Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part Three: Return to Work

Having good mental health in the workplace is a vast subject, which is why I split it into three separate posts. In Part One, I wrote about the importance of providing good training and resources for line managers. Part Two covered managing absence.

This final blog in the series takes you through what you need to consider when an employee is returning to work.

Adjustments at Work

On drawing up the action plan, an honest dialogue between the parties involved must be had about what adjustments your organisation can and cannot make in terms of the employee’s job and tasks.

It is important that you are guided by the individual experiencing the mental health problem. Explore their specific needs and be as creative as possible in addressing them. Make it clear to them if certain adjustments are not permanent but being made to facilitate a return to work.

Adjustments for employees with mental health problems are often simple, practical and cost effective. Organisational adjustments can include:

  • flexible hours or different start/finish times (for a shift worker, not working nights or splitting up days off to break up the working week)
  • a change of workspace, for example a quieter working environment
  • working from home – you must have regular phone catch-ups to remain connected and prevent the employee from feeling isolated
  • changes to break times
  • provision of a quiet room
  • a light-box or a desk with more natural light for someone with seasonal depression;
  • a phased return
  • relaxing absence rules and limits around disability-related sickness absence
  • agreement to give the employee leave at short notice, and time off for mental health related appointments, such as therapy and counselling.

Changes to the role itself include:

  • the reallocation of some tasks
  • changes to the employee’s job description and duties
  • changes to targets or objectives
  • changes to aspects of work that may trigger a mental health problem, such as reducing the amount of time spent on public-facing activities.

If returning the employee to their original role is deemed too difficult, it is vital to involve them in any practical alternative discussions, such as transferring to a different role, or relocation within the organisation. Use the organisation’s agreed procedures to manage these more complex cases, and include HR and occupational health advice.

Practices to support employees returning to work include:

  • increased support from the manager, e.g. monitoring workload to prevent overworking
  • extra training, coaching or mentoring
  • extra help with managing and negotiating workload
  • more feedback
  • debriefing sessions after handling difficult calls, customers or tasks
  • a mentor or “buddy” system (formal or informal)
  • mediation, for example where there are difficulties between colleagues
  • access to a mental health support group or disability network group
  • information on internal support available for self-referral
  • identifying a “safe space” in the workplace where they can have some time out, contact their buddy or other sources of support, and access self-help
  • provide self-help information and share approaches and adjustments that were effective in supporting others
  • encourage building up resilience and following practices that support good mental health, such as taking exercise, meditating and eating healthily
  • encourage more awareness of their mental state and the factors in the workplace that affect it
  • provide regular opportunities to discuss, review and reflect on their positive achievements to help build self-esteem.

Returning to work after mental health absence can be very difficult; HR and managers should ensure that employees feel comfortable and, especially, do not face unrealistic demands or a huge backlog of work on their return. Make sure that there is plenty of time for informal conversations about progress; an “open door” approach should help employees feel comfortable discussing their situation.

Do you have a question about managing mental health absence in your business? Do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

* This blog is an edited version of an excerpt of an article by XpertHR – Managing Mental Health.

Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part Two: Managing Absence

Having good mental health in the workplace is a vast subject, which is why I split it into three separate posts. In Part One, I wrote about the importance of providing good training and resources for line managers, as well as preventative measures, and how to intervene, provide support and signpost for outside help when needed.

This blog focuses on managing absence part three will look at the return to work.

Maintaining Contact with an Absent Employee

It’s important to keep in touch with any employee who is on long-term absence. But it is vital in the case of someone who is absent because of mental ill health. Maintaining contact can help prevent the individual from feeling isolated, and most people will be very grateful for that.

Your Sickness Absence policy and procedure should set the ground rules for making managing absence easier for all. It should state that:

  • employees have a responsibility to stay in contact when they are off sick
  • if employees don’t respond to reasonable attempts at contact, the organisation cannot be expected to be aware of, or make adjustments for, their health condition on return to work
  • flexibility around contact frequency is necessary, as what is appropriate for an employee absent with a mental health problem may differ from what is appropriate for an employee absent with a physical illness
  • encourage line managers to keep in touch with absent employees, emphasising that staying in touch with people who are off sick with mental ill health helps make their eventual rehabilitation and return to work easier for them
  • employees should be allowed to have contact with the HR department or another nominated individual rather than by their line manager where appropriate, for example if the employee perceives that the line manager is a contributing factor to his or her ill health
  • the organisation and employee should agree a method of communication; often, employees absent with mental ill health prefer to communicate via email rather than by telephone or face to face. If occupational health need to assess the employee, or the employee requests a visit, home visits can be undertaken after a risk assessment has been carried out
  • inform the employee about any available support, such as an employee assistance programme or occupational health service, and gain the employee’s permission for these services to get in contact
  • employees should not be contacted by other colleagues about work-related issues during their absence, nor be expected to check work emails or voicemail
  • a record should be kept of all contact with the absent employee.

Dialogue with the absent employee should be started as soon as possible, either by the line manager or the designated person, and maintained throughout the employee’s absence. These are excellent opportunities to tell the employee about work, and to reassure him or her that the organisation will support them during their absence and return to work.

You may need to adopt a slightly different approach to maintaining contact with an employee who is experiencing a serious mental health problem. Electing to maintain contact with the employee through a representative may be the most effective approach.

If your absent employee’s colleagues would like to get in touch with them, just as with a physical health problem, most people with mental health illnesses appreciate enquiries about their wellbeing. Initially, ask your absent employee what their wishes are in this regard, and what they would like you to convey about their sickness absence to colleagues.

Action Plans

It is vital that an employee’s return to work is managed well, especially when absence was due to mental ill health. A lack of support and poor communication are the most frequently cited issues to an effective return to work.

Develop an action plan prior to the employee’s return to help reassure them that their needs will be met. This typically involves the following:

  • assemble a multi-disciplinary team that includes the employee, his or her line manager, and any specialist treatment agencies
  • the line manager should agree the action plan and will be responsible for any adjustments agreed, even if discussions were with another nominated individual
  • be guided by the employee on when they wish to return to work, and put in place any reasonable adjustments to support this
  • an early return to work can help in the rehabilitation of employees who are not yet 100% fit; this can be facilitated by practices such as phased return to work
  • the action plan should address the employee’s health needs both for returning to work and on an ongoing basis
  • include agreed steps for the employee and manager to take, such as return to work adjustments and ongoing support, reviewing them regularly
  • set out expectations clearly to prevent misunderstandings, such as a realistic timetable for a return to normal duties.

Ensure that the action plan is flexible – mental health conditions fluctuate, and recovery can be a rocky road. The manager must patiently support the employee well beyond the first few weeks after return to work. When reviewing progress, adjust the employee’s workload as needed, for example by allocating fewer tasks or allowing longer deadlines.

HR and occupational health may need to provide guidance to managers to support them monitor the health and wellbeing of returning employees.

As there is a lot to take in here, I’ll cover what you need to do next, in order to ensure a smooth return to work for your employees, in the final part of this blog series.

In the meantime, if you have any further queries on managing mental health absence in the workplace, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

* This blog is an edited version of an excerpt of an article by XpertHR – Managing Mental Health.

Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part One: Guidance and Training for Line Managers

Last month I wrote about the importance of having wellbeing programmes in place, and how it can help employees feel engaged, increase productivity and reduce absence. Linked to that is the importance of managing mental health issues that may arise, including implementing ways to help reduce the chances of mental health (MH) problems occurring.

Managers have a crucial role in managing MH. A negative, unorganised and inconsistent manager may have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health, whereas a supportive manager with strong leadership can help your teams feel valued and recognised.

It is important to remember that just because someone has a MH illness does not mean they cannot perform as well as their colleagues. Often, people with MH conditions are high performers and achievers.

Because the manager’s role in supporting good mental health in the workplace is so crucial, it’s important to provide excellent training and develop a Mental Health Policy for managers to refer to. Guidance should state that:

  • Managers are not expected to diagnose but should seek advice from Human Resources (HR) or Occupational Health (OH) if they have any concerns about an employee.
  • Approach all aspects of a person’s MH as you would for any other kind of health-related problem, including sickness absence, assessing fitness for work using specialist advice, considering workplace adjustments, and managing performance.

Prevention, Intervention and Support

Provide your managers with the necessary resources to help prevent employees develop work-related stress and to support employees with MH conditions. Each level of intervention includes:

  • Primary Prevention
    • Creating a workplace environment that is conducive to good MH, including training line managers in the soft skills needed to encourage disclosure of any MH problems
    • Job design – creating work that is satisfying and not excessively pressurised
    • Removal of risk factors, including bullying and harassment
    • Promoting good working relationships.
  • Secondary Intervention
    • Providing support to employees at an early stage of any MH problems, such as stress management and resilience training
    • Help line managers to spot when a team member may be struggling with stress or any kind of distress.
  • Tertiary Level Support
    • Support your managers in identifying and supporting employees with severe mental ill health by providing mental health first-aid training, guidance on using the management support part of your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and training in making effective referrals to OH or other medical specialists
    • Employees with more serious long-term illnesses will often need a different management approach, particularly where the condition includes relapses and remission periods. Most employees with enduring mental ill health will generally function well when given support, which also helps them to quickly divulge when they identify the early warning signs that they are not well. That vital workplace support helps to empower them to manage their situation at work.
  • Therapeutic Support
    • Regularly promote the support available through your EAP or any external programme, especially therapies for common MH problems, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
    • When referring employees for counselling or CBT, always ensure that they are equipped to handle employees with MH issues
    • CBT is recognised as being effective in helping people back to work following MH problems as work-focused goals and strategies can be set, which employees often find empowering. CBT is typically delivered in six to eight sessions of counselling, either face to face or via online e-therapy programmes.

Building Resilience

Building employee resilience makes good business sense – resilient employees are better able to maintain their performance at work, even under pressure. However, keep in mind that many instances of stress and distress are symptomatic of wider problems, which would need investigating. Resilience training would not correct those problems.

Training individuals and teams to become more resilient is particularly important where change has the potential to undermine confidence and morale. Resilience training can also help employees to:

  • Be more flexible about organisational change
  • Adopt a “can-do” attitude and be more optimistic about their future at work
  • Remain calm under pressure and feel less anxious about work and home life.

Encouraging Disclosure About a Mental Health condition

Often, people are reluctant to disclose that they have a MH condition. Mental ill health is a sensitive issue, but most employees welcome an open and honest approach. Ensure your managers have regular catch-up sessions with their teams. Use simple, non-judgmental questions – this helps employees to talk openly and helps managers to spot signs of trouble early. Building a good rapport makes it easier for employees to disclose a MH problem.

Making Timely Referrals to Occupational Health

Referrals to OH may be triggered under various circumstances, including changes in behaviour or sickness absence that may be related to an underlying MH problem, or if the employee’s MH problem is work related. Sometimes, a situation at work may affect an employee’s MH, for example difficult relationships with colleagues.

Where an employee discloses a MH problem, encourage them to consult their GP first, and inform them of support available through your EAP or any other service.

Early referral to appropriate medical and/or specialist services help to nip things in the bud and prevent sickness absence. Therefore, an effective process should include:

  • Making referrals as soon as there is a concern about an employee
  • Provide OH with background information, including the employee’s job role, any workplace adjustments in place or attempted, whether a disciplinary or performance management process is under way, and whether there are any relationship problems with colleagues
  • Asking the OH team relevant questions, e.g. about the individual’s fitness to carry out particular tasks, or the prognosis for a return to work (if the employee is absent)
  • Discuss the advice received from OH with the employee as a precursor to building an action plan to help them remain in or return to work.

Encourage your managers to seek expert advice if they feel unsure, or if it is a particularly complex case. Advice could come from OH, HR, or external organisations such as mental health charities.

Feedback following a referral usually provides recommendations and advice about whether the health problem is likely to have an impact on the employee’s fitness to carry out his or her role. If the employee is absent from work, it should also give some idea about how long the absence is likely to last.

All parties must ensure that personal data, including information about individuals’ health, is handled in accordance with your GDPR policy. For instance, if OH needs to liaise with employees’ medical practitioners. You need a consistent approach for when a medical report is requested, who will request it, and how.

Case Management

Always use a case management approach when supporting employees with MH problems to return to, or stay in, work. This approach involves key functions – such as line managers, HR and OH – monitoring the employee’s situation and requirements, and liaising with one another about appropriate actions. Tailor your approach to the employee, as everyone’s mental ill health and their coping mechanisms are unique. Each case should be handled by a consistent group of people, including a single case manager to coordinate all actions.

Training Line Managers

Line managers need training to spot the common signs of mental ill health and to identify employees who are struggling. Training should cover how pressure can become negative stress and other work-related problems, such as poor performance. It should guide managers on how and when to seek specialist help if they cannot deal with, or do not feel comfortable, in managing the issue.

Training line managers should lead to:

  • Greater confidence in approaching employees to offer early support at work
  • More effective and timely referrals to OH or other specialist services
  • More effective management support for absent individuals
  • Less stigma about mental ill health at work
  • A reduction in absence because of an increased ability to keep employees well at work.

The following areas should be covered in your training provision:

  • Being Aware of Potential Triggers, including recognising MH problems. Managers should be alert to work-related factors that can adversely affect employees (see Environmental risk factors).
  • Identifying Mental Ill Health. Line managers who know their staff and regularly hold catch-ups are well placed to spot any signs of stress or mental ill health at an early stage. Often, the key is a change in typical behaviour. Symptoms vary, as everyone’s mental ill health is different, but potential indicators are provided in the table below. However, these signs don’t automatically mean that the employee has a MH problem – it could be a sign of another health issue or something else entirely. Training should stress that managers should never make assumptions, and to talk to employees directly.
  • Mental Health First-Aid Training. Designed to help managers successfully intervene when a crisis situation at work arises, such as when an individual may be a danger to themselves or others. These courses also cover dealing with panic attacks, acute stress reactions and conditions such as schizophrenia.
  • Absence Management and Referrals. Training managers to hold difficult or sensitive conversations with employees will help them to manage absence and specialist referrals. This training should focus on making such discussions open and positive, so that both parties can explore issues freely. The training should emphasise that you do not expect managers to act as a doctor, but to understand when to involve HR or OH professionals.
  • Return to Work. Managers need to understand the importance of keeping in contact with absent employees experiencing a MH problem, the value of a well-designed action plan for return to work, the legal and practical issues around adjustments at work, and the benefits of a case management approach to rehabilitation.
  • Supporting Day-to-Day Wellbeing. Managers must be equipped with the skills to support the wellbeing of employees daily, and particularly during periods of significant organisational change. Managers need the tools to break unwelcome news sensitively and prepare for the possible psychological impact on employees. Develop regular training to boost management competencies to help reduce psychological harm at work, for example managing emotions, communicating on work issues and managing difficult situations.

June’s blog will focus on managing sickness absence and return to work for employees with mental health illnesses. Meanwhile, if you need help in managing mental health in your organisation, or indeed any other staff issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

The source of this blog is XpertHR.

Employment Updates to Prepare for in 2019

Post-Brexit Immigration Rule Changes

Regardless of whether a deal on the UK’s exit from the EU is agreed, the rules around the employment of EU nationals will change sooner or later. Once the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end, although in practice this is likely to be delayed pending legislation to repeal the current arrangements. Also, it will take time to put in place the practical arrangements necessary to make this possible. The government has introduced a scheme under which EU workers already in the UK will be able to apply for “settled status”, to be able to live and work in the UK indefinitely.

However, as an employer you need to be aware that, going forward, the employment of workers from the EU is likely to be subject to restrictions in the same way as the employment of other foreign nationals, so will need to adjust their recruitment processes accordingly. Recruitment and retention policies will need to be reviewed for effective workforce planning.

Extend Itemised Pay Statements to Workers

From 6 April 2019, the right to an itemised pay statement will extend to workers, not just employees. Further, where a member of staff’s pay varies according to time worked, the employer will have to include on the itemised pay statement the total number of hours worked for which variable pay is received. This can be done either as an aggregate figure or as separate figures for different types of work or different rates of pay.

Be Aware of National Minimum Wage Rate Increases

The national living wage is due to increase to £8.21 per hour from 1 April 2019. Other national minimum wage rates are also due to increase, with hourly rates rising to £7.70 for workers aged at least 21 but under 25, to £6.15 for workers aged at least 18 but under 21 and to £4.35 for workers aged under 18 who are no longer of compulsory school age. The hourly apprentice rate will increase to £3.90 and the daily accommodation offset will increase to £7.55.

Meet Increased Statutory Family and Sick Pay Rates

The weekly amount for statutory family pay rates is expected to increase to £148.68 for 2019/20. This rate will apply to maternity pay, adoption pay, paternity pay, shared parental pay and maternity allowance. The increase normally occurs on the first Sunday in April, which in 2019 is 7 April. The weekly rate for statutory sick pay is expected to increase to £94.25 from 6 April 2019.

Start Preparing For Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay

The government has confirmed that it intends to introduce a right for bereaved parents to take paid time off work. Under the current proposals, bereaved parents will be able to take leave as a single two-week period, as two separate periods of one week each, or as a single week. They will have 56 weeks from their child’s death to take leave. The new right is expected to come into force in April 2020, but employers should start preparing for it during 2019, and could decide to introduce their own bereavement leave policy if they don’t already have one.

We will look at these issues and others relevant to your business at our next Employment Law Update workshop in April 2019. Click here for more details and to book online.

Managing Musculoskeletal Disorders at Work – Part Two

Last time I posted Part One of how to manage MSDs in the workplace . Both Part One and Part Two are written thanks to Jenny Collis of Fit & Able Workplace, who kindly gave a presentation on the subject at my last Workshop.

This blog now discusses how to assess and correct any issues that staff may be experiencing. Specifically, it covers:

  • Clarifying what actions can be taken in-house by Health & Safety trained staff, with tips and advice on simple solutions for both the workplace and remote working situations
  • More information on when external expert help is required

Carrying out regular assessments helps both your employees and you to pick up on issues quickly, which helps prevent more long-term problems that can then lead to sickness absence. Ideally, these assessments should take place every six months, and certainly no less frequently than annually.

In terms of office-based staff, the workstation tends to be a relatively easy fix for musculoskeletal problems that may be caused by repetitive movements on the keyboard or mouse, for instance. Or if their posture doesn’t appear to be correct whilst sitting at their computer.

Many businesses these days provide solutions such as height-adjustable laptop stands to allow the employee to stand up for periods of time, allowing the body to stretch more. These solutions may be recommended by occupational health physiotherapists carrying out an ergonomic workplace assessment; you can request these assessments if you feel that an employee needs that specialist help.

Workstation Adjustments

When your trained staff are carrying out workstation assessments, these are some of the points they will need to consider and should be able to rectify themselves when they’ve had the correct DSE training:

  • Chair – does the employee know how to operate it? Ensure that the chair is set up correctly so that their knees are slightly lower than their hips and the back is supported. Is the chair at the correct height for the desk?
  • Foot rest – is one required? It may be necessary for shorter people to help keep their legs and hips in a comfortable position.
  • Desk – check that the layout is correct and that the height is suitable. How cluttered is it? The immediate working area should be as clear as possible.
  • Screen(s) – are they at the correct height and distance, and positioned according to percentage use? Do they need a monitor riser?
  • Input devices – make sure that the keyboard is 10 cm from the desk edge with the mouse alongside.
  • Telephone – does your employee use the telephone a lot? If so, ensure that a headset is provided to keep both hands free for note taking, and to prevent putting strain on elbows, neck and shoulders.
  • Paperwork – if your employee does a lot of typing, a document holder will ensure that they’re not straining their neck or shoulders by bending over the desk too much. Documents that are closer to eye-level are much better to work from.

Remote and Home Workers

It’s equally important to regularly assess remote and home workers, as well as employees who are on the road a lot. Things to consider include:

  • Laptop/mobile devices – check whether your employee needs accessory laptop equipment. For instance, an appropriate travel bag on wheels to accommodate their devices and paperwork as they travel from site to site.
  • Home Workers – how are they set up at home? Do they have appropriate equipment, including an adequate desk and chair?
  • Car use – if your employees have a long commute, or are on the road a lot with appointments, check that their driving position is correct. Proper ergonomic cushions may help with any back or hip issues.

When carrying out the assessments, if you find that there are problems that may need specialist equipment it would be advisable to seek external specialist advice before making any purchases; this could both save you money in the long term and save making costly mistakes. Specialist ergonomic equipment suppliers should provide free ergonomic assessments.

Ergonomic Workplace Assessments (EWA)

In Part One, I set out what you can expect when you have an EWA in the workplace. However, these assessments are not restricted to your office-based staff; they can also be provided for home workers. Most good occupational health physiotherapists also offer a range of other assessments, such as ergonomic vehicle assessments and manual worker assessments.

Fit & Able Workplace provide all of those services as well as health and wellbeing days, DSE training for your designated H&S staff, and they also implement DSE assessment programmes for your workplace. Their UK wide network of assessors will provide a uniform service nationally, ensuring that all your sites are treated equally.

If you have any further queries on MSDs and helping your staff to work comfortably and safely, or indeed any other staff issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.


Managing Musculoskeletal Disorders at Work – Part One

Did you know that 24 million days are lost to ill health each year? Out of that, the breakdown includes 10.5million from stress related illnesses, and a staggering 9.5 million from musculoskeletal disorders.

At my last Workshop in October, Jenny Collis of the Fit & AbleWorkplace did a presentation on managing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in the workplace. From that, Jenny kindly allowed me to write this blog to help you manage MSD in your business.

MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e.muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.). In the workplace, there are a number of situations that can cause MSDs, especially where repetitive movements are necessary, as in a factory setting, or when sitting for long stretches of time at a workstation. Note – don’t sit for long! Get up regularly and walk around for a few moments.

Because this is quite a lengthy subject, the second part will be published in January 2019. This blog focuses on the following objectives:

  • To discover how MSDs are identified, reported and managed
  • To help you review provisions for DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment asrequired by Health & Safety legislation, and to ensure that they are appropriate for changes in technology and flexible working practices
  • When to seek external specialist support and what to expect

Identifying and Reporting of MSDs

As an employer, you need to comply with the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, which was amended in 2002 for office-based computer users. This means that you need to check that the whole workstation – including equipment, furniture and the conditions – are set up correctly, correcting any risks, to ensure that each individual employee is positioned in an ergonomically correct way that’s also comfortable for working efficiently.

Assessments need to be carried out regularly, especially when a new employee starts work. Therefore, it’s important that the staff you nominate to carry out assessments are properly trained to correctly assess workstations and other areas.

Of course, these days there are huge workstation variations within different organisations, especially with all the different technologies around. For instance, many people use iPads and smartphones as much as, and sometimes more than, desktop computers and laptops. So when assessing workstations, it’s important to take consideration of all the different working possibilities.

Information sheets are available from Fit & Able Workplace to help your designated staff to assess and advise,such as:

  • Top tips for using a computer including some simple exercises
  • How to use a mouse and keyboard correctly
  • How to take the pain out of driving

Considerations also need to be made for flexible workers, hot-deskers and so on, as well as manual workers and production workers.

Remote Workers and Using Specialist Services

It’s also important to assess remote workers regularly, both the vehicles they use if they’re on the road a lot (as many sales forces tend to be), and/or their workstations at home.

It could be that some of your staff have medical conditions that they are reluctant to report on, so it’s important to help them to understand that they will be supported to keep their jobs and carry out their roles comfortably by putting some simple exercises or changes in place that will help them. For instance, ensuring that regular breaks are made in order to do some stretches or walk around for a few moments, as advised by the assessor. If you need to request letters from their GP or other medical practitioners about their condition, an external DSE specialist may be necessary.

Ergonomic Workplace Assessments

You may feel that it’s simpler and safer to use specialist services. If so, this is what you can expect to receive:

  • One hour on site with each user
  • Discussion of medical conditions and clinical management
  • Discussion of their work role, including all routine and external work factors
  • Observe the user undertaking their work, using knowledge of musculoskeletal disorder to identify the aggravating factors in and outside of the workplace
  • Provide advice and training to the user and implement solutions where possible
  • Provide a comprehensive report to you with findings, advice given, solutions implemented and any employer recommendations.Where equipment is suggested, generic recommendations are provided with examples of appropriate equipment. Quotes from suppliers can be provided withassessor discounts incorporated or equipment can be purchased from preferred company suppliers
  • All compliant with GDPR

Naturally, you can have your own trained staff carry out these assessments, certainly on an initial basis and unless a complication or riskarises that needs expert assessment. It’s also advisable to contact a specialist before purchasing new equipment or furniture, to ensure it is correct for the situation.

In January’s blog, we will focus on:

  • Clarifying what actions can be taken in-house by H&S trained staff, with tips and advice on simple solutions for both the workplace and remote working situations
  • More information on when external expert help is required

In the meantime, if you have any queries on MSDs and helping your staff to work comfortably and safely, or any other staff issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me and I’ll refer you to Jenny at Fit & Able Workplace if needed.

‘Tis the Season of Abundance and Joy!

Christmas parties can be a mixed blessing. They’re good to help both keep morale high and reward staff for a good year. But parties are not always without their problems– you can’t totally control all your staff, especially after a drink or two! Also,not everyone likes parties, so don’t make them compulsory, as some people find social situations too overwhelming.

Costing on average around £50 per head, produce an Office Party Policy to set expectations on behaviour, backed up with a Social Media policy warning staff not to post inappropriate photographs and risk damaging your brand’s reputation. Email all staff a couple of weeks prior to the event, attaching the policies, to bothremind them of the details of the party and your expectations of theirbehaviour, gently stating that the party is an extension of their working hours.

Remember, as the employer, you’re ultimately responsible for any shenanigans! So to avoid any pit falls and embarrassment, set up the ground rules first. Then relax and enjoy the event with your staff.

The ‘Alternative’Festive Menu

Cocktails and Wine

Can you guess which member of staff will be the one who gets a bit tipsy first?There’s always that one! Then there’s the wine lover who ends up getting a bit emotional, and the beer quaffer who may get opinionated, offering unwanted advice to all and sundry. Not forgetting the cocktail lover who thinks they’re the life and soul of the party! You know the ones. But we’re all human, and we all have our little foibles, whether alcohol induced or otherwise. So let themenjoy themselves, in moderation – you, too. Relax and enjoy a glass or three. Just remember not to make any drunken promises to your staff that could bite you in the backside later. Finally, make sure you have plenty of soft drinks available,too.

Your Starter for Ten

Everyone loves a traditional prawn cocktail or salmon starter. Or do they? Perhaps a member of your team is allergic to shellfish. Remember to check for allergies prior to the event.

Going Crackers

No Christmas meal is complete without pulling crackers, donning hats, enjoying the cheap gifts and laughing at the lame jokes. But once the crackers are pulled, keep an eye out for staff going crackers, or flirting inappropriately to try and ‘pull’ a colleague. Gentle flirting is one thing, but let’s keep it atthat, guys! Your policy should remind staff that what one person may find funny,another may find offensive – the last thing you want is a grievance about someone’s behaviour when you all return to work.

What a Turkey!

Onto the main course. Things are getting serious now … or seriously silly! But when it comes to the meat, consider those people of different faiths. Have you ensured there are Halal or Kosher choices, and vegetarian alternatives? Did you check that anyone has any other dietary needs? For the meal to be a success,and for your staff to feel appreciated, valued and listened to, getting this bit right is essential.

Brussels Sprouts – Loathe ‘em or Love ‘em?

I love Brussels Sprouts, especially stir-fried with garlic, chilli and ginger. But not everyone does. The point I’m making here is to not treat everyone the same and assume they all want or need the same thing. I’m not just talking about the festive season, either – don’t look at your staff as a whole but see them as individuals, too, with different needs. 

Christmas Pud with Lashings of Brandy Butter

Of course, some people may prefer mince pies, and others may loathe desserts with dried fruit. Ensure there’s a variety of desserts available so that people don’t feel left out – just as can happen with equality issues in the workplace.It’s important to cater for and embrace all desserts, tastes, ethnicities and sexual preferences so that everyone feels included.

Secret Santa

Many people love the secret swapping of silly gifts at Christmas. But what happens when someone opens a present that they find inappropriate, or worse still,offensive? Make sure you communicate with staff well in advance of the event. Make it clear that if they want to take part in the Secret Santa, gifts should be respectable and sensible. This can be subjective, of course, but most people should understand the sort of gifts to be avoided.

Taxi!

It’s over! Everyone’s talked, eaten, laughed, joked, enjoyed a tipple or two and hopefully had fun. Now it’s time to get everyone home safely. Did you know that it’s your responsibility as the employer to ensure that drunk staff get homesafely? If budget allows, arrange mini-buses or taxis in advance, or designated drivers for groups. Or at least encourage your staff to check the last bus andtrain times and provide the number of a couple of cab companies.

Finally,if you’ve chosen to have your Christmas event mid-week (not advisable), make sure that everyone had plenty of prior warning that they are expected in work the next day, fully functioning!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year!

Your Essential Employment Law Updates

Keeping yourself knowledgeable and up to date about the latest in employment law isn’t easy when you’re running a business. Instead, you can rely on me to help you remain legally compliant. So here is my summary of a few of the topics we discussed at last month’s Employment Law Workshop:

Zero Hours Contracts

A zero hours contract is helpful for new businesses as they become established, and small businesses. However, it’s important to remember that employees under a zero hours contract are also entitled to the same statutory rights as any other employee, such as annual leave, sickness, termination, and so on. Even if they don’t work many hours.

Despite the fact that an employer is not obliged to provide work under a zero hours contract, the employee is required to accept it when it is offered and, arguably, this is sufficient to amount to mutuality of obligation.

ICO Fees from May 2018

Since GDPR was introduced, it is a legal requirement for all organisations to pay an annual data protection fee to the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office).

There are three tiers of fee payments that are dependent on your organisation’s size and turnover. Some organisations, such as charities and small occupational pension schemes, only need to pay £40 regardless of size and turnover. The tiers are as follows:

  • Tier one – £40 annual fee
    • Organisations with a maximum turnover of £632,000, or ten or fewer staff
    • Charities
    • Small occupational pension schemes
  • Tier two – £60 annual fee
    • Organisations that do not fall into tier one and have a maximum turnover of £36 million, or 250 or fewer staff
  • Tier three – £2,900 annual fee
    • Organisations that do not fall into tiers one or two, and that have a turnover of over £36 million, and more than 250 staff

To register with the ICO, find out more and pay your fee, click here.

No Right to Work in the UK

When recruiting, it’s essential to thoroughly check the candidate’s right to work in the UK. This involves checking and taking copies of documents such as passports, proof of address, proof of residence, etc. It’s important that you see the original documents and that they are valid. Throughout this process, be careful not to discriminate against anyone based solely on their race.

Gov.uk says to check that:

  • The documents are genuine, original and unchanged, and belong to the person who gave them to you
  • The dates for the applicant’s right to work in the UK have not expired
  • Photos are the same across all documents and look like the applicant
  • Dates of birth are the same across all documents
  • The applicant has permission to do the type of work you’re offering (including any limit on the number of hours they can work)
  • For students, you see evidence of their study and vacation times
  • If two documents give different names, the applicant has supporting documents showing why they’re different, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree.

Remember that the original permission to work in the UK can expire, so it’s important to make regular checks on your current employees – you could face civil or criminal penalties if you’re found to be employing people who do not have the right to work in the UK.

The Gov.uk website provides some useful guides to help employers do this.

Christmas Parties – Preventing Problems whilst Having Fun!

It’s always good to have work parties, both for the fun and to celebrate the season, and also to help keep morale high whilst rewarding staff for a good year. But parties are not always without their problems. Costing on average around £50 per head, I always recommend that an Office Party policy should be drawn up to set expectations on behaviour. Key points should be:

  • Christmas celebrations should be viewed as an extension of the workplace
  • Celebrate responsibly
  • Expect high standards of conduct while still having fun
  • Let your hair down, but not yourself or your employers
  • Employees should not post photographs or videos of themselves, colleagues or other attendees and third parties (e.g. venue staff) at the event on the Internet or any social media websites.

If you have any queries on current employment law legislation and how it affects your business, or any other staff issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.