to make sure that this applies to all your employees. Failure to be consistent could leave you open to claims of discrimination, even from an ex-employee. Keep in mind too that refusing a reference for an employee that you remember fondly could hinder their prospects. Additionally, there are some industry sectors where providing a reference is a statutory requirement, such as finance.
References that are given must be accurate. So it is perfectly acceptable to be truthful about a person who was repeatedly late or was careless in the performance of their duties, so long as you have evidence that this was the case.
Some companies have a policy of merely detailing employment dates, job titles and salary, but that is not always helpful. Recruitment is expensive and taking up references on potential employees is an important element. Giving truthful references will help a company make good decisions. It’s best to avoid personal opinions, however, and stick to the facts.
Remember that you’re processing personal data and so consent from the employee is a must under UK GDPR. Got questions about your process? Our Advice Line can provide peace of mind.
Important calendar dates for employers
The SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) Rebate Scheme was introduced to support businesses impacted by the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The temporary scheme allows eligible employers to claim back up to two weeks of SSP per employee for absences related to coronavirus from December 21st – March 17th. You have until March 24th to submit or amend a claim. For absences after March 17th, the usual SSP rules apply.
There are other important calendar dates to keep in mind with April approaching. From April 1st, hourly rates for the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage increase as follows:
- National Living Wage for workers aged 23 and over: £9.50
- National Minimum Wage for workers aged 21-22: £9.18
- National Minimum Wage for workers aged 18-20: £6.83
- National Minimum Wage for school leavers under 18: £4.81
- Apprentice Minimum Wage: £4.81
On April 3rd, several statutory pay rates including maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental leave and parental bereavement pay will increase from £151.97 to £156.66.
From April 6th, sick pay will rise from £96.35 to £99.35, and the statutory redundancy weekly cap will also increase.
From 6th April 2022 – 5th April 2023 National Insurance contributions will increase by 1.25 percentage points. Payroll will need to be updated.
Is wage transparency the answer to unequal pay?
Could you imagine an employee forum where staff decide each other’s salary? One Argentinian firm is already doing it and reporting promising results.
It’s an interesting approach to what has become a global issue of pay inequality. Although we can’t deny that it has the potential to get heated unless clear guidance is provided at the start.
Closer to home, Minister for Women, Baroness Stedman-Scott has launched an initiative piloting pay transparency, wherein participating businesses will publish salaries in their job adverts. Why is this a good move? It could be a step towards closing the gender pay gap and firmly closing the door on pay inequality.
People Matter February 2022
What to avoid when managing holiday for employees
Holiday management for employees can seem simple at first. For example, many employers may take the “use it or lose it approach” leaving the leave, as it were, up to employees. Statutory holiday cannot be carried over and can only be paid in lieu on termination. However, it would be best practice to encourage employees to use their holiday.
Calculating holiday pay can be where some employers get stumped, especially for employees working variable hours.
We wanted to highlight a couple of cases that show just how complex holiday management and pay can get, as well as the financial risks of getting it wrong.
The case of Brazel v The Harper Trust shows how complicated it has become. Music teacher Mrs Brazel worked variable hours and was paid for the hours worked. The Trust paid her in line with Acas 12.07% guidance for casual workers over the holiday year. They argued it was fair to pro rata the holiday pay for term time workers but the Courts disagreed.
The ruling was that a permanent part-year worker must be paid the full 5.6 weeks holiday averaged out over the previous 12 weeks. Since then, employers have to average out over 52 weeks. This case is awaiting judgement from the Supreme Court.
Another factor influencing holiday calculations is employment status, as seen in recent cases concerning Smith v Pimlico Plumbers. In this example, the employer fell at the first hurdle by incorrectly classifying Mr Smith as self-employed when his working relationship meant that he was a worker with rights.
This fuelled a further claim from Mr Smith that he had missed out on his holiday entitlement during his contract. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that he be paid the back-dated holiday pay.
What’s significant about this case is that it was outside of the usual time frame allowed for back-dated holiday pay claims. Typically, a claim must be brought within three months, but it had been years in Mr Smith’s case. Why the exception?
Due to Mr Smith’s incorrect employment status, he was not made aware of his holiday entitlement and therefore not given the opportunity, or been encouraged, to take his paid annual leave. His right was not lost at the end of each year but carried over, meaning his holiday accrued. The Court found that the usual three-month cap did not apply. This case shows how a claim for historical back-dated holiday pay can carry a hefty financial risk for employers.
Holiday calculations and management need not be so troublesome. Professional HR advice will keep your processes in line with employment legislation, whilst HR software like The HR Dept Toolkit can help with important record-keeping. With an extra bank holiday this year for the Queen’s Jubilee year, now is as good a time as any to get confident with holiday management for employees.
Will the four-day work week, work?
Just when work appears to be returning to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy, UK trials of a four-day work week have hit the headlines. Understandably, it may not be the news you wanted to hear.
A four-day work week won’t be suitable for every type of business, and for any four-day work week trial to be reliable, it needs to consider all types of work, and not just the office based 9-5.
The UK is not the first country to test these waters, with New Zealand, Iceland, and Spain all previously taking part. Belgium has gone one step further and become the first European country to allow requests from employees for a four-day week.
Can the four-day work week work for your business?
We should not assume that a four-day work week automatically equals a three-day weekend. It is likely that some businesses would need to introduce a rota so that operational hours remain the same.
Logistically, there are a few options as to how it might work. It could mean that employees work fewer days with reduced pay, work four days with the same pay, or work longer hours over fewer days. Good time management would be the key for output to remain the same.
Alternatively, there are other approaches to flexible working you may be able to implement. The pandemic has highlighted the importance and benefits of flexible working, so adopting more flexibility can be a positive move to future-proof your business.
If you’d like assistance with reviewing the working week in your business, give us a call.
Women in work: Break the bias
Tuesday 8th March is International Women’s Day and the theme this year is #BreakTheBias.
Why is this year’s theme so important and how can employers get involved to break the bias at work?
Gender bias comes in many forms, but common examples include women experiencing barriers to work or promotion due to pregnancy, maternity and childcare. In fact, some managers will actively avoid hiring women of a certain age to avoid dealing with maternity leave.
Not only is this illegal and discriminatory, potentially leading to much bigger problems, but it reduces the talent pool by half.
A business that encourages women to apply can benefit from new ideas and perspectives as well as a diverse culture.
From improving recruitment to be more gender-neutral to implementing inclusive behaviours in your business, there are many ways in which SMEs can help to break the bias. For next steps, visit the International Women’s Day website for 50 ways to fight bias or contact your local HR Dept.
Ding! You have been invited to another meeting
As a busy employer you won’t need us to remind you that time is precious. From morning meetings to lunchtime Zooms, PM pow-wows and end-of-day reviews, some days it can feel like you have barely made a dent in your to-do list. Wait, is that another meeting request in your inbox?
If your days are filling up with meetings, your team may also be adopting similar habits, especially if they are the ones demanding your time to provide updates on projects or seek sign-off.
Meetings can be hugely beneficial to improve communication but can sometimes become a “go-to” reflex rather than a necessity. Ever had the feeling that a meeting could have been an email?
Then there’s reoccurring meetings. Are they still fulfilling the same need six months on? Reviews of reoccurring meetings are recommended to make sure that time, and subsequently money, is put to best use.
To save time so that meaningful work can get done, why not trial a week or two with reduced meetings? Encourage other forms of communication in the meantime, such as emails or shared planners for project updates. When your next meeting does come around, kick off with a brief reason as to why it was scheduled and share an aim for the outcome. This will help make the meetings that you do have be meaningful and productive.
Will you be asked for a pay rise this year?
It’s no secret that the cost of living is set to rise this year. As such, employees concerned about this news may be prompted to ask for a pay rise.
If your pay reviews happen annually, this might come as a surprise and something that you had not prepared for, especially if you feel that your salaries are fair and reflect work undertaken.
It is, however, a good idea to have a plan of action as to how you will deal with such requests, to avoid being caught off guard.
Give yourself time to formulate a response by acknowledging and considering the request. During the pause, a job evaluation can help you to clarify if your pay scales are appropriate and fair in the current market.
If your evaluation shows that a raise would be appropriate but your financial situation means it is not currently possible, be open and honest with the employee and explain your business goals, e.g. hitting a target, to make a percentage raise possible.
Whilst it may be a difficult conversation, transparency helps to build trust in the long run and can be a motivator for the team to see the business succeed.
If it’s something you are currently facing and need help with next steps, call us.
Dog in the office
From dog in the playground to dog in the office, four legged furry friends are causing a stir as employees head back to the workplace.
The pandemic pup craze, which saw more than three million people welcome a new dog to the family whilst saying at home, has left some employees seeking doggy day care or flexible working to continue caring for their beloved pet post lockdown.
If you’re considering allowing dogs in the office, which when managed well can increase morale, keep in mind any team members with allergies first; whilst perhaps circulating a friendly reminder that a dog is for life, not just a pandemic.
People Matter January 2022
What’s new in employment law this year?
New Year, new legislation? Coronavirus may still dominate the headlines and continues to be a major focus for business owners, but we wanted to highlight some other important HR topics to stay abreast of in 2022.
Hopefully already on your radar, national minimum wage (NMW) and national living wage (NLW) rates will increase on 1st April as follows:
- NLW workers aged 23 or older from £8.91 to £9.50.
- NMW workers aged 21 and 22 from £8.36 to £9.18, and for those aged 18-20 from £6.56 to £6.83.
- NMW workers younger than 18 who are no longer compelled to attend school, from £4.62 to £4.81.
- NMW first year apprentices or under-19s from £4.30 to £4.81.
Several statutory pay rates including maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental leave and parental bereavement pay will increase from £151.97 to £156.66 on 3rd April.
From 6th April, sick pay will rise from £96.35 to £99.35, and the statutory redundancy weekly cap will also increase.
Extra bank holiday
An additional bank holiday has been announced for Friday 3rd June to mark the Queen’s Jubilee, whilst the spring bank holiday has moved to Thursday 2nd June this year, creating a long weekend.
The new bank holiday is not an automatic day off for everyone though and the wording in your employment contracts will be the decider. Some employers may like to acknowledge it as a goodwill gesture if it can work for the business. Start thinking about staffing now and prepare for an influx of leave requests from those hoping for a longer break.
Employer’s duty to prevent sexual harassment
Employers already have a duty of care to protect their staff. The change due to come into effect places a duty on employers to proactively prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. A statutory code of practice is expected to be launched as a guide.
Whilst it has not yet been confirmed that this change will come into effect this year, business owners can prepare by encouraging a culture of respect and inclusivity in the workplace.
Back to COVID-19 to share a reminder that mandatory vaccinations have been announced as a condition of deployment from April for care home and health and social care workers, as well as NHS workers, in England.
Employers in other industries looking to introduce a “no jab, no job policy” or amend sick pay for unvaccinated staff should seek professional advice to avoid the risk of discrimination.
Right to work checks
Digital right to work checks were temporarily introduced during the pandemic to ease delays to employment during lockdown. From April, the change becomes permanent and government validation technology will be available for employers’ conducting checks on British and Irish citizens. An existing online service will be available for right to work checks on overseas applicants.
The Employment Bill
The Employment Bill was announced in 2019 but has been largely overshadowed by the pandemic. Important changes that may occur in 2022 as a result of the bill include:
- The right to request flexible working from day one.
- A right for workers to request more predictable hours after 26 weeks of continued service.
- One week of unpaid carer’s leave from day one.
- A code of practice on fair and transparent distribution of gratuities will see hospitality workers gain the right to receive their tips in full.
- Extended redundancy protections for pregnant workers and those on maternity leave.
Whilst the above is not an exhaustive list, it should help you to remain aware of the key HR topics that may affect your business and people management this year. If you have questions, do call us.
Brain fog and how to manage it
Brain fog has been listed as a potential side effect from long COVID, but what exactly is it and why is awareness important for employers?
Although widely used, “brain fog” is not a medical term. It does, however, do a good job of explaining the condition, being that the brain can become muddled, and unclear.
According to the NHS, symptoms associated with brain fog caused by long COVID can include poor concentration, forgetfulness, mental fatigue, thinking more slowly than usual, confusion and fuzzy thoughts.
Employees returning to work after having COVID-19 could be dealing with brain fog, which can impact their ability to concentrate and remain focused. This can result in seemingly poor performance or changes in behaviour, which without a careful approach, could trigger a performance review and lead to a potentially unfair dismissal.
Awareness of brain fog is important for employers, because it allows them to spot the signs and offer the necessary support to get an employee back on track and feeling well again. It’s not just long COVID that can cause brain fog either. It can be a symptom of other conditions such as depression, hypothyroidism, menopause, or autoimmune diseases.
If an employee is not their usual self, sit down with them to find out more. If it transpires that they may be experiencing brain fog, there are some steps that you can take to help.
The NHS advises that people usually recover from brain fog and that the following healthy lifestyle habits can help to manage symptoms: stay hydrated, take regular exercise, eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, get enough sleep, and take regular breaks.
However, if symptoms persist, it’s best to refer employees to their GP, and if work is severely affected, let us know.
Salary sacrifices and the national minimum wage
Salary sacrifice arrangements are commonly used to reduce an employee’s pay in exchange for a different benefit. For example, pension contributions, a cycle to work scheme, uniform items, or a company car.
Employees must agree to salary sacrifice schemes and therefore they should be written into employment contracts.
Although a contractual right, employers must take care not to reduce pay below the national minimum wage (NMW) if the sacrifice can be connected to employment, even if it is not a compulsory arrangement.
This was shown in the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), Augustine v Data Cars. The EAT found that the employer had failed to comply with the NMW regulations upon deducting vehicle and uniform rental costs for Mr Augustine. The hire was voluntary, and through a third party, but still connected to his employment.
It’s a costly mistake for employers to make, especially when breaches of the complex NMW rules incur fines and are now made public. If you need help managing a salary sacrifice, get in touch.
How to make your New Year business goals a success
New Year goals can help to set your intentions for the year ahead. The goals you choose should reflect what you want to achieve whilst a plan of action and accountability is key for making them stick.
To see your New Year business goals succeed, you need your team onboard, and for that, you’ll need a supportive framework in place. Check out our top tips to see your goals come true in 2022.
1.Communication – Your team are instrumental in making your business goals a success, meaning that transparency and good communication are vital. Working on improving these areas of management can also increase employee happiness, productivity, and loyalty.
2.Training – Goals need actions and actions need skills. Is your team prepped and equipped to achieve this year’s targets? Now is a good time to review areas of professional development and align training programmes with your business goals.
- Processes – Many businesses are still temporarily facilitating working from home. Will this be the year that you make it permanent? Or perhaps you’re leaning towards hybrid working? Whichever you decide, it’s important to have the right processes in place to assist your team efficiently and effectively. It saves time in the long run.
- Well-being – Workplace absences related to poor mental health have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. A commitment to well-being can keep your team healthy and on the road to success.
Managing January sick pay
Even without the Omicron variant doing the rounds, January is peak time for staff sickness. Seasonal cold and flu is still a threat to attendance, whilst the post-festive low mood can lead some to struggle getting out of bed.
Along with managing staff shortages and deciphering between the real and questionable sick days, employers need to remain alert to government changes to HR processes on sickness.
One such important update is a temporary change to the Statutory Sick Pay Regulations (SSP).
Absences from 10th December 2021 – 26th January 2022 can self-certify for up to 28 days, as opposed the normal seven.
The change was primarily implemented to help stretched medical services but applies to all businesses. However, some worry that it could be abused by employees wanting time off if a request was previously denied.
Company sick pay policies are not affected, although it’s worth us flagging that if yours requires a fit note, employees may struggle to obtain one due to the pressures on the NHS.
If you have questions about managing sick pay and absences during the pandemic, we can help.
Diving for a change
As demand for delivery drivers increased during the pandemic, many people, from start-up business owners to those newly redundant gave it a try. Meanwhile, delivery divers have also been busy. That’s right, underwater pizza delivery is a thing, and being a delivery diver is a job.
A fifty-nine-year-old Hawaiian man took up the unique role after losing his job as a high school sports reporter during the pandemic. It’s certainly a different kind of pressure, but as for many others, the tide of employment has changed and unusual job progression is becoming the norm.
People Matter December 2021
Undercover boss and employee surveillance
Undercover Boss, the reality TV series that follows CEOs as they go undercover with a secret identity in their own business, made a brief comeback this summer with a new name: Undercover Big Boss. Filmed at a time when businesses like car showrooms were re-opening post lockdown, high flying execs were given a new identity to see first-hand how their business was doing day-to-day.
Whilst there are some prime-time cringe moments, such as a loose lipped employee unknowingly telling their CEO how they really feel, a light is also shone on the unsung heroes of the workforce, the ones who go above and beyond in their role.
When the working day is done, the undercover boss has a wealth of information to help them make improvements, provide training, or show appreciation to the company’s hardest workers.
Small business owners might be less likely to get away with a secret identity without some really good prosthetic makeup. Like the undercover CEOs, though, they might be keen to get some unfiltered feedback, or a view on what their employees are really up to; especially now that home working is firmly back on the agenda.
In fact, as many as one in five employers admitted to Metro that they’re either already spying on staff or planning on installing software to do so. From timing replies and keyboard strokes, to monitoring inactivity or even secretly spying through a camera, employee surveillance is on the rise.
Surveillance will certainly bridge the gap on worker visibility, but it also has the potential to cause problems if not introduced in the right way. That is, processes must comply with data protection and employees should be consulted and informed of surveillance in advance, unless there is a legitimate reason otherwise.
It’s also worth noting that whilst surveillance is often sought to catch out the slackers, it can inadvertently put undue pressure on those that are working, especially if more extreme measures are taken such as tracking bathroom breaks and cups of tea. This can result in increased stress and presenteeism – the feeling of needing to be seen working all the time.
The good news is that there are less intrusive ways to successfully manage remote teams. We feel that surveillance is rarely a good substitution for good people management.
If there is one takeaway from Undercover Boss, it shouldn’t be that spying is the only way to learn more about a company and its operations, but that there is no real replacement for a good, open and honest conversation. Deadlines and targets are helpful to identify those in need of training and support, but once the data comes back, it’s time to talk. Only then can you find out what’s really going on with your workforce.
The giving season
As the trees go up and lights twinkle, it’s not just presents that are given at Christmas time. People often give their time or donations to support charitable causes. Many companies know that as well as the much-needed support which goes to charities, team fundraising is indirectly good for business too.
They are glad to bear the cost of some time and energy diverted away from operations, and cash as well – often to match funds raised by the staff. It not only feels right but can enhance team spirit, foster good will, generate networking opportunities and create positive PR.
From an HR perspective, it is helpful to build some structure around fundraising, to get maximum benefit and avoid one or two pitfalls.
For example, on picking the charity. There are many ways to do this, but in order to get buy-in from your team, why not let them have some input. This could be drawing a nominated charity out of a hat or holding a vote. By letting it come from staff fairly, it’s an opportunity to really connect with employees, who see you supporting something close to their heart.
Remember to be inclusive. If you were to hold a cake sale, are their gluten free or vegan options? If you hold a pub-style quiz, ensure there are soft drinks for anyone who’s not drinking alcohol. Make sure everyone is invited to participate but that no-one is compelled to – they may have a good reason not to get involved.
Don’t let your fundraising adversely impact operations. You’d expect some time lost to the fundraising efforts, but make sure day-to-day business is not harmed. For instance, if an important client is visiting, do you want them to see you dressed up as a reindeer? If you’ll be receiving in-bound calls will someone always be able to answer them? And so on.
Make sure you don’t lose the fun from your fundraising, especially at Christmas! But a little bit of planning will ensure everyone gets the most out of the activity.
Let there be light
While Christmas lights may warm the cockles of our hearts, it’s worth considering the more mundane lighting that illuminates your workplace or, if you have staff working from home, their workstations there.
That’s because the quality of such lighting has a significant impact on productivity, well-being and mood – especially during winter when there is less natural light around. In fact, it is known that some people suffer from a condition termed seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), in the main due to the reduced daylight hours.
How does the lighting in your workplace seem? If you have lots of natural light, supplemented by modern LED lighting which uses natural light wavelengths, then great. If not, it might be time for a review.
If changing access to natural light is not practicable, better use of artificial light should be achievable. The latest lighting technology uses far less energy than older lighting so the exercise may slash your utility bills whilst you do right by your team.
The right to disconnect
Right to disconnect legislation is sweeping across Europe. First in France in 2016, then in Italy, Spain and Portugal. This year, Ireland did not go as far as legislating, but has introduced a code of practice.
Right to disconnect refers to an employee’s entitlement not to have to respond to emails or take a call from the boss out of office hours. Repercussions from employers are forbidden.
It is rightly perceived as an important way to demark a boundary between work and home life and safeguard mental health. For employers, while for some it may jar not getting a prompt response, long-term benefits of less stress and burnout amongst staff should be recognised.
There are no plans yet for legislation to be introduced in the UK, but calls for it from various bodies are being made. To get ahead of the curve, you could introduce the principles of disconnecting into your culture. This could include an email sign off which mentions not needing to reply out of hours, and encouraging your team to have the confidence to build self-care routines into their day. Those working from home, particularly with childcare responsibilities, may be sending emails at odd times and could benefit from a flexible working schedule.
What does Acas say about “Fire and Rehire”?
The economic impact of the pandemic has seen many businesses make essential changes. Whether to processes, services, or staffing, adapting during such unprecedented times has been vital.
In an effort to try and avoid making redundancies, some employers followed processes that amount to employees being fired and rehired. Seeking to better understand how and why this was happening, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy asked Acas to investigate.
The findings of this investigation were published back in June. More recently, Acas has published advice for employers to avoid the practice of fire and rehire altogether.
What’s wrong with fire and rehire? Acas Chief Executive, Susan Clews says that “[It] can seriously damage working relations and has significant legal risks for organisations.”
So, what should employers do instead? Acas encourages employers to consult with their staff about any changes that may impact them. This includes obtaining agreement prior to changing contracts.
This type of situation can instigate some difficult yet necessary conversations. If you need to make some vital changes to your business, and subsequently your employment contracts, we can guide you through.
Has the season of giving got you thinking about how you can introduce new employee benefits to reward employees for their hard work?
Many employers opt for perks such as gym discounts or shopping vouchers, but one firm’s choice is a real cracker. A cheese cracker that is, with an enhanced benefits package that includes free cheese!
Granted (or should that be grated?) they are the UK’s largest independent producer of cheese, but in a nation of cheese lovers we are certain that this unique offering is a big hit with new recruits and bound to help with retention.
If you’re thinking of revamping your employee benefits package, we may have a few ideas to help.
Oh, and we were going to sign off with a cheesy joke, but never mind, it’s no gouda.
People Matter November 2021
Are you dealing with a digital grievance?
Social media channels, from Facebook to TikTok, have become the go-to platforms for venting frustrations. Whether that’s confiding in a friend via a private Facebook message, starting a twitter trend with likeminded strangers or filming tell-all videos that go viral.
It has become second nature for some people to share their experiences online, with little left to the imagination. So much so that even the inner sanctum of the workplace can become public knowledge in a matter of seconds via a disgruntled employee with a penchant for posting.
If you’re less inclined to go public with your problems, it can be horrifying to find out that someone else has; especially if your business has been tagged, named, and shamed for all to see.
Even if you don’t use social media, other people do, and will. Rather than live in fear, however, of what an employee might be saying about your company online, your focus and attention is best spent on building and maintaining a safe and compliant workplace, reducing the risk of grievances altogether.
Good communication is crucial in your business. An employee with a grievance will typically try to raise issues internally first, and there is a procedure that needs to be followed. Usually, it is only if the proper reporting lines are lacking, or they feel ignored, that they will seek to vent their frustrations publicly.
Having a reliable process in place (that is known to all staff) for reporting any issues or concerns during the working day, helps to manage the process. It gives you the opportunity to understand areas of your business that might need improving, or could be damaging, whilst letting employees know that their input matters.
What if it’s a small issue and they won’t let it go? Your process is just as important for the seemingly smaller issues so that you can document and reiterate your response on the matter. Additionally, smaller issues can turn into bigger issues, and having an audit trail will provide your defence.
There are times when you follow all the rules and still an employee will be dissatisfied and complain to their online audience. A social media conduct policy will help to protect your business, and your actions in relation to any breach of your policy.
Dealing with a digital grievance can be stressful and time consuming for a small business. If you have questions about implementing best practice HR or a social media policy, call us today.
How working from home led to disability discrimination
Disability does not discriminate, which means that it can happen to anyone at any point in their life. However, disability discrimination still occurs. The current disability employment gap highlights that disabled people continue to face disproportionate barriers to employment.
To support disabled employees, employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments that remove or reduce the effect of an employee’s disability so that they can do their job. Such adjustments should be positive. However, a recent employment tribunal has shown that this is not always the case.
IT Manager Mr. Lawton worked on the fifth floor of a building and suffered from complex regional pain syndrome. He regularly used crutches around the office to help with his disability. Due to reoccurring issues with the lift, Mr. Lawton asked if he could work from home when the lift was out of order. Communication between Mr Lawton and his employer, Mr Singh, showed that this was approved in accordance with occupational health, although seemingly begrudgingly and conditionally.
From then on, Mr. Lawton reported to being treated differently and unfavourably because of his disability. In one example, he was told he was too slow during a fire drill evacuation. A disciplinary investigation following an incident with the company server resulted in Mr. Lawton eventually resigning and taking his employer to tribunal. Here, he won for disability discrimination.
Although Mr. Lawton’s employer had made the adjustments in compliance with the Equality Act, the adjustments had been seen as a burden and the complainant treated unfavourably as a result.
A separate case concerning a need for flexible working saw a working mother win £22,000 in a case of constructive dismissal, when her flexible working request to take care of her daughter with special needs was refused.
The pandemic has given rise to flexible working requests and these two cases show that the process can be complex, especially when dealing with disability or employees with childcare responsibilities.
Each request for flexible working must be well considered and on its own merits. If you have questions about the process, we’re here to help.
New day one right to carer’s leave
In efforts to “build back better” from the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government is making changes to create an employment framework that meets the needs of modern workplaces.
Such changes include introducing legislation to support participation in the labour market, such as a new day one right to unpaid carer’s leave.
Currently, employees are entitled to time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone dependent on you for care). Another current provision is parental leave, which allows eligible working parents unpaid time off to look after the welfare of their child.
However, with around five million people in the UK currently providing unpaid care, and almost 50% of those in work, it was deemed that more can be done in the long term to help carers balance their work and caring responsibilities.
It has therefore been confirmed that employees will be given a day one right to take five unpaid working days per year to deal with a long-term care need. The leave can be flexible: for example, half a day at a time or taken in one go, and doesn’t replace the current entitlement of time off for dependants.
Although it is more leave to be processed, the supportive approach to work-life balance should result in happier, healthier, and engaged employees.
Is full disclosure reducing your recruiter prospects?
Would you hire an ex-offender to work in your business? Perhaps you have never considered this before. In fact, your recruitment process might even be deciding for you by filtering out applicants with a criminal record. As such, you could be minimising your talent pool.
Some roles will understandably require criminal records to be disclosed and checked early on, to assess the nature of an offence in relation to the job that needs to be done. There are also roles where any unspent criminal conviction will be a bar to their employment.
However, if the role would not usually require a deep dive into someone’s background history, you could consider asking for criminal record history to be disclosed later in your recruitment process.
Why is this a good idea? Well, there are benefits to hiring ex-offenders as some businesses have already testified. Halfords has stated that the level of retention amongst its prison academy graduates is higher than that of other employees. Timpson also consider ex-offenders, finding them to be keen for an opportunity and making “great colleagues”. It is good for society too, as it is known that the chance of reoffending is far lower if the offender has steady employment after they are released.
With that in mind, we ask again: Would you hire an ex-offender to work in your business? If it’s something that you would like to explore further, HR can help guide you in the right direction.
Joining forces with your social media star
We have touched on the subject of what can happen when an employee is overly active on social media by mostly looking at the negatives. That is, they are on it when they should be working, or they are revealing company secrets for the world to see. Yikes!
Could there be any positives to an overly social employee? It appears that some businesses have found there are. Uploading her work life to TikTok, including a 9-5 Dolly Parton parody, one Tesco employee has received more than a million streams. Her manager doesn’t seem to mind, and for Tesco, it’s showing prospective recruits that fun can still be had when stacking shelves.
Budding social media stars might consider leaving to work for themselves. It can be a lucrative career! So if it’s an employee and skill that you’d like to keep in your business, why not see if you can join forces by adding a creative new element to their role?
Resignations are nothing new, and there are many reasons why an employee might decide that it’s time to move on.
What is perhaps less expected, is the way in which people are choosing to resign these days; and that often depends on whether they are leaving on good terms.
For example, at one end of the scale we have the employee who took up baking in his spare time and upon deciding to set up his own bakery, baked a sweet resignation letter for his employer.
On the more resentful end? Setting off all the timers in a restaurant with one-minute intervals, and hiding them, is definitely up there.
People Matter October 2021
Is your recruitment process working for you?
From haulage to hospitality and almost everywhere in between, job vacancies have reached record highs. Close to 1.2 million at the end of last month.
Recruiters are even having to recruit for themselves to meet the demand.
The good news is that businesses are in a position to hire more staff. The bad news, however, is that whilst vacancies remain unfilled, more time and money is spent on advertising, CV sorting and futile interviews.
The impact of Brexit and the pandemic, has left some businesses currently operating on low numbers. A viral sentiment adopted by some captures the moment well – The whole world is short staffed, be kind to those that showed up.
It highlights another problem associated with record levels of job vacancies, an increasing workload and risk of burnout for those that are holding the fort.
Employers with jobs to fill may need to review their current recruitment process. Is it giving them the competitive edge they need to stand out in today’s job market? For some, this has also meant a review of pay scales, resulting in entry level salaries rising at a significant rate.
Not all businesses can afford to bump up the pay package though. So what other options are there?
When your recruitment process is working for you, it doesn’t all come down to salary. There are other hooks and USPs you can utilise to find and attract talent.
- The pandemic has caused a shift in priorities and working practices. Key employee benefits of 2021 include access to flexible working, job security and training.
- For an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic, a push on training or opportunities to progress within the company may sweeten the deal. Equally, taking on candidates with a good attitude, but lacking some skills and training, can be rewarding.
- Have you been using the same template job ad? Now is the time to analyse it with fresh eyes. Does it really sell the role or your company? Does the language used speak to a diverse pool of candidates? Tweaking a few words here or there can make all the difference.
The next question you’ll want to ask is: “Are the right people seeing my ad?”. The quality and quantity of applications that you receive will help you to determine this. If the answer is no, it could be time to actively seek the candidates that you want to meet. Headhunting has become commonplace in the post-pandemic landscape.
Improving the quality of your applications also saves valuable time later on in the process. It can reduce the risk of being ghosted by only half-interested candidates, or those that leave in their first week for another offer.
When all the attention goes on recruitment, employee retention can sometimes get overlooked, but retaining good employees is a pillar of a successful business. If no one wants to leave, you will have more time to focus on the things you want.
Dealing with narcissism in the workplace
Working with people, you will encounter a range of personalities and their associated traits. It’s the variety of these characteristics that help certain people work well together, and others to butt heads.
One such personality trait demands more attention than others and can be problematic without the right kind of people management in place.
Existing on a spectrum, narcissism ranges from slight narcissistic tendencies to a full personality disorder.
Spotting the signs of narcissism in the workplace is important for damage control and supporting your workforce.
Narcissism refers to an inflated opinion of self-worth, which can lead to behaviours such as:
- Being charming yet insincere
- Taking the credit for others’ work
- Hogging the limelight
- Disregard for the feelings of others
Understandably, these behaviours can cause issues with co-workers or clients.
Narcissistic personalities can end up in positions of power due to high levels of confidence and seemingly top performance. This means that they may not be challenged as often as they should.
This is detrimental to an entire organisation. It can result in increased stress and absences, or accusations of bullying and harassment from other employees.
If you spot narcissistic behaviour in your business, don’t turn away. Approach the person and use questions to better understand where the behaviour is coming from. Has your company culture allowed it to manifest?
Bad behaviour that breaches your company rules on respect should be dealt with as per your usual policy. If problems persist with a particular employee, you may need to pursue disciplinary procedures, for which professional HR help is advised.
Costly denials of flexible working
The UK government recently published a consultation on flexible working titled: Making Flexible Working the Default. What does this mean for employers?
Currently, employees need to have at least 26 weeks service to make a request for flexible working. This has to show how it can work for the business. The employer can reasonably refuse the request.
The consultation is not seeking to remove employers’ choice, but to make flexible working accessible to more people.
Proposals put forward include a day one right for employees to make a request and a review of the reasonable denials of a request. Employers are also encouraged to consider alternatives if a flexible working request cannot be accommodated.
Although employers retain their right to deny a request, it’s worth noting that doing so without reasonable consideration can lead to costly consequences.
We have seen this in recent cases, such as with working mother Alice Thompson being awarded over £180,000.
Ms Thompson’s employer had denied her request for shorter hours to collect her daughter from nursery without seriously considering her proposal.
In another case, flight attendant Chloe Daly won £40,000 after her request for reduced hours, also related to childcare, was denied.
These cases highlight a specific risk of indirect sex discrimination concerning flexible requests from working mothers. Employment tribunals recognise that women tend to take on childcare responsibilities more often than men, meaning that women disadvantaged by inflexible working practices could be at risk of discrimination.
Demand for flexibility has increased since the pandemic and there can be benefits for both employer and employee when it’s implemented correctly. If you have received flexible working requests from employees and need advice on next steps, we can help.
Tipping point: The law is changing on tips
Employers in the hospitality sector will receive new rules on discretionary customer tips under legislation coming into force next year. The change will make it illegal to withhold tips from workers.
Plans were announced back in 2018, under the Good Work Plan, and form part of a wider government strategy to ensure fair and decent work.
These days, especially with less businesses accepting cash since the pandemic, tips are typically paid by card. It is at the employer’s discretion whether these payments get distributed to staff. However, a Code of Best Practice advises to clearly display this decision and communicate it to employees.
Some businesses and restaurant chains have already committed to a fair tips policy, others will need to review their practices prior to the new legislation to ensure they are compliant.
The sector has been hard hit by lockdown resulting in low staffing and vacancies going unfilled. The new policy on tips should help to attract talent and increase job satisfaction, whilst also restoring faith for customers who are crucial in the sector’s continued recovery.
Things that go bump in the… workplace
Books randomly appearing in the middle of the aisle, hearing footsteps whilst working alone and other suspicious noises: One US library faced a creepy conundrum when employees voiced fears that the place was haunted!
They are not the only ones either. Offices in historical buildings, hotels and even one branch of Toys “R” Us have reported paranormal activities on the premises.
Aside from a speedy Google search for “ghost hunters near me” what can employers do when spooked out staff complain of supernatural goings on during their shift?
If it’s purely suspicion, you’ll probably want to remind them that there are more important things to worry about. However, if they are working alone, The Health & Safety Dept can help you with a lone working policy to manage real risks.
If you want to see it for yourself and get an overall picture of how much this is disturbing work, you could consider surveillance. Just make sure your processes are compliant with the Data Protection Act. Give us a call if you have questions.
If something unbooelievable shows up on your recording though, that’s one for the Ghost Busters.
Send in the clowns
No really, please do send in the clowns. A big top circus owner in Northern Ireland has admitted to experiencing a challenging recruitment drive prior to reopening his business post-COVID.
Due to Northern Ireland relaxing its restrictions after other countries, many skilled entertainers already appear to be working overseas.
No funny business. Well at least not until Mr Duffy can staff his big top for the upcoming season. Key competencies needed include adaptability, creativity, and a willingness to travel.
People Matter September 2021
Is an extra week off the answer to burnout?
Nike has become the latest company to join the likes of LinkedIn and Bumble, announcing plans to give staff a week off to help them combat burnout.
The announcement will no doubt have piqued interest, causing employers to question if this is a short-lived trend, a headline grabbing stunt, or a bona fide solution for workplace well-being.
Adequate time for respite from work is certainly key to achieving a good work-life balance. That’s why we always suggest encouraging an even distribution of holiday to be taken throughout the year wherever possible.
With that said, we can’t help but question why staff are reaching burnout in the first place? For a whole company to require a week off, there could be some underlying problems present with people management.
This may not help those businesses already committed to giving staff a week off, but it might produce relief for SME employers who want to maintain a happy, healthy, and productive workforce, without needing to shut down operations. We imagine that it would likely be good news for clients or customers too.
Good mental health has always been important, but the pandemic has driven more conversations around the subject. As a result, some employers are seeking new and attractive solutions to support and motivate their staff.
A week off or even a planned well-being day away from the office might sound appealing to some, but is there a risk of work piling up when employees return? Will it address the cause of why staff are getting stressed out in the first place? These are questions that need to be considered.
To construct an effective workplace well-being strategy that suits your business and those that work within it, a bit of internal research can go a long way. For example, one-on-one conversations with employees regarding their workload and workflow can reveal how and when stressful situations might be arising.
A “shop-floor” viewpoint can help to highlight simple ways in which the day-to-day might be improved. It could give you the insight to provide essential support to staff, reducing the risk of stress building up and leading to burn out. Additionally, a simple “How are you?” now and again can see employees open up. You may find out that there are other ways you could provide support, such as flexi-hours for working parents and carers or an Employee Assistance Programme for a team member going through a hard time personally.
Good workplace well-being need not cost the earth or require you to close your entire business. It does however require a consistent and considered approach to keep your workforce happy, healthy, and working well for the long term.
Can I reduce pay if staff now work from home?
Upon hearing that Google may reduce pay for staff in the US who choose to permanently work from home, UK business owners hoping to cut costs may well be wondering if they can do the same.
One of the main attractions to remote working is the ability to avoid the daily commute. No more packed trains or traffic jams. Then there’s the potential savings on travel. It’s not surprising that the option of remote working is a desirable employee benefit.
However, although these are attractive, employers seeking to reduce an employee’s pay because they now work from home should be aware of the risks in such action.
Doing so would require a change to employment terms and contracts, which the employee needs to be in agreement with or you face a Tribunal for unlawful deduction from wages.
Unless the employee’s job has had to change, warranting a reduction in salary, or the only other option is redundancy, they are unlikely to be onboard with a pay cut. In fact, they may even argue that you are able to save money on overheads due to them now working from home.
Aside from needing to have what could be a difficult conversation, the suggestion alone could damage your relationship and lead to resentment from your remote workers. This would be a less than ideal situation when communication may already be strained.
There are further risks to consider for those managing a hybrid team. If some staff are still attending the office, reducing pay only for those working from home could lead to claims of indirect discrimination.
Employees work better and are more loyal to a business when they feel valued. So whilst pay cuts may not be the solution to cut costs, you might find other ways to reduce budgets or increase profitability with a bit of teamwork.
What to do when you can’t get the staff
Employers may breathe a sigh of relief that the “pingdemic” is subsiding. Fully vaccinated employees no longer need to self-isolate, unless they test positive for COVID-19.
However that may not be the only staffing issue currently plaguing UK businesses. Vacancies are continuing to go unfilled as bosses admit that they just can’t get the staff.
The recruitment game has changed. A combination of factors, including Brexit and the pandemic, has resulted in a jobseeker’s market. What can employers do to find and retain the right people?
Firstly, make sure your offering is competitive in today’s market. Can you match the key desirable benefits of 2021? Think job security, pandemic-proof, training opportunities, health, well-being and flexible working.
Secondly, actively looking for candidates has become commonplace, in the same way that you might be looking for customers. Research and relationship building have never been more important when seeking skilled staff to work for your business. This can be a time-consuming task, but it pays for itself when you find the right person.
Lastly, remember that we are here to help and can handle the process for you, from advertising your role to inducting your new hire.
A red card from HR
Posting a job ad is a vital chance to provide a first impression of your business and reach a wide range of people that might be a good fit for your team.
Naturally, you might consider including a couple of unique points to make you stand out from the competition, such as some identifiable traits of your business or company culture.
What you don’t want to do is accidentally alienate prospective applicants, as one football club recently did. The business has been subsequently called out on social media for foul play!
The ad, for a general manager at AFC Fylde has been criticised for stating “delegators and office dwellers please don’t apply” also “don’t apply if you are looking for a work-life balance or have to pick up the kids from school twice a week”. Yikes!
Not only can this give a bad first impression and put people off from applying, but it risks being discriminatory, as employment law still applies at this stage of hiring.
If you’re recruiting and want to avoid an awkward own goal, remember that we are here to help.
More support for survivors of domestic abuse
Between two and three women are killed every week by domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner.
This horrifying truth may shock some readers, as the stigma surrounding domestic abuse, and a lack of awareness on how to show support, can result in the topic being avoided altogether. This, as statistics show, leads to damaging consequences.
Here at The HR Dept we want to make a change. That’s why we joined up with Sharon Livermore, the Domestic Abuse Alliance (DA Alliance) and the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse (EIDA). We’ve collaborated on a new domestic abuse policy, Sharon’s Policy, and training for employers, so that you can be confident in supporting survivors of domestic abuse in the workplace.
Further highlighting the urgent need of more support for survivors, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has also joined forces with EIDA to become a Beacon member.
Employers looking to raise awareness of domestic abuse to their staff can find resources and support through EIDA, the DA Alliance, Business in the Community, and the UK government website.
Anyone in immediate danger should contact 999.
For more information on Sharon’s Policy or staff training, remember that we too are here to help.
Digital right to work checks to remain for now
There has been some back and forth regarding the future of Right to Work checks. You may remember back in the spring that we reported on the impending end to the temporary process.
After much debate on the topic, and thoughts that the end of digital checks would be a step backwards, it was decided that the temporary digital arrangements will stay in place until April 5 next year.
From then onwards, you will need to carry out physical checks with original documents. However, the government is said to be working on a more permanent digital solution.
People Matter August 2021
Data collection and immunisation
Certain businesses have been advised by government to request that visitors and staff “check-in” each time they attend the premises. This includes hospitality and leisure venues, community centres and those providing close contact services.
The data collected must comply with UK GDPR, and should only be used to help NHS Track and Trace locate anyone who could have come into close contact with COVID-19.
In England, it is no longer a legal requirement to collect this data, much like the wearing of face coverings. However many businesses continue to follow the recommendation. In Scotland and Wales, of course, rules differ, so do seek advice to check that your processes are compliant.
At this stage in the pandemic, the vaccination programme is well underway. COVID or Immunity Passports are being issued for fully vaccinated people to travel with less restrictions. They are also expected to be introduced for “high risk” situations in England that attract large crowds.
Both data collection and immunisation have been key safety measures for people and businesses. It’s understandable then, that some employers are querying whether they can request and record vaccination status from their employees.
For care homes in England, COVID vaccination will be a legal requirement for staff, visiting professionals and tradespeople from 11th November. For other businesses, there is still some ambiguity over the collection of vaccination status and the legalities of a “no jab, no job” policy.
So, even if you’re not planning to make vaccinations mandatory in your business, can you ask staff if they have had the vaccine?
The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) states that, as vaccination status is classed as special category data, use of such data must be clear, necessary, and transparent. In other words, make sure that you really need it and are able to justify this before you collect it.
There are risks involved, which a full risk assessment can help you to identify. For starters you’d need to ensure that your methods of data collection are compliant with data protection laws.
Employers also have a responsibility to protect their staff from discrimination and should err on the side of caution when recording vaccination status. Some people will not get vaccinated for personal or medical reasons and must not be treated any differently to their vaccinated co-workers.
Keep in mind that the pandemic has been a dynamic situation and so there is a chance that official guidance on the matter can change at short notice. If you have questions about keeping your business compliant, get in touch.
New duty for employers to protect staff from
By law, employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment by their colleagues.
However, the government’s response to a recent consultation into workplace sexual harassment suggests that more needs to be done to stop it. The consultation had collated feedback from charities, employers and the general public.
At present, many instances of workplace sexual harassment are dealt with in a reactionary manner. This approach has been criticised for not getting to the root of the problem; especially considering that harassment can go unreported through fear of reprisal.
Commenting on the findings of the consultation, Minister for Women and Equalities, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP is confident that the actions the government will take will see a shift change and make a tangible and positive difference.
So what does this look like?
The government is committed to updating existing legislation and introducing a new preventative duty for employers. Whilst the finer details are yet to be revealed, it is expected to require employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent harassment.
A statutory code of practice and accessible guidance for employers will also be released. Until then, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2020 guide for employers on preventing sexual harassment at work is a helpful tool for making your business safe and free from harassment.
Sexual harassment is a sensitive and complex issue. If it is managed poorly, it can do serious damage to your business. For expert advice contact your local HR Dept without delay.
Refusing to come to work through fear of COVID-19
Are you dealing with an employee refusing to return to the workplace through fear of contracting COVID-19? With workplaces reopening and the virus still in circulation, this is a real and risky situation for employers.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides employees protection from dismissal where they take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from serious and imminent danger.
However, this isn’t a carte blanche for employees not to show up to work, especially if you have followed COVID Secure guidance and taken the necessary steps to protect staff from COVID.
Such was the finding in the recent Employment Tribunal concerning Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Limited. Mr Rodgers’s claim for automatic unfair dismissal was unsuccessful, with the ruling pointing to the fact that he had not raised any concerns to his employer about any perceived danger. The emphasis here being on a real or perceived danger, and not a generalisation.
This is a complicated issue nonetheless and any situation regarding an employee refusing to come to work through fear of catching COVID-19 should be assessed individually and with expert advice.
What to do when personalities clash
Personality clashes are an awkward but inevitable part of life. When different types of people work together at the same company, personality clashes can disrupt the workplace.
Because personality clashes can’t necessarily be avoided, you may think that there’s little that can be done. In fact, you might try and stay out of it altogether and let those butting heads just learn to get along.
The trouble with this approach is that, if you don’t change something, very often nothing will change. Your feuding foes are unlikely to suddenly see eye-to-eye without some level of mediation.
To prevent a personality clash escalating, it’s wise to sit down with each employee individually to find out what’s really going on. If there’s no obvious cause of conflict and you need them to work together, mediation with a trusted third party can be a productive way to move forwards.
Summertime and the weather is, well, British.
There’s a high chance your employees are longing to be outside when the sun is shining or daydreaming of an upcoming holiday when it’s not. Summer can be a distraction for all sorts of reasons.
You can’t hide the sun, let’s face it, it does a good job of that on its own. So what can you do to get your team focused and back on track this season?
Aside from reminding them of important work by setting summer goals, relaxing a few rules around this time of year can have a positive effect on productivity. This could be summer working hours or a relaxed dress code for example.
Employees should appreciate the gesture, but if some people try to push the boundaries with extended lunchbreaks, remember that we are here to help.
Managing those newbie mishaps
HBO Max recently held their hands up in a tweet regarding an email sent out to its mailing list in error, admitting that, “as the jokes pile in, yes, it was the intern”.
The Twittersphere responded beautifully, with all manner of people revealing their own mistakes during previous internships.
Mistakes happen and sharing your own mishaps can reduce some of the dread an intern in this position is likely to be feeling. A word of caution though, maybe give their training plan a review before you let them near the send button again.
People Matter July 2021
Staffing your business this summer
Summer staffing can be a conundrum and this summer brings even more obstacles than usual.
Alongside the usual staff absences caused by summer holidays, employers are navigating pandemic and Brexit related shortages.
The vaccine rollout and reopening of businesses has seen many people return to work and their usual activities. However, warnings that COVID-19 is still in circulation mean that there is still a risk of disruption.
Meanwhile, businesses gearing up for a busy period, some hoping to profit from fewer Brits travelling abroad, have reported difficulties in filling vacancies. Whether down to receiving too many CVs from inexperienced applicants, or none at all due to economic uncertainty, recruitment is taking up increasing amounts of time and energy.
After a year and a half of pandemic related issues, customers are beginning to express fatigue with COVID excuses for longer wait times, late deliveries and reduced services. Businesses hoping for a successful post-lockdown summer season will need to make staffing with adequate cover a top priority.
There is always a chance that someone may go off sick when someone else is on holiday, but this is an even higher eventuality now with summer being prime time for vacations, even staycations, and sick leave involving self-isolation or quarantine.
A helpful way to stay on top of absences is through absence management software, like The HR Dept toolkit. Your team can see availability for holiday before sending through a request, whilst you can manage staffing levels to make sure that you have adequate cover.
If need be, you can determine when employees take their holiday, providing you give them the right amount of notice – double the length of the holiday. Keep in mind that paid leave is for maintaining good health and well-being, and so an even distribution of holiday throughout the year is best.
This also applies to furloughed employees. Flexible furlough is still available this summer and can be helpful for keeping your business staffed during the busiest times of the week.
Having enough people to staff your business is vital, but remember, good people management is more than just a numbers game. If you’re approaching a busy time and need your team on top form, talk to them to make sure that they have what they need in order to excel. A supportive and approachable leadership team is an important component for successful absence management.
Are you aware of resignation risks?
When an employee resigns you may think that this is the last that you will see of them and that there is little left for you to do before closing the chapter on their employment. Naturally, your attention may quickly turn to finding their replacement.
Whilst replacing your leaver may understandably be at the forefront of your mind, some time should be set aside for an exit interview and leavers checklist, because a resignation from an employee can carry risk.
During an exit interview you will want to establish why your employee has decided to end their employment with you.
If it transpires that they feel they have no choice but to leave due to an unresolved issue, you’ll want to find out as much as you can to see if you can resolve this. A disgruntled employee leaving in this way could otherwise seek to bring a constructive dismissal claim against you.
If things have turned particularly sour and an employee verbally quits in the heat of the moment, you may want to let them cool off before going any further. When they have calmed down, approach this in a calm and rational way to see if they are committed to resigning. If they are, you should request this in writing.
Not only is it helpful to part ways on good terms for well-being and reputation, but it minimises the risk of a future claim coming back to bite you. That would be the last thing you need when you’ll likely be busy training up a replacement.
To further protect your business, your leavers process should also address points like the return of any loaned company property and final pay for your departing employee.
Resignations can be risky and, at times, fuelled by emotion. If you need advice call us.
From menstrual leave to menopause
Sadly, period problems, resulting from menstruation or menopause, are still seen as taboo topics of discussion in most workplaces. This leaves those who are suffering to do so in silence.
Not every person who menstruates will need to take time off work due to symptoms, but for those that do, the scale of discomfort can reach debilitating levels.
Some countries, including Japan and South Korea, offer paid menstrual leave. While this practice hasn’t been widely adopted, some UK companies have introduced similar policies.
Employers seeking to better support those suffering due to menstruation or menopause can empower their employees through accommodations which help them to manage their health at work. Flexible working, from flexi-hours to flexi-location, can help; along with adding painful periods or menopausal symptoms as accepted reasons for sick leave.
An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide important emotional support.
Lastly, an inclusive workplace which makes no space for gender stereotypes or discrimination can help to dissolve the taboo surrounding periods and create a happier, healthier workforce for the future.
Preparing for the end of furlough
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which has helped to keep millions of people employed throughout the pandemic, is winding down. It’s expected to be completely phased out by the end of September.
This month, employers were asked to contribute 10% of furloughed employees’ wages, up to £312.50 per month, in addition to National Insurance and pension payments. This contribution will increase in the coming months seeing employers paying 20% and the government subsidising 60% for those on furlough.
HMRC are continuing to undertake compliance interventions to combat misuse of the CJRS, so if you’re planning on furloughing until the very end, take note of the changes.
With the scheme coming to an end, workforce planning is crucial. If you think that you may need to make redundancies, keep in mind that this process involves a legal time frame. Have you considered all of the alternatives? Ask us if you’re unsure.
Spotted socialising on sick leave
If you thought that a sighting of an employee down the local social club whilst on sick leave equalled automatic grounds for dismissal, take heed from the results of this recent employment tribunal.
A driver for a surfacing company was recently found to be unfairly dismissed for this very reason.
The tribunal concluded that a fair investigation and procedure had not been carried out by the employer. Issues such as a missing clause regarding ill health in the company’s disciplinary procedure, and knowledge that other employees had done the same in the past with no repercussions, helped to inform the judge’s ruling.
An investigation helps to establish the facts and distinguish between an employee breaking the rules and one who believes their actions to be within reason.
Sick leave should be used for recovery, which doesn’t always mean being confined to the house. If you’re in a similar situation, gather all the facts and check your policies before taking action.
Smile for entry
Smile, you’re on camera!
Being one of the most watched nations in the world (we rank third after China and the US), we’re no strangers to security cameras.
They do however tend to blend into the background, so having to acknowledge and smile into one may seem strange.
Would it help to improve positivity though? The Beijing branch of Canon is currently trying to find out. Employees can now only enter the offices if they are smiling at AI cameras.
On the upside, smiling can reduce stress and improve the immune system. However, a forced smile is unlikely to produce the same results and could mask someone who needs support.
If you’re seeking ways to improve positivity in your workplace, little things, like showing appreciation, can really work wonders.
People Matter June 2021
The cost of workplace conflict
Conflict happens. It’s part of everyday life.
Whether between friends, foes, neighbours, family members, or complete strangers, conflict can arise. Learning to deal with it well is a valuable skill to have.
The workplace can sometimes provide respite from conflict. It can also be the source of it. With different personalities working together in one organisation, and a large proportion of our waking hours spent at work, a degree of conflict in the workplace is inevitable.
As HR professionals, this is something we know all too well. We have been helping businesses manage and prevent workplace conflict for almost two decades.
Similarly, Acas (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has been front and centre for many heated workplace situations over the years. It is well positioned to comment on the scope of workplace conflict in the UK, and has calculated the pre-pandemic cost to organisations being a staggering £28.5 billion.
If you’re wondering what that looks like day-to-day, it equates to £1000 per employee. Yikes!
How did the cost of conflict come to be so high?
It’s a combination of costs that can be triggered by conflict; conflict which has usually been left to fester.
This includes organisational costs such as employee absences, presenteeism or resignation. Plus the time spent trying to resolve an issue. Plus the costs of formal procedures like disciplinary processes or litigation.
Not all conflict is going to contribute to such expense. In fact, some conflict can be beneficial to help your people and your business grow. Think a high-energy creative meeting or puzzling team-building session.
An experienced manager will be able to spot the difference between good conflict and the kind that needs an intervention – usually an early one at that.
Dips in productivity and/or increased absences are key identifiers of a potentially troublesome situation, as both can be the result of stress and poor well-being. When these sorts of behaviours start to arise, a one-on-one conversation with an employee can provide the subtle first steps towards an intervention.
Many instances of workplace conflict can be resolved at this point, saving time, money, and morale. For the times when next steps require further investigation, don’t forget that we are here to help.
Supporting your LGBT+ employees
Pride events may be curtailed by social distancing measures again this year, but that shouldn’t stop the celebrations. Many people have turned to online events to show their support of LGBT+ people.
Support for LGBT+ rights is increasing with the awareness that Pride brings each year. However, there is still some way to go before everyone can feel safe being themselves in public, and bringing their true selves to work.
In a report released earlier this year, the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) found that LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience harassment at work than their heterosexual, cisgender co-workers. The survey also revealed that LGBT+ employees reported feeling more psychologically unsafe at work.
Everyone has a right to feel safe and be treated with respect at work. These latest findings are concerning. They show that some workplaces may be falling short on inclusivity and ensuring the protection of all employees.
Even the most inclusive of workplaces will have been challenged during the pandemic. Forced isolation and separation has put great pressure on mental health and well-being. For some LGBT+ people, this involved being cooped up in sometimes hostile home environments, and without their usual support systems to lean on. They may also have been at an increased risk of cyber bullying during lockdown.
The good news is that there are actions which employers can take to make a difference and show their LGBT+ employees that they are valued and supported. This starts with a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment and discrimination.
Clear policies and lines of communication help employees to know that they are protected, and how to report a grievance should they feel threatened. Beyond this, providing an Employee Assistance Programme and signposting LGBT+ charities and networks can make a positive difference all year round, not just for Pride.
Age discrimination tribunals have increased
According to research by Rest Less, a community for the over 50’s, age discrimination employment tribunals increased by a whopping 74% in 2020.
Thought to be a side effect of the pandemic, concerns have been raised that age discrimination complaints may continue to rise further unless a more age-inclusive approach can be adopted in the workplace.
Promoting age-inclusivity doesn’t just reduce the risk of discrimination and tribunal claims, it boosts diversity and can make for a happier, more creative workforce.
So how can employers check that their processes are age-inclusive?
A good place to start is with recruitment. Blind CV screening, which removes identifiers of age, can help to reduce the risk of age-bias in the recruitment process, assisting you in finding the best person for the job.
A further commitment to being an age-friendly employer may include the provision of flexible working to improve accessibility to work, or lifelong learning to encourage career development and the growth of key skills at any age.
A re-introduction to the workplace
Due to the continuation of the vaccine rollout, attention for many employers has turned to the further lifting of lockdown restrictions: namely, re-opening the workplace or bringing more employees back to work.
We know that many business owners will be eager to see their work premises occupied again, but wonder how many are ready to go when the time comes?
Aside from making the workplace COVID-Secure, there are other important considerations for bringing employees back to work.
Furloughed workers in particular, that have been away from the workplace for some time, may benefit from a return-to-work induction. This can help them to adjust to any major changes that happened in the business during their absence. It also provides a good opportunity to talk through any new workflows, procedures or safety protocols that you need them to follow.
If you want to implement a return-to-work induction for your staff but aren’t sure where to start, give us a call.
Holidays have been a topic of much discussion lately. Whether hurrying to secure a staycation spot before a price hike or rushing home from a country that’s suddenly been added to the “amber list”. Don’t forget the extra bank holiday next year for the Queen’s Jubilee too!
Holiday management for employees can be a minefield without the pandemic and extra bank holidays being added to the mix. So, how should you deal with these situations?
If an employee’s holiday abroad gets cut short due to COVID, they may be required to quarantine when they return. Your best bet is to prepare for this by updating your holiday policy and letting all staff know how this will be handled. It may need to involve home working, extra holiday being used or unpaid leave. If you are dealing with an employee stuck abroad now and are wondering what to do, call us.
As for the additional bank holiday next year, whether staff are entitled to this comes down to the wording in their contracts. However, you may still wish to permit this as a gesture of goodwill. It’s a good idea to start thinking about this now so that you can make sure your business is adequately staffed when the time comes.
Keeping it cool
BBC viewers were left surprised when a camera panned the studio to reveal a news anchor wearing shorts and deck shoes under the desk (comically paired with a suit jacket, shirt and tie above the desk).
Whilst some people could relate, noting that it was the hottest day of the year so far, others were left wondering if the leg bearing shot was meant for live television.
As temperatures soar in summer, employees might be seeking ways to keep their cool. A relaxed summer dress code is one way to help whilst keeping your team and your business on brand.
People Matter May 2021
Closing the communication gap
We all know that good communication is essential, not just for business success, but also in day-to-day life. Yet it doesn’t always happen. Everyone, at one point or another, will suffer the failings of a miscommunication.
It could be down to poor WiFi, piecemeal information, a language barrier, communication preferences, or countless other reasons. So whilst we can all confidently agree that good communication is critical, we can also acknowledge that life throws in a few curveballs to test even the best communicators.
The pandemic has done just that. The way in which people communicate had to change this past year, with minimal social contact forcing business meetings and processes to become virtual. Company culture has also been challenged, showing a need for new and inventive ways to bring people together.
Employees might just be getting comfortable with the temporary solutions implemented during the pandemic, but is it all about to change again?
Some employers are seeking to learn more about a hybrid-working style, a mix of remote and office-based working.
Hybrid working brings benefits such as increased flexibility and reduced overheads if you downsize. It can however create new barriers for communication within teams.
Employers wanting to make a successful permanent move to a hybrid working model will need to consider this early on. It will help them establish how employees can work together and communicate effectively at all times.
This can look different from one business to the next and will depend on the unique makeup of each workforce. For example, cross-cultural and cross-generational teams may benefit from some team-building exercises or light-hearted activities to help them connect.
Inclusivity is centric to successful hybrid working, and clearly defined processes for meetings and projects will help. This might be making sure that remote workers are dialled into office meetings. Collaboration software, as an alternative, is becoming a popular way for team members to keep each other in the loop on the status of a project, no matter where they are.
There is lots to consider when moving to a hybrid working model, and some difficulties may not become clear until you are already trialling it. To help close the communication gap for your hybrid team, why not consider a training session on effective communication skills? A refresher can do wonders for all involved.
Mental health matters
Earlier this month #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek helped to fuel online conversations surrounding the importance of good mental health. Whether at home or at work, protecting mental health is vital for happiness and well-being.
Everyone has mental health and needs to take care of it. Not just for Mental Health Awareness Week, but at all times. Employers looking to show their commitment to workplace mental health can achieve this through a holistic well-being strategy for their workforce.
Workplace well-being has been rising on the agenda for senior leaders since the pandemic began, but many don’t quite know where to start.
The first point of call should involve talking to employees. Whether one-on-one or in groups, give them an outlet to discuss the life changing events of the past year. Find out what challenged them the most, what support they found most beneficial, and how they feel about returning to the workplace post-pandemic.
Some people will have experienced loss and may still be battling with grief. By acknowledging this, you can find out if and how they would like the news to be communicated with co-workers. You may uncover that they would benefit from some additional emotional support, such as counselling via an Employee Assistance Programme.
Making mental health part of the conversation can create a positive shift in your company culture, eliminating stigma and encouraging employees to be mindful of their own mental health and that of their co-workers.
When managing the process of bringing employees back into the workplace, keep in mind the potential risks of back-to-work anxiety and work-related stress. Mental health support is often provided when a person is already suffering, but a successful well-being strategy will include preventative measures too.
The Right to Work process is changing
Last year, temporary adjustments were put in place for Right to Work checks, so that employers could continue to keep their hiring process compliant during the pandemic.
The changes allow for checks to be carried out over video calls and for scanned documents to be accepted.
It has been announced that this temporary process is coming to an end on 20 June. This means that from 21 June onwards, employers must either check the applicant’s original documents or, where relevant, check the applicant’s right to work online.
Another date to be mindful of is the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme on 30 June. Employers hiring EU employees after this date need to check their eligibility to work in the UK through the scheme.
Right to Work checks are a legal requirement when hiring staff and getting this wrong can result in a hefty fine or even prison time! Investigations are expected to pick up as businesses gradually re-open. If you need assistance with the process, get in touch.
How to avoid positive discrimination
You may see the term “positive discrimination” and think it an oxymoron. Discrimination, when involving people management, is often associated with unfavourable treatment after all. How then could it ever be positive?
Positive discrimination relates to the process of hiring someone solely on the basis of a relevant protected characteristic.
Unless this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, this is illegal in the UK. The hiring process should be focused on finding the best person for the job. It’s complicated and expert advice is recommended.
Employers who are interested in building a strong, diverse workforce should instead be looking at taking what is called “positive action”. This might be through the careful targeting of job adverts or training to assist disadvantaged groups. If you want to know more about the difference between positive discrimination and positive action, contact us.
This task is a walk in the park
During lockdown many of us turned to nature for our daily exercise and to take a mental health break from the pressures of the pandemic.
Spending time in nature is known to have many positive mental and physical health benefits. So much so that five GP practices in Scotland actually trialled giving prescriptions for nature.
As attention turns to the reopening of workplaces and bringing employees back to work, one thing that employers can do to support employee well-being through this process is to keep nature on the agenda.
This could be as simple as bringing more plants into the office, taking a meeting on a walk or even a team fundraising effort that embraces the great outdoors.
From happier and healthier employees to a boost in creativity, the benefits of nature on mental health and well-being are far reaching and easy to obtain.
15 years late for work
When an employee is fifteen minutes late for work, you might decide to let it slide, but what should you do when they don’t show up for fifteen years?!
Believe it or not this actually happened. An Italian hospital worker continued to receive his monthly salary despite not attending work in over a decade, totalling more than half a million Euros.
Now that the authorities have caught up with him, the employee is facing the full weight of the law.
Hopefully you would notice a missing person before too long and not rack up such a large bill for absenteeism, but just to cover yourself, some attendance tracking software can help. Ask us for details.
People Matter April 2021
Helping your managers to thrive post-pandemic
Have your thoughts been turning to getting back to business since the lockdown easing was announced? Or maybe your business has been open this whole time but looking a little different to normal?
It’s now over a year since the pandemic first hit; and companies, workplaces, and the people within them have changed.
Many people openly admit to craving some sort of normality; but is that what’s best, or even possible, post-pandemic?
For many employers, getting back to business may well involve working in new markets, managing new processes, and mitigating new risks. To hit the ground running when the economy fully reopens, you’ll want confident and competent decision makers by your side.
A good management team can make the difference between a company flailing or thriving in the post-pandemic landscape.
However, despite the important role that line managers play in a business, it’s not uncommon for new managers to learn on the job. This can offer hands-on experience but can also leave them open to the risks of ill-informed decisions. Would you give the keys to your car to a non-driver and say here you go, learn to drive?
Firefighters practice many task-based drills before heading into a fire. Likewise, training and development can give your managers the skills they need to address people problems in your business before they escalate.
Managers recruited internally, perhaps even during the pandemic due to their ability to work well under pressure, will know your business well and will have built up valuable institutional knowledge. This is great, but you’ll want to ensure that their ability in key management skills – planning, communication, interpersonal, problem solving, and delegation – is sufficient for the task ahead.
Management teams in 2021 need to add a few new strings to their bow to adapt to the needs of the post-pandemic workplace and its people. Particularly the shift towards hybrid working which brings new management challenges.
At a time when budget cuts are high on the agenda, learning and development can often be one of the first to get the axe. Unless, of course, you look at the long game where upskilling employees and managers now saves time through enhanced productivity, a reduction in high-risk HR issues and better staff retention rates. Training is often reported to be the most popular benefit within a company.
When training is done well, it offers a true return on investment.
What is hybrid working and is it right for your business?
The term “hybrid-working” has gained popularity recently, but what exactly does it mean, and could it be right for your business?
Hybrid working is a style of working which involves both workplace attendance and remote working. Like remote working, hybrid-working is not new, but has received heightened interest due to the pandemic.
Since working from home became, and for some continues to be, the default way of working, more employers have been able to see first-hand the benefits and setbacks of managing a remote workforce.
Employees have also had a trial run of working from home, and understandably, the opinion polls are mixed when it comes to their long-term preference.
Can hybrid-working offer the best of both worlds? Many employers are keen to try it.
To understand whether hybrid-working is right for your business, it’s important to consider what the positives and negatives may be.
On the upside, increased flexibility can lead to happier and more productive employees. Flexible working patterns are known to support a better work/life balance and can be particularly beneficial for those with difficult commutes or caring responsibilities.
Another plus for the hybrid-working model is that it can widen a potential talent pool and thus increase the diversity of candidates. The best person for the job may not live locally, or want to work remotely all the time, in which case a hybrid model could be a workable solution.
The negatives? Some firms have found that their creativity and problem solving has stalled with Zoom. You could be paying for an office space that isn’t fully utilised, although if you can, downsizing may be a solution. You could also experience new challenges in communication between teams. When conversations happen in the office, how is everyone else kept in the loop?
If you’re undecided, why not give it a trial run? A phased transition back to work could be the perfect opportunity to do so.
An extension to H&S protections for workers
In a case involving the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the High Court found that certain EU health and safety protections for workers had not been correctly implemented.
The matter concerned the right to not be subjected to a detriment due to taking the appropriate steps to protect themselves, or others, from serious and imminent danger.
Currently, this protection is only afforded to employees under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
As a result of the case, the government has issued a correction, extending the health and safety protection to workers. This will be effective from 31st May this year.
An in-depth evaluation of workers’ rights and modern working practices has been underway since the Taylor Review in 2017. Whilst the government did address some issues raised through it’s Good Work Plan, there is still more to be done to ensure the protection of workers’ rights in the modern working world.
Are you managing a workaholic?
Have you ever been called a workaholic? When you have a business to run, it can sometimes feel like you’re spending all of your time working.
A hard work ethic is admirable and can set a good example for employees, however downtime is also very much needed. Not just for mental and physical health, but also the success of the business.
If you think an employee could be suffering from work addiction or presenteeism (the need to be seen working), consider how you can help them to channel their productivity in a healthy way.
Working excessive hours is unlikely to be productive all of the time. Mistakes can start to show, leading a workaholic to put even more pressure on themselves to achieve.
Encourage your worker bee to take some time out before they burn out. A team lunch (in line with government advice) could give them and you something to look forward to, and a well-deserved breather.
Progress made for equal pay
Asda’s equal pay dispute is the largest ever claim of its kind to be brought against a UK employer.
More than 44,000 Asda employees have just won their latest battle for equal pay through a Supreme Court ruling. The issue has been that the store workers who are predominantly women are paid between £1.50 and £3.00 an hour less than the warehouse staff who are predominantly men.
Equal pay is a matter of legality, originally introduced as the Equal Pay Act 1970 and brought under the Equality Act in 2010. It requires all staff to be paid equally for work of equal value and this ruling has allowed the women to use the warehouse staff as a comparator.
The case is not over yet as this is just the first step in a claim regarding equal pay. It does however set a standard for comparators in future similar claims of unequal pay, which several other high-street chains are currently facing.
Important employment law changes
With coronavirus still largely dominating conversations, it can be easy to miss other important updates concerning your business.
Important changes came into effect this month which we don’t want you to miss.
- Hourly rates for both the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage have increased.
- Statutory Family Leave payments have increased from £151.20 to £151.97 and Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from £95.85 to £96.35.
- The new IR35 rules apply to medium or large businesses in the private sector only. If your business meets two out of the three criteria, you are classified as a small business and are exempt:Annual turnover is no more than £10.2 million
Balance sheet total is no more than £5.1 million
No more than 50 employees
If you need advice implementing recent changes due to updated employment law, please do get in touch.
People Matter March 2021
Positive news alert: Some businesses are hiring and thriving
Throughout 2020, the devastation caused by coronavirus dominated the headlines. More often than not, the stories were about exponential spread, rising death tolls and redundancies, revealing the enormity of the crisis and its impact on our health and the economy.
This year, a key message is one of hope. More than 25 million people have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, kids are back in school, and we have a route map out of the current lockdown.
Extending the government’s stimulus package to support businesses and keep people employed, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will stay open until the end of September.
Many will be pleased about the extension, but some have criticised it, calling it a delay of an inevitable rise in unemployment when the scheme eventually ends.
Sectors that have been hardest hit during this time will need to take stock and should seek advice on effective workforce planning. Others, it seems, are not only hiring, but thriving, and creating new opportunities for employment.
In its latest labour market outlook, the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) reported that over half of employers surveyed intended to recruit in the first quarter of this year. A promising statistic after a year of frightful figures.
Reported sectors showing signs of growth included healthcare, education, finance, insurance, and tech.
Many of us saw delivery drivers more than our friends and family last year. It may not be surprising then to know that convenience driven courier services are also experiencing a boom. Businesses in this sector looking to engage many more contractors may like to seek professional advice. Classifying employment status can be a complicated and high risk area of HR.
It has been said before that from tragedy comes triumph: A saying which the start-ups emerging from the pandemic are likely to agree with.
From Petflix style streaming services for cats and dogs in lockdown, to new mobile health-tech apps improving research and well-being. Creative digital endeavours are springing up everywhere, showing a bright side for the future of work.
Back to school, but not back to the office…yet
Back to school isn’t usually the main topic of discussion in March, but this year is already like no other.
Schools re-opened earlier this month as the first steps of the government’s plans out of lockdown took effect.
The re-opening of schools provides a return to some normality for families and working parents who have been homeschooling for many of the past 12 months. As such, employers who furloughed working parents for childcare purposes can facilitate a return to work.
For many, a return to pre-COVID life feels closer than ever with the vaccine being rolled out at speed. However the government has warned against the dangers of complacency. For clarity, the main “stay at home” message applies until 29 March in England. The current message in Scotland and Wales is “Stay Local”.
Despite this, research suggests that one in five employees is attending the workplace unnecessarily.
The government’s plan for easing lockdown restrictions gave some insight into when certain types of businesses can expect to reopen. However, with no official timeline for office workers, some employers will be unclear as to how they should manage their staff.
To help, here’s a reminder of the current guidance on attending the workplace.
Employees should only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for work to be done from home. This includes, but is not limited to, people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that requires in-person attendance.
Some employees will prefer attending the workplace, it may benefit their mental health or provide a safe space for them to work effectively. In this situation, it is permitted for employees to attend a COVID-secure workplace. We’d advise keeping a record of anyone attending and the reasons why.
Free rapid COVID testing is now available for all businesses in England. If you have done a COVID risk assessment and have employees attending the workplace, providing access to tests can help to instil confidence in those employees who cannot work from home during this time.
Spring cleaning the paperwork pile
Lighter evenings coincide with the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions. The new life associated with this change in seasons brings hope to those wanting to move forwards.
This year, spring cleaning the house may also lead to a shakeup of the home office. Where did this lengthy to-do list come from?
The pandemic forced many employers to make quick and essential changes last year, which can result in more admin and HR tasks.
Amid a crisis, HR admin tends to fall a few places on the priority list. But given the protection that it provides a business and its employees, it’s an essential component for success.
If you made changes to your business last year, it could be time to review your employment contracts and company handbook to make sure they are up to date and reflect the current situation. These documents underpin your whole employment relationship with your staff. They describe what rights they have, what rules they must follow and what happens if they breach them. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this.
Sizing up staff for a return to work
Under a national law in Japan that came into effect last year, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual check-ups.
Employers may be required to pay more into the national health care system if the waistlines of employees, their families and retirees exceed the government’s limits of 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women.
At the time, we thought we would never be doing that in the UK. However, in a COVID return-to-work questionnaire, the DVLA has asked staff for their waist measurements.
The question, which was said to have been included under Welsh government guidance, formed part of a points-based risk assessment to identify those who could return to work safely and those that were more vulnerable.
However, many people are very sensitive about their size. So finding a more subtle way of identifying those at risk of obesity or diabetes is advisable.
If you’d like professional advice when interpreting guidance for your return-to-work process, we’re here to help.
Are you ready for the robot revolution?
Through opening their first cashless store outside of the US this month, Amazon have provided Londoners with a sneak preview into the future of retail. Self-serve tills have been operational in supermarkets for some time. In this store, however, it seems there’s even less of a need for onsite personnel.
The pandemic may well have accelerated our need for reliable automation, but the so-called robot revolution was already well on its way.
A World Economic Forum report has suggested that machines will be taking care of as much as half of all work tasks by 2025.
Jobs at risk of automation have high levels of repetition and routine, such as data processing, administration, shelf-filling and waiting in hospitality.
Of course, someone will need to be there to diagnose and resolve situations when “the computer says no”. So upskilling employees is crucial for effective and successful automation.
Going green with your team
One positive to come from the pandemic is that social distancing and restricted travel have reduced the carbon footprint of society.
Will all this good for the environment be undone when normal life resumes?
One way that you can ensure your efforts are not wasted is to keep the green theme going in your business.
Get employees on board by sharing your values (something extolled in the book “Conscious Business”). This might include reducing waste, promotion of green commuting or setting green challenges for the team.
Not only will you be helping to combat climate change, but having a cause in common is a great morale booster.
People Matter February 2021
Social media: When sharing becomes oversharing
Social media has been a popular way of keeping in touch with distant family and friends for years. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that usage of social media skyrocketed in the past year while other more traditional forms of socialising became limited during lockdown.
People are not just turning to social media to stay in touch, but to stay informed on breaking news or follow online fitness classes with gyms being closed. New trends have emerged too, with whole households uploading comical dance routines to the breakout app of 2020, TikTok.
Whilst social media has many pros: keeping people connected, entertained and active to name just a few. Excessive use also comes with cons.
Too much time online, in a heavily filtered environment, can alter a person’s perception of reality. It can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression and even isolation. Most smartphones now come with timers to encourage self-management and keep activity to a minimum. A good idea for anyone who is feeling the effects of spending too much time on social media.
Another con which can arise from too much time on social media is the tendency for people to “overshare”.
During the pandemic, numerous reports have emerged of employees claiming to have been fired over viral videos posted to social media. Bad behaviour has included: revealing company secrets, arrogantly flouting COVID rules and bad-mouthing customers. We are sure you can imagine many other ways of acting up whilst in uniform too. These employees have fallen foul of oversharing and paid the price.
It’s not just work-related gaffs that have led to a dismissal. Employees revealing strong political opinions and emotional outbursts online have also raised concerns for employers.
It would appear that even company directors can suffer from an urge to overshare. In a social slip-up that led to his dismissal, Iceland’s former director of corporate affairs made some derogatory comments about the Welsh language. His colleagues at Iceland, a proud Welsh company, were not amused.
So, what is the safest course of action for an employer to take when something like this happens?
In 2021, one of the most important ways for a business to protect its reputation and confidentiality is to have a robust social media policy in place. This then needs to be communicated to all employees. Staff are going to use social media, that’s a given. Indeed, keeping connected with others can be helpful at a time like this. However, a policy helps to clarify conduct and the consequences of any social media misconduct whilst in your employment. This kind of policy is an important tool, should you be faced with an awkward case of oversharing.
For advice on what yours should include, give us a call.
The employment claims arising from COVID
Coronavirus has rapidly changed so many aspects of modern life. From socialising to working and more.
Towards the end of last year, it was clear to see the impact that the pandemic has had on employment related disputes. There had been a sharp rise in employment tribunal claims. In April to June alone, the increase against the previous year was at 18%.
With the virus still in circulation, employers could be facing a continuation of coronavirus related claims well into 2021.
Examples of risks arising from the pandemic include disputes over contracts, mismanaged redundancies, or problems with pay due to misuse of wage subsidy schemes.
We are starting to see these issues play out in tribunal courts. Although the following case comes from Jersey and was won by the employer, it provides a lesson in the importance of clear contracts and policies in defence of a claim.
The claimant was a Jersey plumber who challenged his employer’s decision to temporarily lay-off staff without pay. At the time the employer had not understood that Jersey’s wage subsidy scheme could apply.
Whilst the court acknowledged this to be unreasonable, they did not find failure to use the scheme unlawful due to the terms of the scheme. Instead, they reviewed the employment contract and company handbook to ensure there had been no breach in how the matter was handled.
Due to a term in the handbook permitting the employer to lay-off employees for short periods of time, the case was found in the employer’s favour. Here in the UK, this would need to be an express clause for ample protection.
This example goes to show that although a crisis can throw you in at the deep end on decision making, robust contracts and policies are there to save the day.
Celebrating women at work
Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge. In the words of the event organisers, “a challenged world is an alert world”.
After a difficult year which threatens the progress made on gender equality to date, the theme of this year’s event encourages everyone to call out and challenge gender bias and inequality.
Gender discrimination is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, but there is much more that can be done to protect, support and celebrate women, especially in the workplace.
Childcare needs due to school closures have been a particularly demanding issue of late, and this responsibility can often fall on mothers. Employers can help to challenge this through equal pay opportunities and family-friendly policies that acknowledge the flexibility needs of both parents.
Company culture also has a part to play. Why not give the women in your workplace a boost by recognising and celebrating #InternationalWomensDay?
A rapid route back to work
Rapid COVID testing, also known as lateral flow testing, is now helping some businesses to keep functional during the pandemic.
In a drive to increase COVID testing in the workplace, the UK government recently expanded their programme to provide these tests to more businesses in England. Employers with 50 or more employees can apply so long as the business is registered in England and employees cannot work from home.
Testing is being encouraged even in the absence of symptoms to help reduce the risk of transmission. The process may also instil confidence in those employees who cannot work from home and continue to go into work during the pandemic.
Tests for eligible businesses can be ordered through the UK government website, and are free for employers until 31 March.
Employers in Scotland and Wales should follow guidance from their devolved governments.
How to handle rejection
Learning to handle rejection is an important skill that helps us get by in life. It goes hand in hand with patience and motivation to improve.
However, when you’re the one doing the rejecting it is considerate to do so professionally, yet with empathy. Because this will often have a bearing on how the rejection is received and may also have an impact on your reputation.
Bear in mind that as well as the element of sensitivity to be considered (especially during times like these), that employment law applies to your process of rejecting candidates.
One employer received criticism recently for a rejection letter which went viral. In an attempt to lift spirits, the letter referenced several successful celebrities who had overcome rejection, including Michael Jordan. While trying to connect on a human level, many online commentators felt it struck the wrong tone, was cringe-worthy even.
Our thoughts? Spending a little time to develop a professional rejection response is the safest way to keep dignity intact for all involved. If you’re currently swimming in applications and need some advice, remember we’re here to help.
Taking a virtual stand
Earlier this month, Jackie Weaver became the nation’s new hero when she stood her ground in a viral parish council meeting gone wrong.
In a calm and collected manner, Ms Weaver simply evicted aggressive attendees from the meeting with the click of a button. Pre-lockdown, one may have decided to remove themselves by walking out of such a meeting. Has the safe distance of remote working turned the tables?
Difficult conversations on Zoom pose a new challenge for many people. If you would like the confidence to know your actions are the right ones in your video meetings, call us.
People Matter January 2021
How to get flexible working right and why it’s important
Previously thought of by many as a job perk, flexible working arrangements are now helping to keep businesses operational amidst restrictive coronavirus regulations.
Many companies that once thought flexible working arrangements could not work for them, are now functioning with remote working and flexible working hours. Some have vowed never to return to the office again.
As we ponder if flexible working is here to stay, you may be wondering what the benefits are beyond the pandemic. Afterall, won’t work be returning to normal at some point?
The pandemic may well have changed the world of work forever. After being thrust into trials of flexible working last year, some employers will have seen that there are mutual benefits in flexible working practices. Perhaps returning to pre-pandemic processes won’t be necessary after all.
From reduced stress to better engagement, employees able to achieve a work-life balance are more likely to be happier and productive at work. Whether it’s simply different working hours or some days working remotely. There are recruitment and retention benefits too.
Opportunities for flexible working are going to spark questions from candidates for years to come. Whilst employees who are offered less flexibility at work may start to seek out an employer who has a policy in place. For some, such as working parents, it could be the difference between attracting or retaining the best person for the job, or at least having them operating at maximum productivity.
Ultimately, deciding “how much” flexibility you can allow in the long term is up to you. However, the “how” is subject to employment law, which is something that can’t be flexed.
Working hours are subject to the Working Time Regulations. A change in location must be preceded by a health and safety risk assessment. Whilst contracts should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are up to date and relevant to your business.
If an employee approaches you with a request for flexible working, be sure to read up on the process which must be followed before you respond.
A foundation of trust is also needed in order for flexible working practices to be effective. For example, remote staff or out-of-hours working can mean less day-to-day visibility. There is staff surveillance software available, but this can lead to high pressure which may undo all the good that flexible working can achieve.
Lastly, it’s important to think about the bigger picture. Changing one aspect of working processes can impact others, from employee workflow to client relations. Changes that you make should improve and not hinder your business in the long run.
Absence management during COVID
Coronavirus has affected people in different ways and employers are currently facing a rise in both long- and short-term absences as a result.
Some people who contracted the virus have reported symptoms for months afterwards in what is being referred to as long-Covid. This can be hugely disruptive to a person’s life and can result in them having to take extended leave from work.
Long lasting symptoms are varied and can range from breathing difficulties to physical pain, fatigue and loss of concentration. Employers need to assess each individual suffering from long-Covid in order to understand how best to support them and manage the situation. This may require making reasonable adjustments to assist a phased return to work.
Professional advice from HR or occupational health is recommended. This can be a highly sensitive situation that must be well documented and handled with care.
Absences in the time of Covid can be difficult for all involved, putting strain on individuals and the business. An updated absence management policy that documents processes related to coronavirus, such as self-isolation and shielding, can help managers confidently respond to situations and take action when needed.
This mid-winter has been described as the peak of the virus, and with the usual low temperatures and seasonal sickness at this time of year, absences are to be expected. Even if your team seem fit and well, it’s best to plan and prepare for the worst.
Prioritise essential business functions, update your contact list for emergency overtime and don’t forget, we’re here to help if things get complicated.
Finding the time to talk
January has a bit of a reputation for gloominess, but this January will test even the most optimistic of people.
Instinctively you might assume a downbeat employee is feeling lousy due to lockdown combined with the post-Christmas January blues. Perhaps you are feeling it too?
However, when it comes to worker well-being, the only way to know for sure what is going on is by finding the time to talk. There could be much more below the surface and you may be able to offer specific support.
Relationships, families, and finances have all been under increasing strain since the pandemic began. Through talking to employees, including those on furlough leave, you can assess how best to help and provide targeted advice and assistance.
Talking things through is a therapeutic tool for managing mental health. If you’re looking for ways to winter-proof your workplace well-being, an Employee Assistance Programme which gives employees confidential access to qualified counsellors is a good place to start.
When will staff get vaccinated?
Ever since news of a vaccine was announced, questions have been circulating as to how, if, and when people will be vaccinated.
Naturally, you may be wondering what the vaccine means for the future of work and your business. When will staff be vaccinated? And what can you do, if anything, if they refuse?
The government has confirmed that vaccinations are being prioritised for high-risk categories including frontline health and care workers. By autumn, everyone over the age of 18 should have been invited for vaccination.
If you’re considering a “no jab, no job” policy similar to that of Pimlico Plumbers, there are a multitude of legal risks – from discrimination to data protection – to be aware of. Some employees may be unable to have the vaccine for individual health reasons.
Problems are more likely to arise where employees are working with vulnerable colleagues or members of the public, and all alternatives must be considered. Do please take advice first.
Risk assessments are encouraged and should help you to understand the role that vaccines play when it comes to workplace health and safety. If you’re unsure, ask us for advice.
Life in lockdown can be sedentary for many people. Leaving the house to exercise is permitted under lockdown rules, but there have been questions and confusion over what is acceptable. Add to this the plummeting outdoor temperatures and it can be much more appealing to stay put.
The trouble with this is that it can become routine. When this happens, it poses risks for both physical and mental health.
Employees who are lacking in physical activity may consequently feel less motivated and uninspired. Exercise is not only good for the body but has multiple benefits for the brain too.
There are ways you can safely promote good physical well-being during lockdown to help employees through this tough time.
From sharing resources such as NHS Get Fit for Free, to organising a competition or company fundraiser that safely encourages physical activity. Don’t forget to ask the team for their input too. Dog walkers or parents of toddlers are bound to have some ideas and anecdotes to share.
Keeping on top of financial support
Are you up to speed with the support schemes in place for businesses? With news continuing to come in thick and fast it’s easy to miss out on vital updates.
Earlier this month the Chancellor revealed new one-off grants of up to £9,000 for businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors. A further lifeline has come for some SMEs from a Supreme Court ruling which found some insurers liable for business interruption pay-outs in relation to Covid.
Both Kickstart and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are still accessible. If you need assistance with either of these for your business, get in touch.
People Matter December 2020
‘Tis the season of giving back
It may be harder to celebrate Christmas with a party at work this year, but one festive tradition you can still embrace is charitable giving. In fact, in this of all years there is probably more need than ever.
Whether it is as grand as a component of a social responsibility plan, or something more spontaneous, it is such a neat fit for companies to instigate charity work. The benefits go far beyond just what the recipient charity gains.
Done well, it can help staff develop an extra sense of purpose and teamwork. And you as a business get the opportunity to promote your charitable work for positive PR. Given the situation in 2020, if you have furloughed employees, it’s okay to get them involved too – as long as they are not providing services or profit for the company. It’s a way to reconnect with them and potentially boost their mental well-being.
We’d recommend thinking charitable activity through and even drafting a policy so that everyone in your business knows what to expect. A well written policy will ensure that there is focus to people’s effort, that it is conducted in an orderly way, and also that it is inclusive. For instance in more normal times, if a charity pub-style quiz was arranged, that soft drinks were available to those who don’t touch alcohol.
Even if you are not initiating anything yourself, it is sensible to be prepared. This will help you manage any employee requests appropriately. For example, an employee may suggest that they are entitled to time off to perform voluntary work. The Employment Rights Act 1996 does have some provision in this area, but it is unlikely to be relevant to SMEs, as it relates to certain public sector bodies. Of course, check that your own contracts don’t grant this entitlement directly.
The good news is that despite the pandemic still raging, there is plenty of opportunity for online and distance volunteering. But if you do manage to get any physical activities going, don’t forget to ensure they are COVID-secure.
Rocking around the bins
🎵 🎵 “Boooooogie, boooogie, boogie round the bins at Christmas time.” 🎵 🎵 That’s how three chirpy binmen in Wolverhampton have raised spirits during the lockdown and are even hoping for a Christmas No. 1.
Like so many keyworkers, they have continued working through this pandemic, and as well as performing an essential service have raised money for charity. Lego even recognised them, alongside Captain Tom and others, with personalised Lego figures. One of the striking elements of the story is the simplicity of their actions and the impact they had.
You don’t need your team singing at the photocopier or jigging with the stapler, but look out for ways to get a smile on their faces; because happy employees perform better at work. And as the singing binmen show, it’s also possible to get some great PR.
A healthy new year
With news of vaccines and improved treatments on the way, 2021 is already looking to be more healthy than 2020. Putting pandemics aside though, a health push within your company also comes with many benefits for you and your staff.
Offering a health element within your employee benefits package may be just what the doctor ordered. First of all, it is a highly desirable perk – health insurance has even been ranked the No. 1 benefit in some surveys (and that was before the pandemic). This means that it can help you attract and keep the best talent.
Access to extra medical care also means it’s easier to keep staff fit, healthy, happy and productive. It’s a good remedy for absenteeism and for improving workplace atmosphere.
If you have been put off by cost, know that health benefit offerings come in all shapes and sizes. There’s pretty much one for every budget, large or small, so we can find one that delivers value to you.
People planning for 2021
Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) show that EU workers applying for UK jobs dropped by 99% in 2020. Obviously, coronavirus will have played a significant part; but BREXIT looms large. The EU labour pool traditionally drawn upon will not be so easily available once the new points-based immigration system is introduced.
Of course, there will be new opportunity too, so now is the time to be planning – many predict a skills shortage. Sectors of particular concern include manufacturing, logistics and construction.
If you are not up to speed with the new points-based immigration system, talk to us to find out how it works. There are sponsoring licenses which take several weeks to obtain. Another strategy to consider is upskilling your existing workforce to help meet your recruitment needs and skills gaps. There are a number of interesting avenues to consider here.
First, you could look at skills training to cover specific functions. There’s a huge range of training courses available, including many eLearning courses from The HR Dept.
Another option is to look at the government’s Apprenticeship Scheme. This is not just for taking on new recruits. You can actually use it to upskill and retrain your existing workforce. Many SMEs can have the majority of training and assessment costs paid by the government, and for new hires there are further financial incentives.
Another attractive option right now is the Kick Start Scheme, introduced to counter some of the economic impact of coronavirus. This sees the government pay national minimum/living wage for new job placements aged 16-24, for 25 hours per week for six months, as well as other employment costs. What a great way to introduce the necessary skills into your business!
For advice on your people planning in 2021, contact us.
Christmas is a busy time in retail in the best of years. In 2020 though, recognising the pent-up demand following lockdowns, the government has allowed councils to temporarily relax opening hour restrictions for shops in England (up to 24-hour shopping). Shoppers get more opportunity to buy presents whilst adhering to social distancing. Businesses, meanwhile, have the chance to catch up on sales targets if they wish.
But despite the relaxation in one set of rules, note that working hour regulations still apply. This means that staff cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average unless they agree to opt out. One solution turned to each year to deal with extra demand is seasonal workers. If you do this, it is essential to have contracts in place for them when they start.
Although 24-hour shopping has not been announced in Scotland or Wales, it’s still important to review your Christmas staffing situation if you’re based in these areas.
National minimum wage to increase
A significant change to the national minimum wage (NMW) was announced in November: Next April, the full national living wage will become available to 23- and 24-year olds. Previously, it was only available to those aged 25 and older. The rate is increasing too, by 2.2% to £8.91 per hour.
For those aged 21 and 22 the NMW will go up to £8.36. For 18- and 20-year olds it will be £6.56 and for 16- and 17-year olds it will be £4.62. The apprentice rate rises to £4.30. While good news for low paid workers, ensure you budget for the increases to payroll from 1 April 2021.
People Matter November 2020
Vicarious liability during COVID restrictions
What do lockdown restrictions and the huge shift to homeworking mean for employer liability when an employee does wrong? The technical term is vicarious liability, and it still applies even though employees may not be as visible.
Particular risks include: a GDPR data loss as work is done in environments and on equipment over which you have less control but for which you are still responsible; and a health and safety breach if you haven’t properly managed the safety risks to staff working at home. There are also new risks to take account of, even if you are still operating from the office: for example, if staff wilfully ignored a requirement for self-isolation, thus exposing colleagues to risk of infection.
The starting point for managing these is having robust policies and thorough risk assessments. These will help you put the systems in place to manage risk, and the frameworks to deal with the fallout should a risk turn to reality. It is also essential to communicate these effectively to employees. Indeed, in the case of home working, each employee should be involved in their own risk assessment.
A key test of vicarious liability is whether the wrongdoing was done whilst acting in the ordinary course of employment, so it is helpful to keep this in mind when devising policies and risk assessments.
With all the lockdown rules, there is more of a blurring of the borderlines between when something is a work matter or a private one. If an employee breaks a household mixing rule, for example, should the employer get involved?
With Christmas round the corner, and sadly lots of redundancies, pre-empting rule breakers by setting up virtual social events and leaving dos could be a useful tactic.
If rules are broken, each case should be taken on its own merits. If the action brings the employer into disrepute or risks the health of others, then it is likely to be appropriate to follow your disciplinary procedures with gross misconduct a possible outcome.
Do be careful, though, to conduct a thorough investigation: what appears to be an open-and-shut case may not be as straightforward as it seems. There could be mitigating circumstances, and there are exceptions to lockdown rules that touch on sensitive subjects like private health issues and domestic violence.
If you are concerned, contact us.
Are you prepared for the points-based immigration system?
It took a global pandemic to shift Brexit from the daily headlines, but it hasn’t altered the fact that our transition period for leaving the EU ends on 31 December. Of particular note to employers is the new points-based immigration system. If you will be recruiting from overseas, you may need to act now as it takes time to follow the procedure.
The new rules see points awarded for specific skills, salaries, professions, qualifications and attributes. There is a salary threshold of £25,600 (or the going rate for that profession if higher) for skilled workers who have a job offer; and a lower salary threshold of £20,480 for shortage occupations or if a migrant has a PhD relevant to the job (effectively trading points on specific characteristics against their salary). There is no general route to recruit at, or near, the minimum wage. However, there are a number of pathways for special cases, including graduates and sports people among others.
However, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, there was a drop of 46% in the number of new visas and permits issued by OECD countries in the first half of 2020. So the fear is that, just as UK businesses look globally for talent it dries up, thanks to restrictions on international travel caused by the pandemic.
If you don’t already have a sponsoring licence, applying for one is the first step for recruiting overseas. The government is advising that it takes eight weeks to process the application, so if you want to recruit in early 2021 it really is important to act now.
Managing whistleblowing during coronavirus
While there are some things businesses are being given a free pass on during coronavirus, whistleblowing is not one of them. This is when an employee raises a concern that’s in the public interest which they’ve witnessed at work, known as a protected disclosure. It could be a criminal offence, a health and safety breach or a cover up, among a few other specific types of complaint.
The pandemic has heightened risk in this area, with new factors to fall foul of: like COVID-security and furlough wrongdoing, combined with disrupted lines of communication making it more difficult to follow processes.
To avoid further problems, such as unfair dismissal, it remains important to understand the procedure that must be followed, and the protections that whistle-blowers enjoy. If a member of staff raises a concern which qualifies as a protected disclosure, or you are unsure, talk to your local HR Dept for advice.
The rules of extended furlough
Unsurprisingly, the news of further lockdown measures was accompanied by details of an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It will now run until March 2021 and will replace other scheduled initiatives such as the Job Retention Bonus.
The extended scheme is more generous for employers than the latter months of the previous furlough scheme, with a return to 80% of wages subsidised, up to £2,500 per month. Only pension contributions and National Insurance costs are borne by the employer. Note that this may be reviewed for February and March.
Flexible furlough, where employees can work some part-time hours and benefit from the scheme proportionately, is still allowed.
An important change to note is that from December employers cannot claim for furloughed employees serving a contractual or statutory notice period. This includes employees serving notice of resignation or retirement.
If this extension means you wish to rehire employees you made redundant, or halt redundancy proceedings, please contact us for advice.
Top tips to keep your virtual business inclusive
Progress in workplace inclusivity is one thing at risk during the new normal. Many of the cues of the physical environment are just not available right now.
However, in our virtual world of Zoom, Teams and other digital platforms we get the chance to come up with new ways of fostering inclusivity by pressing the reset button on the etiquette of meetings.
For example, introduce a facilitator to ensure all voices are heard – not just the extroverts or people with power; invite people to tag their preferred name on their profile; take the opportunity to better read non-verbal signals in gallery view; and get people who may not normally feature in a meeting to participate, like a customer representative.
Some platforms even offer automatic closed captioning which can help those with hearing impairments or who speak in a non-native language. There is much more available too, so think creatively and don’t let inclusivity slide. It will help your company benefit from better engagement, better decision making and improved mental health amongst your team.
Powerful small acts of kindness
Did you hear about the French florist and care workers? Like many businesses around the world she was forced to close during the latest lockdowns. Faced with having to throw out her stock, she decided to place free bouquets on cars at a local hospital instead.
It’s just one demonstration of the sense of community spirit and togetherness which has been strengthened by the pandemic. When she reopens her shop hopefully she will have some new customers. It’s worth keeping an eye out for small acts of kindness amongst your team, as well as opportunities to be kind yourself. They’re often good for both the giver and recipient, one way or another.
People Matter October 2020
Employees, cyber-attacks and data protection
As working from home becomes the norm, email has become an even more important method of communication for many UK employees. Email volumes have increased by 34% this year and, inevitably, cybercriminals have smelled an opportunity.
More than a fifth of UK employees have received a COVID-themed phishing email, and that is only the percentage who recognised and reported it. Although you have probably given your employees a good grounding in email security, you need to be extra vigilant at the moment.
Employees working remotely may not have as easy access to IT support to cast an eye over suspicious emails, and the extra distractions that come with home working can lead to carelessness. Scammers will also take advantage of the sense of panic surrounding the pandemic to trick employees into giving up sensitive information. (It’s an emergency, after all).
Teaching your employees to spot the tell-tale signs of phishing could prevent significant damage to your company, and will also spare the employee the stress and embarrassment of falling for a scam. It could also help them avoid damaging and distracting scams in their personal life which affect their performance at work.
Remote working also raises issues of data protection. GDPR laws can be unforgiving and they apply to your employees wherever they are working. You should make it clear to your remote staff that they must handle personal data with the same care as they would in the office. This month H&M was fined 35 million euros for breaching GDPR, demonstrating just how harsh the punishments can be.
GDPR also applies to any data you collect for NHS Test and Trace. You are allowed to ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms, but you should only store this information if strictly necessary. You should tell employees exactly what information you have, and delete it as soon as it has served its specified purpose.
If you have any questions about data protection laws, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Love is not in the air
With half the UK workforce now working from home, have we seen the end of the office romance?
The office has always played a prominent role in dating, with 10% of married couples in the UK meeting at work. In a competitive job market there is more pressure than ever to put in extra hours at the office, meaning the workplace relationships are the most realistic option for many. While online dating has grown in popularity, many people prefer the security of getting to know someone slowly in a neutral environment.
This has all changed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Although it’s easy enough for employees to stay in touch, nobody wants to flirt on a Zoom call. This comes at a time when anxieties about office romances are already high. The #MeToo movement raised many questions about workplace relationships, especially between employers and their staff.
With differing opinions on what is appropriate, many companies are erring on the side of caution. Last year, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was sacked for not disclosing workplace relationships. Prominent New York investment firm BlackRock recently extended its office romance policy to include “external partners” as well as immediate colleagues. This means that employees must now disclose relationships with anyone linked to the company – potentially hundreds of thousands of people if you include suppliers and clients.
A clear policy on workplace relationships is important for preventing harassment, but take care not to go too far. Policing consensual office romances will only force staff to live in secrecy, creating resentment and damaging morale.
For advice on striking the right balance, give us a call.
A recap on government support schemes
*This article was published prior to the announcement of the extended furlough scheme. The scheme is now due to end in March 2021. Contact us if you have questions*.
The furlough scheme has been winding down since August, and this month it comes to an end. While this will mean a significant loss of support for many, the government has introduced several new schemes.
Starting on 1 November, the Job Support Scheme will run for six months. It is designed to protect viable jobs over the winter and will pay a third of hours not worked. A minimum of 33% of hours must still be worked and paid normally. You and the employee split the rest. From next February, you may also be able to claim a Job Retention Bonus of £1,000 for every furloughed employee that you kept continuously employed until January 2021.
Then there is the Kickstart Scheme, which will provide funding to create new jobs for 16-24-year olds. The HR Dept can help you set this up, so get in touch for more details.
Rise in tribunal claims due to COVID-19
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to disrupt the working world, employment tribunal claims have risen sharply. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has reported an 18% increase in claims between April and June, and the outstanding caseload has risen by 31%. The MoJ has been quick to tie this increase to the outbreak, in particular unemployment and changes to working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many employees losing their jobs unexpectedly and being unable to secure new work, it is unsurprising that unfair dismissal claims have shot up. With the end of the job retention scheme rapidly approaching, claims are likely to increase further.
As an employer, you may have some tough decisions ahead. While redundancies might be unpalatable, they may become unavoidable. But it is vital that you follow fair redundancy procedures to the letter in order to avoid becoming another tribunal statistic yourself.
The HR Dept can support you with these procedures, find out more about our monthly advice line offering.
Understanding mental health
A recent report by the Centre for Mental Health estimates that an additional 500,000 people will experience poor mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These odds suggest that one or more of your employees may be among their number. We’re sure that you’ll want to be there for your staff.
Take the time to understand what poor mental health means and how it can manifest itself. Be mindful that there may be extra triggers caused by the pandemic, including bereavement, the trauma of serious illness and financial worries to name just three.
Encouraging staff to take their breaks for a breath of fresh air and training up a mental health first aider for the team can help. Speak to our Health and Safety team for advice.
It is also important that mental health doesn’t become a barrier to career progression. A recent poll showed that a quarter of staff with mental health problems found it to be a professional hindrance. Even if you wouldn’t actively discriminate against these employees, be wary of any unconscious bias when making career decisions.
If you’re happy and you know it, please apply
People are often too quick to complain about “political correctness gone mad”, but in this case they might have a point. The owner of a Gloucestershire hair salon was recently contacted by the DWP after she advertised for a “happy” hairdresser.
The DWP told her to remove the adjective as it could be seen as discriminatory towards unhappy people. Although clearly ridiculous and the DWP later apologised, it highlights the care needed when advertising for staff. It’s always a good idea to have your adverts checked by a professional to avoid any genuine accusations of discrimination as defined by the Equality Act 2010.
People Matter September 2020
Red tape or social change?
Running a business is stressful, and keeping up with the latest employment law can sometimes seem overwhelming. However, employment law is a pillar of a fair and successful workplace, and employers and employees alike would be in big trouble without it.
Change is in the air at the moment, with movements like BLM and #Metoo putting injustice and inequality firmly on the agenda; not to mention the disruption caused by coronavirus. We don’t have a crystal ball, but there is a constant stream of proposals from all kinds of sources that give clues as to what might be introduced down the line.
For example, you may have heard that London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has announced his support for mandatory drug testing at larger companies. Under the controversial proposal, if you have over 250 employees you would be required to carry out regular drug tests and publish the results. The aim would not be to punish individual employees, but to tackle white collar drug culture. Bailey believes that this would reduce violence in the capital and elsewhere by cutting off a major income source for organised criminals.
Like most employers, we’re sure you are eager to see all staff treated fairly and humanely. Sadly, not all businesses are as caring. In the coming months, you can expect to see an expansion of modern slavery laws spearheaded by Home Secretary Priti Patel. This comes after the recent scandal surrounding working conditions at fast fashion factories in Leicester. She has pledged increased government powers to raid and shut down exploitative workplaces.
While new employment laws may sometimes seem extreme, it is worth remembering that many of the rights and freedoms we take for granted are, in fact, relatively recent and hard-won additions to workplace legislation.
The National Minimum Wage, The Equality Act, and the introduction of shared parental leave all seemed revolutionary at first, but are broadly accepted now. History has shown us that, by adopting progressive policies early, you are likely to see long term benefits both to your company image and to your workplace productivity.
Support for working parents
September is back to school month but, as with everything in 2020, things are a bit different this year.
The end of the school holidays usually means an easing of pressure on working parents, with less juggling of work and childcare. This year, though, things are more complicated. Although schools are reopening, some working parents will feel anxious about their children’s safety. These employees may struggle to focus and will need additional support and understanding.
Nothing is certain at the moment: whole school year groups being sent home because of an outbreak is a possibility, a probability even. This means that working parents may be forced to resume childcare duties at short notice.
It is out of everyone’s hands so planning is a must if you want operations to run smoothly.
Build on any flexible working patterns you have introduced, and be ready to have people working from home again – and not just the parents, as who knows what comes next!
As we saw when a Sky News reporter was forced to conduct biscuit negotiations with a young child live on air, interruptions by children are part and parcel of home working. A positive culture will help everyone deal with this. Better still, get the processes down in a working parent’s policy. This way everyone knows where they stand and has a framework to fall back on.
As we have highlighted throughout the pandemic, it is also worth considering the ways in which you can support your employees’ mental health – whether it is just being aware of the issue and factoring it into your management style or offering tangible support through an employee assistance programme.
For help writing a working parent’s policy and other management techniques, get in touch.
Recruiting after redundancies
Sadly, redundancies have been all too common following the economic fallout of COVID-19. They should only ever be a last resort, but what happens if you need to rehire after making redundancies? After all, events are moving so fast.
There’s no legally-mandated waiting period for rehiring – even taking back the same people. However, proceed with caution. Should someone make an unfair dismissal challenge at tribunal, the court will look at the whole redundancy process up until termination. There are many technical points to get right, and also, the economic uplift that prompted your renewed hiring must be proved to have happened after the termination date.
We’d advise exploring all options before making redundancies, including flexible working and finding alternative roles. If you go ahead, accept that it’s a fluid situation and if things improve before redundancy completes, review the decisions made. Keep in mind that you need to be able to prove redundancy was genuine right through the process. This will give you maximum flexibility going forwards. We’d highly recommend taking advice, so do contact us if you are considering redundancies.
27,000 “high-risk” furlough claims to be investigated by HMRC
It has been revealed by HMRC chief executive Jim Harra that up to £3.5 billion may have been paid out incorrectly through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The scheme, which is due to come to an end next month, was set up to keep people employed throughout the pandemic. Around 9.6 million people have been furloughed through the scheme since it began in March.
HMRC has previously said that it will crack-down on fraudulent claims, with arrests being made for the most severe. It was reported earlier this month that a company director and accountant were arrested over suspected furlough fraud reaching £70,000.
A further 27,000 claims have been deemed “high-risk”. Employers identified can expect to be contacted by the end of November. Those which believe they may have made a genuine mistake should contact HMRC for a chance to make things right. Failure to do so could lead to a criminal investigation.
Pensions play a part in financial well-being
The Pensions Regulator is stepping up its enforcement of compulsory pension contributions from employers. The body had temporarily relaxed its efforts, reducing its enforcement capability by 55% between April and June and issuing six times fewer fixed penalty notices.
While times have been unbelievably tough for many businesses, there are strict legal obligations relating to pension contributions, especially since auto-enrolment was introduced. One report estimated 800,000 UK workers were losing out on employer pension contributions which were due at the height of the pandemic.
If you have fallen behind with your pension contributions, now’s the time to get your house in order. It’s not just about covering yourself legally as The Pensions Regulator steps up enforcement. Pensions are a key aspect of financial well-being, and employees who feel confident about the future are more likely to be happy and productive at work.
For advice on pension contribution, or any other payroll issues, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Socially distanced team building
As staff continue to work from home, maintaining a sense of team spirit is more important than ever.
Just because your employees are spread out doesn’t mean that you can’t take part in team building activities. Team building can be essential for happiness and productivity and, with a little creativity, there’s no reason it has to stop.
A quick Google will show that it’s easy to turn the team into crime scene investigators or codebreakers for an afternoon. You could even organize an escape room via Zoom. Whatever direction you choose to go, there are plenty of ways to bring your team together whilst keeping them apart.
People Matter August 2020
Are you prepared for a local lockdown?
In recent weeks the government has implemented targeted local lockdowns in areas showing signs of a spike in the spread of coronavirus. While this is preferable to a second national lockdown, it can still be extremely disruptive to your business. Your best strategy is to put plans in place now for dealing with a local lockdown.
Keep an eye on the national situation. The introduction of lockdown measures in the north of England with less than a day’s notice shows how quickly things can change. Even if there is no lockdown in your area, your supply chains may be affected.
Planning and communication are key. Come up with a flexible crisis management plan that sets out how you can keep your business operational with reduced staff. The national lockdown should have given you a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t, so you should try to replicate the more successful aspects of your response. If your employees can work from home, it might be a good idea to keep them there for now. This prevents the double disruption of employees returning to the office only to be sent home again.
If appropriate, re-furloughing some of your staff may be an option. Bear in mind that the furlough rules have become more restrictive, and will continue doing so until the scheme ends in October.
Take this opportunity to review your staff contracts. When hiring new staff, consider a contract that gives you more flexibility. This could include a clause to allow lay-offs, requiring employees to take holiday at shorter notice than Working Time Regulation rules, or transferring staff to another site. Changing existing contracts would require consultation if you need to implement these modifications for current staff as well.
Do remember also that quarantine guidelines are still in place. Those returning from some holiday destinations such as France and Spain already have to quarantine and more countries may be added to the list. With the introduction of the Test and Trace initiative, you should expect some of your staff might also have to be quarantined in the coming weeks.
Amid this ongoing disruption, employee well-being is more important than ever. You should continue to check in regularly with remote employees, and make an effort to keep everyone in the loop about upcoming changes.
If you are unsure about contract changes or staffing procedures during a local lockdown, we can help.
Weighing in on fitness
The government has revealed its Better Health strategy, aimed at improving the nation’s fitness after the ‘wakeup call’ of COVID-19. The ambitious plan includes a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm, more accurate labelling of food in restaurants, and the option for GPs to prescribe exercise for overweight patients.
But what is your duty as an employer? While companies in China and Sweden have enforced mandatory workplace exercise, the UK has been more resistant to such authoritarian measures. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore your employees’ health altogether though. A healthy lifestyle has been proven to increase workplace productivity, and good health can boost natural immunity, saving you significant amounts in sick pay.
When discussing fitness with employees, it is important to be tactful. It goes without saying that you should never single out an individual as an example of poor health, but you should also beware of generalisations that could be inadvertently upsetting. Avoid equating obesity with laziness, as some people are overweight through no fault of their own. Handle such conversations clumsily and you could cause ill feeling or expose yourself to the risk of an expensive discrimination case at tribunal.
An easy first step – which aligns with the government’s push for cycling – would be to take advantage of the Cycle to Work scheme. This allows you to loan bikes and other cycling equipment to your employees which they repay tax free over time. As well as improving employee fitness, this could eliminate some of the stress of the rush hour commute.
If you do decide to introduce on-site exercise, remember to keep everyone socially-distanced and COVID-safe.
Are you up to date with the furlough scheme?
The furlough scheme has been a lifeline for many employers and employees, but it has not been easy to understand.
As the scheme begins to wind down, you will be expected to contribute more towards your furloughed employees’ wages if you continue using it. As of 1 August, you should be paying National Insurance and pension contributions for furloughed employees. From 1 September you will also be required to pay 10% of furloughed employees’ wages, increasing to 20% on 1 October.
Confusing as they are, it is your responsibility as an employer to stay up-to-date with the latest rules. Official reports show that furlough fraud has increased 53%. HMRC recognises mistakes will be made but has made it clear that it takes abuse of the scheme very seriously. If you have any doubts about your compliance, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Dodging the worker status trap
Courier service City Sprint has just lost a third tribunal relating to worker status. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain successfully argued that the company had misclassified employees as independent contractors when they should be treated as workers.
As you’ll probably be aware, this is the latest in a long line of cases involving the legal status of gig economy workers. A Supreme Court case against Uber is ongoing, with drivers arguing that they shouldn’t be classed as self-employed. If they are successful, they will be entitled to minimum wage and sick pay, forcing Uber to overhaul its entire business model.
This issue is not going away, and while the gig economy has its place, it shouldn’t be used to undermine workers’ rights. Worker status is a complex area of employment law. If you have any questions about the status of those who work for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Power in positivity and presence
The COVID-19 outbreak has made us wary of viral contagion, but what about emotional contagion?
Research shows that negativity can be just as infectious as germs. If left unchecked, it can cause an office-wide outbreak of low morale.
Humans are intensely social, and our feelings are greatly affected by the feelings of others. If somebody in the office demonstrates a persistently low mood, it will soon rub off on everyone else. This can be made even worse by co-rumination – the constant discussion of problems without reaching a solution. Co-rumination can poison the atmosphere of a workplace, leaving your staff feeling unmotivated and hopeless.
So what can you do to turn things around? The answer is also an evolutionary one. When trying to calibrate our emotions, humans will naturally look to a leader for guidance. By coming into work every day looking happy and energised, you can trigger a shift in perspective, “infecting” the entire office with your positive vibes.
Good clean fun
With cleaning high on the agenda as shops and workplaces reopen, some companies are trying a new approach. Tesco has shifted cleaning responsibilities from contractors to floor staff, reporting improved levels of hygiene as a result.
Although effective cleaning takes skill and care, for some it still comes with a certain stigma. That said, other staff will take pride in it, especially if it is used as an excuse for some friendly competition and team building.
Be wary of contractual issues around changing job roles though, including TUPE if taking cleaning in-house. If you can do it, provide proper training, never ask staff to do something you wouldn’t do yourself and ensure that cleaning tasks are allocated without discrimination.
People Matter July 2020
As the nation enters a new phase of its COVID-19 response, you are probably wondering what the coming months have in store for your business. New resources have been made available to employers, but some are complex. Planning ahead is essential, so let’s take a look at a few of the changes coming your way.
In his recent mini-budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his Plan for Jobs, a comprehensive package designed to encourage the return of furloughed workers, whilst also creating new jobs for the unemployed. Employers who reinstate furloughed workers will be eligible for a Job Retention Bonus of £1,000 for each returning worker, as long as they are continuously employed until next January.
A Kickstart scheme has also been introduced with the aim of creating jobs for young people. If you create a new job for a 16-24-year-old, the government will pay their wages for the first six months.
Both schemes are subject to fairly complex conditions, so do ask us for guidance.
We were vocal about the need for more flexibility in the furlough scheme. The government listened and the scheme will now encourage a phased return to work. It will allow people to work part time for some of their hours and be furloughed with government support for their remaining contracted hours.
Do remember that HMRC will take back furlough payments if they discover that furloughed employees have been working when they should have been absent.
Not all workforce planning will centre around government schemes though. A recent study revealed that a large proportion of UK employees believe that a mixture of home and office working is preferable after COVID-19. And many employers will be far more open to the idea now too. While the perfect balance between the two remains to be seen, clear communication between you and your staff will be essential to find the best way forward.
If you favour a home working approach, care must be taken every step of the way. Some staff may relish it but some may privately struggle. While your initial focus may be on productivity and compliance, do bake-in employee well-being to your home working framework.
Get in touch if you require help with any of the above.
Clarification on CJRS
Like many employers, you might be concerned by a recent Telegraph article which suggests that furlough money must be paid back if you make an employee redundant. This is not true, but it does illustrate how confusing the furlough scheme can be.
The article came after a change in the wording of the official guidance for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which now states that furlough money must be “used by the employer to continue the employment of employees.”
HMRC were quick to respond to the article, clarifying that the new wording is only meant to set out the intended purpose of the scheme. Employees remain eligible for the CJRS while on their statutory and contractual notice period. You couldn’t, however, use it to fund pay in lieu of notice or statutory redundancy payments.
With so much technical knowledge needed to grasp the ins and outs of the CJRS, simply going by what the papers say is unadvisable. Talk to us for expert advice.
Safe handling of test and trace data
As UK shops and businesses begin to reopen, the challenging landscape is there for all to see. As well as the implementation of safety measures, you also need to think about how you keep customer and employee data.
Recent government guidelines encourage businesses to record the names and contact details of customers and visitors for use by the NHS Test and Trace team. Although this is voluntary, the government has stressed its importance in the fight against COVID-19.
As you know, data usage is heavily controlled by GDPR. It is paramount that you store personal data of staff and customers in a compliant way, and that you make sure your staff are up to date on GDPR best practice.
In a recent case in New Zealand, a customer was harassed via social media after providing her details to a fast food restaurant. This was unsurprisingly a PR disaster for the company, showing just how important it is to make sure your staff understand the rules.
The Information Commissioner’s Office gives a good general steer on this. You must only collect necessary information and you should be honest with your customers about its intended use. Data must be stored securely and must not be used for any commercial purpose such as signing up a customer for marketing emails. All data must be securely erased after 21 days when it is of no further use for NHS contact tracing purposes.
As well as collecting customer data, also ensure that your employee contact details are up to date. Again, it is your responsibility to store this information in compliance with GDPR. If your business introduces new measures such as employee temperature testing, be mindful of the GDPR impact because it is very likely there will be one. Ask us for advice if you are unsure.
Many businesses hire contractors for flexibility, or bring in an expert on certain jobs that don’t require a full-time hire.
IR35 legislation has been in place for years to ensure that contractors pay appropriate tax. The IR35 provision was due to become more robust in April, with medium and large businesses being made responsible for setting the tax status of outside contractors.
These changes were delayed due to COVID-19, but a recent motion to push them further back has been defeated in the House of Commons. So it’s likely the changes to IR35 will come into effect next April.
This rule is already in place for the public sector and when it was introduced there were some kneejerk reactions, such as, in some cases, blanket bans on contractors.
If you will be affected you do now have more time to plan, so there’s no need for last minute decisions. And if you will not be affected yet it is perhaps a sign of which way the wind is blowing. IR35 concerns employment status which can be complex, for advice on this don’t hesitate to get in touch.
How has coronavirus changed the “lunch break”?
Wolfing down a sandwich in front of the computer was the norm for lunch in many offices before the outbreak, despite strict rules about minimum break times. Now with many working from home, their kitchens tantalisingly close, workers are rediscovering the joys of a proper lunch break.
The benefits are clear. Research shows that taking a rest can increase productivity by giving your brain time to unwind. Your mind will continue to work on problems in the background, giving you fresh ideas for tackling challenges when you return to work.
As we come out of lockdown, will we find our eating habits have changed? The working lunch may be a thing of the past with dining out limited to bubbles. And while some are eating healthier to improve their immunity, others are reaching for the biscuits to help cope with the stress. Which one are you? There’s something to think about on your lunch break.
A prime example of going the extra mile
An Amazon delivery driver has achieved worldwide fame after a hidden camera recorded her going the extra mile for a young customer. A mischievous Delaware child added some additional instructions to his family’s order, asking the Amazon driver to “knock on the door three times and scream abracadabra as loud as you can and run super fast away.” The driver dutifully obeyed, making the boy’s day and cheering up most of the Internet in the process.
Attention to detail and caring about the work are hallmarks of superstar employees. Make sure you acknowledge and encourage them when they go the extra mile. As the face of your business, now’s more important than ever to do so.
People Matter June 2020
Managing remote redundancies
Redundancies are on the rise. They are also beset with issues not experienced before, such as how should they be conducted during the lockdown?
We must stress from the outset that there is a proper process that must always be followed and documented. Make technical errors in this process and you could be hit with unfair dismissal claims. These can be expensive with up to 52 weeks’ gross pay being awarded.
Talk to us if you need support managing the process. Key pitfalls to be wary of include not having the correct selection pools, not consulting early enough, not adhering to consultation timescales and finally, selection criteria which discriminates against anyone with a protected characteristic.
These would be equally relevant during normal times, but what is different right now is how you deliver the news. Many companies have been turning to video calls.
There is no legal barrier to doing this, but you need to be mindful of how you use platforms like Zoom. One story told on BBC News featured a lady in America who was made redundant in a group call with 15 other people which she found difficult to deal with. She felt it led to her failing to ask important questions. This would not be permitted in the UK where employees have a right to individual consultation.
Assuming you are using the technology legally and following the correct processes, then we come on to the human touch. For example, we would advise never to do this on a Friday. The person hearing the news tends to not take all the details in and will later have many questions. How will they pay the mortgage? Etc. If it’s done on a Friday, there is usually no one available for two days to answer these questions.
Before making the call think about the person. Do they live alone? Are they shielding? What support can you give them?
You probably already know that video calls can be awkward, so factor this into your approach. There are fewer cues available to pick up on body language than in a face-to-face meeting. Yet it is harder for people to hide if they are upset than during a telephone call. There is also greater potential for embarrassing interruptions, or poorly timed screen freezing or lags.
If you have followed the correct processes it will not be a total surprise when you formally tell them they are being made redundant. Consultation calls exploring the options will have already taken place and this will have given them some chance to process the situation. This should help, but still take care to deliver the news sensitively. Providing outplacement support even if it is just helping to write their CV will make a world of difference to them and make the process less stressful for you.
With a sad inevitability, there are reports that employer abuse of the government’s furlough scheme is rife. Two whistle-blower charities have said they have received numerous calls from employees being coerced into breaking the law by being asked to work while furloughed. Up to 14th June, HMRC said it had received 3,079 complaints from the public.
Then there is the other side of the coin. Employees, with a compulsion towards presenteeism, surreptitiously working whilst furloughed.
Presenteeism was already a problem before COVID-19, and the increase in remote working has exacerbated it. Canada Life surveyed Brits working remotely during the crisis and found many had continued to work through illness – 40% said they did not feel ill enough to justify a day off, 26% said their workload was too great and 16% cited a fear of redundancy.
HR and people management can help. It calls for clear leadership in explaining the boundaries of both furlough rules and remote working. While a good work ethic is a desirable quality, try being a role model for switching-off too.
A contact tracer called
You are probably familiar with the government’s 25,000 strong army of contact tracers. They are tasked with tracking down people who’ve been in close proximity with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19.
If identified, your employees may be instructed to directly self-isolate, or find themselves caring for family members who are affected. As has been the case since the early days of this crisis, nothing should get in the way of their doing so in order to break the chain of transmission of the virus.
This means that they are eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from day one of illness or isolation. Depending on circumstances, you or they may find it preferable for them to continue working remotely or take holiday leave.
Of course, it’s possible that a swathe of your workforce may be asked to self-isolate at once: especially if it’s another of your team who has tested positive. This would be sure to challenge management.
How would your business be staffed? It is a question best thought about in advance. The key measure of close proximity is whether people were closer than the current recommended distance for more than 15 minutes. So you may be able to reduce the impact of self-isolation on your business with careful planning which takes this into consideration.
You will, where possible, be enforcing social distancing anyway. Can you also divide your team into smaller units (or bubbles to use the government’s term)? These could work onsite on alternate days or in clearly demarked areas, for instance. This would both contribute towards combating the spread of the virus, and lower the risk of your whole workforce being asked to self-isolate at once. For help designing effective back-to-work policies for your business, get in touch.
A £23,000 email
Even if you consider you have good reason to sack someone, it’s essential to follow Acas guidelines. And be especially wary about taking such action when they have a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
A law firm found this out to the cost of £23,000 when they dismissed a pregnant administrator just one week after she started her position. The employee was suffering from hyperemesis (severe nausea and vomiting) and had called in sick twice. On the day of the second absence she was dismissed in a lengthy email claiming that she was unreliable.
The judge agreed that this was a true reason and that the employer had taken more time to explain it in the email than was often the case. Nevertheless, they judged it was still unfair and discriminatory. Moreover, the firm did not follow the Acas process which would have included informing her there was a problem; giving her a right to discuss it; and carrying out an investigation. For this lack of fair procedure, the award was uplifted by 20%.
Are you compliant with the Good Work Plan?
Don’t forget, the biggest changes to employment law in 20 years were introduced in April. Doubtless, like everyone else, you’ve had other matters to deal with. Nonetheless the new legislation is in operation. It affects several areas starting at the very beginning of working relationships.
That’s because rather than having eight weeks to provide a written statement of employment particulars, you now have to do it on day one. This is normally done via the employment contract. However, these details must now be provided for those with worker status too, as well as full employees. And there are more of them than you have had to provide before.
Other changes include new ways to calculate holiday pay for those who work irregular hours (this may have a bearing in calculating redundancy pay); an end to the Swedish derogation, which may affect you if you use agency workers; and the introduction of the right to parental bereavement leave and pay. Get in touch for a contract review.
“Where’s my stapler?”
As we rang in the New Year, who’d have thought that borrowing a colleague’s pen could be regarded as a danger to life. But that is the “new normal”. So as employees return from furlough or home working, communal stationery will be a thing of the past in many workplaces. We’ll all be pedantically Tipp-Exing our names onto staplers like Gareth from The Office.
In Australia (a few weeks ahead of us in coming out of lockdown), office suppliers are already reporting spikes in sales as individual equipment ranging from label makers to mini fridges are purchased for each team member. Is this the way forward for your workplace? Or is it a step too far?
People Matter May 2020
Getting back to business
More changes for businesses are afoot in the UK government’s plans to ease lockdown restrictions. There’s a lot to digest but we’ll highlight the key points and what steps you need to take to ensure you’re ready for the next phase.
The UK government has produced guidance to help companies reopen as safely as possible. These eight workplace-specific guides detail the measures you need to have in place to minimise the risk of infection spreading. You may operate in a number of different types of workplace, so make sure you familiarise yourself with all relevant guides.
Common to all businesses is the requirement to undertake a Coronavirus-specific risk assessment before your employees return to work. Ensure that this is done in collaboration with all departments in your organisation for a holistic solution. Get in touch if you need help with policy writing. The requirements for social distancing and PPE may present some practical health and safety difficulties for you. So consider getting advice from our sister company – The HS Dept – to ensure you do this well.
The new guidance specifies that vulnerable workers be put in the “safest possible roles” if they can’t work from home. If this requires a change of role, you need to follow standard HR procedures and consult with any affected employee. Your workforce has rights which are protected by their employment contracts, health and safety legislation and the Equality Act. It is essential to consider these before you introduce any changes to remuneration or working hours.
Though the focus is shifting to a return to work, some employees may still be working from home, and it’s important that you don’t lose sight of their needs. Regular communication is key to addressing any issues before they escalate and the time and effort involved are well worth it.
Balancing the pressure to get back to business whilst keeping your employees safe is not easy. But don’t forget, you have a duty of care to your employees and employment law obligations. We are here if you need any advice, so get in touch.
Updates to the Furlough Scheme
It will be a relief to many businesses that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of October. If you are using the scheme, this means that your furloughed workers can continue to receive 80% of their current salary, up to £2,500 if necessary.
Some new flexibility will be introduced from the beginning of August in an attempt to boost the economy. Furloughed workers who are able to, can return to work on a part-time basis, which many businesses will welcome.
One cost we must flag to you is that, from August, you will be expected to pay a percentage of furlough pay, replacing some of the government’s current contribution.
The government will provide more information by the end of May, and is exploring further opportunities for furloughed staff to access training. We’ll continue to keep you updated, but do get in touch if you have any questions.
Dealing with grief in the workplace
Sadly, many people are now grieving the loss of loved ones due to Covid-19. Helping the bereaved can seem daunting and, if any of your employees are in this position, you may be wondering how best to help.
The Good Grief Trust website is a good starting point, with a host of resources for the bereaved. An Employee Assistance programme, if you have one in place, can offer counselling and other practical support. And though there is no statutory bereavement leave other than for dependent children, we’d recommend offering a few days paid leave if your employee needs to make arrangements.
Ensure that anyone who has lost someone, yet appears to be coping fine, doesn’t fall through the net. Being open and communicative will give those grieving permission to act in an open and communicative way themselves, and is the healthiest approach you can foster in your workplace.
Prevention is key to managing workplace absence
Coronavirus-induced stress and working in lockdown is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation and LinkedIn found that more than half of HR leaders felt mental health issues like loneliness and stress had increased since Coronavirus hit our shores.
If it leads to your employees needing time off work, that will be detrimental to their well-being, costly to your business and increase pressure on those employees still working.
There are ways you can reduce the risk of this harming your business. Adopting and promoting a wellness policy that showcases good mental health practice will not only improve the health and resilience of your workforce but will also demonstrate your commitment to their well-being – a win-win!
So, here are some tips to help you get your wellness policy off the ground. Monitor when your remote workers are logging in and out. The boundaries between office and home are now blurred and many employees feel under pressure to be constantly available. Extra hours do not equate to better productivity and excessive hours increase the risk of burnout.
Encourage managers and colleagues to open up. You could try introducing virtual coffee breaks and keep reiterating the message that it’s good to talk. Realising that others are in similar positions will help everyone.
Advocate exercise. Its physical and mental health benefits cannot be overstated. Bear in mind though that not everybody likes sport; so it’s worth reminding your employees that anything active like gardening or a brisk walk can boost mental alertness, energy and positivity.
And keep ringing the bell for good hygiene. As the country starts to open up, this message is more important than ever.
Be reassured – investing in your employees’ mental and physical health now will pay dividends in the long term
Get ready for the UK’s points-based immigration system
From 1 January 2021, the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system. Under the new scheme, migrant workers will be required to have 70 “points” before they can apply for a visa to work in the UK. Points are assigned for specific skills, professions, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations such as nursing and civil engineering.
This constitutes a big change for employers and we advise that you start workforce planning now. To employ a skilled worker, you will need to be a Home Office approved sponsor and offer your candidate a specific job at the required skill level which could be time consuming. If your business relies on ‘low-skilled’ workers you need to ensure you aren’t left with a staff shortfall.
This is new territory, so if you need any clarification, do give us a call.
A zoom with a view
Zoom meetings are opening up our homes like never before! And don’t be fooled into thinking nobody cares where you’re working. The popular Twitter account “@ratemyskperoom” makes it crystal clear that people are interested and people are judging.
If you’re concerned that your room doesn’t make the grade, don’t panic. Download a selection of tasteful home backgrounds from Ikea to impress your most discerning colleagues. Or, if you fancy something more creative, the BBC has given access to 100 empty film sets. Why not host your next meeting from the Tardis? Probably best to avoid the Queen Vic though – people will talk.
People Matter April 2020
COVID-19: Summary of news for employers
With coronavirus-related regulation being brought in and amended on a daily basis, you could be forgiven for experiencing information overload, and struggling to decipher what’s relevant to you. So here’s a rundown of some of the headline information for business owners.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has continued to evolve since it was first announced. Most recently the scope has been widened to include any employee on your PAYE scheme on or before 19 March (previously it was 28 February). And you can now extend fixed-term contracts so those on them continue to be covered. People with caring responsibilities can now also be furloughed
Make sure poor admin doesn’t trip you up when using this scheme. A written and signed agreement with a furloughed employee, stating the date the furlough started, needs to be in place and kept for five years.
Short term sickness absence for self isolation is covered by Statutory Sick Pay but if there is a business reason to furlough an employee on sick leave they can be furloughed.
There has been a relaxation of the rules on annual leave. It is recognised that many staff will not have used their holiday entitlement and if they had to in the remaining year it would cause more problems for the business. The company can now agree to allow them to carry their statutory leave over into the next two leave years.
And then there’s the home working! With many more employees working remotely now, consider a home working policy to clarify expectations. Motivation may be an issue. Regular communication and video conferencing will encourage the maintenance of good working practices. Ensure your employees are fully equipped to do their jobs properly and that your data remains secure in remote environments.
It’s worth reminding employees of what constitutes good health and safety whilst they’re home working. Our e-learning modules can help you with this.
The uncertainty associated with this virus is having a big impact on mental health and well-being. Be understanding, keep communication flowing, advocate exercise and virtual socialising and share useful mental health support resources.
And remember, The HR Dept is here to give you a helping hand during this time, so get in touch for more information or support and visit our dedicated coronavirus HR hub for more information.
As you’ll know, and may be experiencing yourself, the coronavirus pandemic is leaving many people very worried about their finances.
If you’ve had to reduce hours or furlough staff, be sensitive to the impact this will have. And, if you are in a position to, try to reassure your employees that this is temporary. Although don’t commit to anything you can’t deliver.
Financial anxiety is exacerbated by lack of knowledge, so it’s worth signposting what resources are available at the moment. Some banks are offering delayed mortgage repayments, for example, which may ease current pressures.
Explain employee benefits such as statutory sick pay and highlight available support or counselling for debt either via your employee assistance programme or an external organisation like Citizens Advice.
Your employees will be grateful for any help you can offer at this difficult time.
Temporary relaxation of Right to Work checks
Acknowledging the difficulties employers face carrying out Right to Work checks in the current climate, the government has published temporary amendments to the required procedures.
The process has been made far easier for employers. As of 30 March 2020 you can conduct checks over video calls and accept emailed scanned documents in place of the originals. So, for clarity, you still need to check someone’s legitimacy to work (in the revised manner), and also be mindful of potential discrimination for those who are unable to provide documentation.
The government will announce when these measures will cease. At this point, full retrospective checks for those hired during this temporary period will be required.
Get in touch if you need any further help understanding what you need to do.
Stay up to date with important legislative changes
More elements of the Good Work Plan came into operation in April, with a raft of employment law changes. Reported as the largest upgrade to employment rights in two decades, there’s a lot to digest, but we can help get you up to speed with what you need to know.
We’ve been putting this on your radar for the last few months. But now the changes have arrived, it would be all too easy to miss them during the coronavirus pandemic.
A significant aim of the plan is to address the needs of the increasing number of ‘atypical’ workers and, as such, holiday pay calculations have been altered to better cover those with irregular working hours.
Improvements to agency workers’ rights with a move away from the Swedish derogation model is one to watch out for if you engage agency staff. Importantly, there are changes to contracts, which see the introduction of the day one right to a written employment contract (until now you had an eight-week grace period to provide this). Another noteworthy introduction is “Jack’s Law”, which sets down legislation around parental bereavement leave and pay.
You also need to be aware of the new wage rates applicable from April. The National Living Wage for the 25 and overs has increased from £8.21 to £8.72 an hour and the National Minimum Wage has also seen increases in all of its categories.
In a separate measure, to ease some of the pressure faced by employers in these unprecedented times, the Government Equalities Office has stated that employers will not have to report their gender pay gap data for this reporting year (2019/2020).
Get in touch if you’re looking for any further information or guidance on the above changes. Our experts will be happy to help.
Clarification on apprenticeships
Amidst the barrage of information about the impact of coronavirus on employers and employees, apprenticeships had been largely overlooked. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and the government has provided some much needed support and guidance for you and your apprentices.
Key measures include giving flexibility for furloughed apprentices to continue training, rescheduling or modifying end-point assessments where necessary and offering time extensions for assessments. The measures encourage training providers to deliver training to apprentices remotely, and via e-learning where practicable. They also explain how to record breaks in learning so as not to unnecessarily disrupt funding.
For those apprentices who have been made redundant, the government has stated its ambition to find alternative employment to continue their apprenticeship as soon as possible and within 12 weeks.
In these strange times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by bad news. So, let’s focus on the positive for a minute and consider what amazing developments may emerge from this situation.
Isaac Newton, forced into isolation in 1665 to avoid the Great Plague, developed his theories on calculus, optics and the laws of motion and gravity! Sometimes, a crisis and a bit of thinking time can lead to some world-changing advancements.
So, let’s all channel our inner entrepreneur and use this time wisely. Maybe an Einstein, Darwin or Tim Berners-Lee has just been waiting for this moment to change the world!
People Matter March 2020
Team building – All for one and one for all
You’ve only got to witness the recent panic buying to know that in times of crisis, self-preservation can alter people’s behaviour. And if a crisis skews behaviour in your organisation, it can damage relationships, team dynamics and company culture.
Promoting a resilient culture within your organisation where employees collaborate during good times and bad benefits both your employees and your business.
Building strong, committed teams doesn’t just happen. But it doesn’t have to involve an expensive day out of the office. It can be achieved over time through your company culture, although this means far more than a hackneyed mission statement on the wall.
It is things like encouraging idea-sharing and interaction, and fostering an atmosphere where your employees have the confidence to feed their opinions back to management. This can be supplemented with team building activities that promote working together and problem solving, in line with your budget of course. They will help forge a sense of inclusivity, shared identity and maybe even friendship.
You’re not looking for a workforce of carbon copy identikits. Celebrate difference and help employees to identify their own strengths and those of their colleagues.
From introverts to extroverts, right-brain thinkers to left-brainers, there’s a lot to be gained from a diverse team of people working together. For instance, you will avoid the perils of groupthink, and the different perspectives may lead to unique insight that will help your business grow and evolve. You’ll also better represent the breadth of your customer base.
Remember this when remote working too. It can be isolating to work remotely and feelings of exclusion may be more difficult to spot. Ensuring that your corporate culture embraces remote workers may be challenging. So think about how the team can keep in touch and strengthen relationships with their colleagues virtually.
If an underlying issue is affecting your team’s ability to work well together, we can assist. We offer a new service which includes fun games that help with team building and leadership alongside other services such as personality profiling. Confronting such issues head on with help from The HR Dept will allow your company to move onwards and upwards.
We are all having to adapt to the new and changing coronavirus landscape – and employers have their own set of challenges.
The news is changing frequently, so it’s important to keep up to date with the latest official advice from the government, Acas and your sector.
But what should you be doing with your HR hat on? Taking into account official advice review your existing documentation to ensure the appropriateness of any infection control and travel policies.
Understand how your business will respond to absenteeism from illness, self-isolation or caring for a dependant and make sure your policies reflect this. Then communicate these with your staff. There may be a lot of nuance to this, so contact us for advice if you’re unsure.
Flexible working will never work for some businesses. But if it just might for yours, then implementing it now could be the decision that keeps operations running. Again, get in touch if you need help making this work for you.
And don’t forget that hygiene is king. So whatever happens in your organisation, make sure it happens with clean hands!
The Good Work Plan
Here’s another quick heads up about important changes to employment law coming in April. Responding to modern working practices, the government is introducing the Good Work plan. The plan aims to increase rights and benefits for workers and agency workers. But, be aware, some of the changes do affect all employees.
The impact of this legislation is far reaching. In April, a day one right to employment particulars (often detailed in the employment contract) for new workers is one of the main changes. It’s required for people with worker status, not just employees, and it will need to carry more wide-ranging detail. Other changes include the introduction of parental bereavement leave and pay (Jack’s law) and a change to how holiday pay is to be calculated.
We know that this is a potential minefield and that employers can be subject to harsh penalties for failing to comply. So if you need support, give us a call.
Sleeping on the job
We’ve been following the case of whether care workers are entitled to receive the national minimum wage (NMW) for sleep-in shifts for several years. It’s recently come before the Supreme Court, and how the ruling goes will have a big impact on the care industry.
The original tribunal found in favour of the employee but the Court of Appeal overturned this decision, taking into account the enormous financial burden for caring charities and small businesses. Unison, batting for the employees, then won the right to appeal this decision. While now, in practice, many care providers do pay NMW for sleep-in shifts anyway, the cost of back-pay, if it becomes chargeable, could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
Far clearer is that if you’re not allowed to kip at work, don’t. That also applies when working from home. Learn from a sleepy bank worker in Germany who, drifting off mid bank transfer, moved around 200 million euros more than he’d intended. Perhaps, when keying all those 2s, he was trying to type zzzz.
Coronavirus: Budget support
Acknowledging coronavirus’s huge impact on SMEs, we’re pleased to see that Rishi Sunak’s Budget provides some support measures. We already knew that statutory sick pay (SSP) would be more widely available, payable from day one. And we found out that firms employing fewer than 250 employees can claim back two weeks’ SSP payments related to coronavirus. Although it’s only £94.25 per week per employee it will help cashflow. Records should be kept, but GP fit notes aren’t necessary (NHS 111 is being geared up to provide these after 7 days of sickness).
Other measures include Business Rates Reliefs for small businesses, bespoke Time to Pay arrangements for tax due to HMRC but disrupted by the virus and a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme which supports loans to SMEs. Currently up to 5 million.
People Matter February 2020
A spotlight on race discrimination
The emergence of coronavirus has caused much suffering. Beyond the dreadful levels of illness and fatalities, secondary impacts are being felt. It’s hurting trade, tourism and society. The newspapers are awash with stories of UK-based Chinese people (or people who simply look Chinese) being abused, shunned and ridiculed.
It’s something to be mindful of in your business. Whether it’s dressed up as banter or is more malicious, it is not just uncomfortable for the recipient. It could also be uncomfortable for the business in the form of a race discrimination claim.
You are probably already aware that race is one of nine characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010. And if race discrimination is found to have occurred, the penalties can be severe. According to the latest employment tribunal annual report (2018/19) the maximum award for race discrimination in the previous year was £33,660 and the average award was £12,487.
So it would be wise to remind your team of expected behavioural standards and document yourself doing so.
But problems with racial discrimination and diversity are not just a symptom of coronavirus. They are an entrenched problem in British business. The Parker Review Report (commissioned to consult on the ethnic diversity of company boards) recently found that 150 of the FTSE 350 companies (top 350 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange) have zero directors of colour.
Another example of this entrenchment comes from the world of entertainment. This year at awards ceremonies, diversity was not a winner. Not a single person of colour, and no women, were nominated in the Best Director category at the Baftas for instance.
There’s anecdotal evidence aplenty too. Talking to the BBC in 2020, lawyer and diversity campaigner Funke Abimboal describes the bias she’s experienced during her career due to her African name, gender and skin colour.
The flip side of getting penalised for racial discrimination, is that you can help your business fly by embracing diversity: from avoiding the perils of groupthink to appealing to a broader customer base. If it’s something you would like to address, call The HR Dept.
A not so happy birthday
Far from thanking colleagues for taking the time to wish her a happy birthday, one legal secretary threw the book at them, and her employer.
She walked out of the office that very afternoon, wrote a letter of complaint (which claimed she felt ‘ambushed, punched, slapped and humiliated’), resigned a few weeks later and then took the firm to an employment tribunal for age discrimination.
She also argued that she was protected by whistleblowing legislation for exposing breaches in data protection – presumably for revealing her birthday and age to colleagues.
Fear not, if you are a company that likes to promote a friendly workplace culture. The tribunal did not agree with her interpretation of events. They found her sensitivity around her age ‘unusual and extreme’. And that whistleblowing legislation was not relevant as making the disclosures was not in the public interest.
Comments from the head of the Chartered Management Institute on Radio 4’s Today programme sparked debate on what’s acceptable to talk about in the workplace.
There’s a fine line to walk in permitting workplace banter, which can easily spiral into bullying or harassment. But on the radio show, she suggested the line should be drawn the other side of football and cricket chat, describing it as a gateway to more laddish behaviour.
She didn’t think sports talk should be outlawed: just moderated. She said many women in particular feel left out by the topic. This met with much resistance, with high-profile women like an ex-sports minister and BBC journalist poo-pooing the sentiment. It certainly plays to gender stereotypes which is a risky business in itself in the workplace.
So assuming you don’t go as far as to ban sports chat or other topics of casual conversation, it will depend on your culture whether you allow any degree of banter. If banter is appropriate to your business, you should still monitor it and intervene if it gets out of hand.
If someone indicates they are not comfortable with being on the receiving end of banter, that should be respected. Consider it a red flag for the business if any of the characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010 are touched upon. An element of discrimination would be an aggravating factor should you face an employment tribunal.
It’s essential to have disciplinary and grievance policies. And it would be good practice to have clear and well communicated policies on bullying, harassment, equality, diversity and inclusion. You could also offer training on these, if necessary. For help implementing any of this, get in touch.
Sacked for sickness
Don’t feel you’re automatically a Scrooge for sacking someone for taking too many sick days – even if they all relate to genuine illness. You have a business to run, and the strain on you or your colleagues, and impact on your customers, from their persistent absence may well be too much.
But to avoid or defend unfair dismissal claims, it’s essential you have a sickness absence policy that gives you the framework to do this. And that you document the proper procedure that you follow. Remember to ensure that your policy makes reasonable adjustments for those with a disability and excludes maternity related absence.
It was recently reported that M&S dismissed an employee for taking too much sickness leave. She’d had a poor run of luck with illness and injury, but even so was in breach of her employer’s policy. She appealed, but the company found that all their procedures had been followed fairly, and upheld the decision – a textbook example of the power of good policies and procedures in a difficult situation.
Equal pay claims
Last year Asda was taken to court by a cohort of workers with an equal pay claim. That case is still rumbling on. Now in a claim with similar hallmarks, hundreds of shop floor employees at the Co-op are claiming they should be paid the same rate as warehouse staff. Currently there is a £1.50 to £3 differential per hour. Backdated pay alone could add up to as much as £10,000 on average per employee.
As with Asda, the case is compounded with a discrimination element: most of the warehouse staff are male, and most of the shop floor staff are female. In due course, the supermarkets will discover their fate. And if judges rule against them it will not be cheap.
To avoid something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, the correct procedure is to conduct job evaluations. We can help with this, so just ask.
The ‘productivity’ toilet
Apparently, £4 billion goes down the toilet every year due to the lost productivity from extended loo breaks in UK workplaces. That’s according to a company which has designed a patented “StandardToilet” as a solution. Its 13-degree slanted seat is enough to make any more than a five-minute toilet trip uncomfortable.
Perhaps it might be effective, but it raises many questions. How would an employee with a disability cope? What if someone is feeling unwell? And why do you have a problem with extended loo breaks in the first place? For instance, if staff are seeking refuge due to stress, it’d be far more proactive to identify that and address it directly.
People Matter January 2020
Changes you need to be aware of this year
The government may have been tied up with Brexit for several years. But that’s not stopped them effecting significant changes to employment law which are planned to be introduced this April.
Following the Mathew Taylor review, the government has introduced a Good Work plan to increase rights and benefits for agency workers and workers. But some changes will apply for all employees. If you are an Advice Line Plus client of ours, we will automatically update all your contracts to reflect the changes.
The biggest change concerns the employment statement of particulars or contracts you are required to provide when someone starts working for you.
From 6 April, these will need to be given on or before the first day of employment (rather than within eight weeks), to everyone starting to work with you, whether they are permanent employees, fixed term or those categorised as workers.
Another important change is the length of time to break continuous employment, the benchmark for many employment rights. This will be extended from one week to one month. The employment particulars will be required to have additional information about the right to sick leave and pay, maternity or paternity, days and times of working and notice periods.
Holiday pay has always been a thorny subject for employers. And to iron out fluctuations in pay, the reference period for calculating will be extended from 12 weeks preceding the holiday to 52 weeks.
Employ agency workers? Much of the legislation is aimed at giving better protection, and what is called the Swedish derogation will be abolished. This allowed agency workers to be paid lower rates of pay than the company’s employees by paying them between assignments. Agency workers too will be entitled to a key facts statement outlining their entitlements.
The HR Dept have been actively calling for greater clarity on employment status through our Voice of the SME. This is because HMRC and employment law have different tests, which makes the risk of getting it wrong much higher. Please do contact us for help to avoid making a mistake.
Parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18 will be entitled to two weeks paid statutory parental bereavement leave.
Finally a change which, at the time of writing, has not been confirmed but is likely to be introduced, concerns cases where personal services companies are used. Responsibility for IR35 tax compliance will shift from the company to the client or intermediary, which brings yet another headache for employers.
If you are concerned about how any of these changes will affect you, please contact your local HR Dept expert.
A right royal resignation
“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal family…”
The words from Harry and Meghan that reverberated around the nation, and indeed the world.
It’s unlikely that a change of role for one of your valued staff will make quite the same shockwaves. But it may still have a very tangible impact on their colleagues, your client base and you.
You might want to announce the change. But if so, the announcement needs to be carefully stage managed. It’s been suggested that Harry and Meghan’s news was published without prior sign-off from other senior royals. This did not reflect well and shows why it’s best to get your ducks in a row.
Agree on a workable way forward for the employee, understand how it will affect them and other stakeholders, and how it will be presented. There may be contractual issues to contend with. Check the notice clause to see how much notice must be given and the options around it in their contract, and if a restrictive covenant is in place.
Getting all this right before going public should help you avoid a right royal botch up.
Gender reassignment in the workplace
Given the news recently you would be forgiven for thinking gender reassignment is the most common HR issue for companies. It isn’t, but good to remember that it is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
Debenhams recently settled a discrimination case for £9,000 (without accepting liability) after a candidate successfully argued they’d lost out during the recruitment process because they were transgender.
Under the Act, gender reassignment has a broad scope. It doesn’t explicitly include people identifying as non-binary (neither man nor woman), but the broad definition may cover them anyway.
So, if encountered, how should you manage gender reassignment? First off, recognise that it will be a sensitive issue and treat it as such. Each case will be unique and it’s wise to take a lead from the employee. They’ll need support and maybe time off for medical appointments. The rest of the team will need support too and a planned communication and support system will be essential.
Acas provide guidelines to follow to ensure your processes are legal. Get in touch with us and we can help you follow them, so that your transgender employee and your company can shine.
Covertly filming employees is not normally on. But as a recent case from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (still to be applicable to the UK after Brexit) shows, sometimes it can be a proportionate and legal path to take.
Back in 2009 a Spanish supermarket noticed tens of thousands of Euros worth of stock discrepancies. They suspected staff and installed CCTV cameras with a notification that CCTV was in operation. Some of the cameras were obvious, but some were covert.
Well, it was the covert cameras that caught 14 employees stealing. They were dismissed and five of them argued unfair dismissal in the courts on the basis that their privacy had been breached.
The former employees lost at both Spanish tribunal and high court. And then lost again on appeal at the Constitutional Court of Spain. However, when they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights they won. This was based on breaching their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As stated earlier, this decision has been overturned by the court’s higher authority.
After its ruling, the Grand Chamber shared observations which can be used as guidelines for any business that feels the need to consider covert filming:
• You must have a legitimate purpose to justify the level of intrusion.
• Is a less intrusive alternative available?
• The employee should be notified of monitoring measures.
• The level of intrusiveness should be assessed, including how private the area being filmed is, who has access and how much is filmed in terms of time and space.
• What safeguards are in place?
An Employment Practices Code is published in the UK by the Information Commissioner’s Office. This states that covert monitoring is only acceptable in exceptional circumstances. If you ever need advice in this area, call us.
The 4pm slump
“Yaaaaaawn!” You hear across the office. As certainly as night follows day, it tells you that it’s 4pm and at least one of your team is lagging.
Before you get too shirty with them, consider that it may not be entirely their fault. The circadian rhythm – our body clock (in plain English) – typically makes us sleepy around this time.
They may not realise that their diet’s not helping either. Carbs like bread and pasta make people sleepy. While you can’t dictate food choices, you could informally highlight that protein like chicken or egg at lunch, for example, is better for powering through the afternoon.
What’s more within your control is task allocation. If possible, consider getting people mobile at 4pm. Is there anything more physical, fun or collaborative to get people up from their desks to stimulate a bit of energy before the end of the day?
Your to-do list for your team: Process orders, ship work, go to gym…
While you may risk being told to “do one” if you start ordering staff to get some exercise, one company in Sweden is doing just that. They have a mandatory policy of “sports hour” every Friday, where employees are required to exercise on company time. With this in mind you may not be surprised to learn that the company has also banned all chairs in the office.
Many Swedes believe that if you exercise and take care of your body, you’re a better person. But even though exercise is high up in people’s thinking in January, would this be a step too far in your business?
People Matter December 2019
“I’m not doing it!” Have you heard this when requesting an employee works extra hours? Frustrating for sure and how you will deal with it will come down to how overtime is detailed in your employment contracts. Generally, there are three possibilities.
Guaranteed overtime is compulsory. There’s an obligation for the employee to fulfil the work AND for you to offer it (or pay them for it even if no work is available).
Non-guaranteed overtime puts an obligation on the employee to work overtime if the business needs it. But there is no requirement for you to offer it.
And voluntary overtime acknowledges that you might offer or request overtime, but that there is no obligation on the employee to work it.
These three scenarios outline your options in how to deal with that employee refusing to work overtime in the run-up to Christmas or during the busy sales. You’ll be reassured to know that judges have found in favour of companies taken to court for unfair dismissal following a refusal to work contractual overtime.
This is just what happened in Edwards vs Bramble Foods Ltd. It was argued that the employee was not only refusing to work overtime as per her contract. But was also spreading discontent among employees who were. The operations of the business were being put in serious jeopardy as Christmas approached. The sacking was judged to be lawful and fair.
That aside, there are other things to consider. When it comes to voluntary requests for overtime, ensure that your procedure for allocating it is fair and available to everyone who is eligible.
Don’t forget that regular overtime must now be considered a factor in determining at least four of the 5.6 weeks of holiday pay. This may be extra expensive for you if you have staff working lots of overtime in the run-up to Christmas before taking their annual leave.
And finally, at this time of year there’s a flurry of bank holidays. Your staff do not have a statutory right to extra pay for working these. Instead their payment terms for bank holidays will be dictated by what’s in their contracts.
The season of sickies
Wintertime is synonymous with flu and other nasties. But, worryingly, a recent BBC survey of more than 3,000 adults found that 40% would fake a sick day, while two-thirds said they’d cover for colleagues pulling a sickie.
With that in mind, you may be wondering if an employee really is poorly on Monday following their behaviour at the Christmas party. That said, there are more complex reasons for feigning a physical illness. For instance, it’s known that some people will do it to mask a mental health issue.
Presenteeism can be just as problematic. We all recognise that colleague who’s sneezing and coughing, and muttering how ill they feel, whilst infecting everyone else! This can prolong or worsen the illness, doesn’t lead to good productivity, and compromises others’ health. If an employee is clearly not well, they should be at home.
So, whether you’re trying to get fit people in or sick people home, how should you manage absence?
Always start with an absence policy, and specify that employees should report their sickness by phone before the start of work. Recording all employee absences in an HR management tool such as the HR Dept Toolkit will help you identify patterns emerging and build a case against serial sickie offenders.
Employees can self-certify their illness for absences of up to seven days, including weekends. On their return, make them go through this process using a self-certification form and conduct a return-to-work interview. It will act as a deterrent to people trying something on, whilst showing that you care for anyone who has a genuine illness. And when it comes to presenteeism, lead by example. If you are unwell, take the time off you need to recover.
The gift of good health
“On the first day of Christmas HR Dept gave to me, health benefits for each employee”
Health benefits really are the gift that keeps giving. Staff perceive them as a desirable benefit (a survey ranked health insurance number one out of 54 different employee benefits), providing financial help and reassurance if they become ill. And for your business, they can help recruit, retain and motivate quality staff, as well as assist with absenteeism by ensuring that medical problems are dealt with promptly and effectively.
Research from a global insurance company found that 76% of UK employers plan to include a well-being element in their employee benefits. This means that increasingly you’ll need to offer some health benefit just to keep up with the pack. The good news is that they come in all shapes and sizes, starting from just a few pounds per employee per month for a health cash plan or EAP.
If you want to find out more, talk to us about our tailor-made, cost-effective packages for SMEs.
Whilst Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been and gone, the debt that some will have got into, now exacerbated by Christmas, remains.
Research from an investment bank found that 77% of people who work in the UK said money worries impacted them when working. As an employer, having some understanding of this issue, and that it may affect so many of your team, could help you manage them, particularly at this time of year.
So, what is financial well-being? People talk about it broadly as: having a clear path to identifiable objectives; control of daily finances; having financial options in life; preparing for financial shocks; and clarity and security for those we leave behind.
Given the number of people that carry worries into work, providing staff with support for their financial well-being is likely to benefit both the company and your staff. Some companies arrange for a financial adviser to run in-house sessions periodically as a means to achieving this.
An inclusive Christmas
Most companies make at least a passing nod to Christmas. Some will have a tree and office party while others will go all out, defrosting Bublé back in November, organising Secret Santa and, of course, Christmas jumper day!
While a majority of employees will get in the spirit, there are 101 reasons why some may not. There are obvious reasons such as religion and some not so obvious – relationship problems for instance. Therefore, it’s wise to be mindful of this and encourage an inclusive Christmas.
Once you are thinking inclusively, good practices will come naturally. But to get you started, consider these. Don’t force anyone into celebrating, participation in festive fun should be voluntary. And as an extension of this, don’t let those who choose not to participate be ridiculed by others. When it comes to food and drink, factor in dietary requirements and ensure that alcohol consumption is not at the centre of every activity. Don’t go too far though and ban wishing others a Merry Christmas, as most people will still appreciate the thought.
I’m an “employee” get me out of here
Whether in the jungle, the catwalk or the boardroom, we’ve seen a boom in reality TV. Some “contestants” make careers from it. And in the complicated world of TV contracts, parallels can be drawn to the gig economy where worker status becomes blurred.
Down under, a reality TV contestant has actually won a landmark compensation case after claiming she felt harassed and bullied. Although she’d contractually acknowledged she wasn’t employed, the tribunal found enough evidence to suggest an employer-employee relationship, and awarded compensation.
What next? Will Lord Sugar have to wait and see if any of his apprentices consider themselves unfairly dismissed when he pronounces his immortal words: You’re fired!
We can only wait and wonder.
People Matter November 2019
As yet another polling day approaches (the general election is being held on Thursday 12th December, in case it’s not in your diary yet), a question we are often asked is: “Do I need to give workers time off to vote?”
There’s no legal requirement to do so. And with polling stations open from 7am to 10pm, most employees should get the opportunity to vote no matter what their working hours. If your Christmas party is already confirmed for this date or if some employees do face an issue, a degree of flexibility during the day will help keep relations positive.
So what else might you need to consider? Some schools are being used as polling stations, and this may mean they are closed to children, presenting a childcare headache for working parents. It is a good idea to find out now who might be affected to remind them and to give them time to make alternative arrangements. Unpaid time off for dependent emergency is not intended to cover events like this
Political discussion can quickly turn heated. So it’s advisable to discourage or prohibit it in the workplace. Even Google, renowned for an uninhibited workplace culture, has seen the need to clamp down on such “disruptive conversations” this year.
Whilst political beliefs are not expressly protected under the Equality Act 2010, some types of view may be captured by religious and philosophical belief. Cases concerning Scottish Independence and climate change have been found to be covered, whilst vegetarianism, for example, was not.
The upcoming election might get you thinking about the qualities which managers and leaders should have in your own business: integrity, resilience, vision perhaps. When hiring or promoting for leadership positions, one thing you should be wary of is fake news – just as in the real election.
In 2017, a leadership training and research firm conducted a survey of 3,000 employees; over half were concerned that colleagues were getting away with being untruthful about themselves.
So next time you are recruiting, make sure you don’t become a victim of fake news: delve a little deeper into claims being made, follow up on references. And if it is an internal appointment, a culture of regularly reviewing employee performance and carrying out one-to-ones will help you get to the truth and increase your chances of hiring a genuine performer.
It’s not a hangover, it’s an illness
A regional court in Germany recently ruled that hangovers are an illness. No need to face palm in frustration at the thought of your workforce being decimated by “legitimate illnesses” after Christmas parties. The ruling was in relation to a food manufacturer who made medical healing claims over hangover cure products.
In the UK, most employers should already have a policy in place that classifies attendance at work when under the influence of alcohol (hangovers included) as misconduct.
And although hangovers may be somewhat disabling, they aren’t considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Be wary though! Long term Alcohol abuse may be the cause or consequence of a related long-term impairment or disability, think liver disease or depression respectively. In such cases, you should sensitively investigate further, utilising occupational health if appropriate, to determine if there is an underlying disability.
This aside, here are some top tips for managing some alcohol related issues in your workplace:
Review existing policies. Introduce a drug and alcohol misuse policy if not already in place. Make sure drinking during working hours is also covered in your driving and disciplinary policies.
Collect appropriate evidence. Any disciplinary offence should be investigated before action is taken. Witness statements will be important. Drug and alcohol testing can play a useful deterrent.
Take action right away. A delay in reacting to suspicions of intoxication could result in health and safety implications that could have been avoided. As an employer, you could be found vicariously liable for the actions of your staff.
Set clear expectations and consider workarounds. Provide guidelines for staff attending work events where alcohol is served. And consider altering working patterns for staff entertaining clients – for example, a later start time the following day to mitigate the risk of driving under the influence.
Keeping employees engaged
throughout the festive season
In a survey by an employee engagement firm, 27% of employees admitted that the run up to Christmas was their least productive time of the year. As Christmas approaches you may well find that your employees are less focused on their work, and instead are winding down for the festive break. Or planning for, and recovering from, a flurry of parties.
But festive fun might not be all that’s keeping your employees from being fully effective. The shortened working month can also lead to added pressures for completing projects. And with it reported that over half the population admit to overspending at Christmas, financial pressures may also weigh heavily on employees.
How can you help your team? Some things should be in your control. For example, make sure deadlines are achievable and that holiday requests are managed fairly. And why not celebrate a year of hard work by planning a staff party so everyone can let off some steam!
Should non-smokers get extra holiday days?
In September, a Japanese company introduced a policy of rewarding non-smoking employees with an extra six days of holiday a year. The firm’s CEO hopes it will encourage smokers to quit. So far four have.
But could you imagine the can of worms you’d be opening if you introduced something similar? Tit-for-tat productivity claims amongst your smoking and non-smoking employees, comparing the cigarette breaks to anything from the length of toilet trips (shudder) to the amount of tea being drunk.
If productivity is a concern, we’d advise introducing a programme which measures output more precisely than mere hours spent at a desk. And if, as with this Japanese example, there is also some altruistic motivation from management in encouraging healthy lifestyles, it’s better to do this in a more positive way. For instance allowing some time during the working week for physical activity, or offering free fruit to staff.
What to do in a power cut
Invariably winter brings bad weather and, as we’ve seen recently, sometimes flooding. In extreme cases this may affect your business’s power and heating. If the risk to you is sufficient, it would be wise to have a disaster recovery plan.
Considering our short winter days, it’s worth keeping torches and batteries on site, even if you don’t operate night shifts. If a power cut occurred, we wouldn’t advise candles! Depending on your business’s circumstances, you may find it helpful to explore standby generators.
If the heating’s out, there’s no absolute legal minimum working temperature. But the Health and Safety Executive says that 16°c is considered a reasonable minimum for non-physical work. Thermos flask for hot drinks, hot water bottles and calor gas heaters can all be solutions.
And if things get really bad, you’ll need to assess whether staff are at risk. Is flexible working an option? If no work is available, could they take annual leave? Where possible we’d suggest trying to find a middle ground, because in the interests of long-term relationships, we might get snow this winter too.
Only in France! A company has been found liable for compensation after an employee died on a business trip… whilst having sex with a stranger.
The court ruled that sex is “like taking a shower or eating a meal” and deemed it an industrial accident. And so the company was left partly liable for a bill to the family for 80% of his salary, for every year up until he would have retired.
Luckily, this is French jurisdiction only. So unless you are involved in a more risqué line of work, you shouldn’t have to worry about being liable for “death by sex” for your employees. But do still carry out a relevant risk assessment when sending them on a work trip.
People Matter October 2019
Who’s safeguarding your company data?
A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining and countless other horror classics give us a scare at this time of year. But for many businesses in 2019, it’s GDPR that still sends a shiver down the spine. The biggest proposed fine in the GDPR era so far goes to British Airways. It may have to pay £183.39m for failing to prevent a fraudulent attack on their computer systems which affected 500,000 customers.
These new regulations have more teeth than Jaws. So how is your data being safeguarded?
While IT and legal considerations may be front of mind, HR will play an important role too.
Training is one such area where HR can take a lead. Almost 18 months after GDPR came into force, are you sure your staff know how to keep data safe? While some individuals will have specific responsibilities, all staff will have general obligations for keeping data safe. Train them up and ask us about easy to implement eLearning for GDPR, it should be standard for all employee inductions.
One area in your remit is managing the process of remote working. Whether your company treats it as a flexible working perk, or you have some staff who just feel the need to take work away, it could be exposing you to serious risk if not managed correctly.
Emailing work out to personal devices or email accounts is a no-no. This could bypass much of your IT security procedures, putting you at risk of a virus or hack. Even worse would be emailing company personal data to a home email address. The moment this happens you are no longer in control of that information.
It’s essential your staff know the risks and follow good practice when working remotely. Why not work with your IT people to develop appropriate policies?
We’ve assumed an accidental breach so far. Less common, but still something to be mindful of, is malicious behaviour by an employee, stealing data for example. Here, good vetting during recruitment will help. And don’t hesitate to revoke access to sensitive data if you learn they are leaving and have concerns.
Don’t forget! By default when you manage staff, you’ll be in charge of personal data too – that of your employees. So ensure you treat it as such. If you don’t use it already, ask us about HR Dept Toolkit – our secure HR software that simplifies the way you manage
Is vegetarianism protected under equality law?
Which one of these has been rejected as a philosophical belief under equality law? A. Climate change; anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing B. Vegetarianism or C. Scottish independence. If you chose option B, vegetarianism, you would be correct.
The others are judged to be within the definition of philosophical belief and are thus protected from discrimination. The term “philosophical belief” is broad so it is often tested in court. There are several criteria which judges consider, including that there must be a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. The vegetarian case lost because people choose to be vegetarian for differing reasons.
It’s worth noting that both vegetarianism and veganism are growing in popularity. It may be beneficial to consider this when providing catering for work-related meetings and by reining in so called “office banter” on the subject.
For the record
What would you feel like if one of your team covertly recorded you? Indignant? Angry? Reaching for the P45? A case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) shines a light on the issue.
It concerned an employee who felt a departmental restructure was biased against her. She interrupted a meeting and refused to leave, demanding to know the points of discussion. When she was called into an HR meeting later to be informed she was being disciplined for this behaviour, she covertly recorded the conversation.
An attempt at mediation and then sickness absence followed, before the employee was summarily dismissed. A breakdown in the working relationship was cited as the reason.
Both an employment tribunal and the EAT found the dismissal to be unfair. During the hearings the existence of the secret recording became apparent. The employer claimed entrapment, and said they would have sacked her for gross misconduct had they been aware of the recording. They argued compensation should be reduced to nothing.
However, the EAT did not accept this. They found that the employee was not motivated by malice, but simply wished to keep accurate records when feeling extremely stressed. It went on to provide guidance on how tribunals should treat the admissibility of secretly recorded employee evidence. In particular, to consider the motivation of the employee and the blameworthiness of the employer in a given situation.
We’d advise reviewing your disciplinary and grievance policies to either include covert recording as an example of gross misconduct, or permit declared recording provided those being recorded give their consent. This will strengthen your hand when dealing with a case of covert recording. But as per the EAT guidance, be mindful that in some circumstances, it may still be admissible evidence.
Protecting your have-a-go heroes
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it’s your employee diving down a manhole to retrieve a customer’s iPhone. Or smashing into an out-of-control airport catering truck with a pushback tractor just before it writes-off a multimillion-pound jet.
Generally it’s great when you have your very own superhero on your team. Someone who goes above and beyond to satisfy a customer or prevent disaster. But it’s essential that your staff understand health and safety rules to take care of themselves and others.
The above examples really happened in America, with the airport worker even receiving a pat-on-the-back Tweet from President Trump. It was a fast-food worker who rescued the phone, and he cut his hand and muddied his clothes doing so, although he was still smiling. High risk jobs should always have the correct safety measures in place. And for those unexpected scenarios, ensure your staff know to consider their own safety before diving in.
Is your office dressing up for Halloween?
Some fancy-dress costumes inspired by real life characters are too offensive to publish here. Yet, a quick search online will tell you that yes, some people will actually go there!
Others may be tempted to show too much flesh, or turn themselves into a trip or fire hazard. And worst of all, some people may not wish to engage in the fun at all!
A bit of dressing up at Halloween can be great for your office culture. But do set boundaries about what’s appropriate. Or you may find yourself getting a Halloween shock you were not expecting. As well as taste, health and safety, and letting people know it is ok to opt out, consider what effect dressing up will have on your company image if you’ll be hosting visitors, and plan in accordance.
Brexit for business
Apologies, as you’re probably sick to death of the B-word, but we do want you to be prepared for Brexit. Check out these government guides to help you identify what actions you need to take regarding your staff. There’s an interactive calculator, a pdf guide you can share with employees affected by change, and drivers’ guidance. In risk management it’s often said that “there are things we know, things we don’t know and things we don’t know that we don’t know”. The sentiment is bound to be true of Brexit. So ensure you’ve developed a risk assessment and contingency plan for managing your workforce during this period of uncertainty.
People Matter September 2019
Have your say in our Voice of the SME survey
Atypical working is no stranger to the pages of People Matter or our blogs. We know it can bring useful flexibility to both workers and companies. But it can also be open to abuse.
It’s widely felt that there’s no problem with using freelancers, zero-hour contracts and self-employed contractors when done for genuine reasons of flexibility, meeting irregular demand and scalability. But when used as a short cut to save money at the expense of a workforce, that’s not right.
The courts are firm in this view. In high-profile cases, such as ones involving Uber and Pimlico Plumbers, they have ruled that worker status was incorrectly classified, causing respective workforces to miss out on employment entitlements and protections.
The government is seeking to update the law to better regulate the practices of atypical working practices They are currently consulting on protections for workers on flexible or zero-hour contracts. These include compensation for cancelled shifts and how long a reasonable notice period might be when withdrawing weekly hours. It also covers protections for workers who turn down shifts offered to them at the last minute.
In such consultations it is often large corporate organisations with an army of HR professionals and lawyers whose voices are heard the most.
So we have created our Voice of the SME survey to give companies like you a louder voice. Because of our nationwide client base, we can collect, collate and represent the opinions of thousands of SME businesses across the country. And amplify their voices to ensure they are heard in the corridors of power. Please spare a few moments to have your say, click here to complete our survey and help shape future regulation of flexible working arrangements. The survey closes on 30th September.
The government is consulting on reforming sick pay and frameworks for getting people back to work after long-term sickness. While this year our Voice of the SME survey is focused on workers’ rights and whether they can have sick pay, you may also want to give your views on the wider aspects of absence management. You can do so here.
Holiday pay for term-time staff
Just when you thought it was safe to start calculating holiday pay, a recent court case has thrown up a new complication.
Over the past few years, a slew of cases has made it increasingly complicated to calculate holiday pay. And increasingly expensive for employers. We have had sales commission needing to be taken into account and overtime too. Now it is part-time, part-year workers under the microscope.
A music teacher took her employer to court saying the way that they calculated holiday pay was not compliant with the Working Time Directive. She worked variable hours during term time and had agreed to take all holiday out of term. She was paid holiday three times a year at a rate of 12.07% of her wages for the previous term.
She argued that this equated to an amount below the Working Time Directive minimum. In short, the judge agreed with her. Although he accepted that it will throw up anomalies. He coined a new phrase: part-year employee. In the case of the music teacher, she will actually be paid 17.5% of annual earnings. So, as a part-year employee, she has a higher rate of holiday pay than full-time or regular hours part-time workers.
There is to be an appeal hearing and we await a new judgement as well as Acas guidelines. In the meantime, if you employ term time only staff members, we would advise reviewing how you calculate their holiday pay so that you are prepared if the appeal hearing does not overturn this ruling.
Get ready for Brexit
(At the time of print) the prime minister assures us we’ll be leaving the EU on 31 October. Halloween, of course, and leaving aside whether you think Brexit will be a trick or treat, there may well be steps you need to take to be prepared.
The government has published a number of online resources. These include pdf guides you can share with employees affected by change. And an interactive calculator called “Get ready for Brexit” which suggests what you specifically might need to do. This covers points like customs tariffs, travel arrangements and new labelling requirements.
Another specific consideration is if you employ UK nationals required to drive in the EU or vice versa. There’s specific drivers’ guidance too.
It’s helpful to be pointed in the right direction, but there’s still the hard graft to do. If you need extra support with your Brexit HR, then get in touch.
Claws and effect
It’s something we’ve discussed before, and a high-profile petition from a sacked worker has raised the issue again. Should bereavement leave be offered following the death of a pet?
There’s no legal provision for this. Of course, for human bereavement there is a right for a reasonable amount of time off if they are a dependant. But bereavement affects everyone differently, and some people may be overwhelmingly affected by the loss of a pet.
You may notice unexpected absence, a drop in performance or even temporarily not being able to perform certain roles.
With no law to steer you, your response to this comes down to your discretion. Showing compassion often pays dividends in the long run. But be careful! You should apply a strong rationale and consistency. For instance you may feel some time off (whether paid or unpaid) for the loss of a cat or dog is appropriate. But draw the line at the goldfish. And there’ll be an expectation that what’s offered to one employee will be provided for another in similar circumstances.
If you want a whole new take on receiving bad news, consider Josh Thompson’s approach. When Josh, a copywriter from New Zealand, received an email from his employer asking him to meet to discuss his role, he guessed the writing was on the wall. In accordance with New Zealand law, he was encouraged to bring a support person to the HR meeting. Instead of a family member or union rep, he hired a clown to ease the tension. His employers saw the funny side but did have to ask him to quieten down several times while he was making balloon animals. In Josh’s words “Boy, oh boy, are clowns noisy”!
Employees at protests
Climate change and political unrest are giving rise to increasing protests, globally and in the UK.
So what do you do if employees skip work to join a mass protest? Even those who have a previously unblemished unauthorised absence record? It could be on the cards with trade unions mooting a Greta Thunberg inspired general strike.
Employees can’t expect to skip off work to protest and not face repercussions. You need to make it very clear that they have to book holiday to take time off to protest. If they do go AWOL or pull a sickie on the day, you need to attempt to contact them and document everything. Alternatively if you see them on TV gluing themselves to a bank, press record quickly and ring us for advice.
If however the issue is climate change and your company ethos plays a part in addressing this, actively communicate it to staff so that they feel they are already contributing.
People Matter August 2019
More support for victims of abuse
It is thought that two million adults suffer domestic abuse each year. This can take the form of emotional, financial or economic abuse. On average, it leads to two women dying every week and one man every month. Many people suffer in silence, so it is good to be aware how prevalent this issue is, as it is statistically probable that some of your employees will be victims.
Before she left her role as prime minister, Theresa May moved it up the agenda in parliament. The Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced. It gives domestic abuse an official definition for the first time and puts a more substantial support framework in place. This is sure to raise awareness. So what can you as an employer do to support employees who may be affected?
Employers have a general duty of care towards their staff. And as part of this you need to provide a safe and effective work environment. If you find that one of your employees is, or has, suffered from domestic abuse, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, a charity, has produced a helpful resource. It is called the Domestic Abuse Toolkit and you can download it directly from their website.
Of course abuse is not just confined to the home. Bullying and sexual harassment remain entrenched in the workplace. Separate to the Domestic Abuse Bill, the government is planning to legislate to dismantle one of the main ways in which companies sweep abuse under the carpet: excessive use of non-disclosure agreements, or Settlement Agreements as they are usually called in an employment situation, and rightly so.
Settlement Agreements do however serve a useful and legitimate function. When used properly they allow the victim to move forward with their life, so we do not agree with a widespread ban on these. They have to have received advice from a solicitor before signing, who would always recommend reporting serious crimes. Sometimes governments can be guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Boards of Directors though should seriously investigate the conduct that has resulted in a Settlement Agreement and take the appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator. If you need help with a sensitive issue like this do ring us for advice.
An unexpectedly high penalty
Don’t think that a case of discrimination will be treated leniently at tribunal because it is isolated. Awards which apply to compensation for injury to feelings, fall into one of three tiers, known as “vento” bands to decide the level of damages.
Typically, a one-off claim for injury to feelings will sit in the lower band. But actually, the judgement will always be fact specific, with an emphasis on the impact of the discrimination. This means that any of the vento bands can apply. What follows is a cautionary tale.
A children’s clothing company recently had the book thrown at them for a string of wrongdoings that followed from an isolated discrimination claim. A photographer was made redundant after just three months. When she cried foul and suggested race discrimination, the company ignored her grievance and refused to engage in the Acas early conciliation process, thereby aggravating the first error.
The eventual employment tribunal and appeal found against the company. They were ordered to pay damages of about £30,000. It is pertinent to note that the injury to feeling aspect of the award sat in the middle Vento band.
Enhanced protection for new parents
The Government gave its’ response to a consultation on 22 July which proposes to give mothers returning from maternity leave an additional six months of protection against redundancy. The rules will also protect those returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave.
New mothers already have special protection from redundancy whilst on maternity leave. Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 says that such an employee, when faced with redundancy, should be given priority over other employees and offered another suitable vacancy if possible.
If a suitable job isn’t available, only then can they be made redundant. But the proper redundancy procedures must be followed, and pregnancy or maternity cannot be the reason for redundancy.
Now it is proposed that this redundancy protection will last from the moment an employee tells their company they are pregnant, until six months after they have returned to work.
This enhanced protection following the government consultation, is part of their Good Work Plan. It goes further than what the EU requires. The Government feels it needs to do more because, despite existing regulations making it illegal to discriminate due to pregnancy or maternity, discrimination still occurs, and far too often.
In fact, research indicates that 54,000 women a year feel they have to leave employment because of pregnancy or maternity discrimination.
There are stiff financial penalties for companies found guilty of such discrimination. And let’s not forget the poor publicity and the potential for a toxic workplace culture to develop. For help and guidance on how to manage employees on maternity leave, please contact us.
Mental health awareness in schools
It’s fair to say that mental health awareness has never been higher. But as awareness has risen, it only highlights how much needs to be done.
A key battleground is in schools. World Health Organisation figures show that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. And, of course, teachers and other staff feel a lot of pressure themselves which can lead to mental health struggles.
Because teachers spend so much time observing children, they are well placed to notice the warning signs of a mental health issue. Properly trained they can also be an important first point of contact, and positioned to signpost support. So upskilling teachers in mental health awareness provides a valuable resource to the school.
We offer eLearning training on mental health awareness tailored specifically for educational professionals. So if of interest, please enquire to find out more.
Inside the mind of an introvert
Did you know that up to 50% of the population are introverts? Maybe that’s not so surprising seeing that the main alternative is to be an extrovert. Both behavioural types have strengths and weaknesses. But what is interesting is that most companies are set up to suit extroverts. Think open plan offices, social events and generally the loudest voices being heard first.
This won’t be a deal breaker for most introverts. But it does mean that conditions are not optimised for their performance. And they have a lot to offer. Restoring balance could help drive your business forward.
We’re not talking about difficult actions. Giving introverts a safe platform to speak in meetings, creating quieter working zones, and not putting pressure on people to attend every social event are all achievable. A great place to start is with some Myers-Briggs training to help identify your team’s personality traits and how they work best.
Sleeping on the job
Can you believe an employment tribunal judge fell asleep twice during a hearing? After we’d finished raising our eyebrows, we found that it’s not as uncommon as you might think! We’re not just talking about dozy judges. Apparently 12% of office workers have confessed to falling asleep in a meeting.
We’ll hope this phenomenon does not spread to air traffic controllers. But in the meantime what should you do if you catch someone, well, catching 40 winks? It may be gross misconduct if, say, they were hungover. But don’t jump to conclusions. Check there’s not an underlying medical condition or other mitigating factor before deciding on your course of action.
Safety Matters Q3
Take the wheel on managing
moving vehicle risk at work
Managing the risk of moving vehicles at work is not something that every business has to contend with. But in warehouses, large retail stores, and airports, for example, it is a key area of health and safety. Poor procedures and systems of work present risks to the employee and customer alike. As an employer, you are legally required to be aware of such risks and take steps to eliminate or reduce them.
Much of this is governed by general health and safety legislation such as The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. But be aware that there may be more specific legislation to consider too, including the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998.
A moving vehicle risk assessment is essential to build a clear picture of where vehicles are, why they are there and what they are doing. This will help you identify potential vehicle hazards so you can take mitigating action.
Every year there are over 5,000 incidents involving transport in the workplace. And around 50 of these are fatal, so the risk is very real.
Common types of accidents involving moving vehicles include: people being struck or run over by a vehicle, people being hit by something falling from a vehicle, people falling from vehicles and vehicles overturning.
A court case following the death of a worker who walked in front of a moving lorry was recently reported on. While the driver had checked his mirrors, he did not see the employee and moved forward resulting in the fatal injury. The grain store company where the accident occurred was fined £180,000, as well as having to pay costs of £20,000.
In this instance the HSE found that pedestrians could not move safely around the site, as they had not provided measures to prevent employees walking into areas where large vehicles were moving. The company’s failure to implement simple H&S measures was cited as the cause for this avoidable incident.
Stop such potential disasters before they occur by managing the risks of workplace transport. Good practice measures include:
● Keeping people and vehicles apart
● Having clear site rules which are communicated to all staff members
● Avoiding the need to work at height on vehicles
● Ensuring your employees only operate vehicles when authorised to do so.
If you need help carrying out a moving vehicle risk assessment, or think your staff may need some extra training, contact us.
Is your care home heatwave resilient?
If you own or manage a care home, how well prepared are you and your staff for rising temperatures this summer? A study of four care homes found the heating was left on 24 hours a day, even during the summer months. And in a previous major heatwave, back in 2003, care home deaths related to heat increased by 42% that August.
“Heatwave resilience” is a term being used by MPs after last summer’s heatwave, to describe the best practice care homes should be seeking. Long-term trends suggest that UK summer temperatures are rising. So there is likely to be a smaller margin for error in managing this risk as the years pass. You’ll want to look at how temperature is controlled with both heating and cooling systems. Consider also the hydration and nutritional requirements of the people under your care during extremes of temperature.
Warning signs, aside from the obvious increase in temperature, could include a rise in incidents of urinary tract infections, dizziness and falls. Heatwave resilience is sure to move up the agenda of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) when they are inspecting care homes for safety and the effectiveness of their care. Regularly carrying out a heat risk assessment not only feeds into delivering the highest levels of care, but also helps you stay compliant with regulations.
If you operate a care home and have concerns over your staff’s readiness for a heatwave, or need help carrying out a heat risk assessment, get in touch with us today.
Extracurricular work in schools
Summer holidays are the time when schools get major building work done. Although there won’t be children around, you’ll still want to ensure health and safety regulations are followed if you have responsibility in this area.
Your schedule of work may range from a few thousand pounds for play equipment, to hundreds of thousands of pounds for major developments like roofing works. However big or small your project, you’ll have responsibilities under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Classified as a client, you’ll be responsible for ensuring your project is suitably managed, considering the health and safety of anyone who might be affected.
Building activities over the summer holidays aren’t quite “business as usual”, so don’t get caught out. There may be fewer or no children about, but ensure you plan for other people on site, including contractors and your teachers coming in to prepare their classrooms for next year.
Make sure your shop is
hot on fire regulation
A member of the public has been banned from every branch of a popular homeware store in the UK, after arguing in the carpark with a manager that the store breached health and safety laws. The customer, Derek, raised concerns over the fact that staff were locked into the store for 15 minutes at the end of the day. He also criticised the store’s covered fire extinguishers.
Despite his ban, Derek raised some important fire safety issues. If you own or manage a shop, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of them. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that emergency doors must not be locked if they cannot be easily and immediately opened in an emergency. It also states that they must be kept clear at all times.
It was reported that the front door of the store was its main fire escape. The locking of fire doors presents a clear obstacle to an immediate exit. If you want to signal that your shop is closed for business, but still have employees inside, consider hanging a closed sign or have an employee at the front door to turn customers away, or specifically to open it in the event of an emergency.
When it comes to fire extinguishers, you must ensure they are maintained and ready for immediate use. The regulation doesn’t mention covers specifically, but they should be fitted properly (for example not used to prop open a door), and easily accessible.
HSE Myth Busters
When we are off on a plane for our summer holidays or relaxing in a pool, being denied a reasonable request due to health and safety will not cut the mustard. Here are two examples of summer holiday businesses which did that and earned a place on the HSE Myth Busters panel. The lesson is: don’t blame management decisions on health and safety without a good explanation.
Something to chew on
One adult passenger was forced to put up with popping ears after an airline refused to provide boiled sweets on the grounds of health and safety. They claimed that because children could choke on them, they were banned outright. While it is sensible to avoid giving hard sweets to young children, there is no health and safety legislation that prevents the provision of boiled sweets on flights.
Sink or swim
One swimming pool banned inflatables and other items that people enjoy in swimming pools on the grounds of health and safety. Health and safety law does apply to the management of public swimming pools but does not explicitly ban these items. They may have had a good reason, like impeding a lifeguard’s ability to have complete sight of the pool, but it would have been better to say this rather than making health and safety legislation the killjoy.
People Matter July 2019
Do you remember when holiday pay
used to be simple?
The empty spaces in the car park are proof that the holiday season is in full swing. And with it our HR advice phonelines are getting busy answering all the questions about holiday pay.
The first question is always: how much holiday should an employee have? The statutory minimum is 5.6 weeks, made up from about 20 days plus the bank and public holidays. And zero-hour staff accrue holiday for every hour worked, 8.3 hours worked equals one hour’s holiday.
Pay used to be relatively simple, with an employee’s weekly salary or usual weekly working hours being the amount they earned whilst on holiday. But over the last two years all that has changed.
The first challenge was Lock v British Gas. He wanted his results-based commission included in his holiday pay. He won and that started the change. A survey recently found that workers in Britain were owed £1.8bn in unpaid holiday pay and the government is campaigning to ensure employers and employees understand their rights and obligations.
Holiday entitlement is part of the health and safety legislation. It is there to protect staff on the basis that we all need a break from work for our health and well-being. Therefore there must be no disincentive to take that time off. This might be the case if someone’s pay was less during periods of annual leave.
This has resulted in a number of claims. First for compulsory overtime to be included. And now firefighters have won the right to have voluntary overtime included too in the average week’s pay. This is in addition to payments such as on call and commission.
Staff working irregular hours should have the average pay calculated over the previous 12 weeks. And do remember that holiday must be taken. So paying an additional amount each week to cover the holiday pay, which is referred to as rolled-up holiday pay, is not allowed. For all your holiday queries do ring us, so you don’t pay more later with a tribunal claim.
Restrictive covenants offered
protection by Supreme Court
A dark cloud had been hanging over many businesses which rely on restrictive covenants. But it has passed following a Supreme Court ruling.
As you’ll probably know, restrictive covenants are used to stop employees competing against you after they leave, or poaching key staff and clients from you. What you may not know is that a restrictive covenant must be reasonable and not be so restrictive that a person is prevented from earning their living.
A former director at an executive research firm argued that some wording in her restrictive covenant was unreasonable, making the whole clause unenforceable. Her former employer successfully obtained an injunction preventing her from joining a rival, and some expensive toing and froing in the courts has followed.
It centred on two words: “interested in”. She had signed to say she would not “directly or indirectly engage or be concerned or interested in any business carried on in competition [with her former company] for six months after leaving the business”.
As those words prevented her taking even a minor shareholding in a competing business, the Court of Appeal ruled it an unreasonable restraint of trade. And they found that removing the words would change the meaning of the clause.
Now the Supreme Court has found that those two offending words can be removed – but leaving the overall effect of the restrictive covenant intact, without the need for words to be added or amended.
This sets an important precedent and safety net for employers: that a restrictive covenant can be generally enforceable, despite one aspect being deemed unfair. However, having them correctly drafted in the first place is essential and having insurance in place to be able to enforce them through the Courts brings better protection for your business.
Contact The HR Dept for a review.
Is hotdesking still hot?
As flexible working practices become more popular, it makes sense that hotdesking will follow suit. After all, why pay for vacant space?
Adopting hotdesking means you can gain efficiencies by downsizing your square footage. Or make your workplace more attractive and useful by transforming the redundant desk space. How about a break-out area or new meeting room?
But hotdesking is not a one-way street to success. If only! In one survey of 1,001 office workers by a transformational consultancy, 22% of respondents found hotdesking made bonding with colleagues more difficult. And nearly half said they wasted time setting up equipment. The worry of whether a desk is available will affect the well-being of some, too.
Other potential problems include hygiene concerns and the development of cliquey behaviour. However, with a well-managed approach – including desk scheduling and clear guidance on conduct – these obstacles can largely be overcome.
How might the new school week
affect working parents?
A top performing state school in England has announced plans to move to a four-and-a-half-day academic week. Wow! School’s out from lunchtime on Friday for kids and teachers alike. So who is going to look after the children? We can see this will have an unfair additional pressure on parents, particularly women who bear the brunt of child care responsibilities.
Already working parents have to manage their working hours when their children first start school, as the first few weeks are usually half days. But a permanent four-and-a-half-day working week is going to affect businesses. If your employees are affected by this shorter week, you are bound to see an increase in flexible working requests. As much as we actively support flexible working, the number who can finish early on Friday is going to be limited and could create jealousy from colleagues.
The reason schools are looking at this is twofold. Firstly to save money as their budgets are under tremendous pressure. And secondly to minimise teacher stress and burnout, which is sadly a real and ongoing issue. So if this happens at a school near you, contact us to see if we can find innovative ways to help you reach a solution.
How emotionally intelligent
is your team?
In olden days people were expected to switch off their emotions when they went to work. Now it’s far more widely recognised that this isn’t possible. And that, actually, harnessing emotional intelligence can help individuals and organisations be more successful.
It has been established that emotional intelligence is a skill which can be nurtured with practice. The psychologist Daniel Goleman identifies five pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. And it’s easy to see why these would be desirable traits in your workforce. In fact, a survey back in 2011 found that almost three-quarters of hiring managers rated emotional intelligence over IQ.
When trying to instil an emotionally intelligent culture, you should lead from the front. Staff who know that you genuinely care about them are far more likely to buy in to your plans. For guidance and advice, speak to The HR Dept.
Outrageous expense claims
What’s the most jaw-dropping item your employees have put through expenses? Can you beat lottery tickets, cosmetic surgery, half a cow? They’ve all actually happened. Admittedly in America! And while we can raise an eyebrow and perhaps smile at the nerve, it is a serious issue.
Expenses are to reimburse staff for travel and other costs incurred in the line of duty. While “half a cow” would be easy to spot, there will inevitably be greyer areas. These can be minimised through good line management drawing clear boundaries, rather than being left to the finance manager to notice.
People Matter June 2019
Fathers’ flexibility needs rejected
The poor treatment that mothers often receive in the workplace is well documented. What does not hit the headlines so regularly is the father’s lot at work in 21st century Britain.
A new survey by Deloitte and parenting website DaddiLife sheds some light on this. It’s not particularly pleasant reading for families. Nearly half of dads experience regular tension at work when trying to balance family life. It affects one in three dads’ mental health negatively.
Four out of ten working dads request flexible working and about half of these requests are rejected. Of course, as an employer you are entitled to reject a flexible working request. But you must handle these requests in a reasonable manner. A rejection must be justified to the applicant with a good business reason.
Handling flexible working requests reasonably will involve a face-to-face meeting to discuss the request, properly weighing up the pros and cons and offering an appeals process. Taking the time to do this may help you to make a better decision as well as to stay legally compliant.
At first sight it may seem clear-cut that flexible working will not aid your business. But a considered appraisal of the impact of not granting it may change your mind. For example, if there is, as the survey suggests, a 33% chance of an unsupported father developing a mental health issue, maybe the cost in lost productivity of denying flexible working will exceed the perceived cost of allowing it.
Flexible working is also known to improve staff loyalty. So you may see the same story with recruitment and retention costs. The survey revealed that a third of new fathers have switched jobs and another third are actively looking to switch.
Flexible working is more highly valued by employees than ever. And traditional parental dynamics of the father being the bread-winner are increasingly perceived as outdated. So is it time to review your attitudes towards flexible working? Talk to your local HR Dept to review how you handle requests and how you can make flexible working work for your business.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
About 85% of people are neurotypical. This means that their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say “think different” to quote Apple’s famous advertising slogan. They are neurodivergent.
Neurodivergent people are often diagnosed with a condition, which can come with stigma. The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia. While they can each be associated with specific difficulties which are well documented, they also often give rise to strengths which come from thinking differently.
For instance, people with ADHD may be good at completing urgent tasks, those with autism at developing deep specialist knowledge, people with dyslexia at problem-solving and employees with dyspraxia at strategic thinking.
It all varies from person to person. But recognising neurodiversity, which is often recognised as a disability, and building a supportive working environment with reasonable adjustments where necessary, could give you a key advantage when trying to get the right blend of skills in your business.
LGBTQ equality in your workplace
With 2019’s calendar of Pride events just around the corner, it’s timely to consider LGBTQ equality in your workplace.
In a TUC poll of more than 1,100 LGBT workers, more than two thirds of respondents said they had been sexually harassed at work. It is a shockingly high number. It suggests that such discrimination is widespread, despite sexual orientation and gender reassignment being protected characteristics under equality law.
Transgender employees may be particularly vulnerable in the workplace. For the first time in 2018, LGBT equality charity Stonewall featured trans-inclusive employers in its list of top employers for inclusivity. But only 20% of the top 100 employers had a policy which focused on trans employees.
It is proven that diversity pays. Inclusive companies are able to recruit from a wider talent pool and benefit from a positive workplace culture. Workforces which reflect the full gamut of society can also connect better with broad customer bases.
So with the motivation of legal obligation and better productivity, what could you be doing to foster greater LGBTQ inclusion at work?
The first technical check is whether you have an anti-discrimination policy. We’d advise this to be a day one requirement when you start employing people. It will be broader than just covering sexual orientation as there are nine legally protected characteristics. It will let employees know what is and isn’t acceptable and give you the tools to address any policy breach.
Assuming a policy is in place you can look at further proactive steps. Variations of the phrase: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance” do the rounds on social media. And while they may over-simplify a complex issue, they are of some use. Talk to your team, sensitively, about what an inclusive workplace looks like to them and use that as a steer.
If you find yourself without an anti-discrimination policy, or you want professional support in developing your inclusivity, talk to your local HR Dept.
According to research, two thirds of workers want clear guidelines on what form of physical contact is acceptable in the workplace. While to some this may seem a bit “nanny state”, we should not forget the impact of the #metoo movement, and the wrongdoing it has highlighted.
The survey revealed just how frequently embarrassing greeting misunderstandings occur. One in eight workers have been accidentally kissed on the mouth and a quarter have been trapped in an unwanted hug. In total, 42% of workers would like at least one form of greeting prohibited.
Shaking hands is still the preferred form of greeting. However while nearly half of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer it, a hand shake is only first choice for 35% of workers in their 20s.
It’ll be a cultural decision as to whether you want to introduce guidelines for your business. But the survey suggests there is some demand for boundaries to be set.
Breaking the ice
It’s a perennial issue – How do you get those creative juices flowing at the start of a meeting or training session? Love them or loathe them, ice breakers are often turned to.
If you’re currently burying your face in your hands, we understand. There are some terrible examples of ice breaking out there. From being asked to bark like a dog and find peers with the same barking style, to removing a shoe and have a stranger pair it back up to you, they can make people feel uncomfortable and invade personal boundaries.
But despite the litany of bad examples, there is merit in an ice breaker done well. The more contextualised to the gathering the better. By this we mean consider the time and space you have available and the expectations of your participants. Good ice breakers often have some link to the topic to be addressed.
Working time has been under scrutiny in the courts of late. A European legal decision suggests that companies may soon have to document precise working hours to prove legal weekly limits aren’t exceeded. And at a UK employment appeals tribunal, a worker was awarded personal injury damages when a consistent denial of a lunch break aggravated a bowel condition. Everyone must be permitted at least a 20-minute break when working more than six hours continuously.
It’s worth checking you are contractually offering this minimum and granting it in practice. There’s no need to provide a dedicated break area, though, or pay people for break time.
People Matter May 2019
Is suspicion a good enough
reason to sack someone?
Imagine you’ve held a confidential meeting with your directors about an extremely sensitive issue. Then in the following days, some of the subject matter becomes the talk of the town amongst your wider workforce. Or worse still, outside your company. You’d be fuming. And rightly so. Trust is essential in successful workplace relationships.
If, after some preliminary asking around you have your suspicions, your first instinct may be to summarily sack your culprit. But we would urge you to temper your instincts. This is a high-risk action which exposes you to an unfair dismissal claim.
Such a sacking has just been played out across the national press. You’ll have read about the prime minister, Theresa May, dismissing her defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, for allegedly leaking the details of a National Security Council meeting. He described the process leading to his dismissal as trial by a kangaroo court.
While employment tribunals will not be at the front of the prime minister’s thoughts, they should be for SME businesses who act in a similar way. Awards for unfair dismissal can easily run into five figure sums. They are normally capped at the lesser of one year’s salary or £86,444, but in the case of whistleblowing or discrimination are uncapped.
If the above scenario, or some other serious wrongdoing occurs, it’s essential to follow the correct procedures, which should be outlined in your disciplinary policy. This will include a fair investigation. Once these have been followed, dismissal may then be a perfectly acceptable outcome.
Of course, in the case of the defence secretary’s sacking, someone must have leaked the story. In such cases the workplace culture, the expectations of management and the communication of company policies are so important in defending against indiscipline.
Incidents like this are among the problems that our advice line was designed to solve. When you are signed up, we’ll be there to advise you on the correct handling of such issues. And as long as you follow our advice from the outset, you will be protected from tribunal costs and awards by our tribunal indemnity insurance.
Ramadan in the workplace
From 5 May and lasting 30 days until 4 June it’s Ramadan, a holy period for Muslims. With three million Muslims in the UK, it is a time of the year that will impact many workplaces.
A good workplace culture will foster open dialogue between managers and employees about their needs, and Ramadan is no exception. So talk and find out if Muslim staff need any temporary adjustments. Ramadan features several customs, but fasting (food and drink) between sunrise and sunset is likely to be the one most noticeable at work.
Be accommodating where possible, as not being so without good cause could amount to religious discrimination. But if you have a strong business reason to deny a request, then you can do so.
The fasting is likely to cause tiredness and maybe irritability as the day wears on. Could you reschedule workflows to allow creative or demanding projects to be done in the morning, with more mundane tasks left for the afternoons? Staggered breaks, flexible lunch hours and even more general flexible working may be options too.
You’ll have a holiday policy and annual leave requests should be processed in line with that. But you may find scope to prioritise Ramadan (and Eid) related requests given that Christian festivals are often marked with bank holidays.
While it’s possible productivity will temporarily fall with any measures you permit, the long-term value of treating people well cannot be overstated.
And it is not all on you. A bit of consideration from your wider team would not be amiss: not talking gratuitously about food for example.
One final thought. Be mindful that some who would normally observe Ramadan may not this year for deeply personal reasons, such as medication or their menstrual cycle. Manage conversations tactfully.
Do you know what your
employees say about you online?
You can find a review for anything online nowadays. Movies, cars and you, yes you! As an employer.
Websites like Glassdoor.com allow current and former employees to post reviews and other telling information about their employment for all to see.
This is great if you have a raft of gushing reviews. But what if the reviews are not glowing?
It’s good practice to respond to negative reviews, rather than leaving a vacuum. So assign someone to do this. Consider who your response is addressing – it will probably be current and future employees rather than the person who posted the review.
If you really have got a culture problem, the feedback may be useful in helping you address it. If this is the case, you can say so in your response. Just remember, such reviews are a “thing” now – so they should be considered in your recruitment strategy.
Sorry, I’m out of the office
They’re a staple of modern business, but how do you like your out-of-office email messages? Strictly functional? Preaching about switching off? Or with lashings of humour?
One thing we can all agree on is that they should be accurate. This means ensuring the dates are correct, and that a colleague’s contact details actually work.
Sacha Romanovic, CEO of Grant Thornton, recently left an unusually detailed out-of-office message describing her holiday plans. The intention was to signal to staff that it’s ok to switch off. Meanwhile, one financial services industry worker is in competition with a colleague to write the most humorous messages, including one to the lyrics of Rick Astley’s 80s classic Never gonna give you up.
Whatever your team’s out-of-office messages say, they will leave an impression with recipients – it’s worth checking it’s the right impression. Ensuring they distinguish their message between internal and external senders may help strike the right balance.
Traditionally, only hourly paid staff clock in and out to ensure they are at work for their required hours and paid correctly. Some firms who charge on site engineers out to the customer have also completed time sheets. Going forwards, you may be forced to log absolutely everybody’s working hours to ensure employees don’t work too many hours.
This comes after a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A Spanish trade union had taken Deutsche Bank to court. They argued that the Working Time Directive meant Deutsche Bank should be recording working hours to demonstrate that staff did not work more time than the weekly limits prescribed in the directive.
The ECJ agreed and said that in the absence of such records it was too difficult, if not impossible, for workers to ensure their rights were respected. This interpretation puts an obligation on member states, which at present includes the UK, to enact a requirement to record all actual hours worked in national law. We’ll keep you updated on any law changes that ensue.
Moving forward by giving back
It’s no secret that a bit of charitable activity can be good for business: the chance for some positive PR, and a teambuilding opportunity as your staff rally behind a good cause. There are pitfalls too, but none which you can’t sidestep with good people management.
Strong internal comms are key: in person, digitally or even a notice board. Make them two-way and get buy-in from your staff by letting them help pick the charity and methods of fundraising. Clarify that all donations are voluntary (you never know who may be struggling financially), and keep tabs on the choice of fundraising activity to ensure it doesn’t impair operations or cause offence.
Minimum wage rates
The minimum wage rates changed at the beginning of April. Find what you need to know below:
• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) increased from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate increased from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP increased from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Since 1 April the new pay rates are as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older increased from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 increased from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 increased from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) increased from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate increased from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, increased from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation increased from £83,682 to £86,444.
Safety Matters Q2
Don’t let changes on your shop floor
trip you up
Almost all businesses will have to consider visitors on their premises as well as employees, when assessing health and safety risks. But if you run a shop, or group of stores, and you are hoping for a large customer footfall, understanding the risks to the public will take on heightened importance. When they are getting some retail therapy, or picking up a few essentials, your customers will expect to be safe.
Local authorities enforce health and safety law on retail premises, and they will expect you to have assessed the risks in your business and taken precautions to manage them. Bear in mind, as you will see below, that this is not a one-off exercise.
The most common risk to customers in retail is of slips, trips and falls, so this must be properly assessed and controlled. Wet or dirty floors, spillages, damaged floors and other trip hazards are the most likely causes of an accident, but your business might have its own particular risks too.
Other health and safety considerations that are likely to be relevant to retail include manual handling, violence, working at height (if ladders are used), and workplace transport e.g. deliveries.
And then there are the hazards that are very specific to your store. Be especially aware when you introduce new equipment, fixtures, furniture or furnishings to your shop floor. Even though a change may be ad hoc, it’s essential to update your risk assessment.
In January 2019, the owners of Top Shop, Arcadia, were fined £450,000 when part of a queuing system barrier fell on a ten-year-old girl and fractured her skull. The barrier was successfully used in flagship stores but had been deployed to a smaller store which were not accustomed to using them.
The barrier should have been fixed firmly to the floor but was installed incorrectly. So when the young girl swung on it, it toppled over causing the serious injury which led her to miss eight weeks of school and left her with a permanent scar. In court, Arcadia admitted breaking health and safety laws, and has since put processes in place to reduce the risk of such an accident happening again.
If you are planning changes to your retail space, are opening a new store or just think your staff may need some extra training, contact us for expert health and safety support.
Failing to design an adequate process for maintaining machinery and checking it’s operating safely is a reason for HSE prosecution should an accident occur.
This spring, two waste companies were each fined tens of thousands of pounds for accidents which resulted in severe limb injuries. Parallels can be drawn because the injuries were inflicted when workers were trying to remove blockages and waste material from machinery.
In the first case, the worker had his hand crushed between a conveyor belt and a drive roller. A few weeks earlier guard plates had been removed. A main part of the prosecution was that there were no adequate procedures for checking guard plates were in place. Additionally, adequate training for using the machine and suitable supervision of operatives had not been provided.
In the second case, a worker fell three metres into a compactor chamber, activating the ram which crushed his legs. He had climbed into the infeed hopper and jumped up and down on a blockage with a colleague. When it cleared, he fell through with it. In particular, the HSE noted that there was no safe system for isolating the system from power when dealing with blockages.
For a review of your maintenance procedures, get in touch.
Adequately documenting procedures and keeping records are often an essential part of complying with health and safety law. In schools, this is particularly sensitive. And also, more likely to be publicly exposed as inadequate if you are not doing it properly – because of the routine Ofsted inspections and ratings.
An independent school in Yorkshire had to accept the bad PR consequences of this earlier in the year, when they were stripped of their “Outstanding” rating and declared “Inadequate”. Among other things, safeguarding was found to be ineffective and they had not met the standards for ensuring all necessary checks were carried out on adults working in the school.
Whilst apologising and confirming the issues had been addressed, the head teacher explained that the safeguarding issues related to record checking and keeping, and that safety and security of pupils was not directly put at risk.
Away from this specific case, and aside from the fallout from Ofsted reports and the potential to employ someone who would do harm to children, how else could poor record checking/keeping impact health and safety in schools? One example is in first aid.
If you don’t have a record of which team members are qualified first-aiders, you’ll lose track of when certificates expire and when staff with the qualification leave. This will make it likely that you don’t comply with your own first aid policy.
If you need help independently reviewing your record-keeping and checking procedures call The H&S Dept and one of our experienced local consultants will help.
We like to wrap our children in cotton wool to protect them from danger, and very often from themselves. Most of the time this is entirely sensible and helps to prevent harm. But sometimes people go too far. Or businesses give health and safety a bad name by claiming a rule is because of H&S when in reality there’s a different underlying reason.
Sock it to ‘em
More cotton socks than cotton wool, but a soft play centre insisted that all children wear socks for health and safety reasons. While there is a public health need to cover feet infected with warts and verrucas, there’s no health and safety law mandating that socks are worn in soft play centres by all. The sock policy may meet this need, but it’s not specifically a health and safety requirement.
Don’t be a dummy
A café manager’s prohibition of baby’s dummies forced a family to leave prematurely. As with the case of the socks, the ban was blamed on the catch-all term health and safety. You can probably guess that there’s no health and safety legislation which stops babies being pacified with dummies in cafés. Digging deeper it was the café’s own strict internal food hygiene rules behind the ban. Better to just say that to begin with.
Is your work equipment
fit for purpose?
Failing to stay on top of seemingly innocuous maintenance issues on your premises can lead to tragic outcomes. That was the case at a Scottish care home, when a failing door lock led to the death of a resident.
After going missing, the resident was found with fatal head injuries at the bottom of a staircase leading to a boiler room. The staircase was kept off limits by a locked door, but the locking mechanism did not always work.
The death and a £60,000 fine show why even minor snags should not be left to lie. The technical breach was of Regulation 4(3) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This places a duty on you to ensure that equipment at work is suitable for the reason it is provided.
If you operate a care home and have concerns that your staff may not be carrying out the necessary control
People Matter April 2019
UK Government raise awareness over
I don’t have to pay holiday because my staff are on zero-hour contracts.” “Staff need to work three months before they are entitled to paid holiday leave.” These are two myths which, though erroneous, appear alive and well, with more than 50% of workers in the UK believing both (according to a survey of 2,000 workers by Kantar).
It’s symptomatic of a wider problem of employers and employees regularly failing to understand how holiday leave and pay works – normally at the expense of workers. This has prompted the government to embark on a campaign to raise awareness of holiday pay. It is part of their response to the Taylor Review of workers’ rights. Their message is that it’s the responsibility of employers to get it right.
So how can we help?
First of all, if we have prepared your employment contracts, we will have drafted the details of employees entitlement and the holiday year in which it should be taken.
If you haven’t asked us to do this and would like a review, get in touch.
The statutory minimum is 5.6 weeks of paid holiday, made up of 20 days of annual holiday plus the eight statutory bank and public holidays. These are pro-rata for part time staff. To help, the government have released new guidelines and an online entitlement calculator.
Beyond this you may offer more generous contractual holiday pay.
With this foundation laid, you should have the basis for offering the correct number of days and communicating them to your staff. If it looks like they will not naturally take their full entitlement, you should remind them or face too many people suddenly wanting holiday at the end of the year. Holiday in excess of the statutory amount may be carried over but as holiday is deemed to be necessary for an individual’s well-being, it is better to ensure all staff take it. Only on termination of employment can accrued holiday be paid rather than taken.
What about managing holiday leave? It can be an arduous task: logging leave, prioritising conflicting requests and answering queries. If you are looking for a simpler way, ask your local HR Dept about our HR Toolkit. It is a software system that does all the hard work for you, freeing you up to leave work that little bit earlier in the evening.
Harsher penalties for breaching
The Good Work Plan – the government’s response to the Taylor Review of the UK employment framework – promised better protections of workers’ rights. In the modern workplace shifts in technology and society have blurred the lines between employment and self-employment, stripping some workers of rights that they should retain – like entitlements to holiday pay and the minimum wage.
Tougher penalties for aggravated breaches of employment rights came into force on 6 April under The Employment Rights (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019. They rise considerably from £5,000 to £20,000. These are payable to the government rather than the worker, and where a separate award is payable to the worker the maximum penalty to the government rises again to £40,000.
And to put a further change on your radar, this time to be introduced in April 2020, all workers will have the right to receive a written statement of the particulars of their employment. At present, it’s only employees that must be supplied with this.
We can provide advice to ensure you designate your staff correctly as employed, self-employed or workers and give them the corresponding rights. With these new penalties in place, it’s more important than ever to get this right.
Is unlimited paid holiday leave as crazy
as it sounds?
Not necessarily! An Australian company has offered this policy for three years and it’s been a roaring success. Here’s why.
The business, a management consultancy, had employees who regularly worked 50+ hour weeks travelling the country. Staff were frazzled and the CEO decided that the standard four weeks of holiday was insufficient. She introduced unlimited paid holiday entitlement, but labelled it “rebalancing leave” to reflect her intention that staff use it to correct their work/life balance.
She recognised the obvious flaw in unlimited leave was abuse: staff never showing up to work. And not so obviously, some staff taking less holiday than they needed in order to please management.
Her assessment was that the culture in her business was strong enough so people wanted to show up to work and not take liberties. She was right. She reported staff self-managing whether their leave should be paid as they were rebalancing their lives, or if the leave was for another purpose and should go unpaid.
She also felt it was important to lead by example. She has settled on taking five and a half weeks’ leave and this has encouraged her team to do the same, knowing that they’re not being judged for taking extra holiday.
While costs are incurred through the extra holiday, she considers she has saved money overall through better retention and fewer sick days.
It won’t work for every business, but it is food for thought. If you would like to explore how creative employee benefits can help your company, talk to our experts at The HR Dept.
Pranks at work
Were there any shenanigans amongst your team this April Fool’s Day? Pranking may start out as harmless but can quickly become more serious than anybody wants.
On the Richter Scale of pranks a level one or two may contribute to a fun workplace. We heard of one employee who left a random penny on her colleague’s desk every day to make him question himself.
But, higher-stakes pranks which show poor taste or judgement could have grave consequences for staff or your business.
There have been incidents in America of false claims that schools and shops are under armed assault which led to police being called and arrests made. And vicarious liability may be a factor too, meaning a company can be held accountable for the actions of its employees. Carphone Warehouse was found liable in court for the prank of two employees falsely outing their manager. If you need help setting the right expectations of behaviour in your business, call us.
Making a difference
When it comes to attracting talent for your business, , how tuned in are you to the outlook of today’s applicants? Whilst a competitive salary, opportunity for progression and a shiny benefits package are all still desirable, there may be something more that could give you the edge over the competition.
Last year the Deloitte Millennial Survey revealed that millennials are seeking something different from employers. Due to a growing scepticism in political leaders, it’s their employers that millennials are looking to for guidance on making a difference in the world. Recent largescale protests on climate change and waves of people now rejecting single-use plastics, suggest it’s not just millennials that are seeking a sustainable future.
So how can your business lead on this and give you some competitive edge? We have plenty of ideas. Implementing a cycle-to-work scheme, facilitating recycling or taking a resource efficiency pledge are all good places to start. To explore other ways of demonstrating your environmental care and community spirit talk to your local HR Dept.
Acting on Stress Awareness Month
Stress is not an illness in itself but can lead to serious conditions like anxiety. While a bit of short-term tension from a deadline can aid productivity, having permanently stressed-out staff will help no-one.
So it’s important to ensure your policies and processes consider employee well-being. If you don’t offer one already, an Employee Assistance Programme is an excellent and cost-effective way to provide some professional, third-party support through your benefits package. It’s also possible to train staff as mental health first aiders. This can help raise awareness and provide early intervention and support pathways for struggling employees. Talk to us to find out more.
Minimum wage rates
The minimum wage rates changed at the beginning of April. Find what you need to know below:
• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) will increase from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate will also increase from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP will rise from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) From 1 April the new pay rates will be as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older will increase from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 will increase from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 will increase from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) will increase from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate will increase from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, will increase from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation will increase from £83,682 to £86,444.
People Matter March 2019
Does your dress code discriminate?
You arrive at work and find your receptionist wearing running trainers instead of his usual smart shoes. With two clients already in the waiting area you don’t want to make a scene, but you’re not happy.
It’s good you didn’t blow your top though, as it’s always wise to check for a simple explanation. And here, your receptionist sprained his ankle earlier. It was either wear the trainers or go home incapacitated, leaving you in the lurch.
But if it was just standards slipping, then it’s a dress code policy that gives you the framework to deal with it appropriately.
A dress code helps you maintain a certain image for your business. It can include personal grooming and there may well be health and safety considerations as well. But if not devised and implemented well, a dress code can give rise to discrimination and then tribunal cases or mockery in the national press.
The general rule is that you’re free to set your own dress code as long as it’s justifiable for a business or health and safety reason. But you should be careful of anything that imposes a requirement on an employee which encroaches a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (for example sex, gender reassignment or religion).
That’s not to say there cannot be any divergence of dress code for, say, men and women. A ban on beards may be justifiable for men if, for example, facial hair interferes with a safety mask. And in customer facing roles, you may be able to justify a degree of gender-defined requirements based on cultural expectations.
But be warned, the more subjective your policy, the more at risk you are to a discrimination claim and/or bad publicity. Blunders abound. For example, makeup and high heels are two areas to be particularly wary of – it’s hard to justify either for any reason. Virgin Atlantic has just removed its infamous makeup requirements for female flight attendants, and PwC was caught up in a high-heels media storm a year or two ago.
There are rarer issues to contend with too. Like how to manage a transgender employee’s appearance. Or where a policy discriminates indirectly, say on religious grounds.
Whether it’s because of sexism, a sex change or something else, don’t let your dress code bring you down. Ask us for a review to ensure it does not discriminate.
Auto enrolment contributions are increasing
There’s a payroll chore this month if you have an auto enrolment pension scheme. And, more significantly, a higher ongoing cost burden for employing people.
From 6 April 2019, the minimum percentage of salary that you must contribute to eligible employees’ auto enrolment pensions is increasing from 2% to 3%. The overall contributions rise to 8% of salary each month. So for staff, their minimum contributions are rising from 3% to up to 5%, depending on the amount you decide to put in.
As the employer it is your responsibility to ensure that these increases are implemented. You’ll need to assess which employees are affected, make the necessary adjustments to your payroll and communicate the changes to your staff. The Pensions Regulator does have the power to issue fines for non-compliance with April’s rises. We’d also advise reviewing your budgets to ensure they can account for the extra cost.
Please note that, depending on your pension scheme rules, there may be a provision for your employees to avoid their contribution rises. It is known as opting down. You can refuse an opt down request, but if you permit it, your employee would have to go through the auto enrolment process again as required.
It’s important to flag that you are not allowed to actively promote opting down as it goes against the intention of the legislation, and can have knock-on effects that disadvantage your staff. Therefore we only mention this so you are informed, in case your staff raise it with you.
Avoid an awkward first day
We recently blogged about best practices when you are inducting new employees. But what about the opposite – avoiding first day disasters.
You know, like not letting a new employee lock themselves in a walk-in fridge within hours of joining your company. Or leaving a mysterious spray in a desk drawer only for your recruit to discover the hard way that it’s mace. Or adorning your latest hire’s desk with a beautiful bouquet of flowers… which were embarrassingly intended for someone else who’s off on maternity leave.
Those are all real examples, and our favourite (no, that should be least favourite!) is the confession of a newbie who on day one was allowed loose on an email system that let him send 10,000 customers an email wrongly saying their insurance had expired.
It’s essential to prep for first days: among other things readying workstations, providing a tour and setting up training.
Spring clean your HR documents
March marks the start of spring. The first quarter of the year is nearly done and it’s the season when many get their house in order with a spring clean. What better time to review your employment contracts and handbooks, making sure they’re up to date?
These documents underpin your whole employment relationship with your staff. They describe what rights they have, what rules they must follow and what happens if they breach them.
Law changes will normally mean some updates are required each year. For our Advice Line + clients, we’ll automatically update yours as part of our service. But your business and its culture will evolve too, maybe your dress code for instance. When was the last time you considered how your culture is reflected in your contracts and handbook? Get in touch if you want to discuss.
Asda’s landmark equal pay dispute
They don’t come any bigger than this when it comes to private sector equal pay claims. With a significant gender pay gap still prevalent, all employers should take note.
The Court of Appeal has agreed with an employment appeals tribunal ruling which favoured an equal pay claim against Asda. More than 7,000 mainly female workers based in Asda’s retail stores took their employer to court, claiming that they were not receiving equal pay with the depot workers – mostly male.
Asda argued that the two pay structures were distinct and could not be compared. But the courts have found that, as the employment relationships can ultimately be traced back to Asda’s executive board, there is a basis for comparison. It’s an interesting point which many businesses may like to reflect upon.
This is not the end of the story. But it does allow the next chapter to begin. A tribunal will now establish whether the work carried out by each set of employees is of equal value to Asda. If so, they’ll decide whether there are any objective grounds for the variation of pay.
#InternationalWomensDay has been trending in March bringing workplace discrimination into focus. The gender pay gap is just one aspect of this. Last year, the Office for National Statistics figures revealed it had dropped from 9.1% to 8.6% for full-time workers – its lowest rate yet. But further improvement is required.
The UK government has been introducing measures like gender pay gap reporting for larger organisations. But as it’s illegal to pay different rates based on gender, the courts can play a big part in closing the gap too. Given the scale of the Asda case, the impact will be significant whatever decision the courts reach.
The clocks spring forward
At long last, the clocks go forward on 31 March! So we can all start to enjoy longer evenings, brighter mornings and an extra spring in our steps as we approach summer. The downside of the spring clock change is that we lose an hour of sleep over the weekend. But hey: short-term pain, long-term gain!
To reduce the likelihood of employees rolling in an hour late on the next working day, be sure to remind your team of the switch to British Summer Time – particularly if you have staff working on Sunday mornings.
New wage rates from April
The minimum wage rates will be changing from April. Find what you need to know below:
• Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) will increase from £145.18 per week to £148.68 per week.
• The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate will also increase from £92.05 per week to £94.25 per week.
• The qualifying weekly lower earnings limit threshold for SMP, SPP, SAP, SSPP and SSP will rise from £116 per week to £118 per week.
• The National Living Wage (NLW) and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) From 1 April the new pay rates will be as follows:
• The NLW for workers aged 25 or older will increase from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour.
• The rate for workers aged 21 to 24 will increase from £7.38 to £7.70 per hour.
• The development rate for workers aged 18 to 20 will increase from £5.90 to £6.15 per hour.
• The young workers rate (non-apprentices aged under 18) will increase from £4.20 to £4.35 per hour.
• The apprenticeship rate will increase from £3.70 to £3.90 per hour.
• The amount of a week’s pay for various statutory calculations, including statutory redundancy payments, will increase from £508 to £525.
• The statutory cap for unfair dismissal compensation will increase from £83,682 to £86,444.
People Matter February 2019
More protection for
Following government research suggesting that one in every nine women returning to work after giving birth is made redundant, fired or forced out, more robust protections are at last being sought.
Pregnancy and maternity are already characteristics protected against discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act. And there is a host of maternity rights that are available to pregnant employees and new mothers, with statutory maternity leave and pay being two of the main ones. There is also some protection against redundancy.
If redundancy is considered necessary within an organisation while an employee is on maternity leave, she must be offered an alternative role if one is available ahead of any other member of staff in the selection pool. If no such role is open, then she can be made redundant. But only if some strict criteria is met.
These are that it is a genuine redundancy with proper consultation process followed, and that pregnancy or maternity is not the reason.
The government research, alongside other studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence, suggests that the current rules do not offer pregnant women sufficient protection.
So the government has proposed increasing the period of legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and (no change for them) new mothers to six months after their return to work. Others associated with the arrival of a child, including men and women returning from shared parental or adoption leave, could also be protected.
The proposals were announced in January and a 10-week consultation has been launched, so we’ll keep you posted on developments.
Despite the current legal protections, it’s clear that too often women who go through pregnancy are being discriminated against. As we’ve explained, it may be possible to make a pregnant employee, or one that is on maternity leave, redundant. But there is a low threshold for establishing discrimination.
If discrimination occurs, the employee can take an employer to tribunal. And so they should.
For advice on successfully managing employees whilst pregnant or on maternity leave, get in touch with your local HR Dept.
Now you can check
their right to work online
It’s a legal requirement to check and record that your prospective hires have a right to work in the UK. Failure to do so can result in fines for you of up to £20,000 per illegal employee.
Until now this has been done by checking paper documentation from the employee, such as a passport or relevant visas. Last April the government launched a secure online checking service which was free to use. However, paper checks still had to be conducted alongside this. Now the online check is sufficient on its own to demonstrate compliance with this rule.
It is not the end of paper checks altogether though, as sign-up to the online service is voluntary for individuals and employers. In other words, if both parties are happy to go online then that method can be used. But if not, you’ll still need to do it the old-fashioned way.
Pay… attention to detail!
If you employ staff and pay them a variable amount based on the time they work, the way you prepare their payslip is changing in April this year.
To aid transparency for you and them, you will be required to itemise the number of hours worked.
If, on top of variable hours they also have variable rates of pay, for say different tasks or working bank holidays, there is no extra requirement to itemise the hours and rates separately – an aggregate sum for total hours is sufficient. But you may wish to include this further itemisation for even greater transparency.
April is not far away, so if this will affect you ensure your payroll systems are up-to-date to accommodate the new requirements beforehand. And once April comes around, don’t forget to itemise accordingly.
Mental health first aiders
In January, we moved a step closer towards the appointment of trained mental health first aiders in workplaces. This followed a debate in parliament which recommended a change in the law.
All employers have a duty of care towards their staff under the 1974 Health and Safety Act. In larger organisations this includes an obligation to have an appropriate number of trained medical first aiders.
But times have changed, and mental ill health is far better understood nowadays than it was in 1974. A number of statistics were put forward during the debate to suggest the scale and impact of the problem.
That five million people in work could be experiencing an issue like depression, stress-related illness or anxiety. That 300,000 people annually leave their jobs because of long-term mental health problems. And that people affected by a mental health condition who remain in work for longer than they should, costs the economy £15 billion per year.
With these in mind, it seems entirely logical to take action. Mental health first aiders are thought to be an effective approach. But what are they? Just as medical first aiders are not considered a replacement for an A&E doctor or surgeon, their mental health counterparts would not be a replacement for trained mental health professionals.
Instead they would operate as an early warning system. They’d help identify mental health issues and support workers in getting them addressed by professionals before they worsen. Avoiding more serious problems for the individual and the company would be a welcome outcome all round.
Do you have staff who are experiencing mental health difficulties? If you want to explore ways of helping them before these changes come in, call us.
The spy who hired me?
From time-cards to internet monitoring, the idea of companies keeping some sort of tabs on employee activity is nothing new.
But with technology affording ever more opportunity to collect, store and analyse data, how much monitoring is too much?
Sky News staff were reportedly shocked to hear that cameras and microphones were being installed in their newsroom to livestream and broadcast activity for a day. Separately, it was reported that Amazon has patented goggles with direction and movement sensors which raised concerns about surveillance.
The key principles underpinning employee monitoring are that it must be justifiable and that you have a written policy. You should inform employees beforehand of what you record and why, and how long it will be kept. It is not acceptable to collect information for one reason and then use it for another. As with all data it must be stored securely.
As many pregnant women and new mothers struggle with discrimination over new arrivals in their families, employees at some companies enjoy the flip side of this coin. Yes, not only are maternity rights respected, but they also give their staff paid time off if they get a puppy or have some other major pet-based event in their life.
What else could this be dubbed other than pawternity leave? While such policies will be dismissed as “fluffy” by some, they are implemented quite deliberately to give the company an edge in the recruitment market and, from there, commercial advantage.
Safety Matters Q1
Caring during a cold snap
It’s not too often each year that we have to contend with snow and the disruption it brings. But recently it has been one of those times. It sure has been cold, although not quite to the extent of the polar vortex in the States.
Extremes of temperature present particular problems to the care sector, where you are often dealing with very vulnerable people.
A report was published in December 2018 which found that a pensioner died in a freezing care home in 2016. The central heating had broken three weeks previously and had not been fixed. The 1960s heaters were known to be in poor condition before they broke down.
Already unwell with a chest infection and without medication because the care home had faxed the prescription to the wrong chemist, the 95-year-old was stuck in a room in which the window did not close properly, letting in a freezing draft. Early one morning staff became concerned and called the emergency services.
The ambulance crew found the pensioner with a body temperature 9°C below normal levels at just 27.5°C and sadly she passed away. The inquest found the cause of death to be bronchopneumonia and hypothermia.
In England the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the enforcing authority for patient and service user health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) takes this role in Scotland and Wales. The CQC rated the care home as inadequate and it shut down in 2017. The manager or care home owner may yet be prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act.
Clearly, during cold weather it is vital to have heating equipment appropriately functioning to keep the premises at comfortable temperatures. And that your property is maintained so that windows close as they should. Annual servicing and regular maintenance checks are important to achieve this – just waiting for problems to show themselves during a deep freeze is not acceptable.
The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 is relevant here. These state that premises and equipment must be properly maintained which means holding a sufficient budget for such maintenance.
A good risk assessment will help to identify where things could go wrong and put suitable contingency plans in place to address them.
While temperature control may be particularly important in a care setting, maintaining heating equipment is also relevant to all workplaces.
Movement of goods risk assessments –
A must have for all businesses?
From offices to warehouses, pubs to shops, most businesses will handle or receive goods. It may be a key part of your daily activities, or it could be more occasional. Either way, it’s essential to have carried out a movement of goods risk assessment.
Because there are so many types of organisation (and therefore issues) to regulate, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities coordinate a national Moving Goods Safely project. Either the HSE or your local authority could be the enforcement authority, depending on the nature of your business. And it can be costly if you get it wrong.
Colchester Borough Council successfully prosecuted the fourth largest pub company in the UK for health and safety failures in this area.
In October 2017 an accident whilst unloading a drinks delivery left an employee with broken fingers. The injury was caused by an unsecured cellar door falling shut. The local authority found that gas struts designed to allow the door to open and close safely had been removed and not replaced the year before. Moreover, there were no controls in place to stop someone falling down the cellar shaft.
As you might imagine, appropriate risk assessments were found not to be in place for the delivery of goods. Showing the severe consequences of getting this wrong – beyond the harm that came to the employee – the company was fined £100,000 plus costs and a victim surcharge. If you need help preparing or reviewing your movement of goods risk assessment, call The H&S Dept today.
H&S concerns impact
In a reminder of how health and safety can impact organisational growth plans, the University of Chester may have to move its Faculty of Science and Engineering from Thornton Science Park. The site opened in 2014 and 500 students are based there.
This follows an intervention from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the university applied to change the site’s use from business to educational in order to aid future planning applications.
However, the HSE consider there is a risk to students as the science park is situated within the inner zone of a hazardous installation – The Stanlow Oil Refinery. The HSE classify students as members of the public, bringing in extra health and safety considerations. The university want them classed as employees and subject to site security procedures.
Whether you are an academic institution or another organisation with big growth plans, ensure you do your H&S due diligence before implementing expansion plans.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
Many people go to nightclubs to cut loose. And whilst out for a good time, punters may sometimes do things that aren’t in their own best interests. Venues have a responsibility not to allow people to break the law. And they are also bound by stringent health and safety regulations. But where do they draw the health and safety line?
The HSE myth busters panel have highlighted two occasions in recent months when nightclubs have “blamed” policies on health and safety law, when in fact it’s their own management decisions. The problem is, this gives good health and safety advice a bad name. So let’s look where they got it wrong.
Headbanging – the dancing practice of violently but rhythmically shaking your head – cannot be very good for the old brain cells. But it’s a personal choice and there is no legislation prohibiting it. One nightclub incorrectly hid behind H&S when telling clientele to cut out the headbanging.
In another case a nightclub barman refused to serve salt and lemon with tequila. This prevented the shot being enjoyed in the famous lick the salt, sip the drink, suck the lemon fashion. As with headbanging, it may not be too good for your health to down shots of tequila, but it’s not against the law for adults to drink it with these accompaniments.
The ABCs of asbestos
For businesses involved in property, such as landlords and construction firms, asbestos risk should be firmly on the radar.
Asbestos can be found in all manner of construction materials used prior to the year 2000. Considered not to pose a direct risk when undisturbed, these materials release fibres into the air when disturbed which, if inhaled, can cause fatal diseases like asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma. The effects are long-term, with 20 tradesmen a week dying from past exposure.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 primarily govern this risk. When any work is carried out on buildings where asbestos may feature you need to determine if it’s present and the form and condition it is in. If present, or you are unsure, you’ll need to conduct a risk assessment.
Most work with asbestos needs to be carried about by an HSE-licensed contractor. While some activities do not have this requirement, they may still require special procedures. These are called notifiable non-licensed work. Anyone who may disturb asbestos during their normal work activities needs to be appropriately trained.
A Birmingham Magistrate’s Court recently fined a landlord and building contractor after they caused large amounts of asbestos fibres to be released at a rented property. Making fundamental errors, the landlord should have commissioned an asbestos survey and the builder should not have commenced work without seeing and being guided by the report of such a survey.
The risks are high and the regulatory obligations wide-ranging. So if you need help getting the basics right with asbestos, talk to us at The H&S Dept
People Matter January 2019
Finding flex appeal
With unemployment at historically low levels, and staff turnover a problem for many businesses, flexible working is one way to differentiate yourself. Or at least keep up with what your competitors may be doing. Indeed, the government are keen to see as many jobs as possible advertised as flexible, and may legislate in this direction.
Currently, the law says that whether you promote flexible working or not, you must deal with a request for flexible working in a reasonable manner. For instance, weighing up the pros and cons, discussing the request with your employee and making an appeal process available.
That said, you’re not obliged to accept a request if it does not work for your business – just act reasonably or you could be penalised by a tribunal.
It’s worth noting that flexible working is a bit of a catch-all term. It could relate to working hours, the location where work is carried out or something else specific to your business. Part-time hours are the most popular form of flexible working, with flexitime, term-time hours and annual-hours contracts also popular.
Flexible working is often seen as an attractive and inclusive perk. So it can boost recruitment, widen your talent pool, and improve retention by promoting staff loyalty and engagement. Research even shows it can make your staff more productive.
If there are no insurmountable obstacles and you are planning to trial flexible working, you’ll naturally be concerned as to whether you’ll be able to manage it effectively. This is why consideration into how it will impact service is important. Likewise, an appraisal of your business culture – Could overtime be abused? Or do managers need retraining to recognise work completed rather than presenteeism?
You might need to review your IT systems to ensure they run smoothly. Embracing cloud software solutions for your staff may be required, and perhaps absence management software, such as that which is built into our own HR Toolkit.
To explore the benefits and feasibility of flexible working at your company, why not talk to your local HR Dept today?
Five New Year’s resolutions
from The HR Dept
One. Address that underperforming employee. It’s easy to put off, but underperformance is a major drag on business, impacting any or all of service delivery, morale, profits and opportunity-cost.
Two. Look into new learning and development opportunities. Continuous learning is a key to success and helps engage staff. It doesn’t have to be formal training. How about some monthly in-house knowledge-sharing sessions, led by different team members?
Three. Check your contracts and employment statuses. The rise of the gig economy has led to many people being wrongly classified as self-employed. They’re taking their companies to court to claim the employment rights they’ve been denied.
Four. Carry out a risk assessment. Every business is legally required to have done this, but risks change over time. So why not ensure you’re still on top of health and safety in 2019?
Five. Plan a fun activity or team-building day. Now’s a great time to do this and lift the spirits in deepest, darkest January.
The small print
Legally, a written statement of terms and conditions of employment should be provided within two months of work commencing. But for sectors which experience high staff turnover, the recent decision of an employment appeals tribunal (EAT) judge effectively reinterprets this.
The case concerned three hotel workers, employed on short-term contracts who were dismissed for questioning persistent irregularities with their wages, including deductions, shortfalls and late payments.
Two of the workers were employed for more than two months and the third for only six weeks, and none received their terms and conditions. The EAT judge found that, having each worked for more than a month, each were entitled to have received terms. Automatic unfair dismissal was ruled in all three cases.
This sets a precedent and companies should now be looking to provide these terms (properly drafted, not copy/pasted from a template which may be incorrect or irrelevant) within one month, with the second month regarded as a grace period.
at it’s lowest since 1971
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the unemployment rate in the UK is at its lowest since 1971. An estimated 32.48 million people are in work – 396,000 more than in the previous quarter (August to October 2018). This is made somewhat remarkable when the number of jobs that have been lost on the high street in the last 12 months are considered.
Research by the British Retail Consortium shows that 93,000 retail jobs were lost last year as big names such as Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld all went under.
And it’s not just retail jobs that have been lost. A leading accountancy firm reports that restaurant insolvencies in the 2017/18 year were up 24% on the previous year to 1,219. Just this month, Jaguar Land Rover announced it was shedding another 4,500 jobs.
So, what does all this mean to you as an employer? Well, on the one hand the talent pool from which you can recruit is potentially smaller than at any point in recent memory. This means it’s important to nail your recruitment processes to ensure you’re as competitive as can be. From writing your job descriptions to interviewing candidates, you need to get it all right. If you think you have an area of weakness here, talk to us.
But, on the other hand, is opportunity knocking? As we witness seismic shifts in the economy brought about by phenomena like the Internet and Brexit, you may be able to use the decline of some sectors to your advantage by offering retraining to experienced professionals who are looking to transfer into new areas of expertise.
The importance of
a good first impression
“Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” is a maxim that’s often given to interviewees. But it can equally apply to the interviewer if you are to make a good impression yourself. To do this, your questions should be considered in advance. There’s an obvious need to avoid subjects that could breach equality law, such as pregnancy. And it’s also wise to steer clear of contentious subjects like politics, or pressing for answers too vehemently.
Think about the time and place of the interview, making sure they are reasonable and set the right tone for your company. Some people like to stage interviews in the informal setting of a café or restaurant. If you opt for this, ensure it’s not a place where you or your interviewee could be interrupted by acquaintances. For help upping your interview game, talk to your local HR Dept.
Fighting the January blues
The weather’s generally rubbish, the days are short, and many people are broke and on diets after Christmas. It’s not surprising January supposedly features the most depressing day of the year, known as Blue Monday. How does all this affect your team each January?
If productivity takes a dive or the atmosphere sours, showing a little awareness and taking a couple of proactive steps could work wonders. Think what will work for your team, of course. But for many people, encouraging achievable exercise goals – like a daily step challenge, for example – and simply getting some fresh air and daylight at lunchtime could be a great start.
People Matter December 2018
Ok, so you’re navigating the seasonal rush (or lull!), you’ve survived the Christmas party, and then Tom asks if he can carry over two weeks of holiday. You’ve got big plans for 2019 – do you really want to be losing a team-member for that extra time if you can help it?
Firstly, if your holiday year ends in December, why has no one made sure Tom and the others have taken their holiday entitlement? Holiday legislation is covered by health and safety law on the basis that employees need time away from working. Many of the rules relate to this principle.
Managing holiday requests so that the business runs smoothly is important, and you might want to look at HR Dept Toolkit for next year. HR Dept Toolkit is software for making managing holiday requests and other HR admin simple.
Legally speaking, holiday entitlement is broken down into an EU required 20 days, followed by eight days covered by UK law (pro rata for part time staff). Finally, there’s any additional contractual leave that you as an employer provide beyond the statutory minimums.
Dealing with the EU’s four weeks first, the intention behind these is that everyone requires this for their health and wellbeing. Therefore, this cannot be carried over unless they have been on long-term sickness absence, when apparently according to the EU they still need time away from work. And so any holiday accrued during this period of sickness can be carried over. We know what you are thinking!
Thankfully, any holiday entitlement above the 20 days gets simpler after that and you make the rules. So you’re in control. Usually the eight days covers bank and public holidays and any more generous holiday will be detailed in the contract of employment.
With holiday bookings at their peak in January, contact us for a demo of HR Dept Toolkit to make managing next year’s requests simple.
It’s normal to chip dogs, but people!
The pace of technological progression never ceases to astound us. Driverless cars, virtual reality and advanced artificial intelligence are all here. But what about when technology goes too far and becomes a concern?
British and Swedish firms have developed working implant chips that companies can roll out into their workforces. Inserted in the fleshy part between the index finger and thumb, the chip can be used to open doors (replacing the need for ID cards) and store medical data.
With it being claimed that 150 people have been chipped in the UK and 4,000 others (mostly) in Sweden, this is yet another technology of tomorrow that is with us today.
It may send a shudder down the spine, metaphorically speaking. Whatever the perceived benefits, with any initiative as invasive as this, it’s important not to pressure employees into participating. If you are unsure whether, or how, to unleash a new technology on your team, talk to us to cover the HR angle.
A modest seasonal bonus could be worth its weight in gold to your employees as they look to have a merry Christmas. But it could be worth many more times its weight in gold to you as the employer.
January is a prime time when people look for new job opportunities. But a survey from an employee benefits company found that nearly half of UK employees who received a Christmas bonus or gift recently would not look for a new job. And about the same amount would not accept a job offer if they received one.
With the cost of recruitment stretching to as much as a year’s salary for some roles, it’s clear that a little Christmas bonus really could go a long way for you, as well as your staff.
The gig’s up
Another month, another court case about worker status. This time it concerns transport services firm Addison Lee. They have lost an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) initiated by three of their 4,000 private hire drivers. The drivers wished to be classified as workers rather than independent contractors. This would grant them rights such as National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.
The contracts between the firm and the drivers described them as independent contractors with no obligation to offer or accept work. However, taking a strong steer from a Supreme Court case, the EAT said it was right to look beyond the contract and consider actual working practices with a “realistic and worldly-wise” view.
They found that drivers typically worked up to 60-hour weeks and had to work at least 25-30 hours just to cover their fixed costs. They drove vehicles with Addison Lee livery and were told that they were representing the company at all times when in the vehicles. And that they might face sanctions if, without good reason, they turned down work offered to them.
The EAT concluded that it did all add up to worker status, rather than that of independent contractor as stated in the contracts.
There is place for all types of contract and some individuals will seek flexibility just as much as companies. However, what’s not right is for companies to impose false self-employment as a device to cut costs. This erodes workers’ rights, undercuts competitors who behave properly and short-changes HMRC, which, of course, ultimately costs everyone.
To avert this risk, you should review your contracts and ensure that they accurately reflect the true nature of working relationships. If you need help, call us.
Grant funding available for employing marginalised women
The UK government has announced a £600,000 pot for small businesses to help them employ vulnerable and marginalised women looking to return to work. Much government attention is already focused on gender inequality at board level of FTSE companies – with progress being made. So this support at the other end of the careers ladder is to be welcomed.
You can bid for a grant which can be used to fund training, refresher courses or offering work placements. £100,000 of the pot is specifically ringfenced for bespoke support to women who face multiple barriers to returning to work, including caring for people at home, limited English-language skills and mental health issues.
Diversity pays in the workplace, and this funding could help you diversify your workforce. For strategies to ensure you hire from a pool of all available talent, contact your local HR Dept adviser.
Deck the halls
Many organisations like to get into the Christmas groove and spruce up the workplace with tinsel and a tree in December. But spare a thought for a Texan lady who, having vehemently declared she didn’t want to see any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, was pranked by her sister with a barrage of decorations worthy of Lapland itself. It was so over-the-top that she could do nothing but surrender to it. That aside, don’t let decorations get in the way of people doing their jobs. And remember that some items could pose a health and safety trip or fire risk.
People Matter November 2018
Last month, chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his 2018 budget. And as usual there were some announcements particularly relevant to employers. So here is our round up for SME business owners.
National living wage – This was introduced by George Osborne in 2016. In effect it’s an enhanced minimum wage for most people over 25. It was announced that this will rise by 4.9% in April, from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour. This will affect some sectors more than others. For businesses with low-paid workers such as in care and hospitality, we’d advise factoring these new rates into your budgeting for next year as soon as possible.
Apprentices – Apprenticeships are a useful option within the recruitment market if you’re looking to take people on and train them up in new skills. The government will significantly help to pay for the training, and in this budget it was announced that this help will be extended. Currently, as an SME with an annual wage bill of less than £3million, The Apprenticeship Levy does not apply and you only have to pay 10% of the training costs. The good news is that this will be reduced to just 5%. However, a date for this reduction has not been set.
IR35 – Originally introduced in 1999 this is a tax rule designed to stop freelancers and companies sidestepping tax through disguised employment. So very relevant to all the news we have about the gig economy right now.
Last year a requirement under IR35 was introduced for public sector organisations to deduct tax and national insurance from contractors. Now, it’s been announced that from 2020 private sector firms employing more than 250 people will be responsible for checking their contractors’ statuses and deducting the appropriate tax. And if they get it wrong, they will be liable for tax fines.
So IR35 is starting to affect the SME market more, and who is to say where it will stop? We regularly talk about the importance of getting the status of your workers correct in contracts at the outset. And this development in the budget only heightens the importance. If in doubt, call us.
Beware the Christmas bash
‘tis nearly the season to be jolly, and therefore, as your friendly neighbourhood HR advisers we need to begin our warnings about the dreaded office Christmas party. Here’s an interesting one concerning vicarious liability – that’s when a company is held responsible for the actions of other people.
In a recent Court of Appeal judgement, a company has been found vicariously liable for its managing director punching an employee at an after-party which followed their main Christmas bash. The assault resulted in brain damage and happened after a dispute about the terms given to a new employee.
The ruling is of interest because technically the incident did not occur at the company event. However, because of the seniority of the staff member, the fact he was asserting his authority, and that the company had paid for alcohol and the taxis to the after-party, there was a strong enough link for vicarious liability. Do plan your party carefully and remind all those attending of expected standards of behaviour.
How to Hygge at work
Cold winds, short days and rain… lots of rain. If our abrupt transition into Autumn has got you or your team feeling glum, you need a bit of Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) in your workplace. Fresh from Denmark, it is the latest Scandinavian craze to sweep our shores. While there is no exact translation, it broadly means feeling cosy through your experiences.
So rather than merely turning the radiators up to 11, it is about creating warming interactions with your colleagues. It could be bringing cupcakes into the office to share impromptu, taking an extra coffee break and chatting about something other than work, or structuring tasks so that they are teamwork-based.
It’s certainly more charming than Kalsarikänni, anglicised to Päntsdrunk – a Finnish lifestyle trend to cope with the harsh weather which involves drinking at home alone in your underwear!
Landmark whistle-blowing case
In the classic MR James ghost story Oh, whistle, and l’ll come to you, my lad, a university professor is hounded by a spectre after discovering a relic whistle from a bygone age and blowing on it. He’s eventually set free from his haunting by the intervention of a retired colonel.
There can be similarly troubling consequences for employees who blow the metaphorical whistle when they uncover malpractice in their workplace. But instead of kindly colonels, there are robust laws in place to protect the employees. And the judgement in a recent court case has added further weight to these whistle-blowing laws.
The CEO of an oil company was first excluded from decision-making processes, and then dismissed, after raising concerns about the award of contracts in Africa and corporate governance. No notice period was given, the reason provided was that the firm only had a very small HR department and therefore couldn’t follow proper procedures. Ahem!
The employee won his original tribunal, the employment appeal tribunal and then the case at the Court of Appeal. What is most striking however is the size of the award – about £2 million – which was revised upwards during the appeals. And particularly that two individual directors were held personally liable in addition to the company.
It’s vital to be aware of whistle-blowing laws and identify whistle-blowing complaints at an early stage so that you can handle them appropriately. To do this properly you’ll need to train managers and staff. If you would like professional advice to understand the frameworks you need, training or help on an actual case, contact your local HR Dept adviser.
The problem with 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.
Safety Matters Q4
When health & safety and equality law collide
In 2011, the default retirement age was abolished, meaning that companies could not automatically retire workers on age grounds at 65. Some people will welcome the opportunity to retire, but nowadays many workers will need or want to continue working.
Physical and mental health is strongly correlated to age, so this poses a problem for organisations. With no default retirement age, how do you monitor whether people have the physical ability or mental faculty to carry out their work?
This is especially risky when the job in question involves driving.
When a 77-year-old bus driver drove into the side of a supermarket in 2015, it resulted in the death of a pedestrian and a seven-year-old boy. The driver was diagnosed with dementia after the collision, and was found medically unfit to stand trial.
He had been previously warned about his “erratic” driving following four road accidents in the three years leading up to the 2015 collision. The bus company who hired the man pleaded guilty to health and safety law breaches.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency says there is no evidence to suggest that older drivers are more likely to cause a serious accident than anyone else, and statistics actually show that the opposite is true.
Employers have a responsibility to look into cases where an employee has a health condition that could be affecting their ability to drive safely.
This is especially important when it comes to older drivers, since age is associated with a higher risk of certain diseases and health conditions. While motorists over the age of 70 are required to answer written questions about medical conditions and eyesight every three years, they are not required to submit any proof.
Relying on self-reporting in this way can be risky – and sometimes devastating. As was the case with the 77-year-old bus driver, where he, his employer and doctor were all unaware of his health condition leading up to the collision.
If management failures are identified as a significant factor contributing to a fatal accident, companies can be at risk of being prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
This is why employers must take responsibility to ensure they are aware of a driver’s health conditions and properly manage them, irrespective of age. Health and safety law applies to work activities on the road in the same way as it does to all work activities in the office. And employers must manage the risks associated with drivers as part of their health and safety arrangements.
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.
People Matter October 2018
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.
People Matter September
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.
People Matter August
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!
Preventing People Problems
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