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June 2024 Newsletter

As you’ll know, years into a Conservative government, there was a steady stream of employment legislation that has come to pass, or was in progress – from new right to work rules to shared parental leave.

For any legislation that was not over the line when the election was called on 22nd May, the future is uncertain; although there is more chance for some new laws than others.

What is the wash up? The wash up is a term for any active business that the government and other parties agree to prioritise before parliament shuts down for the election process. It doesn’t guarantee that the legislation will proceed, but it gives it a better chance and shows a broad political consensus.

Included in the wash up were:
The Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023 – subject to a code of practice being approved this should still come into force on 1 October 2024.
The Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act – which is expected to allow fathers of newborns whose partner dies enhanced paternity leave rights. The detail, including a start date is unknown.
The Statutory Code on Fire and Rehire – This code was written to provide pragmatic guidance on avoiding conflict relating to fire and rehire, or managing and resolving it if avoidance was not possible.
Non-disclosure agreements – These may be banned where the disclosure is related to criminal activity. It is a provision within the Prisoners and Victims Bill.

There were several other employment law related changes which were being worked on but did not make the wash up. This makes their future much less certain – at the mercy of the new government and their priorities.

These concerned neonatal leave and pay; the right to request a more predictable working pattern; limits on the length of post-termination restrictions (i.e. non-compete clauses); and changes to TUPE and European Works Councils.

You may presume that should the Conservatives pull off a shock victory, more of this will go back on to the agenda; whilst if Labour win, they will prioritise their own manifesto content. If you would like help planning for the uncertainty, please contact us.
It was the kind of policy which makes you sit up and take notice – the reintroduction of national service for 18-year-olds.

Compulsory military training and duties are adopted in dozens of countries around the world, and indeed were in Britain too, in the early years of the Cold War. But it is a bit of a culture shock to us in the 2020s. Of course, should the Conservatives lose, it is likely it will never come to pass; but what could it look like?

There is very little detail other than there would be two streams: a year’s solid military service or a weekend a month for 12 months of community service. So at this stage, the best thing to go on may be the model for the Army Reserves.

For the military service, this could see employees take unpaid time off (for which they are paid by the Army), and have the right to return to their job on the same terms and conditions when mobilisation is finished. If their role no longer exists, a reasonable alternative role should be offered. Furthermore, their employment may be protected for a period of time after their return. Fines or compensation awards may be charged to employers should they not comply.

As the starting point is 18 when they would be called upon, some (or many) may not have a job anyway, which would make it a moot point for employers. But if an employee was seconded away from you and it follows the reservists’ model, you may be compensated by the State for a range of costs you incur. If there is a severe impact on your business, you may even be able to apply for a delay or cancellation.

It’s all hypothetical, but perhaps that paints a picture.
A theme of Conservative employment legislation over the past ten years or so has been degrading the power of the trade unions. Labour promises this will be reversed and some – if they get into power.

Areas that Labour will look at include repealing the Trade Union Act 2016 and the restrictions on industrial action it prescribed; making the process of trade union recognition more simple; introducing sectoral collective bargaining; and creating new rights and procedures for trade unions to conduct their operations.

It sounds wide-ranging and it is. Directly, it could expose you to dealing with trade unions on matters such as pay and your disciplinary process where you have not had this exposure before. Depending on the size and nature of your business it could also impose on you in terms of access that trade unions have and time your employees spend on union activity.

Indirectly, your business could be disrupted by more general strike action: staff struggling to get into work on time because of transportation strikes, more sickness absence because of NHS strikes, and so on.

With all that said though, trade union membership has been on the decline for decades with less than a quarter of the workforce a member of a union. Time will tell if such a shot in the arm for the unions would change this.
To simplify matters for SMEs and workers alike, we have long campaigned for the abolition of the “worker” status

Now Labour has said they will do just that if they come to power. Why is it important?

There are currently three working statuses (although confusingly only two are recognised in tax law – employed and self-employed). In employment law, the third status is “worker” status.

A worker is like an employee-lite. They enjoy some but not all of the rights of employees, so technically there may be a cost benefit to a company of hiring workers. But it is not always fair on the worker and we think the confusion it causes cancels out the benefits. We have seen high-profile case law brought about by Uber drivers and others with worker status who have successfully argued for more rights.

Currently, there are three key tests to be considered an employee and all must be satisfied: delivering a personal service – they must do the work themselves, not be able to sub it out; there must be mutuality of obligation – the employer must give work and the employee cannot turn it down; the employer must exercise a strong degree of control over how the work is carried out.

If someone satisfies some but not all of the tests, they would normally be a worker. If they satisfy none, they would normally be self-employed. A single employee status (alongside genuinely self-employed) will make the employee status significantly smoother, aligned with tax law, and give everyone understanding of the employment rights they have.
Nothing is set in stone yet, but there are prudent steps you might take to position yourself for change. Acting in certain areas now may help you get ahead of the game.

With Labour’s promises of giving workers more day one rights, such as protection from unfair dismissal and an extended time period for employees to bring tribunal claims, you should consider bringing forward any decisions regarding staff changes – particularly if they affect staff members with less than two years’ service. Doing this now while it is still permitted could save you a lot of grief down the line.

Think also about company reorganisations, management training and the kind of contracts you will bring new recruits in on; given Labour’s views on zero-hour contracts and worker status, and the greater influence that trade unions may have in the future.

Always consult with an HR consultant like us before making any big decisions though, to ensure you do it right by the current rules.
Before the election it is all eyes on the polls and manifestos. After the election it is time to see if the victorious party can stay true to the promises made.

Labour tells us of a whirlwind of employment law changes starting within the first 100 days of government. History forewarns, though, that for one reason or another, government’s often find it difficult to enact all their promises.

From a hung parliament where political compromise must be made to a jarring reality shock when a party gets a proper look at the books, there are many reasons that manifesto promises don’t come to pass.

Sometimes it is a matter of time. Theresa May only had two and a half years to get busy; David Cameron, in 2015, one year; Liz Truss, well… 49 days. Even after winning a sizeable majority in 2019 Boris Johnson’s plans were derailed by the pandemic months later.

You need to plan, but keep this in mind.

May 2024 Newsletter

It is a huge fear for SME owners and managers that they invest lots of time and money into the recruitment process, only to find out down the line that they have made a bad hire.

While this has long been a danger, the rise of AI since 2023 has brought a whole new level of complexity; with candidate use of AI in CVs, covering letters and other parts of the application process. One candidate even got busted for using AI live in a video interview to help them answer the questions!

For employers, the big problem with the use of AI by candidates is that it may misrepresent their skillset. It leads you to think they will be perfect when, in fact, there were stronger candidates available.

Looking at the flipside, AI will undoubtedly empower some excellent candidates who would have missed out through poor written communication – a win for you and them. Used well and honestly, AI can showcase the creativity and problem-solving abilities of candidates.

With its pros and cons, the AI genie is out of the bottle, but that does not mean you can’t be savvy in your recruitment.

At the extreme you could decide to ban or limit the use of AI in applications (this is still only as effective as your enforcement though) – some of the largest professional services firms have done this.

An alternative is to build in some stages to your recruitment where it is hard for AI to have an impact – a face to face interview, well designed questions which require unique answers which AI cannot really help with…

You can also learn to spot the signs of AI use: convoluted sentences; odd, overly descriptive word phrases; and striking similarities in content between different candidates
Just when you thought social media couldn’t possibly give employers any more headaches, we have a new phenomenon for you: QuitTok.

This is when a disgruntled employee covertly films a disciplinary meeting or performance review conducted by video call and posts it online. Hoping to cause as much reputational damage as possible, some have hit the mark and gone viral.

As well as the direct reputational damage, these acts can cause other problems like a breach of confidentiality, and the sapping of morale. So, how can you lower the chances of this happening to you?

If it is possible to hold such meetings in person, rather than on Zoom, this is a good first step. With you and ideally an HR representative present, it would take some skill (and gumption) to covertly film. If you have no choice but to hold a meeting virtually, you can ask them not to record it which may be sufficient deterrent for some, but is unlikely to put off a determined trouble maker.

Your policies play an important role too. If you have not got a social media policy in this day and age, you should get one. Among other things, ensure it states that employees must not share business information on social media, including internal discussions and business meetings. Reinforce this in your disciplinary and grievance policy by explicitly stating that posting a recording of a meeting on social media would be classified as gross misconduct.

Staff training may help. Data protection training for all staff will assist employees in understanding confidentiality and the reasons behind it. This may encourage them to stop and think in some instances. And for managers, training on handling difficult conversations and conflict will help them stay in control and show appropriate empathy, diminishing the impact of a recording.

One final point. While it may be hurtful and damaging for such a video to be posted; getting in a mindset where you regard this as a possibility may help you conduct difficult meetings with a greater degree of professionalism and compassion. Some managers who have featured in these exposure posts have actually been praised for the way they have conducted themselves, backfiring on the intentions of the poster.
Cleanliness has long been held in high regard, but is this still true in the workplace of today?

The benefits of a clean and tidy workplace are plentiful: it creates a good impression when clients or suppliers visit, aids the smooth running of a business and contributes to good health and safety. One study found a controlled increase in the quality of cleaning led to a 12.5% decrease in sickness absence, while another (which looked at 351 office buildings) correlated cleanliness with employee satisfaction.

Unfortunately, many businesses have not got the memo, as new research suggests that a growing number of workplaces are in a poor state of hygiene. This month it was reported that having invested more than £1 billion into Manchester United, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has sent a scathing email to all staff demanding better standards of tidiness, and calling one area a disgrace.

If you take a look around your workplace and feel it is not quite up to scratch, it’s clear that encouraging a cleaner office culture could have a positive impact on productivity and performance.
A detailed report by Xero, the accountancy software provider, revealed that SME productivity has still not fully recovered since it went backwards during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If this is the case in your business, profitability may be impacted which in turn limits your ability to enjoy the fruits of your labour and grow.

There are many strategies you could pursue to drive up productivity, from introducing new technology to reviewing your sales and marketing. HR is certainly an area in which you should give careful thought.

How good is your recruitment and retention? Does your appraisal system drive improvement in your team? Thinking of carrot and stick, do you sufficiently recognise your good performers and not let poor performers drift?

From training to upskill your staff to professional assistance with the difficult task of performance management, we are here to help. So if you have a productivity issue in your business, have a chat with us.
Last month, Rishi Sunak announced a flagship policy to end the sick note culture – telling people what they can do, not what they can’t, and moving the issuance of fit notes away from GPs.

Steering clear of the politics of it all, there is much that good HR can do to counter absenteeism in the workplace; starting with having a robust absence management process in place.

This includes requiring absent staff to confirm over the phone (not text or email) themselves that they will not be in, return to work interviews when the absence ends and proper monitoring of sickness absence to detect patterns.

If you have a problem with absenteeism, it may be time to look at your workplace culture. Is there a problem with stress? Are there cliques or have you had incidents of bullying? Any of these could be an underlying cause.

Another government policy is to facilitate flexible working, and there is growing demand for this amongst employees. It may be that it does not work for you, but it is worth exploring just to check. For some employees, it could give them the balance they need to perform their role well, rather than seek out a fit note.
If you think it sounds harsh to be sacked for opening the wrong doors, you are not alone. An employment tribunal upheld just such a claim for unfair dismissal; although it should be noted that the doors in question were those on a Tube train!

The train wasn’t moving, but it is still possible that passengers could have fallen out, so it was a serious incident. Both the employee’s parents had recently died, and she cited the stress of this as a contributing factor to the incident.

The judge considered that Transport for London did not carry out a sufficient investigation leading up to the dismissal, but awarded no compensation due to the gravity of the underlying employee mistake. When health and safety protocols are paramount, it is always wise to ensure your staff are in a fit state of mind to perform their duties.

April 2024 Newsletter

Running a business, you may put a heap of effort into managing your team, leading them through the highs and lows. But how good a boss are you to yourself?

When it is your own business, it is easy to be completely immersed in it all hours of day (and in extreme cases, night). The harder you work the better your returns is the thinking. Or, “If I don’t get this done the wheels will come off!”

While this can work in the short term, it is not sustainable over a prolonged period of time. Something’s got to give and if you leave it too long it could be your health, relationships or, paradoxically, your passion for your business.

Here is a quick list of good practices for maintaining a healthy work/life balance. How well do you score on each of these?

Creating boundaries – You are at an immediate disadvantage to someone who works 9am-5pm in an office when you run your own business. It’s much harder to switch off, and perhaps you continue working at home. Be strict with downtime and, if you work at home the physical space you operate in.

Time management – It is far from unusual for business owners to be pulled from pillar to post with the amount they have to do. To avoid being a busy fool, work on getting your time management down to a tee. Approaches like the Pomodoro Technique (25 minute focused sprints) and Eisenhower Matrix (prioritising the important tasks) are helpful here.

Delegation – For some, delegation is one of the hardest skills, but it is important to scaling a business. Whether it is a trust issue or something else, building up this skill is fundamental to achieving work/life balance. As a starting point, it is often helpful to delegate in small steps just outside your comfort zone to build up the confidence required.

Taking breaks – Less speed more haste, there is usually wisdom in the old sayings. Whether we are talking 15 minutes to clear your head after a long meeting or staring at a screen, or ensuring you take proper “switched off” holidays – it will help you stay refreshed, think more creatively and avoid burn-out.

Focus on sleep – It is easy to take sleep for granted, but it is essential to operating effectively during the working day and for your overall health. Your cognitive function, emotions and physical health will all be dictated to by the level of sleep you achieve. A regular schedule, relaxing environment, avoidance of stimulants like caffeine and blue light from screens will all help you establish a good sleeping pattern.
Every April, we see updates to employment law following the passing of legislation over the previous year. April 2024 is a busy one. We have produced a full factsheet contact us if you would like a copy.

In the meantime, here are some of the headline changes to watch out for:
National Minimum Wage – The annual rise to minimum wages kicks in on 1st April. There is a big change this year with the National Living Wage applying for those aged 21 or older (previously it was 23). The new rate increases from £10.42 to £11.44. Minimum wages for younger workers and apprentices rise too.

Carer’s leave – This is a new statutory leave that comes in from 6th April 2024. It gives employees a day one right to take one week of unpaid leave in each 12-month rolling period to look after a dependant such as a child, or anyone else who reasonably relies on them for long-term care.

Flexible working – The right to request flexible working is being extended, and weighted more in the employee’s favour. From 6th April it becomes a day one right as opposed to an entitlement after 26 weeks’ continuous service. It can be requested twice within 12-months instead of once, and your response time as an employer is reduced from three to two months. The employee no longer needs to explain the effect of the change requested, but your permitted reasons for refusing a request have not changed.

Enhanced redundancy protection – The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act extends rights already in place for new mothers significantly – again from 6th April. It widens the beneficiaries of protection to include adopting parents and those using shared parental leave, and for mothers applies from the moment an employee informs her employer she is pregnant, to 18 months after the birth.
Managing redundancies will usually be a difficult and complex process – certainly for many who are leaving, but also for some who are staying who may have survivor syndrome, and the people in charge of the process.

In the States, one company got it wrong when a virtual town hall meeting was abruptly cut short when staff started to voice their displeasure… or rather display it via a torrent of emojis.

The incident went viral and the company was criticised for running away from the problem instead of listening to concerns.

There is a statutory process to follow when instigating redundancies and doing it with a human touch will generally help. We are experts in helping companies through such challenging times, so if you may need to make redundancies, seek our help
If a member of staff experiences a mental health emergency in the workplace, it is likely to be a highly stressful time for them, colleagues and you. There may be a thousand thoughts racing around your head, including what you need to say to help ease the situation.

Of course, some of the pertinent information may be personal data, such as a pre-existing condition or a history of behaviour, casting doubt on what you are free to say. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has recently released detailed guidance to help.

Broadly speaking, they advise that you should share proportionate and relevant information with emergency services and health professionals to prevent anyone coming to serious harm. They confirm that you will not get into trouble for doing this.

When reaching out to next of kin or an emergency contact though, they suggest a more cautious approach, case by case. This is because you may not know the exact nature of an employee’s relationship with this person.

The ICO also advises planning ahead for sharing information in a mental health emergency. Contact us if you would like help doing this compliantly.
You’d like to think that if you invested £30 million in a payroll system, you would have that bit of your to-do list ticked off. On to the next thing. Yep, you definitely don’t have to worry about the workforce getting paid.

That has not been the case for Surrey County Council, who are reported to have spent just that sum replacing a 20-year-old legacy system only to find out they are effectively worse off than before.

And so are their staff; with some being underpaid, some being overpaid and all kinds of knock on effects like mortgage payments missed and benefits payments messed up.

With no end in sight it is not a happy place. You probably already know that payroll is a non-negotiable to get right. Contact us if you would like to look at different payroll solutions, we can help you select the right system for you, that is tried and tested.
It may beggar belief, but some companies have actually tried to cut costs by asking colleagues to share a bed on a business trip.

While team-building exercises are generally a good idea this is definitely a step, no, a giant leap, too far. Even requiring a room share with separate beds is potentially fraught with difficulty – you never know what medical conditions someone might have which require privacy, or if someone is a massive snorer.

At best you may be looking at a fight over a duvet. More likely you will get workers performing below par after an awkward night, and the legal risk of some kind of harassment claim is simply not worth the saving you may achieve.

March 2024 Newsletter

Have you ever had a member of staff clock in for work in their underwear, only to go home again to get dressed? Unlikely, but that is exactly what happened at an Italian police station.

The incident made international headlines when CCTV exposed (if you will pardon the pun) one policeman’s practice in 2014. By way of justification, he argued that dressing in his uniform was part of his daily duty.

However, he was embroiled in a much wider case where public servants were accused of chronic absenteeism, with one council worker clocking on and then going kayaking for the day. The image of cop-in-Y-fronts sealed the policeman’s fate as a scapegoat though, and as well as losing his job, he became an international laughingstock.

There was a twist to this tale. An Italian court eventually ruled that dressing in uniform was part of his daily duty and ordered he be paid €250,000 in compensation and have his job reinstated!

We are not suggesting that this will encourage a flurry of underwear clad workers at your office, but do you actually have policies dictating the protocol of start and finish times at your workplace? This may include specifying times of day, and that employees arrive ready to work for example. Then there can be no doubt what is and isn’t acceptable.

If you have such policies, how are they policed? Do you need clocking-in software, do you monitor lateness or other unprofessionalism? Where there are transgressions are these addressed, and addressed fairly across the board?

Increased remote, hybrid and flexible working uptake may raise the risk of unprofessional practices. In fact, there is much more chance of someone working in their pants in this scenario. One survey found that 10% of work-from-home employees work in pyjamas every day. You can only assume that in these instances other professional standards may be slipping.

For some businesses an informal approach may fit the culture, but for others stricter standards are essential. If you would like help creating start and end of work policies or addressing poor standards, please ask.
Every April, we see updates to employment law following the passing of legislation over the previous year. April 2024 is a busy one. We have produced a full factsheet contact us if you would like a copy.

In the meantime, here are some of the headline changes to watch out for:
National Minimum Wage – The annual rise to minimum wages kicks in on 1st April. There is a big change this year with the National Living Wage applying for those aged 21 or older (previously it was 23). The new rate increases from £10.42 to £11.44. Minimum wages for younger workers and apprentices rise too.

Carer’s leave – This is a new statutory leave that comes in from 6th April 2024. It gives employees a day one right to take one week of unpaid leave in each 12-month rolling period to look after a dependant such as a child, or anyone else who reasonably relies on them for long-term care.

Flexible working – The right to request flexible working is being extended, and weighted more in the employee’s favour. From 6th April it becomes a day one right as opposed to an entitlement after 26 weeks’ continuous service. It can be requested twice within 12-months instead of once, and your response time as an employer is reduced from three to two months. The employee no longer needs to explain the effect of the change requested, but your permitted reasons for refusing a request have not changed.

Enhanced redundancy protection – The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act extends rights already in place for new mothers significantly – again from 6th April. It widens the beneficiaries of protection to include adopting parents and those using shared parental leave, and for mothers applies from the moment an employee informs her employer she is pregnant, to 18 months after the birth.
Not “Absolutely nothing” as the song continues. It does though have a bad rep and may be a source of amusement as people “Push the envelope” or “Run an idea up a flag pole”.

But for those in the know, jargon can be an effective technique for communicating complex concepts effectively, and contributing to a sense of company cultural identity – with pet names for processes or equipment, or simply creative tongue-in-cheek use of language.

If you find yourself drawing on business jargon in your company there is a balance to be struck, though. Research conducted by BRITA found that one in four office workers feel disconnected when colleagues use jargon.

If you have new recruits, take the time to translate company jargon until they get up to speed. This will help integrate them and ensure they work at peak productivity instead of having to Google what to “Boil the ocean” means and why it is not a good idea.
In Japan, companies are legally required to measure the waists of employees every year, and can be fined if too many staff are overweight. The obesity rate in Japan is just 4% compared to about 30% in the UK.

Despite obesity being much more of an issue here, there are no such legal mandates in the UK, meaning there is no way it is on HR’s radar to the same extent. But should it be? Obesity can be a significant factor in all manner of health conditions including sleep apnoea, hypertension, joint troubles and, of course, Type 2 diabetes.

In turn, these can impact productivity through short and long-term sickness absence and even a reduction in the talent pool. While we are not advising getting the tape measure or scales out, there are plenty of ways you can more softly encourage good health: cycle to work schemes, corporate gym memberships, a well-stocked fruit bowl… but not too many Easter eggs!
If you are like the majority of UK employers in 2024, “very highly” will be your answer. Research by LinkedIn showed that soft skills accounted for four of the top five skills employers valued.

Number one was communication followed by customer service, management, leadership and teamwork.

In a world where every other conversation seems to be around AI or automation, this surely represents a key way in which humans will add value as the years roll on.

Technology can perform many repetitive and time-consuming tasks more quickly and more accurately than people. So having staff who can complement this by building rapport with customers, inspiring colleagues and managing workflows effectively may be the perfect combination for your business.

If you would like to reimagine the workforce you need in the future to work alongside technology, we can help. Our services like person specifications, psychometric testing and management training could be just what you need.
While the beige flag has become a thing in dating, signalling that someone is too boring to become romantically involved with, a company in France has discovered it is not a legitimate reason to dismiss someone from their job.

The employee steered clear of frequent business social events in which heavy drinking, promiscuity and other excesses were encouraged. He also voiced his disagreement with various management practices and decisions. He was dismissed and took his case to court for what was described as the “legal right to be boring”.

The Court of Appeal in Paris ruled that he could not be blamed for his “lack of integration in the fun environment” and that his employers could not force him to participate. The court awarded him €496,000 in compensation.

February 2024 Newsletter

Most business owners will have enough on their plate trying to manage existing staff, without having to worry about ex-employees.

Unfortunately, the rise of platforms like Glassdoor, Trustpilot and Google Reviews has given a mouthpiece to disgruntled former employees who feel they have an axe to grind. And the truth is that, rightly or wrongly, they can get away with saying an awful lot without much recourse.

Bad reviews on such platforms have the potential to cause you much damage, particularly reputationally. This is bad enough on its own, but the knock-on effects may include loss of revenue, decreased staff morale and greater difficulty in hiring future recruits – not to mention harm to your own mental health and the time, energy and resources spent on countermeasures.

Sorry for the grim picture. We should balance it out by saying old and current staff can leave wonderful reviews, too.

But back to problem cases and exit interviews for departing staff are your first, and maybe strongest, line of defence. It is more important than ever to conduct full and inclusive exit interviews for everyone.

If they are leaving on bad terms, they at least give you the chance to draw out the bad blood in person. Hearing them vent may not be a pleasant experience but is probably less harmful than if they leave feeling the only way to be heard is on a review platform (of course, they may do this anyway).

Stay professional yourself and keep in mind your overall aim of such interviews may be damage limitation.

Sometimes, a bad review may come as more of a surprise as you didn’t know how they felt. Conducting good exit interviews may nip these in the bud. If you give them the opportunity to provide genuine feedback and communicate that you take it on board and will perhaps effect change, that might be all they wanted to achieve.

If you would like help developing a process for exit interviews (and broader management of staff leaving) please ask us. Our experience could save you a lot of stress and the risk from reputational harm.
While the line from Wall Street “Lunch is for wimps” may encapsulate 1980s machoism and an extreme sense of work ethic, many people now would recognise that it doesn’t ring true.

Sure, it is a positive if your dedicated team willingly works through a lunchbreak occasionally to hit a deadline. Making a habit of it, though, will probably lead to more harm than good.

A break halfway through the day is important for so many reasons – for them and for you.

Avoiding burnout – The most obvious reason for taking regular breaks over the long term is to avoid stress and eventually burnout. If employees really don’t feel they can ever take the lunchbreak they are entitled to, tiredness and stress will build up. This may lead to mistakes, grouchy behaviour and eventually symptoms of burnout which could end up with long-term absence or their looking for another job.

A legal requirement – Under Working Time Regulations if someone works for six hours they must have a twenty minute break. This cannot be at the beginning or end of the shift and must be away from their workstation. If they are under 18, this break is required on a four-hour shift.

Healthy eating – The lack of a lunchbreak may lead to unhealthy eating habits. As well as contributing to long-term health risks, they again may perform poorly in the afternoon if they are not getting the right nutritional intake.

Reducing back pain, eye strain and repetitive work injuries – We all know that sitting down all day is bad for your back, so missing the lunchbreak is an opportunity lost to have a proper stretch and reset your posture. It is the same for staring at a screen – which employees should have regular breaks from – and breaking up repetitive routines that can cause injury. As with the other points these will have short-term and long-term consequences which may impact them and you.

Inspiring creativity – Stuck in a rut it can be difficult to think of new ideas, solve problems and see other perspectives. A short walk and some fresh air as part of a proper lunchbreak is a tried and tested way to come up with some new ideas, reach a decision or think a little differently.

Nothing says “work through your lunch hour” more than watching the boss do so every day. So lead by example on this and make sure you are seen to take a proper lunch break– after all, all these benefits apply to you too. And if someone on your team is still regularly working through lunch, explore how you can help them change their ways
You’ve met your deadline, handed over some urgent tasks, put your mug in the dishwasher… wait you still need to set your out of office! Out of office (OOO) messages split opinion. What’s your style?

Do you like a Dad-joke style quip, like a Simpsonesque: “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such automated responses as ‘I’m on vacation’ and ‘I’m not here right now’. I’m currently out of the office until [date].”?

Or do you prefer a last-minute rush job littered with typos and the wrong date for your return?

Hopefully it is neither, and you are well-prepared with a brief note that thanks people for their message, offers an alternative contact or a promise of a response when you return on a specified date.

Guide your staff in this, too. Left unchecked, you never quite know who may see a poor out of office message; or not receive one at all when it would have been helpful.
A small loophole in the national minimum wage legislation will be closed on 1 April 2024.

Dating back to 1999, it allowed live-in workers who were treated as part of the family to be exempt from the national minimum wage. It was principally designed to facilitate au pairs – where accommodation and meals were provided in return for light housework and childcare.

However, following an employment tribunal in 2017 and a subsequent investigation by the Low Pay Commission, it was found that some unscrupulous employers were exploiting the loophole, with migrant workers and women at particular risk. Long hours and duties beyond what the government considered reasonable for an au pair to perform were found to be being imposed in some cases.

The amended legislation does not outlaw au pairs; but it does mean they will need to be paid the appropriate minimum wage.
A recent survey found that four out of ten employees feel they are less likely to get promoted or receive a pay rise if they do not spend enough time in the office.

While this in itself should not be a determining factor for pay rises and promotions, assuming they are operating within your rules, it may be that indirectly it has an influence.

To protect your business, it is important to treat employees fairly and a strong foundation to this is having clear policies and processes in place which set expectations for them. They can also give you a framework for handling things like promotions and pay rises consistently so that everyone is judged on the same criteria.

If you would like a review of current policies, please get in touch.
It may sound more like the behaviour of a teenager dumping their boyfriend or girlfriend, but believe it or not some companies have chosen to dismiss employees by text message.

As far back as 2003, only a few years after texts had become popular, a personal injury claims company dismissed 2,000 staff by text; while much more recently a holiday resort firm is alleged to have done the same.

Unless other more orthodox channels have been exhausted, firing by text is illegal and indicative of an unfair dismissal as there is a process to be followed. Needless to say, it is also pretty insensitive.

If you want to add an aggravating factor to such an unfair dismissal, why not use text speak too… and emojis? OMG 🤯!

January 2024 Newsletter

It’s the kind of horror story no employer wants to read; but a former participant on Secret Millionaire (the TV show) had to sell their company and make six staff redundant when their accounts assistant stole £35,000. She’d been employed for less than a month.

She did it by setting up a fake supplier with a similar name to a real one in order to bypass internal controls. She then transferred the money in a series of payments.

There are all kinds of good accounting practices that can help manage such risk, but we want to use the story to highlight your first line of defence: taking the time to conduct thorough background checks during your recruitment process.

You’ll want to do this with any new hire to a degree; but for accounting roles and other sensitive jobs it pays (or in some cases is a legal requirement) to dig deeper.

By law, you must carry out a “right to work” check on all employees and there are heavy fines for non-compliance.

It is normal good practice to request references from past employment or, if these are not available, character references.

When recruiting for accounting or other financial-related roles, there are a number of other checks which we would advise performing. These include a DBS check to flag certain elements of a criminal record, credit references to see if their personal finances are in a poor state (which could be a sign of incompetence or a motive for theft), and proof of qualifications. Some FCA-regulated jobs require additional checks as well.
There are, of course, other types of role that call for more thorough checks – in particular working with children or within healthcare, and where certain skills fundamental to the job are required, like DVLA checks for drivers.

But almost anyone could have the potential to dupe you if they are so minded. A warehouse worker was jailed for two years and ordered to repay John Lewis more than £55,000 for industrial-scale theft of products which he was then reselling online.

Protect yourself and your business by being thorough with your background checks.
While there is nothing funny about being taken to an employment tribunal, there are a few cases every year which will raise anyone’s eyebrows when reading about them with a certain detached curiosity. Here are three of the best from 2023.

Jump scare! Creepy crawlies no cause for dismissal – Not for the squeamish, one train driver made a successful unfair dismissal claim when he was sacked for playing two practical jokes on a colleague. The pranks involved placing the shed skin of first a tarantula, and then at a later date a snake, in her locker to make her jump. The judge gave a detailed dissection of the nature of the prank, concluding that dismissal for gross conduct was too strong a response in this case, whilst noting that in different circumstances it may have been appropriate.

Accidentally sacked whilst on annual leave – This one is a story of administrative error. A supermarket shop assistant, blissfully ignorant whilst on annual leave, was sacked for supposedly being AWOL. Needless to say, she did not respond to any of the letters inviting her to a disciplinary hearing regarding her absence, or to appeal the eventual dismissal because, quite simply, she was on holiday. The large retailer did offer to reinstate her, but she declined. The judge upheld her claims of breach of contract, unlawful deduction from wages and unfair dismissal, awarding £5,000.

Big break: £147K awarded – Having already won an unfair dismissal claim, a judge had to decide how much should be awarded to a former employee of a prestigious British car manufacturer for loss of earnings. The employer argued strongly for a lower sum as there was plenty of opportunity for the man to find work; but against a backdrop of caring for a young daughter, the pandemic, and a lack of transport, the judge sided with the ex-employee, who had found limited work as well as retrained as a plumber. A substantial £147,000 was awarded.
You can’t have failed to notice the steep rise in vaping recently; whether it is the number of vape shops on the high street, or catching a tropical whiff when standing in a queue.

This is bringing an issue to light: that many SME smoking policies do not make provision for vaping, and the law is vague to non-existent.

As the practice becomes more prevalent, it becomes more important to have a policy; because although popular there will still be a silent (or not so silent) majority who do not like the impact on them. And although e-cigarettes do not contain tar, there is no conclusive understanding of the long-term effects.

We would not advise permitting vaping without limits. So if you don’t want to impose an outright ban, you should think about where it will be allowed without impacting others or your operations. If you would like help preparing a vaping policy or any other policy for your employees, get in touch.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fired a warning shot across the bows of employers who monitor their staff, issuing guidance on required standards.

With flexible working becoming much more common since the pandemic, invasive forms of monitoring have become more of an issue, with employers not having as much day-to-day visibility of their teams. Use of intrusive technology like webcams, keyboard tracking and email/call logging can erode trust and harm well-being.

The ICO has emphasised that monitoring must have a clearly defined purpose; be necessary, proportionate and respectful of rights and freedoms; that staff must be informed in an easy-to-understand format; the least intrusive path should be followed; and that all data should be processed in line with data protection laws.

If you feel that some form of monitoring is necessary, but want advice on the best course of action, we are just a phone call away.
Your employee has a strop, storms out saying they’ve had enough and resigns. Should you take that at face value, or give them an opportunity to retract?

As tempting as it might be to accept such a resignation as suddenly as it was issued, a more tempered approach is advised. An employment appeals tribunal overturned an earlier hearing which had given the employer discretion to summarily accept such a resignation.

The judge gave a number of guidelines for future reference, including that every case should be judged on its merits, that how a reasonable bystander would interpret the resignation was key, and that it was not sufficient to solely rely on the subjective understanding of the recipient, although this understanding would have a degree of relevance.

As in many aspects of life it is best not to make big decisions when emotions are running high. Allowing for a cooling-off period will often help you both reach the best outcome.
You’ve heard of dress down Fridays but just how “down” are your employees dressing?

According to one survey, 33% of employees confessed to wearing pyjamas whilst working (we assume from home). The average number of days in this attire was 46, but nearly 10% claimed to wear their pyjamas every working day.

Some employers may not care but, like many, you might feel this is going too far – a lack of professionalism that may be borne out in falling productivity, too.

If you need a reset on your hybrid or flexible working policies, we can help.

December 2023 Newsletter

Work-related mental health issues shot up after the pandemic and have remained persistently high compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Burnout sits at the more serious end of the mental health spectrum, a consequence of prolonged stress, long hours and lack of support.

One survey found that nearly 70% of full-time employees claimed to have felt burnt out at some point, while a recent study by Deloitte reported that more than nine out of ten professionals work beyond their contracted hours.

In America, it’s said that employees experiencing burnout were 63% more likely to take a sick day and two to three times more likely to be actively looking for another job. In other words, if an employee is struggling with burnout, the impact is likely to be felt by colleagues and the business as well, eventually.

Many believe that this issue of burnout will hang around in 2024, so do you have a plan to address it?

First up, you need to be able to recognise the signs of burnout when it strikes, or preferably beforehand. These may include exhaustion, pessimism, negativity and reduced effectiveness.

If you think you may have a case, or one is brewing, schedule a 121 meeting in which you can start to address the issue. Talk to them to find out how they are feeling and if they recognise that they may be at, or near, burnout.

If they agree, the chances are they’ll say it is because of a combination of an unmanageable workload, a lack of communication or support from their manager (maybe you), impossible deadlines and trouble with colleagues or customers. It could of course be connected with a personal issue, too.

Even this very act of communication is a start to resolving the issue – a problem shared is a problem halved as the saying goes. They’ll feel less isolated. Your next move will depend on the exact causes, and the resources available to you.

Some good ideas may be to check they are using their annual leave (its primary purpose is to give employees a break), encourage better teamwork and perhaps a restructuring of workload. You could also explore training and development if you both think it could help.

We often advise an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as part of a benefits package, which includes access to confidential helplines which can also be a useful and cost-effective tool in tackling mental health issues like burnout. Ask us if you want to find out more.
The Christmas period makes for an unusual time to manage a workforce. While many people, including business owners, like to unwind, there will still be some work to be done unless you have a complete shutdown. And of course in some industries, Christmas is the busiest time of year.

Here are three particular challenges that may arise, with suggestions on how to manage them.

Travel disruption – Train companies running a Sunday service midweek, engineering works or bad weather all combine to make travel more difficult around Christmas. These are things out of your (and your staff’s) control, so you’ll need to plan workarounds if employee commutes are impacted.

Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed and it does happen every year so you can plan. What you do depends on your business, but agreeing to remote working or flexitime, swapping shifts around or getting extra staff in could all be options.

Unfit for work – Christmas is a time of excess and that does extend to alcohol and late nights for many. It’s down to your staff what they do outside of work and not your place to cramp their style – so long as they show up on time and do their job properly when required. If you have a track record of trouble, you may issue staff a reminder of expectations beforehand.

If they do cross a line though, it’s time to take a stand (remember to be fair, no favourites).

There’ll be little to gain from giving someone who is a tad off form a hard time. But if their excess results in some serious poor performance, you’ll need to address it. Most seriously, if there is a safety issue, or they have shown up to work clearly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then your formal disciplinary process should start, including possible suspension. Do, though, get advice to ensure you follow the correct procedure.

Lack of productivity – Sometimes there may genuinely not be much to do between Christmas and New Year. Other times, those that come into work may be too distracted to get stuff done if not tightly managed. Either way, it’s a loss of opportunity and productivity for you.

This is a time to be proactive in your line management. If it is quiet, plan to set some extra tasks which wouldn’t normally get done but will help the business get off to a flyer in 2024 – an office cleanout or some 121 appraisals for example. If there’s a lot to get done, could you keep in the Christmas spirit with some work-based challenges and rewards for the top performers?

If you find yourself facing an HR issue over Christmas, don’t forget that we are only a phone call away – and our job is to prevent people problems for you.
It is fair to say that Christmas has transcended Christianity for years, decades even. As an employer though, it is important to consider its Christian roots when managing your team.

This doesn’t, of course, mean cancelling Christmas; but it does mean giving people of other faiths safe space to opt out if they do not wish to take part in the Christmas routine like party or jumpers, without being pressured by colleagues.

A welcoming workplace may also give a friendly acknowledgement to their own religious festivals around this time – Hailing a “Happy Diwali”, for example, which passed in November.

Other employees may have more personal reasons for not getting in the Christmas spirit, such as suffering a bereavement at this time of year, being estranged from family or they simply dislike the fuss. Be in-tune with your whole team, and mindful of this in the build up to Christmas and when people return from festivities keen to chat about how wonderful it has all been.
The Supreme Court has become the fourth court in the land to rule that Deliveroo drivers are self-employed. It is a decision in contrast to that made on Uber drivers previously who did win workers’ rights in court.

A trade union had brought the case, seeking collective bargaining rights for its members. But the court found that owing to important factors like the right to refuse work, to appoint a substitute and work for competitors, that there were fundamental inconsistencies with any notion of an employment relationship.

The rise of the gig economy has muddied the waters of employment status, and who is and is not entitled to rights such as holiday pay and minimum wages. We would always argue for treating people who work for you fairly and to do that you must decide their employment status correctly. If you would like clarity on the employment status of staff and your compliance with employment law, please contact us.

In the case cited in our title above, £15,000 was awarded specifically for injury to feelings after being left out of a WhatsApp group – it was part of a larger £134K settlement. In another example, a supermarket worker was awarded nearly £9K after being made to feel extremely upset. She had been asked to return to work from an extra break she was taking due to stress.

A case of a delivery driver suing for unfair dismissal after being sacked for stealing packages did not stand. So a line in the sand is drawn – just not where many rational people may think.

All claims are expensive in terms of time and legal fees before you think of any award payment. Best to get some advice early on.
For those that have to work through Christmas, new legislation coming in 2024 may make things better next year. Why not position your business as if it is law now, tackling two of the issues that can make working over Christmas difficult?

A new law is coming into force in October 2024 which puts a duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect their workers from sexual harassment. You may already do this, but if you recognise you need to be more robust, this is a good time of the year to make sure your staff know you will not accept any inappropriate customer behaviour, and empower your managers to deal with any incident.

Another new law, the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act is expected to come into force in May 2024. This means employers must share 100% of all customer tips, including those paid by credit card, without a deduction. Now could be a good time to reward staff on festive duty by introducing this before Christmas, if you have not already done so.
Good line management dictates that you probably give your team 1-2-1 annual appraisals. It’s your time to review the year with them, assess the successes and failures, look to the future and set goals.

But do you take the time to do this yourself? It may be the kind of activity that you do if you are signed up on a business coaching programme, but even then it can be hard to find the time.

It is worth following through with, though. It is important to recognise your accomplishments, and check that you are on course with what you want to achieve – making adjustments if necessary.

And unlike many an employee, you don’t need to dread that meeting with the boss!

November 2023 Newsletter

Since the pandemic, there has been a growing trend of people secretly working two full-time jobs. One report by a management consultancy suggested that as many as 5% of employees may be doing this.

Flexible and remote working becoming more prevalent, the cost of living crisis, and now the rise of AI and automation are all factors that have combined to make such moonlighting more attainable for those who have the graft (and maybe gumption) to go for it.

Is it legal, though? Is it ethical? Would you have a problem if you discovered one of your employees was working a second full-time job?

To address legality first, there is nothing specifically in law that prevents someone working two jobs at once. There may be an issue around Working Time Regulations, although if the additional job is kept secret from you there is not much you can do about that; and there is provision for an opt-out on number of hours anyway.

A second income will, of course, alter their tax code which they are ultimately responsible for – a new tax code may be a clue to you that they have a second job if you were to notice it. A second employer will register them for tax and it usually ends up being at an emergency rate and then reclaimed at the end of the year.

The one point that should stop the practice dead in its tracks is if you specifically have a clause in your employment contract prohibiting them working another job – particularly not working for your clients or being in competition with you.

That brings us onto the other two questions we posed earlier. Is it ethical and do you care?

There could be an issue of trust at stake here, and also whether they are performing to their best for you. Any employer is bound to be unhappy if they discover they are paying someone who is shirking their responsibility, performing inadequately or not available at key times; could they be using company resources (especially the time you are paying for) for personal gain? This is clearly underhand behaviour that breaks the bond of trust.

On the other hand, if an employee is doing everything that is asked of them, and performing well for you whilst working out-of-hours for someone else, maybe it is not such a problem – so long as they do not burn themselves out!

Whether it is an issue now for you or not, going forwards you might look at whether your job specifications accurately reflect technologies like AI, that you have a company policy on remote work and second jobs and that employees understand what is expected of them.

If you want more protection from this phenomenon, ask us for a review of your employment contracts.
When resources are tight in an SME, one of the most challenging situations to deal with is when a member of staff is absent due to a chronic illness, severe injury or another long-term malady.

It is a situation fraught with complexity. You need to balance how the business copes with a person potentially absent much more often than usual against how much the employee can give; the emotional strain on them and you; and, importantly: equality law.

A recent case caught the headlines when a lawyer working at a bank was awarded more than £1.1 million by a tribunal after being dismissed for taking time off sick and requesting to work from home.

She suffered with asthma and complained about the office air conditioning affecting her breathing. She would not stay late in the office like colleagues but did further work when she got home. Her boss deemed that she did not fit the company culture which included working long hours in the office.

In another case, an NHS employee won a discrimination claim when his request for a part-time role was denied. He had successfully applied for a full-time promotion, but a long-term health condition flared up before he could start. He was told by a senior that they did not feel they could rely on him.

Looking to make reasonable adjustments for people with a disability is law. This means that you put in place ways that allow the disabled person to work as effectively as everyone else.

Aside from the legal consequences, the benefits for your business of making reasonable adjustments are that you can retain talented staff that you might otherwise lose, empower staff to work at their best and have a more diverse workforce bringing wider skills and perspective.

The key word though is “reasonable”. It doesn’t mean you have to write a blank cheque. The legal requirement only extends to adjustments which are practical, affordable and don’t harm the health and safety of others – and they should be shown to reduce or remove the disadvantage from disability. Approaching Access to Work for funding for special equipment is really helpful.

Don’t make assumptions. Talk to any staff who are struggling with what may be deemed a disability and find out what they think they need. That will give you a good starting point for making reasonable adjustments. We are always here to help you stay on the right side of employment law, too – whether they are ultimately to stay or go. So if in doubt, contact us.
The tragedy unfolding in the Middle East has raised societal tensions in many countries around the world. Some employers have already faced challenging scenarios where employees voicing sentiment for one side or the other have gone too far.

A bank worker was sacked after writing a post on Instagram endorsing the Holocaust, whilst a train driver was suspended for pro-Palestinian chanting when on the clock.

While everyone in the UK has a fundamental right to free speech, this is curbed in certain, mainly obvious, instances – like using violence.
Managing free speech in the workplace adds an extra layer of complexity. First and foremost workplaces should be professional environments where strong personal views are not appropriate (unless aligned with the business’s values).

You do also have to consider the Equality Act 2010, where anyone made to feel uncomfortable because of their religious beliefs or because of their race could lodge a complaint of discrimination – certainly the case with events in Israel and Gaza.

Many companies choose to have an explicit policy governing what level of political discussion can take place at work. This will guide them in how to respond when someone gets overly political, and stresses that above all we should be tolerant of other views. If you would like to prepare such a policy for your business, get in touch.
If your eyebrows are raised, good because so are ours. It is a troublesome aspect of being an employer, though, that you can get taken to a tribunal for all manner of trivial matters. Some will get thrown out, but others do result in penalties.

In the case cited in our title above, £15,000 was awarded specifically for injury to feelings after being left out of a WhatsApp group – it was part of a larger £134K settlement. In another example, a supermarket worker was awarded nearly £9K after being made to feel extremely upset. She had been asked to return to work from an extra break she was taking due to stress.

A case of a delivery driver suing for unfair dismissal after being sacked for stealing packages did not stand. So a line in the sand is drawn – just not where many rational people may think.

All claims are expensive in terms of time and legal fees before you think of any award payment.
…So the old saying goes and that was certainly the case for a banker who bought lunches on expenses for his partner (albeit, just sandwiches and the like) whilst away on a business trip in Europe.

He was dismissed for misrepresenting the truth when challenged on why he was buying two of everything whilst away. He took his employer to court and lost, due to his initial misleading behaviour.

It is a sad story but one which highlights the importance of clearly communicating an expenses policy, having a control process to pick up irregularities when authorising expenses and the bond of trust between employer and employee – no matter how big the company.
While there can be no doubt that AI will have a profound impact on the future of the workplace, there are, right now, plenty of anecdotes of AI going a little bit awry…

Like the AI programme which was too keen and confirmed its acceptance to a staff drinks reception. We are not sure what its tipple of choice would have been!

Or how about the candidate supposedly busted on social media for using AI live in a job interview to answer some of the questions that were posed to her.

Maybe one AI programme which we could all get behind is that one promising to attend boring meetings in your place; as long as it does not then start moaning about them!

October 2023 Newsletter

Did someone say the “H” word?

It is that time of year again, Halloween, when there’s a scary movie on the box, children are trick or treating and we share a few HR horror stories to send a shiver down your spine.

The witching hour
As understanding grows about the impact of stress at work and the right to switch off, more employers are sensitive to contacting staff out of hours and expecting an immediate response – especially not at gone midnight!
However, one banking executive, upon being warned by a colleague that his employee was not being paid enough to receive such a call, had a simple if somewhat diabolical solution – we’ll call him to give a pay rise, then ask our question!

Horrible bosses
In this tale from the US, two car mechanics were being repeatedly bullied because of their sexuality (here, a protected characteristic). Horrifyingly, rather than support them, the shop manager said he would sack anyone who reported the matter to HR. Needless to say, a law suit ensued.

Expensive mistakes
While certainly a difficult time for women experiencing it, the menopause can also present a challenge for employers trying to balance the well-being of employees against productivity for the business. One UK insurance company who got this balance wrong was ordered to pay £64,000 in damages. The tribunal noted that they could have altered the performance criteria for the employee and considered offering a change of role.

While all extreme examples, they do show what can happen when good HR is not established in a business. We’ll protect you from people and productivity problems before they get out of hand and turn into your very own HR horror stories.
Development plans for staff go further than just offering training to get them up to speed with their jobs. They are a structured framework to move employees along their career path, improving their productivity and the level of responsibility they can take on for you.

It could be just what you need if you are struggling to get rough diamonds to shine, or stay with you; or you have a dearth of internal candidates on hand when promotion opportunities arise.

Offering staff development plans may also help you stand out in competitive recruitment markets, if candidates see that you will invest more in them and their aspirations than other employers.

A staff development plan will be tailored to each employee, looking at where they are now, and what they need to learn and experience in order to get to higher levels.

During the course of annual appraisals and one-to-one sessions, work with them to identify how their personal goals align with what you need as an employer, and agree on what CPD needs to take place to achieve this. Make sure this is a two-way process and the employee can give their feedback too.

There will of course be a cost to you in making this investment, but balance this against the opportunity cost of not making it. Research in America suggested that the US economy take a half trillion dollar hit every year because of disengaged staff.

Some of the benefits of investing in employees in this way will be gradual, but you may really start to notice it when promotion opportunities come up and you need look no further than candidates from your existing team, saving you time and money on the task of making key hires.

Our experts can help you put a staff development programme in place.
Depending on your workplace culture, you might see the value of small gestures to make employees feel valued: things like an “employee of the month” award, the marking of staff birthdays or a monthly team lunch.

Relatively small outlays show that you care, develop camaraderie and foster loyalty.

We are all for this where appropriate, but it is essential that you carry out the gestures equally and fairly.

In one recently reported case, an employee lamented the fact that she was the only member of staff who did not receive cake and a card on her birthday. She even knew that it wasn’t a simple oversight as her boss had teased her about her age and birthday the day before.

If you don’t treat employees equally, at best you will create tension and discord. At worst, you could open yourself up to a discrimination claim if the treatment is perceived to be based on a protected characteristic.
For many busy business owners, a dress code may be something of an afterthought.

Perhaps it was, too, for one larger firm which took issue with a newly hired receptionist who sported bright pink locks on her first day. Feeling strongly that it was not a suitable look for a front-of-house role, they came up with a compromise: a wig!

Her response was to wear a series of purposefully terrible wigs to draw attention to the issue, posting on social media.

To avoid such confrontational situations, think very carefully about where you draw the line in your business; covering everything from hair colour to tattoos and piercings, as well as clothes and footwear.

Be mindful of cultural or heritage considerations, where certain hair styles could be related to, for instance, racial identity and therefore fall within the scope of the Equality Act.

Make sure your policy is clearly explained in your company handbook, so that there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind, and no room to make a scene.
A new law – the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 – has just received royal assent, and may affect you if you employ people on zero-hour contracts or other occasional/temporary bases. It is not expected to come into force, though, until late 2024.

When live, it gives such workers a right to request a predictable working pattern, once they have 26 weeks of qualifying service. As an employer, you will have to respond to a request within one month, but you do have six grounds on which to reject one.

These include: an additional cost burden, your ability to meet customer demand, the effect on recruitment, the effect on other areas of your business, a lack of work in the requested periods and any planned structural changes.

If you want help planning so that you are well prepared to deal with such requests when the new right is implemented, please get in touch.
We’ve all heard of employees throwing a sickie to get an extra day off work here and there – it may be the bane of your life as an employer (if so, talk to us and we’ll get it sorted). But one man apparently did the same thing – except for paternity leave. Four times in five years!

We are not even sure what you call that, but there must be some serious systematic areas in his workplace to allow that to slide.

Apparently, he took precautions – by featuring a different Google image of a newborn baby on his phone home screen every time he claimed a child.

As he was single and child free the whole time you would have thought the lack of bags under his eyes and grey hairs may have given it away.

September 2023 Newsletter

There have long been penalties for employing illegal immigrants, but they are about to get much tougher.

Currently, a first offence of employing an illegal immigrant can land an employer with a fine of £15,000; with repeat offences earning fines of £20,000. Under the proposed changes, those figures would triple, rising to £45,000 and £60,000 respectively.

For unscrupulous employers, hiring illegal immigrants gives them a commercial advantage by allowing them to bypass the minimum wage and other employment rights. This is exploitative towards vulnerable people, whilst unfairly allowing such businesses to undercut legitimate employers who play by the rules.

So it is understandable that the government is trying to stamp out the practice. Since 2018 they have issued 4,000 civil penalties totalling £74 million.

It is possible you could employ an illegal immigrant inadvertently, and the key to avoiding this is following the government’s “right to work” checks. You should do this as standard every time you hire, and doing so properly will provide you with a statutory defence against the fines. There are different ways in which you can perform the checks.

You can conduct a digital right to work check. This may be the most common way of conducting your checks and there are a number of methods. The simplest may be asking your recruit to generate a “share code” from the Home Office’s online service which when passed to you allows you to log in and view their right to work status.

Alternatively, there is an option to outsource the task using Identity Document Validation Technology (IDVT) through a certified digital identity service provider (IDSP) who will carry out the checks on your behalf.

If, for some reason, neither of the above are possible (and the employee cannot provide manual documentation, see below) you may be able to go directly to the Home Office and use their online Employer Checking Service.

You can complete a manual check. To do this compliantly, you must meet your prospective employee in person with them bringing documentation from prescribed Home Office lists. You need to check the documents give them a right to work (for instance a UK citizen holding a UK passport), and that they are not obvious forgeries. Inconsistencies, like name changes after marriage, should be explained.

You’ll need to take copies of the documentation and retain them for the duration of the employment plus two years. For help ensuring you are compliant, just ask us.
Everyone has noticed the monetary inflation that has set in over the past couple of years. Apparently it has spread to job titles, too; with younger generations in particular demanding ever more lofty job titles, regardless of their experience.

We do have a bit of fun looking out for weird and wonderful job titles.

There is the classic “media publications administrator” for which you can read “paperboy”.

One well-known hospitality chain (whom we won’t name) advertised for “sandwich technicians” – which most would agree was a bit over the top if you knew what they served.

Still, at least with that one it was clear what they did, or aspired to do.

One police force once advertised for an “anti-social behaviour coordinator”. Seeing this from the outside you could be mistaken for thinking the role involved the organising of kicking in bus stops and drinking strong cider in the park!

This raises a more serious point, though. Simple and clear with job titles is far better – not only will people outside your company understand what it is your team members actually do, but no one needs to stay up until the wee hours thinking of ever more inflated titles.

It does go both ways though, and sometimes a bit more thought to the semantics could go a long way. One poor graphic designer privately bemoaned the fact that his official job title was “back-end manager”. Now that’s unfortunate!
You know that you must instigate your disciplinary process for bad behaviour within the workplace.

But what about employee behaviour outside of work? When do you decide to step in if they transgress in their personal life? Often, it will be none of your business, but if it develops and imposes on you, then you could be within your rights to act.

There are many ways it could become your business, including: they attract negative publicity which is linked to your company and causes reputational damage; they denigrate your brand, colleagues or customers on social media or some other public forum; it is a criminal case which is so bad their position is untenable or they are no longer able to perform their role – say they are remanded in custody or lose their driving licence.

When one of these scenarios plays out, you really do need to get professional advice to ensure a fair and reasonable disciplinary outcome is achieved.
Elon Musk recently tweeted a call to arms for any employees who felt they had been unfairly treated by their employers for posting or liking something on Twitter (now called X). He said he would fund their legal bills. No Limit.

To what extent he would ever do this, who knows? There are several tribunal claims currently in progress where people claim they have been unfairly dismissed for expressing what they think is their right to a religious or philosophical belief.

This can be a highly contentious area and as we have already stated do take professional advice before reacting. If you find yourself in this position, please don’t hesitate to give us a call for a chat, and we can point you in the right direction for suitable support..
It’s great when your team bonds so well they are productive in the workplace and friendly outside of it. It is not uncommon that some employees may have been buddies before they ever started working for you.

Such friendships do, though, run the risk of blurred lines and personal dramas brought into the workplace – as one care home has found out to its cost.

Two childhood friends were employed at the care home, with one managing the other. A work-related row erupted, which resulted in the manager using strong expletives, threatening language and remarking “No wonder you have no friends”.

The employee quit and successfully brought a constructive unfair dismissal charge against the company. With so much upset, distraction and cost caused by personal remarks, it is a reminder how important it is to have well written and clearly communicated behavioural policies in the workplace.
If you have ever had anything to do with payroll, you’ll know that mistakes do happen. But for one Hungarian company, it was rather a large one. Meant to pay a short-term employee €260, they accidentally transferred €92,549.

The mistake was a currency error and transpired because the worker gave a foreign bank account. His €226 was meant to be paid in Hungarian Forints, of which the correct number was, you’ve guessed it: 92,549. The police are now involved because the company has only been able to recover about €70,000.

Do you have the payroll processes in place to avoid such a fiasco? If you are unsure, talk to us we can always advse you on outsourced payroll services.

August 2023 Newsletter

It is said that leaders are paid the big bucks because they make big decisions; but could one of the best decisions you make be to involve your team in the decision making?

While you will trust your own judgement, and always reserve it for certain matters, there is so much upside to involving employees in some decisions.

Psychologically, you confer trust on them, helping them to feel valued and with a greater sense of control over their role. This is known to be a good thing, leading to higher engagement and increased motivation – both great for productivity. You’ll also get better buy-in on the outcomes of decisions, with employees appreciating that they are listened to.

Company decisions should, on balance, be better informed; with a range of perspectives introduced leading to more rounded outcomes. Differing perspectives may not always influence your overall decision, but they might temper it or help you understand where you’ll face resistance.

In some businesses, the employees will be closer to your customers than you. So accepting their input could help provide vital insight into how your customer base will respond.

Opening up the decision-making process could be an effective tactic for upskilling employees, helping them to think more broadly about issues and their wider effects. Working alongside you on such matters allows them to learn, whilst you can monitor their progress and judgement as you go.

As they improve, it may lead to faster decision making, and save you time through delegation. You are nurturing problem solvers in your business.

So how do you involve staff in decision making? It may well depend on the size of your business.

If it is just you and one or two others, mentoring might be a good approach, holding informal conversations to discuss issues, get their input and share how you do things.

If your team is a little larger you may still do this, but perhaps add a suggestion box, either a physical one or by way of an email address where ideas can be posted. When doing this it is important to check on suggestions regularly and respond to them, so that it does not appear an empty gesture. Employee surveys could be a good idea, too: for getting ideas, canvassing opinion and finding solutions.

There are some areas of employment law where staff have to be informed and collectively consulted: TUPE, 20 or more redundancies, and health and safety. In 2005, the ICE regulations came into force; and in 2008 extended to employers with 50 or more employees. They say that where 2% of employees request so, the employer must set up a consultation group.

Not many go the formal route, but having elected representatives is a good idea and can speed up formal consultation processes. Sharing information does improve employee engagement and no one person has all the bright ideas.
CSR, or corporate social responsibility to spell it out, can be an important part of your overall strategy as an SME.

While it takes effort and resources, the investment can pay dividends in marketing, recruitment and retention, not to mention the positive impact you can have in the community.

There are many different ways in which you can implement a CSR strategy.

You’ll want to make it aligned to your business, and it is essential for it to be authentic (if it is perceived as a ruse or hollow gesture it could do more harm than good). To really leverage its power, ensure your team are involved – in the delivery yes, maybe too in shaping your policy so you have their full buy-in and engagement.

Volunteering staff time, fundraising or donating skills and materials are all great approaches to consider, depending on the set up of your business. For example, a building firm may help fix up community assets for free, or a café may donate unused food to a foodbank.

It is a good idea to give each individual the opportunity to raise money for a local charity of its choosing, performing whatever events or activities suit them best. The aim is to bring each of our teams together, get out into our local communities and, through group effort, raise money for local charities.

A great was of uniting your team with a sense of purpose.
Continuing a long-term trend, the overall cost of studying at university is increasing – considerably.

The cost is borne, of course, once students enter work and start earning a certain salary. Currently, it is £27,295; but for new university students this will drop to £25,000. With 9% of everything earnt over this threshold taken as a loan repayment, that will slap an extra £207 per annum onto every graduate.

More significantly, though, the repayment period (before which the debt is wiped) is increasing from 30 years to 40 years. This means that most graduates (unless very higher earners) will be paying this additional 9% their entire working life without ever clearing the debt.

Psychologically, could this be a tipping point, putting off many more young people from studying for a degree?

If you have always required a degree as part of your recruitment criteria, it may be time to embrace other pathways into the workforce to get the right talent. Generously funded apprenticeships will be a stand-out choice for many businesses.
Long a favourite for use in social media, emojis, GIFs and memes are growing in popularity as a tool within business communications, too. They are not for everyone, though.

In their favour, they can effortlessly convey tone in written communications where otherwise there could be room for misinterpretation. They can also be good for team spirit – with colleagues able to capture shared cultural references, or praise someone with added gusto.

They can certainly speed up communication, with reacjis (single emojis sent in reply to a message) often now used. A survey conducted by Slack and Duolingo found that 58% of respondents felt they could communicate with greater nuance in fewer words, whilst 54% said it sped up workplace communication.

For the case against, they may fall below the standard of professionalism or gravitas companies in certain industries want or need to meet. GIFs and memes can be quite edgy, whilst some emojis can have double meanings – innuendos which are not suitable for the workplace. Misuse of either could contribute to harassment or bullying, leading to disciplinary action.

Ultimately, it will come down to your own discretion as to how they are used. If you want or need to impose boundaries, do so.
While the kids go back to school, in September working parents also have to readjust from holiday mode – whether they went somewhere exotic or not. More than a few may be breathing a sigh of relief!

Even so, it is not always easy to switch gears. So to make sure everyone hits the ground running, here are some tips to get them focused.

Catching people in this transition is an effective time to hold 121s focused on the months ahead. If they have been away you can check in with them to see how the summer was, but most importantly share your plans for the next quarter and set individual goals for them to work towards.

If your team has been fragmented while people take their holidays, it may also be productive to plan a small team-building activity to bring everyone back together. Strengthen bonds, upskill and make everyone feel welcomed back and ready to get down to business.
Every company can do its bit to go green, but one business in Gloucestershire went a little further. Well, 600ft further to be precise!

They introduced a small potted cutting of ivy in 2009, and come 2023 it has grown to 600ft, truly making a mark on their office space, and their company culture to boot.

The ivy is low maintenance, requiring just a little food and water once a week. The biggest challenge is in supporting its growth. Like a good team player though it contributes to the business. As well as being an emblem of the company culture, it has also attracted its own sponsorship deal!

July 2023 Newsletter

With one heatwave already been and gone in 2023, but still plenty of summertime left for another, having a plan in place to keep employees cool is not only good for them, but good for business, too.

An American study found that heatwaves account for $44 billion of lost productivity each year across 12 of the World’s largest cities, including Athens, New Delhi and Los Angeles. They predict this will rise to $84 billion by 2050, unless greenhouse gas levels fall.

Closer to home, and you probably experience first hand the symptoms of a hot and stuffy office: Irritation; more human error; and rows about fans, air conditioning (if you have it) and whether it is better with windows open or closed…

There is no legal maximum temperature for the workplace, although employers are expected to keep working conditions reasonable.
Many businesses do not have the luxury of air conditioning, so smaller measures will be necessary.

If you have a dress code, relaxing it, whilst still maintaining the appropriate air of professionalism for your industry, should be an easy first step for most businesses. If you have uniforms, can you design regular and summer versions?

It’s generally considered that windows or doors being open is preferable (assuming no air conditioning), to allow fresh air in, although this may spark some debate. Additionally, be careful not to breach any fire door regulations, though.

Office fans are a life saver. Nowadays individual workers can get mini ones which plug into their laptops. These may add a little extra firepower precisely where it is needed.

You could consider rearranging seating plans temporarily, too. Some people may struggle to cope more than others in the extreme heat, including older workers, pregnant women or those experiencing the menopause.

If you employ outside workers, the risks are even more acute, with sunburn, skin cancer, dehydration and heat stroke all a threat. Consider rearranging shifts so that workers are kept out of the midday highs; and supply suncream, adequate PPE (like brimmed hats), and plenty of drinking water.
In many businesses, the summer months have a slower pace.

These are great for setting up individual mid-year reviews to: assess work over the past six months, acknowledging accomplishments, identifying any areas where an employee is under-performing, providing constructive feedback and goal setting for the following six months. It may also be the appropriate time to discuss any pay rises or promotions.

These are all practical areas to cover, but you may find it beneficial to also use the opportunity to get feedback from the employee on their role as well as the wider company; and reinforce your business’s culture and values.

You may be an old hand at such reviews or relatively inexperienced in delivering them. Either way we have some tips which we hope you will find useful as a refresher or new advice.
1. Ensure you prepare adequately for each employee, and also give them the time and guidance they need to prepare.
2. Schedule sufficient time and a private space in which to conduct the reviews.
3. Cover strengths as well as weaknesses for everyone so that they feel encouraged but know how to develop.
4. Draw on objective data to appraise, so performance is known to be judged by matters of fact, not just opinion.
5. Make sure it is a two-way conversation, by encouraging your employee to contribute.

Regular employee reviews are a key element of line management, contributing significantly to the success of the people in your business. If you would like more targeted support with mid-year or annual appraisals, please get in touch with us, we have a great deal of expertise in this area and would love to help you.
If you saw the results of Meta’s recent internal study, it would be understandable if you wanted to run a mile from the notion of a staff satisfaction survey. A 70% majority of employees said Mark Zuckerburg is an unfit leader. For context, Meta is initiating wave after wave of redundancies at present.

Furthermore, here in the UK our employee engagement is amongst the lowest in Europe according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce report.

While that all sounds like doom and gloom, it may not be something to shy away from. The surveys themselves are not the cause of dissatisfaction, they are just reporting it. By understanding any issues, it gives you a chance to address them by taking tangible action.

By investing in your workforce relations in this way, it should translate into an improvement in solid business metrics like output, absenteeism, recruitment and retention and ultimately productivity.
Sadly, there’s been no shortage of holiday disruptions since the pandemic. From airlines cancelling flights due to over-selling seats, to air traffic controller strikes.

What, then, if an employee becomes stranded overseas? If you get that call, it is important to adopt a balanced stance. Even if you are left short-staffed, the employee may not be in control of the situation.

Good dialogue is important, ensuring you are kept up-to-date with events which may be fast-moving. The issues of workflow and pay could be the top priorities in your relationship.

Assuming you have no contractual obligation, you do not need to pay them while they are absent, but they may be short of cash, and a light pay packet could exacerbate their predicament.

Could they work remotely while they wait it out? Or take further annual leave? Some employers may even consider offering a short-term loan to be repaid once compensation is received. If you are prepared to offer this, you must put your terms in an email and they must agree to it before proceeding. Acting kindly in a crisis will normally be repaid in good will over the long term.
Like the work Christmas party, the summer social is a staple for many businesses. It brings the team together, is a token of thanks for their hard work, and allows everyone to have fun.

Just like the Christmas party, though, it is an event to be planned carefully, to ensure that you are not nursing more than a hangover the next day.
Vicarious liability is one of the main risks – where you as employer are held responsible for the bad behaviour of staff. Alcohol is often a root cause of trouble.

Reminding everyone in writing that it is an extension of the workplace, and therefore the usual company policies relating to things like harassment and discrimination, is good as both a deterrent and a line of defence for you should anything untoward occur. Think also about the balance of access to alcohol, food and soft drinks, ensuring you are not encouraging excessive drinking.

One way to subtly create a positive vibe could be to link the social to any charitable fundraising you undertake. Not only is it efficient use of precious time in planning both initiatives, but it adds an extra layer of propriety to your party.
In what the US Department of Labour described as amongst the “most shameless” schemes it has ever investigated, the owners of a Mexican restaurant in California were recently ordered to pay $140,000 in damages and back pay to staff.

One of their ruses was to hire a fake Catholic priest to conduct confessions which had an unusual focus on potential workplace misdemeanours. “Have you done anything to harm your employer?”, “Are you ever late to work?” were two of the lines of questioning from the supposed priest.

If you have concerns about the ethics of your workforce, we’d suggest a more conventional disciplinary and grievance procedure. And if you need help from a higher power – call us!

June 2023 Newsletter

Attention has rightly been put on the gender pay gap in recent years. With annual reporting required for larger companies this gap is closing, albeit slowly.

But the same endemic issues which cause the gender pay gap – a greater childcare burden, the cumulative effect of lower rates of pay, a lack of access to senior positions – have also led to a pensions pay gap even more stark.

Throw into the mix a lack of financial confidence (generally speaking) in women compared to men and the problem is exacerbated. A survey by UBS found that 63% of UK millennial women deferred long-term financial planning to their husbands or male partners; 85% felt that men know more about investing than they did.

Analysis between 2018 and 2020 found that for every £100 which men accumulated in private pensions, women accumulated only £65. That puts the gap at 35%, although there are other ways of measuring it.

So what can you do as an employer, who wants to foster equality in your business and attract the best talent, be they male or female?

The same actions that you would take to address the gender pay gap are a good place to start – ensuring compliance with the Equality Act on pay rates for men and women doing similar work; checking that your recruitment, retention and promotion processes operate on a level playing field; running a supportive workplace that women do not feel forced to drop out of at key stages of family life.

Some businesses facilitate “lunch and learns” for their employees. These may even be offered for free by third-parties happy to impart knowledge in return for potential customers. Partnering with a local financial adviser could be an excellent way to make all your employees more confident about long-term financial planning.
The cost-of-living crisis has put sharp focus on a perennial bugbear for employees – the repayment of company expenses which they have had to fork out for from their personal funds.

It is not uncommon for expenses to be repaid at the end of the month, so long as all receipts and other paperwork are accounted for. If there are problems with this bookkeeping, it could take longer. This may result in weeks when employees are out of pocket.

A recent survey carried out by a payroll firm found that during the cost-of-living crisis a quarter of respondents had struggled to pay their own essential bills while waiting for reimbursement of company expenses.

For some employees the sums we are talking about will amount to thousands of pounds over the course of a year.

Such problems for employees can quite easily translate into problems for you. They could manifest as work-related stress which impacts performance; difficult conversations and conflict if the employee thinks that they are being taken advantage of; or higher turnover of staff as dissatisfied employees seek a new job where this will not be an issue.

If you recognise some of these challenges, there are simple, cost-effective measures you could consider. For instance, making your expenses runs more frequent – say fortnightly instead of monthly. Or allowing employees to book hotels and train fares with a company account and so skipping the issue of expenses altogether for these types of payment.
As you will know, women on maternity leave have a number of protections enshrined in law, one of which is protection from redundancy.

This protection is in line to be extended following the royal assent granted to the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023.

Any employee on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave must be provided with a suitable alternative job (if available), should their role become redundant. Currently this protection lasts until the day they return from the leave.

When the new law comes into force (not before April 2024) the protection will last from the day you are informed of their pregnancy to 18 months after the birth. This may add up to another six months in total to what they already have.

Processing maternity leave and pay, and managing the changes to your business at this time is an important part of HR to get right. If you need support, your us and we can help.
As a nation of pet lovers, we jump at the chance to spend more time with our furry friends or show them off to those around us.
So National Bring your Dog to Work Day (Friday 23rd June), may be a crowd-pleaser in your office. 

If you are keen to take part, it is not as simple as just inviting everyone to bring in their pooch, though. There is legwork to do first, and for some workplaces, it will not be possible.

If there are hygiene reasons which prevent you from taking part, you’ll probably be aware of them already – for example if you run a food preparation business. What may not be so obvious is where you have staff with chronic allergies or a phobia.

For this reason, it is important to ask staff for their approval. If one or two are not happy, could they be offered to work from home? You may be able to find a workaround.

If dogs will be coming through the door, a risk assessment will help you think through the safety issues. Is each dog suitable for a workplace? Where can and can’t they go? What is the procedure if something unexpected happens – like a dog bites someone?

Finally, remember work still needs to get done. So all dogs should be house trained, socialised and well behaved. Uncontrollable scrappers and yappers can stay at home.
There is no “right to switch off” in the UK for employees at present. It may be coming though. There is such a right in countries such as France and Ireland. And Labour has indicated that they may introduce this right should they win the next election, although by a voluntary code at first.

The thinking behind this is that as technology and working patterns have upset the work/life balance for many people, there is a heightened risk of stress or even burnout. Employees may find it harder to build a family life and may look to change jobs to remedy the situation themselves. So businesses may need to create working patterns that relieve stress: such as “the right to switch off”.

While it is essential for businesses to ensure their employees are productive, good employers will want to respect the work/life balance. To give an indication of what a right to switch off might look like, the Irish model is based on three tenets:
1. A right not to routinely work outside of work hours.
2. A right to not suffer penalty for refusing to work outside of normal hours.
3. An obligation to respect each other’s right to switch off.

There does need to be balance, though, in any new approach.

For instance, some employees, working from home, may have arranged to take a break for child-care cover and then work a few hours early in the morning or later in the evening. Any legislation needs to allow flexibility and choice.

There are also situations where out of hours contact is important. For example, a change of a morning meeting or an emergency situation.
A £10,000 pint? Not quite, but an engineer who was disciplined for drinking beer on a Zoom call and eventually dismissed for persistent poor behaviour was ordered by a judge to pay £10,000 to cover his ex-employer’s legal costs. He had brought a tribunal claim against them for unfair dismissal which he lost.

And quite right, too – the judge noted how fairly they had treated the employee while they managed his behaviour. It was reported he even told the CEO to “Deal with it” as he sipped his pint! While many people have a favourite tipple, there is a time and a place – and “on the job” will not be it in most businesses.

May 2023 Newsletter

A recent industry survey revealed that 76% of employees would be more likely to work for a company with a “work from anywhere” policy.
How would you feel about letting your employees work from anywhere in the world?

It may sound unrealistic and nomadic; and for many it will be – but if it is possible it doesn’t have to mean your employees working abroad full-time. Many just want the option to work remotely when on holiday, to extend their time away.

First, let’s not blur the technical lines between holiday and work. Working time regulations make it clear that everyone must have four weeks holiday – so an employee must be either “on the clock” or not.

That said, it has long been a practice for people to tag a couple of days (proper) holiday onto the end of a business trip. The workcation is the reverse – some time properly available and working for the business, but from the location of the holiday. It may be to fit in with an itinerary, get the benefit of a few extra days sunshine or, say, manage the interval between long-haul flights.

So now we are clear what we are talking about, what would the practical considerations be to facilitate it, should you wish to?

Time zones, connectivity and data protection should all be considered, and any one of these may make such working impracticable or impossible. For longer-term arrangements, issues like visas and taxation become an issue and specialist advice would be recommended.

Holidays don’t have to be abroad of course, and things become simpler when people want to “work from anywhere” domestically. It’s got to work for your business though. Weigh up the practicalities to you and your operations, your staff relations, how important such flexibility is for recruitment and retention and fairness across all staff.

A clear, consistent remote working policy will help your business deal with requests, and keep things fair for all employees. Just get in touch if you’d like any help updating a policy, or putting one in place.
The number of fit notes issued in the UK hit a record high last year – 10.4 million. In part, the increase has been attributed to the economic crisis and also to the impact of the pandemic, which has led to more stress-related absences.

If you’ve been noticing increased absences, it might be having negative effects on productivity, as well as increasing costs. It is important to manage them proactively.

Begin by ensuring you have a robust absence policy, so expectations are clear and phoney sickness days are discouraged. The HR Dept can help you implement a comprehensive policy, as well as introducing return-to-work interviews and measuring tools. For long-term absences, we can work with occupational health therapists to plan adjustments and phased returns.

If stress or anxiety is at play you’ll want to be supportive, but it’s not yours or your managers’ jobs to act as counsellors.

You can bring in tools like the Bradford Factor (see below) to underpin your enforcement of absence policy objectively. You may also find employee assistance programmes (EAPs) good value for the business. They provide expert, independent support services for mental health and other issues like debt advice – taking the burden away from you.

Check that your culture encourages a healthy work-life balance. Both our physical and mental health are heavily impacted by work-life balance. Ensuring that workloads are evenly distributed, and that staff know when to switch off, will reduce the risk of stress.

In the face of so much absence a robust approach is important – not least so that those who do show up every day don’t get burnt out covering for persistently absent colleagues. If you’d like support, just get in touch.
If you wanted further proof that working from home is less productive than the office, recent payment data shows a rise in midweek expenditure at salons, whilst mobile phone data in the US showed a whopping 300% increase in 4pm Wednesday tee off times on the golf course.

So if everyone is sinking a putt or having a trim, who is manning the phone and getting the proposal finished?

Teams benefit from personal contact so that they can build trust, communicate efficiently and collaborate together. So getting everyone in one place at work is best.

If you can’t get everyone back in full-time, though, make sure you set very clear expectations about what is expected from them when working from home. While some employers may be comfortable basing this solely on output rather than having someone tied to a desk, it can be easy for standards to slip.

Repeated delays in returning phone calls while someone is out running errands or skipping a Zoom meeting because they are late back from lunch could end up costing clients or missing deadlines.

You could assess whether your own management style for home workers is too distant, not accounting for the lack of direct supervision and accountability that physical presence brings.

If you are worried they are doing their nails instead of working in sales and you would like help reviewing the standards that you expect from home workers during office hours, we can help.
The Bradford Factor is a formula used to measure employee absence. It works by calculating how many instances of unplanned absence an employee has in a year. As the number increases with each instance of absence, rather than the length, it assumes that repeated absences are worse for business than long-term illnesses.

Here’s the formula:
S² x D = B
S is the number of instances of absence. You multiply this number by itself.
D is the number of days absent in a 52 week period.
B is the Bradford Factor score.

Staff scores are applied to a framework of trigger points for warnings and ultimately dismissal.

So is it helpful? It’s arbitrary nature has pros and cons, but there are too many nuances for it to be the sole reference for judging the significance of absence levels. Better to have it in the background to help inform your decision-making, alongside good line management, such as return-to-work interviews.
We recently blogged about the opportunity to recruit over-50s, following the Chancellor’s Budget announcements to encourage this demographic back to work.

Boosted by the impact of the cost of living crisis, this appears to be a very real trend which you can harness to help meet your staffing needs.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in the 12 months to March 2023, the number of people younger than 64 who are in retirement fell by 93,000. It means the UK has the lowest number of early retirees since 1994.

From a strong work ethic to, some might say, greater resilience than younger generations there is much that over-50s hires could bring to your business. Give thought to how you might attract them, from what retraining might be required to where you advertise the roles.

For any help with recruitment, speak to us, we can help.
Can laughing at an employee count as harassment? One employee recently thought so, after taking his boss to tribunal for laughing when he slipped on a patch of oil at work.

The employee lost the case, with the judge deeming his accusation “ridiculous”, putting the laughter down to the “slapstick element of a fall”.

A sense of fun in the workplace is important for helping to create an enjoyable and collaborative environment. But setting boundaries is key to prevent bullying or discrimination claims – avoid controversial or inappropriate jokes, and ensure your company has a staunch conflict resolution process and anti-bullying stance.

April 2023 Newsletter

While it is important to take your time when hiring, adding unnecessary delays to recruitment could cost you talent.

According to a 2022 recruitment report, 65% of employers worldwide lost out on their favourite candidate as their hiring process was too long.
As an SME, you may admire the recruitment processes that big corporations are able to develop; but if you can emulate their rigour whilst adding your nimbleness, this is a chance to beat them. Good preparation can unlock this, so planning is key.

The survey reported that 50% of all UK professionals have declined a job offer because the hiring process was too long. So in order to attract the best talent, you’ll want to keep it short and sweet whilst not missing the important parts. Here are some simple ways to keep your application process engaging…

Stick to tight timescales, and line up all those involved within your company so they are free to do the CV screening and interviews (factor in fall-back dates in case candidates are not available on the first interviews you offer). Hiring is often held up because managers are on holiday or busy.

If you know that you will get a good response, include a short cut-off time for applications.

Transparency with your candidates is key. In the invitation to the first interview, outline how the application will progress and the timescales involved. For example, how many interviews will there be? Will there be a task involved? If you can provide approximate dates for each stage, even better.

Initial telephone interviews generate momentum and save time as they are quicker to implement. They mean that face-to-face interviews are reserved for seeing only the best.

Stay in communication with your candidates throughout the process. Even if decisions haven’t been made yet, actively communicating with candidates will ensure your company appears a switched-on and engaging place to work.

Finally, don’t forget to respond to unsuccessful candidates: It’s simply good manners.

Ultimately, the best recruitment process is one that is thorough and works for you, but that keeps the applicant fully engaged. If you’d like more bespoke advice, just get in touch.
May is looking to be a manic month of bank holidays, with dates in the diary for the 1st, 8th, and 29th May. The extra holiday for the King’s coronation may be very welcome for your employees, but you might be wondering how to manage productivity with all the extra time off…

First, it’s crucial to know the rules – both in the law, and your own holiday policy. Bank holidays off are not necessarily a legal entitlement, it depends on how your contracts are worded.

Make sure employees know how much notice to give so you can plan ahead. It is common where bank holidays cluster together for some staff to request additional annual leave to achieve a long block of time away with relatively little holiday allowance expended.

If you are concerned that you will not have sufficient resources to operate fully during May, you do not automatically need to accept such time off requests.

If you foresee issues, talk to all staff – some may not be fussed whether they have time off in May or not; others may be glad of some overtime if you are prepared to offer it.

Whatever the needs of your business, a little planning now will help May pass smoothly and ensure that all the work that needs to be done is completed satisfactorily.

If, despite your best efforts, May turns into mayhem for you We are just a phone call away to help you work out what you can do to fix it.
Despite all the April showers, spring is definitely in the air. So why not freshen up your HR practices for the new season? Here are three easy ways to start:

Dust off your policies and procedures. It may have been a while since you last updated these, so take the time this spring to re-read and make key updates – particularly if things have changed in your business.

Want an easier way to keep organised? Consider HR software. This’ll help you keep everything in one place, from carrying out day-to-day HR tasks, to tracking employee records and reporting.

Brighten up your benefits and training. To help engage and retain employees, consider boosting your benefits package, or incorporating a new training initiative.

Just get in touch if you’d like any help updating your handbook or putting a unique package in place.
Payroll – it’s complicated, time-consuming and tedious… but kind of important to your employees! A 2022 industry survey reported that 88% of businesses were affected by payroll errors, resulting in delays or incorrect pay. Surely there’s a way to steer clear of this common pitfall?

Incorporating better technology could be the answer. According to the report, you could save 18 working days of payroll time by using digital payroll technology – well worth the investment. Using payroll software systemises and streamlines your pay processes, so errors should become rare.

Or, you could make things even simpler with a payroll service. There are lots of options around for you to consider, we are more than happy to have a chat with you and discuss your options, and help you implement a change
Being ready to manage maternity leave is part and parcel of running a business. It is the law but it doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, it’s an opportunity to show that your workplace values equality and retains experienced staff.

Here’s how to help things go smoothly.

It’s best to plan straight away. As soon as your employee lets you know, it’s time to get all the information and start planning how you’ll cover their role. There are some statutory timescales to adhere to on both sides.

Decide whether you’ll employ a temporary maternity cover, or outsource. We can help you attract the best candidate, especially if maternity cover is new to you – just get in touch!

For a smooth handover, ensure there’s ample time to train the covering employee, and for them to be briefed by the departing staff member.

For any more guidance, feel free to contact us.
Have you ever been trying to sleep, and suddenly all your most cringeworthy memories flood into your head? Let’s hope they’re not as awkward as these email mishaps from the web…

One agency worker accidentally sent a job application to a sister agency under the same umbrella company. Needless to say her boss soon found out she wanted to leave!

How often have you sent an email to the wrong person? It’s even worse if it is someone you are criticising! At another company, an employee emailed the very person they were complaining about. They were lucky though; they deleted it off their computer just in time!

A jarring reminder to never rush an email… and make sure you’re not replying all unless you mean too!

Also, always make sure you add any attachments if you mention them....

Finally, remember to use BCC when copying in people; the dreaded GDPR!

March 2023 Newsletter

An industry survey conducted towards the end of 2022 shows we truly are in grievance season, with 30% of employers seeing a rise in grievances over the last two years.

There is the usual dissatisfaction about workplace conditions, including a broken or unusable toilet and kitchen facilities, problems with workplace temperatures and perennial arguments about parking.

However, the survey reported the main cause of grievances in recent times to be relationships with managers or colleagues. Broken down, the top three reasons for grievances were:
- Bullying or harassment (67%)
- Relationships with managers (54%)
- Relationships with colleagues (49%)

More topically, 37% reported pay and grading as their primary cause of grievance. With rising costs of living and surging inflation, this will come as no surprise. The recent winter of discontent, which continues to see industrial action, is a glaring reminder of employee pay dissatisfaction.
When it comes to resolution of these issues, four in ten respondents said managers were ineffective at resolving complaints before they reached a formal grievance level.

Have you noticed an uptick in complaints? It’s not all doom and gloom – there are steps that can be taken to resolve grievances and improve employer-employee relations.

Fostering a supportive business culture which offers open communication to employees is key.

Your employees should feel comfortable that they can raise complaints informally at first, in the knowledge they will be addressed and discussed fairly. When you establish this trust, and support those involved at every stage, complaints are more likely to be resolved than if they’re escalated to a formal level.

The survey also shows some managers feel lacking in the training required to deal with complaints. To be a successful manager, it’s crucial to have the skills and knowledge to handle and resolve complaints. Our training courses can help to provide these skills.

When a grievance does arise, it’s essential that you have a proper grievance policy in place. This will include the structured steps you will follow to resolve it fairly. If you’d like support in producing a grievance policy, please get in touch. In this season of grievances, it’s best to be well prepared.
It will seem radical to many, but the results are in for early trials of a four-day working week. They’ve been a resounding success. At the end of the six-month trial, which ran from June to December of 2022, almost all of the 61 employers involved are sticking to the four-day pattern.

The idea isn’t to squeeze five days’ work into four, but to maintain 100% of salary and productivity over 80% of typical hours. The key for it to work is productivity. So far, the majority of companies taking part have reported that they are happy with performance levels, and many employees have noted increased productivity.

The main benefit of the shortened week was found to be employee well-being. With staff happiness up, employees are less likely to quit, and sick days and absenteeism have reduced. The financial benefits of higher staff retention are undeniable, when the total costs of hiring can easily run into thousands of pounds, depending on the role.

A four-day week doesn’t always mean a long weekend, with either a Monday or Friday being freed up. Businesses that provide services all week, for example a brewery and fish and chip shop involved in the trial, could opt for a rota pattern, with the extra day off being mid-week for some instead.

Whether the four-day week will maintain long-term productivity is unclear. But the trial’s success in creating happier workplaces is testament to the importance of a true work-life balance.

Of course with budgets tight, the four-day pattern is not feasible for many businesses right now, and may require quite a mindset shift for you as an employer and your employees. If it is something you wish to explore, please do get in touch.
AI has been taking over in the news recently, and there are fears it may take over creative job roles too.

The emergence of tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney has proven AI’s capacity to generate complex written and visual content, ranging from articles and graphics, to songs and award-winning artworks.

The question this raises for employers and employees alike: could AI ultimately replace creative job roles?

The jury’s still out. Although AI is quicker and cheaper than a human workforce, it isn’t perfect. AI works by mining the Internet’s existing content, so copyright issues are a concern. And AI output still requires editing by human minds, so can’t replicate human flair.

AI’s encroachment in the creative industries seems inevitable, so perhaps the best approach is to embrace it. If employees work alongside AI, human and computed creativity could be combined for the better, helping businesses work smarter, instead of harder
Never underestimate the importance of tying up loose ends when an employee leaves.

Something as simple as an employee taking documents away could escalate into a more serious security issue – take Donald Trump as an extreme example, his properties raided after being suspected of retaining classified White House documents once his presidency had ended.

To protect your business after an employee leaves, particularly an unhappy one, thought needs to be given to the contract when they join. Do you need a restrictive covenant to protect the business from customers and staff being poached? Restrictive covenants must be properly drafted to be effective so do take professional advice.

There should be a process for ensuring that keys, laptops, mobiles and all company information is returned before they leave the building. IT access should be immediately switched off and door codes changed.

To ensure correct procedures are followed every time, talk to us about a leaver’s checklist – so all bases are covered.
On International Women’s Day, it was announced that the England women’s team secured a victory off the field to add to the many they have won on it.

An open letter to government, sent after winning the Euros, called for girls to be given equal access to all sports in PE. On 8th March this was granted – with up to £600 million earmarked to improve PE and sports in Primary School.

After decades of gender inequality in football, the Lionesses have shown that with fair opportunity and investment, women can, of course, deliver just like men.

Businesses can create the same opportunity and make big productivity gains if they harness all the talent available to them. Have you got the best team you could hope for or would you like to explore new ways to attract the best talent? We can help by reviewing how your roles are structured, advertised and filled.
Whether it’s a stolen sandwich, milk levels mysteriously waning, or chocolates disappearing, few workplaces are free from the office thief.

One milk theft victim sought vengeance by spiking the carton with laxatives. Others have padlocked their lunch, or set noisy traps to catch the thieves.

Revenge is a dish best served… with MSG? One employee with an alleged MSG allergy was mortified when she dug into Chinese leftovers without checking the ingredients first.

One simple solution? Keep the peace by investing in communal milk for your kitchen, and maybe even snacks!.

February 2023 Newsletter

The findings of a recent study by the Positive Parenting Alliance provide some useful insight to SMEs on the impact that divorce can have on employees in their workplace.

Almost all respondents said that their performance suffered (90%) and mental health declined (95%). Nearly 40% said that they had needed to take time off, and less than 10% said their employers had specific support measures for this difficult time.

An earlier study, undertaken in 2021, found that one out of eight people who experienced divorce left their company within a year, too.

With drops in productivity, recruitment costs and the desire to help valued colleagues during a low point in their life, the case for offering more support is clear.

So what might employer support look like?

It could simply be good line management in exercising discretion based on the needs of the individual. Gestures like additional flexible working while the school run is sorted out, or solicitor’s meetings need to be attended, and signposting of separation support services which charities provide.

Running an employee assistance programme (EAP), so useful in a variety of scenarios, will come into its own when a staff member experiences divorce. It will take some of the pressure off line managers who may feel a little out of their depth. At only a few pounds per month per employee, we really do think they are a way to deliver real value in a benefits package.

Of course, your support could be more formalised by recognising separation as a life event within your policies which deal with employee well-being, and may be linked to compassionate leave – whether paid or unpaid.

Great line management, whether coming directly from you as a business owner or from managers you employ, is key to delivering empathetic and effective solutions during adversity. If you would like to explore the training options we can provide, please get in touch. We can also tell you more about EAPs if you are interested.
Health and safety legislation should ensure that a workplace itself is a safe environment for everyone, male or female, young or old.
However, the steady stream of grim news concerning women’s safety more generally in society may lead you to consider if there is more you can do.

Obviously, there are boundaries to what is possible or practicable, but here are two ideas which may be achievable.

A 2022 survey of 1,008 working women in the UK found that 40% of respondents felt vulnerable about commuting in the dark and 32% felt unsafe. As much as 88% of the women said they felt companies should be more open to flexible working options.

Since the pandemic, there has been much more discussion and indeed implementation of flexible working. However, safe commuting is often not what is driving the discussion.

Simple steps such as well-lit car parks, escorting someone to their vehicle or bus stop can make a difference.

Moving on, domestic violence is another big issue. Ensure a domestic violence policy is available to all staff and train managers to learn the signs and flag support. These could include unexplained absences, changes in behaviour and accidental injuries (often dismissed as the individual being accident prone).

If you have suspicions, discretion is advised and confidentiality essential. Make it clear your door is always open for them to come to you. An employee assistance programme (EAP) can help: either by your referring them to the counselling services provided, or a victim calling upon it privately, if they aren’t ready to discuss what’s going on with colleagues.

You could also flag specialist charities like Safe Lives, Refuge and Men’s Advice (men can be abused too).

If you don’t have one already, introducing a company policy is a great way to communicate that you care and raise awareness. We can help with this and with training.
Quiet hiring is actually a term for a long-established HR practice of redeploying existing staff (and sometimes augmenting the team with contractors or part-time workers). It’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment due to the pressures that so many companies are feeling when trying to get the right staff in place.

It could be a useful tactic if you are experiencing recruitment and retention problems. Reskilling existing team members to be able to help out where they are needed most may take away some of the acute need for recruiting.

Moreover, if you can match the right people to the right new roles, you may find it actually helps with retention by shaking things up for staff who felt they were stuck in a rut (and even quiet quitting themselves).

It may not provide the long-term equilibrium you need and you should be careful of things like staff burn-out if your team is stretched too thin. As a short-term solution, though, it could be the catchphrase you have been looking for.
It’s taken a perfect (snow) storm of cold weather, feelings of isolation and rising household bills, but there has been a certain shift in people rejecting working from home.

A survey from the recruitment sector revealed that one in five workers are returning to the office because of the cold snaps we have been experiencing.

Opinion is divided over how the pros and cons of remote or hybrid working stack up, but if you have a desire to bring your team together this could be a golden opportunity.

We’d suggest being really clear about what you are trying to achieve by having people come in, and also, crucially, what it is they most appreciate in a workspace. Is the equipment up to spec? Is it comfortable and conducive to working? Are there separate spaces to concentrate and collaborate as the need arises?

Create the right environment and culture to keep people wanting to come back to the office.
International Women’s Day is approaching – it is on 8th March. It is a timely moment to consider whether women’s equality truly runs through your business.

Last year, many big brands faced an uncomfortable public shaming as the inspirational tweets promoting women in their business were blindsided by someone highlighting their gender pay gap.

It could be worse in 2023. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the gender pay gap has widened from 7.7% to 8.3% amongst full-time employees.

Companies with fewer than 250 employees don’t have to report their gender pay gap. Even so, International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to reflect whether you have a gender pay gap yourself and how you might address it, before posting your support on social media.
Whatever you do, don’t throw a pizza party on Employee Appreciation Day (first Friday of March)! While it may be well-intentioned, those things are taking a hammering in Internet memes and cartoons. They have become a symbol of an empty gesture to an under-appreciated workforce.

It highlights the paradox which can be exposed on such an appreciation day if you are not doing enough to reward staff for the other 364 days of the year. Look at maybe using health-themed benefits which is a great way to show appreciation to your employees, it's good to have valued employee benefits that last a whole year and beyond – not just a day.

We also provide employee benefit reviews if you would like an expert to assess if what you offer is relevant, competitive and offers you value for money.

January 2023 Newsletter

2023 is likely to be a busy year in employment law with plenty of changes for SME employers to look out for.

The spark for the most significant changes on the horizon is the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. Yes, it’s another Brexit thing, but this could be seen as tying up all the loose ends from our departure from the EU.

Currently, if there is a conflict between UK and EU law, EU law takes priority. This will stop after 31 December 2023 as this Act allows the government to scrap or replace all the EU laws we have retained since Brexit.

There is a lot to get through and already there is talk of postponing this to 2026. We expect the eventual shake-up of employment law to affect Working Time Regulations, Agency Regulations and TUPE.

Some of these changes will be welcomed by business, such as allowing harmonisation of terms and conditions after TUPE. There is a lot of hype about it all but in the end it may be a totally damp squib!

A slew of private members’ bills is also working through parliament with government support.

When passed these will give workers more rights around requesting flexible working; add further protections for staff against sexual harassment; introduce a right to unpaid carers’ leave for employees who have dependants requiring long-term care; and extending redundancy protection related to maternity, adoption and shared parental leave to include any period of pregnancy and a number of months afterwards.

There may also be legislation introducing a right to neonatal leave and pay; and, for the hospitality sector, new laws on the fair distribution of tips.

All of the above will take time to percolate through parliament; but one thing that’s certain for the first half of 2023 is the raising of various statutory rates on 6th April. Headlines here include the national living wage increasing 9.7% to £10.42 per hour for people from their 23rd birthday, and the statutory sick pay rate rising from £99.35 to £109.40.
Good productivity is at the heart of running a successful business, and yet lots of companies struggle. Indeed, it’s well known that the UK lags many other developed countries when it comes to productivity per hour worked. ONS figures for 2019 show that, surprisingly, compared to France we are nearly 20% less productive!

If you face productivity challenges, it is worth revisiting some management basics to see if any easy wins are available to you. Get this right in your business, and the rewards will follow.

How well defined are your job roles and the responsibilities that accompany them? If team members are unsure of their remit, you may find that they spend time on unnecessary tasks or that important jobs do not get done. You may even uncover a redundant role or roles.

When defining your roles, ensure you set targets so you and your team can measure progress. SMART targets are best – that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

Other productivity killers are issues like absence or poor timekeeping. You should have policies which set out your expectations for these and give you a framework to manage non-compliance. With your policy in place, however, you still need to measure performance so be sure to track when people are away or repeatedly late. Talk to us about our HR toolkit software if you want a technological tool to help with this.

Another essential management tool is good communication. Most business owners will know how to create channels like an open-door policy and regular 121s, but if you want more advanced communication training get in touch with your local HR Dept office.
Love them or loathe them, rom coms are well established in our culture. Just as Hollywood serves up its latest offerings for Valentine’s Day, you may see a romantic drama unfolding a little closer to home – the cliched office romance between staff.

In fact, research says that 25% of people in the UK are paired off with a colleague or former colleague, suggesting managing the fallout from such relationships is a near certainty for most business owners at some point.

While some firms will ban such relationships outright, this is a tricky one to police. That’s not to say, however, that you should do nothing.
Of course, it is not the relationship itself which is the problem, but potential behaviours that go with it, be they over-familiarity and favouritism, or open rows and prejudice; particularly if there is an imbalance of power, i.e. a manager and a staff member are involved.

Clarity is necessary, either through a workplace relationship policy or just your disciplinary policy. Good communication is also needed, so everyone understands what is and isn’t acceptable and what the consequences are for contravening your rules.

This is not the only benefit: being clear on such policies has the added benefit of lessening the risk of sexual harassment from unwanted advances, too – both for employees and in terms of your own liability.

If you want help reviewing your policies or writing new ones, get in touch.
A Legal and General study has revealed that 2.5 million people feel they need to stay in work for longer because of the cost-of-living crisis, while 1.7 million people think they’ll have to work indefinitely!

This could be timely for many businesses who are struggling to fill roles. But how can you optimise your business for an ageing workforce, making older people feel welcome and valued?

As with other aspects of diversity and inclusion, it may require a cultural reset to see beyond stereotypes and understand their value. That said, people do tend to develop more health issues as they get older and may, for instance, have caring responsibilities – from grandchildren to siblings and even ancient parents.

Like so many other challenges in the workplace, introducing flexible working such as alternative working hours, job shares or hybrid working might be the answer.

The benefits to you include getting those vacant roles filled, having experienced people on the team who can share knowledge, and a more diverse workforce which can connect to a wider customer base.
When looking at the upcoming changes in 2023 earlier in the newsletter we touched upon a private member’s bill extending rights around requesting flexible working.

Flexible working must always work for the business too, and for some it simply will not be possible. However, it is worth keeping front of mind that it is not limited to working from home. It could mean starting and finishing earlier (or later), job-sharing, compressed hours (working the same number of hours in fewer days), anything that deviates from that traditional nine-to-five office-based view…

The new rules will give employees a day-one right to request flexible working (down from 26 weeks), and reduce your response time from three months to two. Employees will no longer have to explain how you could accommodate their request, and before you refuse it you must consult and explore options with your employee (you can still refuse a request, though).

By embracing flexible working where possible, you will extend the base from which you recruit; and create opportunities for a happier, more productive workforce who can properly balance their work and home lives.
From refusing to play older tunes in a gym to being sacked for going to lunch, 2022 saw some bizarre employment tribunals.

Going to court is never a fun experience; but looking from afar, some of the cases we have seen recently do raise eyebrows.

The lady that legitimately lunched angered her boss by taking two colleagues out at a time of company crisis. She was awarded £11,000.

The gym owners were accused of age discrimination by an employee for only playing modern music. They successfully argued their playlist was part of their brand and the claim was thrown out.

In France, a man won £2,500 for exercising his “right to be boring”. He was sacked for not partaking in hedonistic, out-of-hours socialising with his colleagues at a consulting firm.

Contact us if you have any issues you would like to discuss, or if you need HR support to prevent any future issues

December 2022 Newsletter

In the three months to September 2022, according to Statista, there were 75,000 redundancies made in the UK. 

The economy is declining, and the Chancellor is predicting it will get worse before it gets better. Many firms who have already made savings and put expansion plans on hold are now looking at taking significant costs out. This usually means restructuring and redundancies. 

How to retain the best staff for the future is often the biggest question facing business owners. 

The legal process for redundancy must always be followed. This starts with a consultation. It is not good enough to simply present the business case as a fait accompli and proceed at speed. 

Listening to employees can, on occasions, produce surprising ideas and offers, such as a temporary reduction in pay to save jobs.
The next stage is vital. It involves grouping all the people with the same or similar roles who will be at risk of redundancy and marking a selection criteria. 

Do remember to make reasonable adjustments in the scoring for disabled employees. 

Typical criteria are attendance, performance and live disciplinary records, but can include specific business needs. The marking must be evidence based, as this is the way that you can fairly ensure your best staff survive. 

It is worth having professional help at this stage to avoid the risk of an unfair dismissal claim. 

Don’t forget there is a cost to redundancy: statutory or contractual company redundancy pay, notice pay and any accrued holiday that has not been taken. 

Even employees with under two years’ service can make a tribunal claim for unlawful deduction from wages. 

We know this is a difficult time for employers and employees alike. Handling the process professionally and with compassion can make a difference not only to those leaving but to the remaining staff as well. 

The recent firings and redundancies by Elon Musk at Twitter should serve as a stark reminder of how not to handle the situation!
After two years of pandemic-related restrictions and uncertainty, work Christmas parties are making a comeback. 

With no restrictions to consider this year, it’s important to keep your parties PG! 

Otherwise, your employees could wake up with more than just a hangover… 

One of the most common party regrets is getting a little too friendly with a co-worker. An industry survey found that 45% of people have locked lips with a colleague! 

Statistics like this can cause some HR professionals to shudder at the thought of what could go wrong. 

It can be easy for parties to go awry, but reminding your employees that the party is still an extension of the workplace, will help to act as a deterrent. 

The survey found that 58% of employees intend not to drink too much, so those numbers may provide some comfort. 

Before letting your employees celebrate the festive season, ensure you make it clear what behaviour is unacceptable and the consequences of breaching your policies. Employers are responsible for employee’s behaviour – even at out-of-work events. 

Also, avoid discussing things such as salary, performance, and career prospects with your employees at the party. 

There have been incidents where promises that have been made to an employee whilst under the influence of alcohol have been upheld by employment tribunals, even when the employer did not intend for this to be the case. 

But most importantly, make sure you and your team can eat, drink and be merry (within reason!).
The threat of cancelling Christmas is usually reserved for parents when trying to warn their children to behave. 

However, one company has cancelled Christmas for their employees. Their Christmas annual leave to be precise. 

Due to a real terms pay cut, employees at Thomas Swann have decided to go on strike over the festive period. 

In response, the company has cancelled all pre-booked holiday over Christmas. 

It may leave you wondering: is this allowed? 

Technically, yes. Employers can cancel employees’ annual leave that has previously been approved if there is a business need. 

You cannot cancel leave if it means your employee is then unable to take their full statutory annual leave entitlement in that leave year, though. 

You must also provide notice equivalent to the period of leave the employee planned to take. 

Cancelling leave, especially at this time of year, is an extreme reaction. Few companies will be comfortable being branded Scrooge on social media!
From the 20th November to 24th January, there are around 14 different religious holidays celebrated worldwide. 

So, it’s key to recognise that some in your business may not celebrate Christmas. 

The way you celebrate holidays at work will frame your company culture and can impact inclusivity. 

Beyond the minimum requirements set out by UK law, it is a good idea to promote inclusivity amongst your employees to encourage equality, fairness and appreciation of others. 

Give employees the choice as to whether or not they’d like to participate in festive activities. If they don’t, ensure they are not treated detrimentally. 

Don’t be afraid to keep the spirit alive, but if you can, cater to all. Perhaps you can organise a lunch to celebrate a successful year! 

However you choose to celebrate, just make sure that everyone is included and comfortable.
At a recent French employment tribunal, a judge upheld a man’s legal right to be “boring” at work. 

Mr T was fired from his job in Paris as he did not want to go for a drink with his colleagues after work. He argued that he had a right to be boring. 

He was dismissed on grounds of professional inadequacy. 

However, the court also found that the company often engaged in “humiliating and intrusive practices”, such as colleagues sharing beds during seminars and the use of nicknames. 

Agreeing that Mr T shouldn’t have to take part in such practices, the court awarded him the equivalent of £2,574. He is also seeking the equivalent of an additional £395,630 in damages. 

This case can serve as reminder this festive season that not everyone is a Scrooge if they don’t want to participate in festive activities!
As the cost of living crisis continues, it can be hard for people to spend money on things they deem as unnecessary. 

Unfortunately, the workplace Christmas party hasn’t escaped this scrutiny. 

One recent workplace survey revealed that 94% of respondents would rather their employer use the Christmas party budget for staff bonuses instead. 

Creating open and honest communication with your team could help you understand how they’re feeling. This could lead to collaborative discussions on what you could do to mark the festive season. 

Perhaps asking your team to anonymously submit ideas would give you a good indication of what they would like.

November 2022 Newsletter

Happy employees can only mean good things for your business. However, a recent study has shown that only 25% of employees feel confident in their career at their current company. Why are so many employees having doubts? 

One reason may be that fewer than one in three employees surveyed knew how to progress in their current career over the next five years. The survey revealed that only 50% said their manager gave them specific feedback on career progression. 

It appears developing skills outside of roles is a priority to employees. The majority said it was more, or equally, important now than before the pandemic to do so. 

Providing your employees with the opportunity to grow is key to retaining them. As part of your performance appraisal procedures, introducing a training and development plan can boost your employees’ satisfaction. 

The study also found that 41% of employees did not feel comfortable sharing concerns at work with their managers. So, it goes without saying that creating an open and honest culture is invaluable. 

If your employees have the confidence to come to you with any issues, it is much easier for you to address them. This will help boost morale and will potentially avoid them becoming dissatisfied and looking for a new role elsewhere. 

The results revealed that 75% of those surveyed also wanted to dedicate more time to their personal lives, whilst two-thirds wanted to find a purpose beyond work. Work/life balance is important to your employees, so being able to work in an environment where this is considered will contribute to their job satisfaction and overall happiness whilst working for you. 

For many businesses, hybrid and flexible working has become far easier to implement since the pandemic. So, if it works for your business, it is worth considering. 

In turn, your employees are more likely to repay you with dedication and loyalty.
Baby loss is an unimaginable tragedy for anyone to go through, and having support from those around them is important as they grieve. 

Unfortunately, according to CIPD research, one in five employees who have suffered baby loss did not receive any support from their employer. 

Employers do need to acknowledge pregnancy loss and baby loss as an important workplace issue. 

However, the CIPD found that only just over half of employers provide support to employees who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks.
This goes hand in hand with how employees felt regarding support from their organisations, with 24% of employees considering leaving their job and 24% thought about reducing their hours. 

It is thought one in four pregnancies in the UK ends in loss during pregnancy or birth. With much of the UK workforce being of the age when they will be looking to start or grow a family, sadly it is likely that at some point members of your team may experience such loss. 

Therefore, it is best to be prepared and take this issue seriously, considering what you can do to help your employees should tragedy strike.
Individuals’ responses to grief is varied. By talking to them you could explore areas such as if a phased return to work would help and how they want the information to be shared with colleagues. 

Having access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is very beneficial in such circumstances, so you could consider this for your employee benefits package if you do not already offer one.
Some employers have struggled with trusting their staff to do their jobs whilst working remotely.

An employee at an American software company was fired when he refused to keep his webcam on throughout an eight-hour training session while he was working remotely in the Netherlands. The employee said it made him uncomfortable and felt like it was an invasion of privacy. He received the equivalent of £44,000 at a tribunal. 

Even though this specific case occurred overseas, such surveillance is still an issue in the UK. 

One in five companies has admitted to installing technology to snoop on staff, or is thinking of doing so. This includes things like how long employees take to read and respond to messages, checking attendance or to secretly film them from their screen. 

But is this legal? Technically yes. Monitoring employees who are working remotely or at the office isn’t illegal if it complies with certain regulations. 

However, if this is something you are considering you need to show there is a legitimate interest and how the data will be used and stored. 

Remember to gain your employees’ consent and circulate a policy to inform them what is going on. All staff should be treated equally to avoid discrimination claims and you should be mindful of well-being, health and the hours people are working.
An employment tribunal can be costly and damaging to any employer’s reputation, particularly if it involves a discrimination claim. Just look at this recent example from a Vodafone franchise. 

An LGBT+ employee was awarded £30,000 from a tribunal after she suffered harassment in the workplace. 

Ms C was subjected to multiple inappropriate questions and statements during the three-month period. This included being told she looked like a “normal lassie” despite being gay, one worker telling her that they didn’t think LGBT+ should be taught in schools and being told that she “wasn’t financially driven” because she didn’t have children. 

This case serves as a reminder about how important it is to avoid discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

Do you have the culture and policies to protect your business and staff from such a scenario? Ensuring everyone is treated with respect and that sexist, racist or ageist comments are never acceptable (whether passed off as banter or not) will create a better working environment for all. 

If you need help strengthening your disciplinary and grievance procedures, please get in touch with us.
While we await the findings of the official four-day working week pilot, it has already caused a lot of discussion. 

There are concerns about how businesses would manage, how much staff would be paid and how to cover five days’ work in just four. What about the upside though? Many employees would naturally jump at the chance for a four-day week, giving employers who could embrace it a major advantage in recruitment and retention. 

In fact, a new study on workplace benefits shows 68% of people in the UK would leave their current role if they were offered a similar one elsewhere with a four-day working week. 

Although there are obvious benefits to employees, it remains to be seen how many employers begin to offer this option to their staff – it must work for the business too.
As the most popular pet in the UK, dogs are a topic of conversation in offices up and down the country – but have those furry friends made their way into your office yet? 

With more and more businesses letting dogs into the workplace, there are some benefits of having pets around. Including:
- Improved morale
- Reduced stress
- Increased productivity
- Increased retention 

Before welcoming pooches into your office, make sure you implement a policy considering the rules the owners should follow, like setting up a rota of who can bring their dogs in on what day, making sure they’re friendly and well-behaved and most importantly – where they can go to the loo! 

It is also important to check whether all your employees are on board and if there are any allergies.

October 2022 Newsletter

Everyone is feeling the bite of the cost of living crisis now. Bills and prices are soaring left, right and centre. Many people are facing a difficult winter and becoming more mindful of when and where they spend their money. 

Enter the cost of working crisis. 

As some employers are keen for staff to return to the office, it has left many employees concerned. According to a survey from Adaptavist, over 1,200 UK employees said that due to inflation and cost of living, returning to the office is something they are worried about. 

Rocketing gas and electricity bills have made working from home more expensive, but 44% of surveyed UK employees say that they are worried about the additional costs of working from the office full time. This includes things like not being able to afford the commute due to train or petrol prices. 

If it is an issue in your business, could you consider offsetting this worry by offering things such as a commute reimbursement or free parking? In the survey, 29% of employees said this could tempt them back in. 

However, many employees are preferring the hybrid approach, with their time spent between the office and home. Working from home comes with its benefits, such as a better work/life balance, fewer distractions and saved time and money on commuting. 

It also makes being in the office more valuable, with employees having face-to-face time for meetings, building team relationships, and elevating the company culture – employees may feel better about only having to come in a few times a week, as opposed to every day.
If you can be alive to this, you will be well placed. Nearly 75% of employees said returning to the office will nullify the most important of their workplace freedoms. 

Hybrid working can work out as cost-effective for employers and employees alike. Businesses can really benefit from the time where their employees are in the office and use it as an opportunity to gather the team, collaborate and reinforce everyone’s purpose.
In this economic climate, you may be looking to reduce expenditure. Like many businesses you might recognise your people as being a major cost and consider a restructure resulting in redundancies as the answer. There has been a huge 103% increase in businesses planning to make redundancies this year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. 

But is making an employee redundant a legally justified reason for saving your business money? 

To qualify legally, you would need to have ceased operating where the person or persons were employed, have closed completely or be reducing the head count because you no longer need as many staff as you used to. 

The cost of living crisis is likely to provide legal justification for employers to consider making redundancies. The first step is to check your redundancy policy or any contractual considerations before setting out the business case clearly. This will include all the options you have considered before commencing a consultation process, as this will help protect you from any possible tribunal claim.
You may look at a potential employee’s CV with horror when you see a gap in employment, but don’t fear! Around one in three people in the UK have had a career gap. 

It can be hard to know whether someone has the skills for a role if they take a break from employment. You want to make sure you are hiring the best talent for the job, but are worried their skills have faded during their time off. 

People step away from work for a variety of reasons including childcare, mental or physical health, redundancy or caring for a relative. Sometimes they’ve taken a career break to fulfil personal goals such as continuing education or going travelling. 

The #DontMindTheGap campaign group is asking organisations to stop requesting dates on CVs and instead ask for number of years’ experience. That way, those with employment gaps aren’t unfairly excluded from the recruitment process.
October 24th marks the start of the Hindu festival Diwali, and the Christmas period is creeping up on us, too. With times of celebration approaching for many different cultures, are employees entitled to time to observe religious holidays? 

In short, there is no automatic right to time off to observe religious holidays. However, if you’d like to avoid claims covered by religious discrimination legislation, it is a good idea to be supportive of those employees who wish to take time off during these events, if your business allows. 

SMEs can implement their own policy and could consider things like allowing employees to use their holiday entitlement or taking unpaid leave. 

It is also important to be aware that it may not be just one or two employees who would like the same holiday off. So, ensure you keep your policy on procedural matters in mind when dealing with requests.
Ms Raja was a lawyer who worked as a deputy company secretary at Starling Bank. In March 2020 she was dismissed after she told her manager that she needed to talk about her working arrangements. The pandemic was worsening and she suffered from asthma. Starling said she was dismissed due to performance concerns. However, Ms Raja claimed she had not been made aware of these before she lost her job. 

In late 2019, Ms Raja had to take sick leave due to her asthma and in March 2020, after receiving an email from HR about the company’s monitoring of COVID, she asked to speak to her boss about her medical condition. He told her she would be dismissed because of her performance. 

The tribunal agreed Ms Raja has been treated unfavourably because of something arising from disability in respect of her dismissal. It also found Ms Raja was subject to detriment as a meeting was not held to discuss her health and safety concerns. 

We wait to see the level of compensation to be received by Ms Raja, but it will prove costly. 

This case also serves as warning to employers to take any employee health issues seriously and consider what you can do to accommodate them reasonably.
For some, football is a way of life. Their team colours run through their veins. 

However, in the case of contractor Edward McClung, an employment tribunal ruled that his support of Glasgow Rangers did not constitute a philosophical belief. 

Mr McClung filed an employment tribunal because he believed his boss, a Celtic supporter, did not offer him further employment because he supported the rival team. 

While working for the construction firm, Mr McClung alleged that a fellow employee told him he was “unusually okay for a Rangers fan”.
Mr McClung gave a detailed account of his passion for football, but ultimately was unable to persuade the tribunal that being a football fan was a belief system. Therefore, he wasn’t protected by the Equality Act 2010.

September 2022 Newsletter

You have probably seen in the news the furore surrounding the appointment of a man in the role of period dignity officer in Scotland. The decision rightly drew fierce criticism from many quarters.

It may have raised questions for you as an employer as to whether you can specify the sex of a person for a role you want to fill. After all, under the Equality Act 2010 discrimination can start at the job advert stage.

Gone are the days when many specific jobs were once seen as only being for men or women, like a nurse, cabin crew or firefighter. Fortunately, there is still provision in the law for a role such as period dignity officer to be the preserve of women.

This is permitted by a defined exception within the Equality Act 2010, referred to as occupational requirements. These are applicable when a job can only be performed by someone with a specific protected characteristic.

For example, a teacher of a specific religion holding those religious beliefs or, as may be argued in the case of the period dignity officer, being of female sex. This is seen as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Companies wishing to increase the diversity of their team can also legally take a proactive approach to achieve this in the workplace. For instance, they could carefully target job adverts or training to help disadvantaged groups.

It is worth seriously considering where to place adverts to widen the selection pool. The recruitment process must be fair though, and if there are two candidates of equal ability the preferred characteristic can be the deciding factor, but not if they are of less ability.

It is important as well to be cautious and take advice, as the period dignity officer, after his role was scrapped, is taking legal action.
Despite, or perhaps because of, a much greater awareness of bullying and harassment in the workplace, tribunal claims relating to bullying increased 44% in the 12 months up to March 2022. That is according to analysis conducted by a law firm who reported that claims rose from 581 to 835 – a record.

Could it be that the shift to remote and hybrid working is wrongfooting organisations who have previously had a good track record of managing bullying and harassment?

New risks include gossiping on messaging apps during presentations, excluding colleagues from remote meetings and addressing sharp comments made on video calls, which are harder to manage when people aren’t in the same place.

Separately, but on the same topic, the Charity Commission has recently published clarification on the respective responsibilities in preventing and responding to bullying and harassment in charities.

This puts weight on trustees to have clear anti-bullying and harassment policies, and to respond to allegations appropriately.

Anyone concerned about bullying or harassment should approach the charity or trustees so that they can manage the concerns within the framework of their policies. Trustees should report the most serious of allegations to the Charity Commission to assess and decide if intervention is required.

It all serves as a reminder to any employer to have the right policies and procedures in place which, as well as covering bullying and harassment, should also include whistleblowing, welfare and discipline and grievance.

The cost of not doing so – either in a charity or a business – can lead to a toxic workplace culture, a talent drain, reputational damage and the risk of an employment tribunal – as this year’s rise in cases shows.
In this tough recruitment market, employee share plans are an interesting and sometimes very rewarding way to remunerate staff. In addition to the attractions to employees, they can help foster loyalty by giving your team a vested interest in the business.

Broadly, they involve giving employees the right to acquire shares in the business (often at a favourable price) at a future date. If you set one up using an official HMRC scheme, they will come with tax advantages too, although there will be extra rules to comply with.

There are several different schemes including Save As You Earn (SAYE), Enterprise Management Initiatives (EMI), Company Share Option Plans (CSOPs), Share Incentive Plans (SIPs) as well as non-tax-advantaged schemes. If you have succession planning on your mind, you may also look at an employee ownership trust.

The choice and complexity means it is important to seek advice on which one to choose, and then on set-up and ongoing management.

You do also need to satisfy yourself on how much control of the company and profits to give up, that it will meet your reward objectives and how you will manage and review it going forwards. You might prefer to run a more simple performance-related bonus scheme instead.
Boilerplate graduate job adverts ask for a 2:1 degree or higher, but is this helpful in 2022? PwC, one of the largest employers of graduates each year has announced it is ditching the requirement.

Their stated reasoning is that it will improve workforce diversity as there is a link between poorer socio-economic backgrounds and lower degree qualifications – a worthy motivation. It will undoubtedly also increase the number of applications they receive at a time when many businesses are struggling to fill roles.

It’s worth remembering too that many students will have experienced a much-disrupted time at university during the pandemic. Final grades might not reflect academic ability as accurately as those from previous cohorts. Even if they do have lower grades, there are sure to be plenty of applicants with the energy and skills to be a success.
How would you respond if one of your team asked for time off to grieve following the death of a pet? To many, a much-loved pet is considered part of the family.

There are various statutory (and sometimes contractual) provisions for employees to take time off to mourn a death or care for dependants: typically, a young child, partner or aging parent. However, the definition does not automatically extend to Pickles the cat.

Often, in the short term, you may just follow your instinct and give people the space they need. The answer to the hypothetical question regarding a pet is worth thinking over in more depth. Where would you draw the line? Cats and dogs may be an easy yes, but ferrets and fish…?

Compassion is a welcome trait, but so too is fairness. So think how any pet bereavement leave would work equitably across your company, should an employee ask for it.
Men are encouraged to show their emotions in the 21st century more than ever, and rightly so; but when one CEO shared a tearful picture of himself on LinkedIn, having just made two staff redundant, the response was not so encouraging.

He was called out – brutally – for narcissism and managing his own personal reputation rather than supporting his former employees.

A more helpful tactic would have been to invest in an outplacement service (like the one we offer) which sets up redundant staff with skills and resources for finding new roles.

As it happens, this story did have a happy ending of sorts, when all the negative publicity created by the CEO led to a slew of job offers for the redundant staff.

August 2022 Newsletter

Due to the pandemic and other economic factors, it’s becoming more commonplace to hear from ex-staff members wanting to work for their employer once again. These are also known as “boomerang employees”.

If you saw our article back in May, you will know that rehiring an ex-employee could turn out to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, with all considerations met.

What if the employee wants to come out of retirement? Pre-2020 this question was less likely to be asked. For most people, retiring has been a long time coming, and they usually aren’t planning to return to work.

Times have changed, however. New data analysis from Rest Less, a digital community for the over 50s, suggests that employers can expect to be hearing from job seekers who are leaving retirement to re-enter the labour market.

One in three 50–64-year-olds surveyed are considering going back to work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a key motivator for this was reported to be financial. It wasn’t the only one though, and some people simply miss the mental and social stimulation that comes with employment.

Hiring someone who was retired, or “retire and return” as it’s also known, is possible. You can also hire an ex-retiree who is completely new to your business. Either way, you will need to ensure that your company is age inclusive to allow them the best possible start for success.

There are many benefits to having a multi-generational workforce. An inclusive company culture that allows everyone to thrive can reap real benefits.

Multiple perspectives can bring new ideas and problem-solving abilities to your weekly meetings. It gives younger employees the chance to learn from their more experienced co-workers and vice versa.

When developing an age inclusive company culture, it’s also important to be a

ware of the unique challenges that can arise. You’ll want to be prepared so that you and your team leaders can manage effectively.
Watch out for negative stereotypes or bias that can lead to discrimination. Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and a person should not be treated unfairly because of their age. This is also known as ageism.

Examples of this might be passing an older employee over for training or promotion because of a perceived low flight risk. In fact, we have seen this play out at a recent Employment Tribunal in which the employee won a whopping £96,000 for unfair dismissal and age discrimination.

Employee development is just one area for attention. You’ll also want to ensure that employees communicate effectively and with respect. If you hear Twitter’s favourite ageist slur “Ok boomer” in your workplace, it would be wise to call it out to make sure that all of your employees feel welcome at work.
A landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in The Harpur Trust vs Brazel has provided clarity on how employers should calculate holiday pay for part-year workers.

Prior to this ruling the advice was to pro-rate holiday pay at 12.07% of wages for hours worked. Dividing the value of holiday entitlement over the usual working year of 46.4 weeks.

This has now been rejected. The Supreme Court has said that holiday should be based on the statutory entitlement, regardless of how often the employee actually works. This means that an individual who is under a contract of employment throughout the year is entitled to 5.6 weeks a year holiday, no matter that they may work far less than the usual 46.4 weeks. The most obvious example being term time workers.
This has potentially created an avenue for seasonal, event and term-time workers to claim for historical underpayment. To calculate a week’s holiday pay you need to find the average week’s pay going back over the previous 52 weeks, ignoring weeks not worked. You may need to go back further to a maximum of 104 weeks if they are very casual. If the employee has recently joined, you average the pay over the weeks they have worked.

For staff who do not work a full year, we need to consider whether offering contracts just for their working period is more appropriate, rather than having long-term permanent contracts.

This could also be employment contracts which terminate at the end of each term, with the individual reapplying before the next term. This is cumbersome, however, and could result in duplicate criminal record checks needing to be performed if they are a requirement of recruitment. If you have questions, do contact us, as holiday pay is an important issue.
Workplaces are buzzing once again with many people now regularly attending their place of work. It’s good for several reasons; improving social connection and communication for starters.

Another positive of being back in the office is that it removes the distractions that can come with working from home. That is, only if they are not directly replaced with office-based interruptions instead.

From chatty co-workers excited to reunite, to impromptu meetings, or even just the general buzz that comes with an open plan workplace, employees may not be as focused on their work as you had hoped.

What can you do then to help your team minimise these distractions?

Time management training can help. By introducing your team to time blocking, where they block out time in their calendar to focus on specific tasks, you can help them to keep track of how they are spending their day. This practice also lets co-workers know when they are available to collaborate or if they are in the zone and need to focus.

If, after this, an employee continues to struggle with distractions, a 121 is a good opportunity to address this. You may find that you need performance management to get them back on track.
The UK Government recently released a response to its consultation on employment status. It’s a tricky area of HR that can cause employers to slip up on compliance, as you may have seen from several high-profile tribunals on the matter.

When assigning someone their employment status, you are also determining their entitlement to employment rights, so it’s vital that this is done correctly and with confidence.

A particular area of confusion has been around the difference between someone who is self-employed and someone who is a worker. A worker is entitled to basic employment rights such as minimum wage, holiday and sick pay, whereas a self-employed person is not.
Recognising the complexities of employment status and how this has caused some confusion for employers, the Government has released more detailed guidance on how to correctly assign employment status.

You can see the latest advice on the Government website here, but do let us know if you would like help when applying it to your business.
When the Lionesses made history and brought home the Euros trophy, celebrations could be felt nationwide in support of England’s winning women’s football team. It’s the first time England has won a major football tournament since the men’s World Cup win in 1966.

Lionesses’ head coach Sarina Wiegman has been praised for her calm, clear and direct leadership style. It’s an approach that can be applied both on and off the pitch, and one that anyone looking to develop a winning team can take inspiration from.

Strong leadership is crucial for a team to reach its full potential, but for a winning formula there are other key elements that should also be in play.

A shared vision – provides direction and a bigger picture perspective for all members of the team. It keeps everyone on track to achieve one main objective.
Clear communication – helps team members to keep in touch and provide updates or ask for help if needed.
Conflict resolution – removes barriers that could otherwise derail the project or interrupt important timelines.
Collaboration – is necessary for team members to problem solve and innovate.
Responsibility – allows individuals to learn and improve, benefiting the team.

People management has an important role in developing and managing a successful team. If you want to know more, get in touch today.
Last week’s heatwave had us all seeking ways to keep cool at work, but for some, a strict dress code made this more of a challenge.

When council bosses banned wearing shorts for health and safety reasons, a frustrated binman found a loophole in the code.

There was nothing in the rules to say he couldn’t wear a kilt, and so he ordered a fluorescent hi-vis one to match his uniform.

A kilt may not be permanently seen making the rounds, but it did get the message across. His employer has said that they plan to review operations during extreme weather.

With summer in full swing, it’s worth considering if a relaxed dress code would be suitable before more employees take matters into their own hands.

July 2022 Newsletter

Managing remote workers became a necessity for most businesses during the pandemic. For some employees, like graduates, they never even stepped foot inside an office. Remote work was their introduction to the working world.

At the time there were restrictions on travel, so there would be no reason to think that your employees wouldn’t be working from home as agreed. Now however, overseas travel is booming, and with holiday season in full swing, an employee could be tempted to try their luck at secretly working abroad, especially if they are running low on holiday days.

It is a belief for some that, with a good Internet connection, you can work from anywhere in the world. This can be true and many online businesses do operate in this way. However, this is an important business decision and one that you would need to make after considering all the pros and cons. It’s not for an employee to decide.

Not knowing where an employee is working from is risky. Think data protection, security and health and safety, and that’s just for starters!
For businesses that are operating fully remotely, or even on a hybrid model, employers must clarify permitted locations for working. You can do this by updating employment contracts or introducing a remote work policy.

What should you do, then, if you suspect that an employee is secretly working from overseas?

You would need to do some detective work to confirm your suspicions. They could have genuine reasons for not attending a work social so you may need to try something else.

For example, a simple call to their mobile can be very revealing – we all know that familiar change in ring tone which is a dead giveaway that someone is not in the country. Or perhaps you could ask them to return some company hardware at a designated time and place for a routine health check?

If they’ve picked a picturesque location, they might be tempted to boast about it on social media, and yes you can use that as evidence in your investigation.

Time stamps on emails or other online activity are also a good indicator of someone’s whereabouts. Failing that, a conversation with their co-workers can help you piece information together.

If you feel you’ve got good evidence to back you up, broach the subject with the employee and inform them that they are not authorised to be working from an undisclosed location and must return asap. If you are concerned about a security breach you may need to be prepared to revoke their access to certain systems right away.

When they arrive back you should initiate disciplinary action and see the safe return of any company property. It’s a pain to have to take time out to deal with situations like this. Remember that we are here to help.
About 85% of people are neurotypical. This means that their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say think differently. They are neurodivergent.

The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. Due to a lack of awareness, people with these conditions can encounter stigma. Each can be associated with specific difficulties, which are well documented, but they can also often give rise to unique strengths.

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. Seeing the strengths in neurodiversity though, 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.

Neurodivergent people can encounter barriers to employment, so to make sure your business is attracting all types of candidates, it’s a good idea to review your application and interview process for more inclusive recruitment.
For some people, the process of starting a family can entail a series of medical appointments for IVF, which need to adhere to a specific timeline. It can be a physically demanding process.

You may not even know that an employee is going through this as it’s deeply personal, but if you are in the know, you might be wondering how to manage and support them.

When an employee is pregnant they are entitled to a reasonable amount of paid time off to attend antenatal appointments. This is not an automatic right for those attending medical appointments to become pregnant.

This could be changing though as a Private Member’s Bill proposes a new law to allow women paid time off for IVF treatment. Fertility treatment can be very expensive and so this change could alleviate the stress and financial worries that some are currently experiencing.
For employers, it could help to retain good employees and improve trust and communication relating to requests for time off.

It’s not yet a legal requirement but many employers do already choose to allow reasonable time off for medical appointments. If you want to be one step ahead, introducing a policy of paid time off for fertility treatment is a good place to start.
Last month we looked at managing conflict in the workplace that concerns more than one protected characteristic. A recent Employment Tribunal has provided further guidance for managers on exactly that.

Maya Forstater’s contract as a researcher was not renewed by the Centre for Global Development (CGD) following an investigation into her social media activity. Ms. Forstater had shared her gender critical views on Twitter that people cannot change their biological sex. The tweets reportedly made some colleagues uncomfortable and were seen to be inflammatory by her employer, leading to Ms. Forstater losing her job.
However Ms. Forstater felt it was she who was discriminated against because of her belief and raised a claim of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

An initial Employment Tribunal did not agree, but after winning an appeal Ms Forstater was successful in a new tribunal which ruled this month that she had been discriminated against.

This ruling is significant and shows just how complicated this topic can be. Employers facing similar situations concerning free speech and belief should seek professional HR advice before dismissing an employee.
When different types of people work together, disputes are inevitable – especially with such a large proportion of our time spent at work. It doesn’t just absorb time, but money too. In fact, Acas estimates that workplace conflict costs employers nearly £30 billion a year.

Not all disputes escalate to an Employment Tribunal though. Arbitration through Acas or third-party mediation can settle conflicts before they start exhausting both time and money. The key to resolution and keeping claims low is to keep communication open.

Employment tribunal insurance is a safety net when faced with paying staggering court costs and awards, but as with any insurance, there is a premium. If smaller disputes can be settled out of court, tribunal insurance remains an affordable and reliable back up when tackling bigger issues.

If you’re seeking to resolve or settle a dispute with an employee and need an impartial party to step in, we are here to help.
An out of office message provides a quick and simple way to inform others of employee absences.

Would it offend you if an employee responded to your message with “Hey”? One employer made their dislike of the greeting clear to an employee who then shared the interaction on Reddit.

The employee responded stating it was via WhatsApp and they felt a casual response was therefore justified. The employer disagreed expressing their desire to keep things professional – although they did sign off with an emoji 🤔

Where do you stand on greetings with employees? Whether it’s a “hello” or a “what’s up!”– just make sure it’s you that sets the tone for your business, and you have constancy across everyone.

June 2022 Newsletter

When managing a multitude of personalities, there can be times when you are called to settle a disagreement involving your employees. Sometimes it will be obvious what you need to do, but other times it can be more complicated.

This can be especially true if you have a strong headed employee insisting that they are right. You may even have them reciting the law at you or standing firm on their right to freedom of speech.

It’s an area of increasing concern for some employers, challenging an employee who applies pressure, sometimes social or political, to suit their agenda. This is also known as being “woke”.

Being woke refers to being aware and alert to perceived social injustices. A woke employee might be a passionate activist in their spare time, but they still need to adhere to the rules of your business when under your employment. Conversely, in some larger organisations, it might be an employee accusing their HR department of wokeness if they don’t agree with certain policies.

It’s important to listen and establish the facts of conflicts in your business, whether between co-workers or even an employee and a customer. This will help you be fair and justified in your response. Not everyone is going to agree with you and may challenge your decisions. This is why HR processes that manage conflicts, disciplinaries and grievances are there to help you. Having clear policies and a unified leadership team that can reinforce these is also key.

Under the Equality Act 2010, nine characteristics are legally protected from discrimination: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

What happens though when two protected characteristics are in conflict with one another?

In deeming whether discrimination has occurred against one employee, you need to mitigate the risk of indirect discrimination against the other. We have seen examples of this play out in employment tribunals where gender critical beliefs or faith-based expressions on social media have triggered claims of discrimination against sex or sexual orientation or religion and philosophical belief.
Would you trust a robot to do the firing in your business? Some employers are increasing their use of AI in HR processes, but what, if any, are the risks of removing the “people” aspect of people management?

It’s easy to see how and why more large businesses are adopting new technologies and automating more processes. There are many benefits after all: a major one being to save time with streamlined operations.

Some areas that can be easily automated for all businesses include holiday management or time and attendance software, helping to reduce that looming pile of admin paperwork for starters.

Other functions, though, come with a higher risk; such as finding and choosing the right people for your business, or deciding how and when to end someone’s employment. The robots don’t always get this right and when the “computer says no” it can damage relations and even lead to an employment tribunal.

Cosmetics company Estee Lauder has encountered claims from three employees over exactly that.

The employees felt that the redundancy process was unfair, suggesting that when reapplying for their positions their video assessments were judged only by an algorithm. During the process they had received a confusing communication referring to AI and a “tiering bucket of data points”.

Settling out of court, a spokesperson for the company denied that facial recognition technology played a decisive role in this situation.
This isn’t the first time the robots have caused a commotion for employers though. An employee was once effectively terminated and escorted from his place of work all because a faulty key card triggered the process!

We’re all for improving efficiencies and adopting new technology, but there’s no denying that having a human sense-check those risky HR processes is sensible for people management.
A recent Employment Tribunal ruling suggests that the answer is yes.

Context matters though, so let’s look at what happened in this case.

Mr Finn was employed as an electrician by The British Bung Manufacturing Company LTD for over 20 years. In May last year he was dismissed without notice, which led him to raise a claim of unfair dismissal along with several others, one being sexual harassment.

During his employment a verbal altercation with factory supervisor Mr King, led to Mr King threatening to “deck” the complainant and calling him a “stupid bald” expletive.

The tribunal found this to be unwanted, intimidating conduct and a violation of the claimant’s dignity. It also found that baldness is more prevalent in men and therefore the comment was inherently related to sex, a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

This case serves as a warning to employers that derogatory comments are harmful and come with repercussions. To avoid conflict, a culture of respect is vital, whilst a policy can provide back up.
Following the likes of Japan, South Korea and Zambia, Spain is planning to introduce paid medical leave for those suffering from period pain. The move comes under a new law of women’s health reforms.

Menstrual leave, as it’s more commonly known, is not a statutory benefit in the UK and employees must use sick leave if they are unwell. However due to the period taboo and a lack of awareness on menstrual health, period pain can be wrongly dismissed as a justifiable reason for calling in sick.

Not every woman will need time off work due to her symptoms, but for those that do, the scale of discomfort can reach debilitating levels, making work near impossible.

Although menstrual leave is not law in the UK, employers seeking to better support staff can do so through accommodations which help them to manage their health at work. For example, flexible working, from flexi-hours to flexi-location, can help; along with accepting painful periods as a reason for sick leave.
Jury service is a public duty, and anyone aged between 18 – 70 on the electoral register can be selected, at any time. Typically, it lasts up to 10 days, although it can be shorter or longer.

If an employee is called for jury service, you might be wondering if you can get them out of it, especially if it’s a busy time for your business. However, if you can make a few rearrangements, there can be benefits to them attending jury service. For example, it provides an opportunity to develop skills in areas like problem-solving and teamwork.

You are under no obligation to pay them if they attend, but will need to provide them with a certificate so that they can claim back a loss of earnings paid by the court. If you do pay the employee during jury service, say to make up for any short fallings in their expenses, be sure to calculate their tax and national insurance as usual.

Alternatively, if it appears that the employee’s absence will cause harm to your business, you can request a deferral. You can only do this once in a 12-month period though, so consider whether it is the only option at this time
I am sure you know yourself, how frustrating it can be when you don't receive a response to an email you have sent, to you it is important. An out of office message provides a quick and simple way to inform others of employee absences, and who they should contact if their email is urgent .

Typically, a functional message with either an expected date of return or alternative contact make the cut, but for some people, it’s a chance to get creative:

“Sorry I missed you. I’ll be out of the office and slow to respond until after my holiday, I'll be returning on {date}. While I have you though, please take a moment to have a look at our Facebook page and website, we are regularly updating our blogs.”

Whilst another person decided to keep it simple with “Not here”.

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 as we enter the summer holiday season. It might be an idea to create a standard that people use for external emails.

May 2022 Newsletter

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.
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
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.
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.
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
We often hear about the risk of vicarious liability around the staff Christmas party, but a recent case in Australia 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.

April 2022 Newsletter

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

March 2022 Newsletter

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.
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.
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.
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. 
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.
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.

February 2022 Newsletter

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.
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 wor

k 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.
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
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.
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.
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.

January 2022 Newsletter

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.
Pay increases
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.
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 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.
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.
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.

3. 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.

4. 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.
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
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.
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