An Employers Guide to Summer Holidays
With the summer holidays just around the corner, balancing work and childcare for 6-7 weeks can be quite an overwhelming prospect for both employers and employees with childcare responsibilities. It is important that employers ensure that the necessary policies, practices and cover are in place to support both the business and staff.
One way that employers may wish to do this is through adopting a flexible working attitude. Where possible, arranging for staff to work different work patterns to accommodate childcare responsibilities can be extremely helpful. However, if this isn’t an option, employers may find themselves with annual leave requests at either short-notice or in abundance. Whilst there is no obligation to approve annual leave at particular times, it is recommended that employers have an annual leave policy in place that stipulates how annual leave requests will be assessed so that all staff are aware in advance to reduce bad feeling. In the event that employers have accommodated as much annual leave as the business physically can, one idea could be to encourage staff to communicate with each other in the prospect of arranging shift-swaps or cover.
Sometimes, employers may be suspicious of sickness absence especially where preceding the absence, a request for annual leave was made for the same period of time. In this event, taking action may be quite difficult, especially where you don’t have necessary proof. If you hear a rumour that an employee may be planning to take sick leave and hasn’t yet done so, you may wish to tackle the issue by raising it with the employee informally. This may let the employee know that you are aware of their potential plans which may be enough to deter them.
If you are planning to tackle this issue following a period of sickness absence of which you are suspicious about, the best course of action is to arrange a return to work interview once they’re back in work. During the interview, ask the employee the reason for their absence and if necessary request medical evidence where the absence was for more than 7 days. If you have reasonable belief that the illness was not genuine, for example, if they are now sporting a skin shade that is several shades darker than when they were last in work, then depending on your absence policy, you may be able to treat the absence as unauthorised absence and take disciplinary action against the employee. A reasonable investigation will be required. Going forward, employers should track and review absence records to assess whether there are any patterns that are forming that may need to be discussed with the employee.
Sickness Absence During Annual Leave
There may also be sickness absence concerns where the employee was due to take annual leave. In this instance, the employee may request that they are paid for sick leave (either Company Sick Pay or Statutory Sick Pay depending on your Sick Pay policy) and reclaiming the period of annual leave to be used at another time. Again, an employer may have concerns regarding the legitimacy of this illness, especially where Company Sick Pay is available. However, employees are entitled to request that their time off be regarded as sick leave rather than annual leave, so long as they follow the sickness reporting procedure and employers that are suspicious will again need to conduct a thorough investigation and have reasonable belief that the employee has been dishonest in order to pursue disciplinary action.
The main factor to consider in anticipation of the summer holidays is communication. Clear policies that are communicated effectively can help to reduce potential issues occurring. In preparation for the summer holidays, employees should be aware of all of the potential support available to them and the potential consequences for the employee, the team and the business should be highlighted to reduce the chance of dishonesty. Additionally, communication where suspicions are present can help to clear up and clarify issues where the employee’s sickness was in fact genuine. In the case of potentially unauthorised absence, confronting the matter rather than avoiding it can help to deter the employee from repeat occurrences or allow for disciplinary action to be taken.
An Employers Guide to Christmas
With Christmas just around the corner, infectious festive cheer can be found in most organisations. Whether it’s the sparkling lights cheering up a dreary December day or perhaps the informality and feelings of togetherness that arise from an organised Christmas Jumper day. There is no disputing that presents of productivity and high morale come early for most employers throughout December. However, Christmas can also bring some unexpected and unwanted surprises for employers that fail to consider some of the following issues.
Mistletoe and Wine
The highlight of the work Christmas season for many is the work Christmas Party, for the night in question at least – the next day may be another story entirely. One issue to bear in mind is where employers wish to reward their staff for their hard work throughout the year with a ‘free bar’ for the annual festive get together. Employers should always remind employees of the conduct expected at the Christmas Party and that the party should be treated as an extension of the workplace. Where employers fail to inform employees of what is required, it is unlikely that they will be able to discipline staff for any drunken acts of misconduct as it may be viewed that an employer has actually encouraged and facilitated bad behaviour by providing a ‘free bar’ for the event.
It is also important to consider those that may be unintentionally left out of the festive celebrations and that every effort is made to include all staff irrespective of age, sex, religion or disability. Staff should also not be penalised for not being able to attend or pressurised into attending either.
Another thing to consider is the seemingly innocent suggestion of a kiss when employees ‘find themselves’ near the mistletoe. Whilst it may be hard to stop employees getting “closer”, possibly aided by an alcohol fuelled, merry atmosphere, you may wish to advise that senior employees should be discouraged from doing so with people they have authority over. A quick chat with all employees before the Christmas party to ensure that they’re aware of the potential consequences where an employee’s advances are one-sided can help to limit any grievances raised. Employers should also make sure that they have appropriate policies in force for dealing with any grievances that arise.
All I Want for Christmas
As if racking your brain for ideas for all of the family isn’t hard enough, consider the effects of Secret Santa where you now have to think of a present for Joe Bloggs in Payroll with only £5 to spend. Where staff are participating in Secret Santa, it is worth reminding them before hand of what is an appropriate gift. Whilst they may be sure that the receiver will see the humour in the gift, it might be that someone else in the business does not, and even though the gift hasn’t been bought for them, someone else may wish to raise a grievance regarding its inappropriateness. Employees should also be informed that any gifts given should not be used as an opportunity to ridicule or bully other staff members. A simple reminder of codes of conduct will keep employees off of ‘the naughty list’.
Driving Home for Christmas
With excitement high at this time of year, employees will likely want to get the best arrangement they can in terms of time off over the Christmas period. This topic can lead to disgruntlement and feelings of inequity if not planned out and communicated effectively. Where the business is open over the Christmas period, it might be a good idea to put the onus on staff to find a solution to who is working which days/times. If this proves ineffective, employers should ensure that time off is allocated fairly and ensure that favourable treatment isn’t given to those with families or specific religions to avoid any claims of discrimination.
If you feel that you require a little more guidance and advice to avoid tampering the Christmas spirit in your organisation, P4B Law employ specialist Employment Law Advisors who will be happy to help you with any issues you may have so that you can get back to enjoying the Christmas Period.
When Tribunals go wrong for employers, it can be extremely costly to a business. However, providing that you have followed all of our advice, our insurance cover will pay both your legal expenses in defending a claim together with any compensation that the employee may be awarded so you won’t be left wondering whether a bumper pay out may mean this is your last Christmas in business.
As the 2017 General Election rapidly approaches and the UK population decides which party to vote for, have you considered the impact of your vote on employment law?
According to their manifestos, the three main parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats, are divided on the main issues as follows:
Zero hours contracts
- Conservative: maintain the ban on exclusivity clauses within zero hours contracts which was introduced by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015
- Labour: ban zero hours contracts completely
- Liberal Democrat: maintain the ban on exclusivity clauses within zero hours contracts
Family-friendly leave and time off
- Conservative: introduce the right to a year’s unpaid leave to care for sick relatives, two weeks of child bereavement leave and the right to request unpaid time off for training
- Labour: increase paid paternity leave to a month, extend the period of maternity pay to 12 months, introduce statutory bereavement leave, extend the rights of employees to all workers, giving all workers equal rights from the beginning of their contract
- Liberal Democrat: make flexible working, paternity leave and shared parental leave “day one” rights and extend paid paternity leave to a month
Extension of discrimination protection
- Conservative: enforce ethnicity pay gap reporting, appoint an independent body to ensure compliance with pay gap reporting obligations, look into ways to make civil service recruitment more diverse and remove the requirement for employees to have suffered from a mental health condition for at least a year before they gain protection under the Equality Act
- Labour: ensure compliance with gender pay gap reporting
- Liberal Democrat: introduce pay gap reporting in relation to gender, race and sexual orientation, bring one million extra women into the workforce by 2025 and introduce name blind recruitment into the civil service.
- Conservative: maintain fees
- Labour: abolish fees and extend the time period for claimants lodging a maternity discrimination claim from three to six months
- Liberal Democrat: abolish fees
- Conservative: increase the national living wage in line with average earnings by 2022
- Labour: raise the national living wage to at least £10 per hour by 2020 for all workers aged 18 and over, enforce a maximum pay ratio in public sector organisations of 20:1 (so if the lowest salary was £18,200, the highest possible salary would be £364,000), potentially increase statutory redundancy pay, end the 1% pay cap on public-sector pay and award these workers pay rises in line with inflation
- Liberal Democrat: end the 1% pay cap on public-sector pay and award these workers pay rises in line with inflation
The result of the election and its impact on employment law remains to be seen. We will keep you updated!
Valentine’s Day is here again and for many employers, this serves as a reminder that love can be found in many places, including at work. With people dedicating more time to their careers, relationships between colleagues are now common.
Although romance in the air may increase morale, employee relationships can be problematic for employers for several reasons:
- Productivity can decrease, both for the happy couple who are too smitten to concentrate on their tasks and for their co-workers as gossip spreads around the office.
- Confidentiality and impartiality may be compromised as the boundaries between employees’ work lives and home lines become blurred and they feel the need to tell their partner every detail of their day.
- Other colleagues may feel uncomfortable with public displays of affection in the office.
- When a relationship is between a manager and a subordinate, accusations of preferential treatment are common and the relationship is likely to prejudice decisions regarding discipline, promotion and pay rises.
- If the relationship doesn’t work out, there may be a difficult atmosphere in the office and if the break up was not mutual and one partner continues to pursue the other, a potential sexual harassment claim.
Can employers ban these relationships or dismiss colleagues who engage in them? Probably not. Apart from secretive relationships being difficult to prove and a ban being tricky to enforce, this may be in breach of an employee’s right to a private life under the Human Rights Act 1998. Employers can, however, put a policy in place which requires employees in relationships with colleagues to be discreet, to behave in a professional manner and to declare any relationships where one person has authority over the other at work.
The USA has taken this one step further and “love contracts” are a feature of some workplaces; colleagues in relationships with each other sign to confirm that their relationship is consensual and that they are aware of the workplace’s sexual harassment policy. However, in the UK this contract would not prevent a tribunal claim as employees cannot sign away their rights to protection from sexual harassment.
Employers could consider moving colleagues in relationships with each other to different departments if they have good reason to believe that their work is being adversely affected. However, they would need to be careful that they do not take sides and that both people are treated in the same way so as not to invite accusations of gender discrimination. Similarly, employers should be consistent in their attitude to all office relationships, whether they are heterosexual, same-sex, married or unmarried. Disciplinary issues such as breaching confidentiality should be treated in accordance with the employer’s usual policy.
National Minimum Wages Changes
The National Minimum Wage (NMW) is the minimum amount of money per hour to which workers in the UK are entitled. It is reviewed yearly by the government, which is advised by the Low Pay Commission (an independent body). As of 1 April 2017, the National Minimum Wage will be increasing to the following amounts:
- £7.50 for workers aged 25 or over
- £7.05 for workers aged 21 to 24
- £5.60 for workers aged 18-20
- £4.05 for workers aged under 18
- £3.50 for apprentices under 19 or 19 or over who are in the first year of apprenticeship.
The new pay rate will only affect workers’ pay from the first full pay reference period after that date. Similarly, if an employee has a birthday which means that they fall into a higher age category, the higher rate of pay only applies from the start of the pay reference period after their birthday.
All workers (including agency workers and casual workers) must receive at least the NMW. Self-employed people, volunteers, company directors and family members (or workers who live in the employer’s family home and undertake domestic tasks) are exempt.
Time spent travelling between a worker’s home and place of work will not usually count as time for which they are entitled to the NMW, however, time spent travelling between work assignments usually will.
The NMW should not be confused with the Living Wage. The latter is voluntary; it is set by the Living Wage Foundation, based on the cost of living in the UK.