Our Monthly Newsletters
We are looking at ways of keeping our clients updated with relevant information.
We will be writing useful blogs which will be published on our website, and we are preparing a monthly newsletter to keep you up-to-date with pertinent information.
Just select the topic you want to read about, you can expand the details by using the drop-down option

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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