Dismissal for Some Other Substantial Reason: Demystified – Part One

The whole dismissal process can be a minefield for employers, so it’s important to understand the differences. I wrote about those differences in a recent newsletter, but the term ‘dismissal for some other substantial reason’ (SOSR) needs further clarification.

There is a danger that some employers use SOSR as a convenient way to get rid of unwanted employees. But there really must be a good, reasonable and substantial reason for doing so. You must demonstrate that you followed a fair procedure, because if you didn’t, an employee can successfully claim unfair dismissal.

Under Section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the potentially fair reasons for dismissal are:

• Capability
• Conduct
• Redundancy
• Contravention of a statutory duty or restriction
• Or, if none of these apply, ‘some other substantial reason (SOSR) of a kind such as to justify the dismissal of an employee holding a position which the employee held’

Examples of dismissals that could be held for SOSR include:

• Non-renewal of the fixed-term contract of an employee recruited as maternity leave cover
• The dismissal and re-engagement of an employee to impose new contractual terms and conditions that the employee has refused to agree
• A dismissal because of a personality clash between employees that makes it impossible for them to work together
• Dismissal of an employee where there are concerns relating to the safeguarding of children or vulnerable adults, but where the employer does not have grounds for a misconduct dismissal

Client Refuses to Have an Individual on Site

Another valid reason for using SOSR is when a client reports that they no longer want one of your staff members back on their site. Naturally, you need to protect your commercial interests and maintain a good business relationship with the client, but you must also balance the employment rights of the employee.

If you were to dismiss the employee without taking any steps to find a solution, or take account of any injustice towards the employee, you run a high risk of a successful unfair dismissal claim against you. But if you have acted reasonably and investigated fully before deciding to dismiss, SOSR can safely be used as a fair reason for dismissal.

What’s the Problem?

Firstly, investigate why the client has objected to the employee to see if the problem could be resolved. If the reason is evidently misconduct at the client’s workplace, then it needs to be dealt with accordingly using your disciplinary procedure. Where the reason is less clear, such as the client disapproving of a particular working practice, the employee could be asked to change their process to match the client’s needs.

When the situation is serious, a tribunal will need to be satisfied that you have taken the appropriate steps to find any scope for resolution. Ensure you have a written record of discussions with the client when trying to resolve the problem; ask them to provide their objections in writing. If you cannot establish the truth of the client’s allegations, or do not agree with their actions, the commercial pressure on you both may still provide sufficient grounds for a fair dismissal on SOSR grounds.

What About the Employee?

If your client is adamant that there can be no satisfactory resolution, and that the employee should not return, it’s important to consider what injustice might be caused to the employee when deciding whether to dismiss. For instance, how long have they worked for you? How satisfactory has that service been? What are their prospects on the labour market? Case law has shown that none of these factors is conclusive, but should all be considered prior to dismissal.

What other alternatives are there rather than dismissal? Could you offer redeployment within your organisation? If it’s large enough, there may be a different type of job that your employee could do.

The Employee’s Contract

Your case will be strengthened if the employee has been warned that the client may intervene to have him or her removed. These days, many commercial contracts include a clause stating that the client may ask the employer to remove any employee whom the client considers unsuitable. It would help to include this in the employee’s contract of employment, as it shows reasonableness when acting on third-party pressure. Your employees should also be informed of the importance of maintaining good working relations with clients during their induction. The induction is also an ideal time to reiterate the client’s right to insist on the removal of employees.

In Part Two of Dismissal for Some Other Substantial Reason: Demystified, I’ll cover the difficult subject of refusal to work with other colleagues. Look out for that one coming soon.

Meanwhile, if you need any further advice on dismissal or any other staff issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Health and Safety in the Office

This blog is a guest post from Quadriga Health and Safety – experts in keeping employees and experts in keeping employees and business healthy and safe at work.

Office health and safety is often overlooked in business. Many office jobs, like sitting at a desk and typing at computer, don’t seem to suggest much risk. However, working in an office environment can present many hazards each day. If your business is based in an office, or includes an office, as a manager you have a legal responsibility to keep that environment safe for people to work in and ensure that effective fire precautions are maintained.

This blog explains what you should consider to provide good health and safety in an office.

Carrying Out an Office Risk Assessment and Making Changes

When you employ five or more people, you have a legal obligation to have a written Health and Safety policy. Part of the process of putting together a policy is to carry out a risk assessment. In an office, this should involve identifying the hazards and risks across the whole office area and evaluating them, before making changes and putting processes in place to mitigate them. A fire safety risk assessment is also required, laying out how fire risk is minimized and what precautions such as fire alarms, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, fire doors and staff training are required.

Hazards and changes could include removing computer wires that are trailing across the floor, or placing a carpet along the floor of a slippery corridor. You should record all the information – hazards, changes you make and the controls required – and keep it on file for future reference.

Creating a Health and Safety Induction for Your Office Staff

Many potential office hazards, which can lead to accidents and injuries, can be caused by your staff. This could include an employee:

• Tripping over a box of files that have been left on the floor
• Obstructing electrical equipment or placing combustibles near heaters
• Falling off a chair after using it to reach items on a high shelf
• Causing a filing cabinet to topple over after leaving a heavy cabinet drawer wide open
• Injuring their back after bending down to carry a heavy box of printer paper
• Obstructing a fire exit leading to difficulty or dangers in evacuating a building
• Suffering a neck injury from sitting uncomfortably at a desk when working on a computer
• Wedging fire doors open.

To prevent such accidents from happening, you should put processes in place and make sure your staff follow these rules whenever working in the office. One way to do this is to have each member of your staff complete a health and safety induction, including new employees when they join your company. This could involve them watching official videos about potential hazards in the office and how to avoid them, as well as training sessions about the safety procedures they should follow. You could also provide leaflets and display posters to remind staff about office safety. Also consider a first day induction on fire safety, the importance of fire precautions such as keeping fire doors closed, how to raise the alarm, how to evacuate the building and the escape routes and assembly points.

Safety Procedures for Your Staff to Follow in the Office

These could range from instructing employees to do simple things, like:

• Shutting filing cabinet drawers after using them
• Keeping corridor floors and doorways free from clutter
• Using a step ladder, rather than a chair, to reach something on a high shelf
• Taking part in regular fire drills.

You could also provide them with training to follow more detailed procedures, such as:

• Knowing how to make sure an office chair and computer screen are set at the correct height to avoid neck and back injuries when typing at a desk
• A step-by-step process of the correct technique to bend, lift and carry heavy items
• The process they should follow when reporting an accident
• Knowing what to do in the event of a fire, including training on how to raise the alarm, use a fire extinguisher and the process of exiting the building safely.

To ensure that staff carry out such processes correctly, you should also provide the right equipment for them. This includes items like stepladders and adjustable office chairs, as well as an accident book to report any accidents that take place.

Quadriga Can Help You with Office Health and Safety

You should always ensure you provide effective health and safety, whatever company you run, whether it’s an office, shop or factory. With our expert health and safety service, we can provide you with what you need to keep you, your team and your business safe. We hold regular training courses and seminars and can also provide you with tailored consultancy. To find out more, please call Quadriga on 0118 929 9920 or click here to email us.

How Should Employers Deal with Employees Who Follow Sporting Events on the Internet at Work?

Different employers take differing approaches to internet usage that is not work related. Some employers prohibit personal use of their internet facilities, while others allow employees to access the internet at work for personal use provided that usage is kept to a minimum, or only used during breaks.

It’s been found that allowing a reasonable amount of internet usage helps to improve staff wellbeing, especially during times of major sporting events. By allowing the viewing of sporting events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics, not only do you lessen the chances of absenteeism, but you also gain a huge amount of goodwill from your employees. Morale is improved, and because of that, productivity is, too.

Flexible Approach

Allowing a flexible timetable to accommodate both the production needs of your business and the viewing times of the matches or games is a good starting point. Having clear boundaries put in place from the start helps everyone know what they should be doing, which may well mean working outside of their normal hours in order to achieve their work targets.

Steps for a successful sporting season without any adverse effects to business could include:

• Providing a television in a separate room for sporting events, especially if personal use of the internet is usually prohibited
• Allowing the use of radios while working, but check that they will not disrupt others who are not keen sports fans, and that they are not intrusive or disruptive in your customer facing areas
• Allowing staff with internet access to watch or follow events online at specific times. To help, ensure you have a clear Internet Policy that is regularly communicated to everyone
• Flexibility with employees’ working hours – allow them to start or finish earlier or later, and consider flexitime
• If many people are asking to take annual leave, manage this carefully so that you don’t have too many people off at once, which could affect productivity
• If you have a diverse workforce, it’s important to allow people to support their nationality
• And finally, make sure that employers who are not interested in sport do not end up doing more work than those who are taking time off to watch the events.

Internet Policy

It is advisable to adopt an Internet policy that clarifies your approach to employees’ personal use of the internet, and to specify what is permitted in terms of time spent and the types of site that may be visited. For instance, you may not want certain social media sites such as Facebook to be accessed, or dating sites, and so on. In the run-up to major sporting events, remind employees of your rules in relation to internet use.

It is also worth considering clarifying your rules on the use of personal mobile devices for watching matches during working hours. This should be incorporated into your Internet Policy and regularly communicated, especially in advance of any major sporting events.

Breaching the Rules

It is fair to say that most loyal, happy employees do not abuse internet use. However, there can be a small percentage that do.

Where an employee breaches your rules by accessing the internet to follow sporting events where personal use is not permitted, or where he or she spends an excessive amount of work time following the events, you should address the matter as soon as it comes to light. If the offence is minor (for example, a one-off breach of the internet policy), it may be sufficient to raise the matter informally with the employee. However, serious or persistent offenders should be dealt with under your disciplinary procedure.

In fact, any form of excessive internet use at work ¬– whether reading sports coverage, researching holiday destinations or visiting shopping sites – should be dealt with in a consistent way, to help avoid allegations of unfair or discriminatory treatment.

You may benefit from some further tips on allowing employees to watch live sporting events at work from this enjoyable article published by HR Magazine.

If you would like some specific guidance on allowing your employees to watch live sporting events, or creating an Internet policy, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Are You Up to Date in Employment Law?

In April, I held a workshop in which I shared the latest Employment Law updates. As usual, the workshop was well received, and everyone learnt a lot of new, essential information to help run the HR aspect of their businesses both smoothly and legally.

In this blog, I talk about some of the less obvious but equally important aspects of Employment Law – Sick Pay, termination payments and Employment Tribunal fees and claims. If you couldn’t attend my workshop, check here to see if your HR is current and fully compliant. If you’re not sure, then do get in touch – I’ll be delighted to help ensure your business is fully legally compliant.

Withholding Sick Pay

An interesting question has been posed about the possibility of withholding occupational or statutory sick pay (SSP) for an employee who is frequently absent from work due to sports injuries. The answer to this is a definite ‘no’ for the SSP aspect – if the employee provides the necessary incapacity evidence, then the cause of his or her injuries is irrelevant.

However, you may be able to withhold occupational sick pay, but that is dependent on the terms of the employment contract. So make sure you check it thoroughly.

Termination and Sick Pay

Employers are often tempted to terminate the contract of an employee who’s on long-term sickness absence before their entitlement to contractual sick pay has been exhausted. I appreciate that many small businesses, in particular, may find having to pay an absent employee for months and months a huge drain on resources. But terminating a contract early means you risk having a valid claim for breach of contract or wrongful dismissal made against you. It’s essential to check the employee’s contract. If, for example, it states that he or she is entitled to three months on full pay plus three months on half pay in the event of sickness absence, a dismissal curtailing that timeframe would be in breach of contract. You could face heavy financial penalties.

Pay in lieu of notice (PILON) is a possibility, as long as you have included this in the Terms and Conditions of your employee’s contract. Also, keep in mind that if termination occurs on or after 6 April 2018, PILON is now subject to tax and NIC. Do be sure to separately label settlement agreement payments so that the tax liability can be identified.

Employment Tribunal fees and claims

Since the government stopped the court fees imposed in 2013, now deemed unlawful, there have been almost double the number of single Employment Tribunal claims. It was the trade union, Unison, who said that the fees were unfair and prevented workers from accessing justice. The Supreme Court agreed that the government was acting unlawfully.

In fact, with a total increase of 90%, multiple employment tribunal claims are up by 467%. Of the claims recently accepted, 22% were for unlawful deduction from wages, 13% were equal pay claims, 7.5% were on breach of contract and 3% were on sex discrimination. The total value of all the payments added up to £2.8 million.
Do keep a close eye on your contracts, pay scales and all other HR matters to ensure you’re fully compliant, reducing any chances of employees taking you to a tribunal.

If there’s a specific Employment Law subject that you would like more information on, do let me know. I’d be very happy to cover that in a future newsletter for you.

Register Now for the Autumn Employment Law Update Workshop

Put 25 October 2018 in your diary now!

Our next Employment Law Update Workshop is taking place on 25 October 2018. Being held in the usual place – The Meeting Room at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire – the cost is just £20 plus VAT to include refreshments, running from 9.30am to 1pm.

For more information, click here, or to go direct to our Eventbrite page and book online there.

Sickness Absence – How Should You Handle it?

Every employee will invariably be sick and unable to work from time to time. It is important to keep in contact to establish any support they need and when you can expect them to return to work. In extreme circumstances, or where you suspect the sickness my not be genuine, it may be necessary to terminate a contract of employment but you must follow a fair procedure first – do you have the correct processes in place?

Short Term Absence:

• Discuss the problem with your employee as soon as possible and keep lines of communication open at all times
• Monitor the absence and document the ‘calling in sick’ process. Can your employee complete a self-certification notification or do you require a letter from their doctor?
• Once your employee is fit to return to work, make sure you have all your ducks in a row and that you conduct a return to work interview
• If necessary instigate a formal action process including warnings and dismissal, only as a last resort
• Learn from employee absence, conduct reviews and look for patterns that can help you to avoid absence in the future.

Long Term Absence:

This is when a period of absence exceeds four weeks in duration. In these instances your employee is required to provide medical support.
• Keep in regular contact with your employee and help to obtain medical advice that will assist in their return to work
• Avoid the risk of disability discrimination by taking your duty of care seriously and making all necessary adjustments
• Manage their return to work effectively, consider a phased return where necessary
• If your employee is unable to return to work, take the right steps to instigate dismissal on the grounds of ill health.

Dismissal is always a last resort. Factors that must be taken in to consideration before heading down this path include:

• The nature and length of the illness
• Length of service and previous record
• Any improvement in attendance
• The effect of absence on colleagues and the business as a whole
• Whether there are other employment options available.

The key to managing staff sickness is to keep in communication with your employees at all times. Don’t be afraid to contact a member of staff who is on sick leave. Don’t leave the situation to get out of hand.

If you have a member of staff who keeps taking sick leave, or who is on long term sick leave and you’re not sure what to do next, contact me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

How to Give Effective Criticism Without Sounding Critical!

How to Give Effective Criticism Without Sounding Critical!

Everyone needs feedback – good or otherwise – to ensure they’re doing the best for their customers. From a restaurant on the quality of their food and waiting staff, to an airline on their service, such as ease of booking, checking-in, and the helpfulness of the airline staff. The whole experience, in fact.

This is also true of your employees. Good feedback, including the giving of constructive criticism, is essential to an employee’s development. After all, they cannot learn from their mistakes and improve if they’re not aware they’ve made any.

Providing feedback is a fundamental element of effective appraisal interviews. But do remember to offer your employees regular feedback throughout the year, not just at the time of the appraisal interview.

Key Rules for Giving Constructive Criticism

The key rules for making criticism constructive are to concentrate on the person’s actions or behaviour, not his or her personality. You should also look to the future and not the past. The aim is to correct, not punish.

Crucial points to remember when giving criticism:

  • give criticism promptly after the event to which it relates. This is important, as it ensures that the facts are still fresh in both of your minds;
  • make sure that the criticism is clear and specific;
  • avoid generalisations;
  • use specific examples;
  • remember to ask for the employee’s input and be prepared to listen without prejudging;
  • it’s important to deliver criticism objectively and unemotionally, ensuring that no annoyance or disapproval is implied;
  • make sure that the employee understands what he or she has done wrong, why it is wrong, and how he or she should do it next time;
  • explain the effects of the employee’s actions or behaviour on colleagues, the department and/or the organisation as a whole;
  • encourage the employee to take full responsibility for his or her actions;
  • make it clear that you want to work with and support your employee to seek solutions to any problem areas;
  • let the employee know if, in your opinion, they are capable of improvement;
  • since receiving criticism is difficult for most people, and there is a high chance that misunderstandings may arise, check after giving criticism that it has been fully understood;
  • end the conversation with a positive statement. For example, you could state your confidence in the employee’s overall competence to perform the job; and
  • where possible, use praise to cushion criticism.

Using the more positive statements should help your employee to accept what you’re saying without getting upset, and help them to see that you are, in fact, simply trying to help them develop and do well. There are some other interesting tips in this article, published in the Reader’s Digest, that you may find helpful.

If you would like to discuss this subject further, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me

Helping Employees in the Lead Up to their Retirement

The thought of retirement for the employee can be mixed – a relief, exciting, or even tainted with a dread of the unknown. Especially if they haven’t made any firm retirement plans. Alternatively, they may be planning to work until they’re 70, as recent research undertaken by the CIPD shows that many people feel this will help them to remain mentally fit.

Whatever the employee’s feelings about retirement, as an employer you need to be as supportive as possible on the lead up to retirement. You also need to be careful about how you approach people who you feel may be nearing retirement age. It could be that your employees don’t want to retire yet, and you may be accused of age discrimination.

Due to a change in the law introduced on 6 April 2011, employers can no longer compel employees to retire at a specified age, unless the requirement to retire is justified objectively – for instance, if your organisation relies on a certain level of fitness to perform their job functions effectively, such as within the construction industry. This change in legislation means that employees can choose to retire when they want.

The law now means that you cannot use retirement as an excuse to dismiss employees who might be experiencing difficulties with their work, for whatever reason. Instead, all employees of all ages should be treated fairly and equally when appraising past performance, or when providing training and development opportunities. Doing this regularly will help to prevent capability issues from arising.

Treating older employees differently from younger employees could amount to age discrimination, which could, unless justified, be unlawful. For example, if you disregard inadequate performance on the part of a 65-year-old employee on the assumption that he or she will be retiring soon, but deliver heavy criticism to a 25-year-old employee whose performance is similarly inadequate, the difference in treatment would amount to age discrimination.

Similarly, if the employee indicates during an appraisal interview that he or she is considering retiring soon, take care not to discriminate against him or her. Instead, you could begin to make future plans if the employee does decide to retire.

Dos and don’ts

  • Do continue to treat the employee in the same way as you would treat other employees, for example in the provision of training opportunities.
  • Do adjust the employee’s performance expectations proportionately if they indicate that they would like to work reduced hours in the run-up to retirement, and if you can accommodate this.
  • Do discuss with the employee how they could pass on their knowledge and skills to other staff in the run-up to retirement.
  • Do discuss succession issues with the employee, for example how they might be involved in training a replacement for the job.
  • Do reassure the employee that they can change their mind about retirement if they wish.
  • Don’t say or do anything that might amount to age discrimination against the employee.
  • Don’t assume that, if the employee indicates that they plan to retire at a particular time, they will do so. Until the employee actually hands in his or her notice, communication of an intention to retire is not binding on the employee. You could, however, remind the employee of the requirement to give notice under the employment contract, and the length of the notice period.

By being mindful of both your legal requirements and your employees’ needs, and acting accordingly, means that your business is not only helping your employee during this often difficult transition in their lives, but you are also protecting, or even improving, your organisation’s reputation as a good employer.

For any further advice on how to help your employees retire well with the least disruption to your business, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

How GDPR Compliant Is Your Organisation’s HR Data?

The main principle behind the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect on 25 May 2018 is to protect people from having unnecessary data stored about them, and for too long. In fact, there are seven main principles that you will need to keep in mind when processing personal data, being:

  1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency – you will no longer be able to charge a fee when you receive a request for data held, and it must be provided within a month
  2. Purpose limitation – data must only be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes
  3. Data minimisation – it must be adequate, relevant and limited to the purposes required
  4. Accuracy – every reasonable step must be taken to ensure that inaccurate personal data is erased or rectified, without delay
  5. Storage limitation – personal data should not be kept for anything other than the purposes for which it is being processed, or for longer than necessary
  6. Integrity and confidentiality – data must be processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures to ensure its security
  7. Accountability – you will need an officer or someone in your organisation to be responsible for, and able to demonstrate, compliance with these principles

Conduct an audit now!

It’s important that an audit is carried out as soon as possible prior to 25 May 2018. When preparing for GDPR, it may be necessary for various departments – IT, Legal, HR and Compliance – to collaborate, ensuring that data security is robust.

  • The audit needs to assess current HR data and related processing activities to identify any gaps with the GDPR.
  • Assess the legal ramifications on processing personal data. Although consent is currently necessary, it may not meet the more stringent GDPR requirements. Keep in mind that consent may be revoked at any time. You may need to rely on other legal grounds to continue to process employee personal data, but if it can’t be justified you must cease those processing activities.
  • If your business is in an industry that’s highly regulated, you may be able to rely on compliance with a legal obligation as a basis for processing certain employee data. For example, some financial services employers need to provide and update regulatory references for staff for up to six years after the end of employment. Or if you operate in a safety critical environment, you could rely on health and safety risks to justify more intrusive processing of employee data to establish fitness to work, for example.
  • Review or implement documentation. This information must be written in a way that is easy for employees and job applicants to understand, and should include three key documents:
    • Data Protection Policy
    • Privacy notices for employees and job applicants
    • Data Processing Consent documents as signed by your employees
  • To maintain the GDPR principle of data minimisation, you will need to delete data once it is no longer necessary. For this reason, as well as the rights of ex-employees and other data subjects requiring erasure or the restricting of data processing, consider the retention periods of your HR personal data. If you already have a data retention policy, check whether the existing retention periods for HR data can still be justified. You must pay particular attention to matters such as disciplinary warnings, and data retained after the end of employment.
  • Data breaches will need to be reported to the data authority within 72 hours of the breach occurring, so ensure a strict procedure is put in place. Allocate responsibility to certain people to investigate and contain a breach, and to make a report. Train employees to recognise and address data breaches, and put appropriate policies and procedures in place.
  • You may need to appoint a data protection officer, either through recruitment or by training an existing staff member. They will be the accountable person and will liaise with the data protection authority.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) recommends 12 steps that you should take now, which you can access here. Or speak to me – I will be delighted to help you make sense of the new GDPR and how its principles should be applied to your organisation.

Helping You 

If you need help becoming GDPR compliant, I can provide your business with the documents that you need, which are:

  1. Job applicant privacy notice
  2. GDPR compliant data protection policy
  3. Employee privacy notice
  4. Form to make a subject access request

I can also offer an audit to assess compliance and the actions required and deliver training for your employees, either face to face or by webinar. Get in touch if you need any of these documents or some training. Call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Do You Know What the Latest Employment Law Changes Are?

April is the time of year when certain employment law changes come into effect. It’s important to ensure that your business is up to date with legislation. This can be difficult, especially if you don’t have an HR department. Highlighted here are some current and soon to be implemented changes that might affect your business.

Pensions and Auto-Enrolment Minimum Contributions

It’s important to remind your staff that this month, there will be a mandatory increase in contributions. Employers will need to contribute a minimum of 2%, and employees 3%, providing a total minimum contribution of 5% per month.

Statutory Rates

Most years, the Department for Work and Pensions proposes new rates for statutory payment in line with the Consumer Price Index. This year, 2018, the rates are as follows:

  • Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) – paid at a rate of 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, the remaining 33 weeks are paid at the statutory rate (or at 90%, whichever is lower). From 1 April 2018, the statutory rate increased from £140.98 to £145.18 per week.
  • Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) – will also increase from £140.98 to £145.18 per week.
  • Maternity Allowance – payable for those who don’t qualify for SMP payment, this will also increase to £145.18 per week.
  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – as from 6 April, the rate will increase from £89.35 to £92.05 per week. You can offer more if you have a company sick pay scheme, but you cannot offer less.

The amount that your employees must earn to be entitled to these rates is also increasing from £113 to £116 per week. Employees earning less than this will not be eligible.

National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates

As from 1 April 2018, the minimum hourly rates have increased slightly to the following:

  • NLW for employees aged 25 and over increased from £7.50 to £7.83
  • NMW for those aged 21-24 increased from £7.05 to £7.38
  • NMW for those aged 18-20 increased from £5.60 to £5.90
  • NMW for those ages 16-17 increased from £4.05 to £4.20
  • NMW for apprentices aged under 19, or over 19 but in their first year of apprenticeship, increased from £3.50 to £3.70

Changes to Tax on Payments in Lieu of Notice (PILONs)

As from 6 April 2018, an element of all payments received in connection with a termination of employment are chargeable to income tax as general earnings. Whereas previously, if you didn’t have a contractual right to make a PILON, any payment made in respect of an employee’s notice entitlement was regarded as ‘damages for breach of contract’ with the first £30,000 paid tax-free, with no NICs due. For further information on this, click here.

Employment Tribunal Maximum Awards and Limits

With immediate effect, the maximum amount of a week’s pay to calculate the basic award for unfair dismissal or a redundancy payment increases to £508. The maximum amount of the compensatory award for unfair dismissal increases to £83,682.

And finally, GDPR!

With all the publicity and hype around this topic, you are probably aware that the new GDPR – General Data Protection Regulations – come into effect on 25 May. To find out more about this from an HR point of view, read my newsletter here.

If you need advice on how any of the above relates to your business specifically, I’d be delighted to help. Do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Are You Sitting (too) Comfortably?

This guest blog was written by Karen Ambrose of the Karen Ambrose McTimoney Chiropractic practice.

 

According to some research that I read about towards the end of last year, people who work in offices are thought to be ‘dangerously sedentary’, sitting more than people over the age of 75.

Some experts say that sitting down is as bad for us as smoking, while others tell us that standing up too much is also bad. So how much sitting is too much, and what are the alternatives? What should we do to stay healthy and mobile?

What’s so bad about sitting?

You might think that sitting for too long is bad for your muscles and posture, and this is true. Sitting puts a strain on your back, hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thighs), neck and shoulders. It also causes the gluteal muscles in your bottom to wither, especially if you slouch in your chair.

However, scientists are also worried about what happens inside your body when you sit for too long. After 90 minutes of sitting, your metabolism dramatically winds down and cells aren’t operating at a high enough level to keep your system ‘oiled’. It has been likened to turning off your heating in the summer. When you turn it back on again as the evenings get cooler in the autumn, you worry about the system creaking, or corrosion in unused pipes causing leaks. It’s the same when you sit for a long time – your ‘system’ is essentially turned off. This affects every structure in your body, from brain function to blood flow. After just an hour of sitting, your arteries’ ability to expand is impaired by 50%. This is one of the earliest markers for heart disease and strokes, along with high blood pressure. If you spend a long time sitting, your insulin levels can also be high, which means that you are at higher risk of diabetes.

You don’t even have to be overweight to be at risk, although it makes it worse. A study of older women found that sitting for more than 10 hours a day meant their bodies were biologically eight years older!

You might not have heard of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, but it plays a crucial role in breaking down fats and sugars in your body and sending them to your muscles to be burned off. Your body can’t produce it while you’re sitting down because you’re not using your muscles. Just standing up is enough to activate it.

German researchers have also shown that the risks of some cancers – bowel, womb lining and lung – increases with every two hours that you spend in a chair.

How much is too much?

The research being carried out into the effects of sitting for too long are in their early stages, but what has already been seen is that the problems start to show themselves if you sit for more than 60-70% of your working hours. So if you sit for more than seven hours a day in total, you will be harming yourself. There is a scaling down effect if you sit for less time.

A report by Public Health England concluded that office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day. An Edinburgh University study revealed that middle-aged office workers sat for 7.8 hours a day, which compared to 7.4 hours for people over the age of 75, which researchers say is far too much. They also recommend that you shouldn’t sit for more than an hour at a time. Standing up is enough to engage your muscles just enough to activate your whole system – your brain, your metabolism, your nervous system. Because you’re on your feet, you are more likely to be doing some light movement too. So before you read on – get up and move around or make yourself a cup of coffee before you come back to read the rest of this!

What about standing up?

So does this mean that you should spend more time standing up, instead of sitting at your desk? Not necessarily. Studies into sedentary behaviour shows that people assume they’re being told to stand up all the time rather than sit down. But that’s bad for you too as it brings with it a danger of varicose veins and feet and joint pain.

What’s important is getting a balance between sitting, standing and moving through your day. ‘Binge sitting’ for hours on end is very bad for you and must be broken up. You could invest in a desk that moves up and down, depending on whether you want to work sitting down or standing up. Or you could take regular breaks and go for a short walk. Other leading researchers recommend that in every hour, you should spend no more than 40 minutes sitting down, 15 minutes standing up and 5 minutes moving around. It’s not always possible to do this, but what’s important is to have a go and be aware of how much time you spend sitting. Going for a brisk walk at lunch time will certainly help. You can also change the way that you work, so instead of emailing a colleague, get up, walk across the office and speak to them.

If you find yourself sitting in front of the TV for hours at the end of the day, try getting up during the ad breaks and putting the remote control out of reach so that you have to move. Balancing (carefully) on first one leg and then the other while you’re doing the washing up is a way of stretching and moving more. See how creative you can be with this!

I’m lucky in my job in that I don’t spend much time sitting down. I’m on the move all the time that I am treating each patient. I notice a big difference in my energy levels and muscle stiffness when I have an admin day at my computer, so I make sure that I keep moving – even if it’s just to get up, stretch and make a cup of tea. If you have any stiffness that won’t go away, don’t let it get worse – come and see me and we’ll talk about what treatment will help.

The Karen Ambrose practice is based in Harwell, Oxford. For further information, email Karen@karenambrose.co.uk or telephone 07734 872318.