How Do You Handle Employee Suspension? Part One – Practice and Principles

In cases of alleged misconduct by one of your employees, in order to ensure that any dismissal is fair, you should investigate the matter to determine whether or not disciplinary action is necessary. The fairness of the dismissal depends on whether or not there is a fair reason for dismissal and, in the circumstances, whether or not you, as the employer, acted reasonably in treating it as a sufficient reason for dismissal. How you investigate the matter will be relevant to whether or not you acted reasonably.

In some cases, it may be appropriate for you to suspend an employee from work pending the completion of the investigation. However, given the serious implications of suspension for an employee, including for his or her morale and professional reputation, you must ensure that the circumstances of the case justify it, and that it is necessary to ensure a fair investigation. Suspension will not be necessary in every case.

The Acas code of Practice

The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures provides practical guidance on dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace. The code states that employers should pay a suspended employee during the period of suspension, keep the suspension as brief as possible and keep the suspension under review. You should make clear that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself.

The non-statutory guidance that accompanies the code says that suspension may be necessary, for example:

  • where relationships have broken down
  • in cases of gross misconduct
  • where there is a risk to an employee or company property, or responsibilities to other parties, or
  • in exceptional cases, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that evidence has been tampered with or destroyed, or witnesses pressurised.

General Principles

While it is preferable for you to have a contractual right to suspend an employee, where the circumstances justify it, you can still suspend without one. You should ensure that the employee suffers no detriment as a result of its decision to suspend, and as such, the employee should be fully paid and benefit from the same terms and conditions of employment throughout the suspension.

If the contract of employment contains a procedure that applies to the suspension of an employee, you should ensure that you comply with it, as a failure to do so may enable the employee to claim breach of contract, and/or to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.

As an employer, you should not suspend an employee without just cause. It is not appropriate to suspend simply because investigative enquiries are being made, where the particular circumstances don’t require it. If it is necessary to remove the employee from, for example, contact with particular colleagues or clients, you should consider if suspension can be avoided by using a less drastic measure, for example a temporary change to the employee’s duties or department.

Where the circumstances of a case justify suspension, you should advise the employee of the reason for the suspension, how long it is likely to last, and that it is a neutral act that does not indicate guilt. You should make clear to the employee that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself, and that disciplinary action will not necessarily follow.

You should also aim to keep the suspension and the reason for it confidential, so as not to cause damage to the employee’s reputation, particularly as the investigation will not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Where it is necessary to explain the employee’s absence, you may consider discussing with the employee how he or she would like this to be communicated to clients and colleagues; this may be appropriate particularly if the employee holds a senior position. Where the employee’s colleagues are aware of the suspension and/or the disciplinary issue, for example if they are witnesses or involved in the investigatory process, you should explain that the suspension is a precautionary measure while the matter is being investigated, and that it will not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Employees should be encouraged to treat the matter as confidential. You may wish to provide managers with a statement confirming how to respond to queries relating to the suspended employee’s absence, to ensure that a consistent message is communicated.

Think that you might need to suspend one of your employees? Call me first, before you do anything! We can discuss the situation in complete confidence, to help you make the best decision. Call me now on 0118 940 3032.

How Do You Handle Winter Staff Sickness?

After a few months of cold winter weather and numerous ‘bugs’ going around the office, you might be wondering how best to handle winter staff sickness issues and how to keep your business running at full capacity. This blog will give you some tips on how to do this, until the better spring weather arrives.

How are you and your staff coping with the winter weather and the cold and flu bugs that always do the rounds at this time of year? Many people will need a bit of time off at some point during the year, to recover from an illness, so what are the benefits of managing absence in a proactive way?

Both long and short term absences can cost a huge amount – both financially and in terms of manpower. It’s never an easy conversation to have with your employees and it can be difficult to keep up with what action you can take, to keep within the law. The bottom line is this – do nothing and the problem won’t go away, but it could get worse. Finding out early on what’s going on with an employee who is absent can make a significant difference to your relationship with them and to their absence levels in the future. Talking to them allows you to get to the root of the problem and to provide them with the support that they need. By focusing on the absence it may also deter casual absenteeism – too many days off here and there.

Dealing with Short Term Absence

You should have a procedure in place that requires your employees to talk to a named person, rather than leaving a message, when reporting their absence. There should also be guidance on how soon after the start of the working day an employee should contact that named person, if they are too ill to come into work. A standard form should then be completed recording the date, time, reason given and predicted time of absence, to make sure the relevant facts are gathered consistently for each absence. If an employee does not turn up for work and does not report in sick, you should contact them by phone as soon as you can, to find out where they are.

Discussing the problem is essential; especially if one of your employees keeps taking days off for sickness. Maybe there is a work issue which you can help them deal with and solve. Providing the support they need will result in an improved working relationship, better morale and less time off sick.

You should always speak to the member of staff when they return to work, irrespective of how long they’ve been away. It shows you’re taking the situation seriously and acts as a deterrent for people who shouldn’t really be taking time off. Asking how someone is feeling after they’ve been off for even one day also shows that you care about them. Keep the conversation informal but take it seriously. Ensure confidentiality, have a clear structure, record what is said and above all, remain positive and supportive. You can ask them if they visited their GP, how they are feeling now and if there anything you can do to support them. Just remember not to ask any intrusive medical questions!

Communicating with your employees improves productivity and decreases absence, so follow these simple guidelines when dealing with short term sick leave.

There is plenty more advice on the Acas website, with guidance as to what to do when any of your employees take time off for being ill this winter. You can find the information here.

Are You Up To Date with What You Can Ask an Employee?

Book you place on our next Employment Law Update workshop.

There are certain questions that you cannot ask an employee who has been off sick. What’s more, what you can ask and the rules on how to handle the situation change from time to time, as changes are made to Employment Law. You can search the internet and HR publications for news on all the latest changes, which will be happening on 1 April 2017, but do you really have the time?

Twice a year we run interactive workshops that bring you details of all the changes to the law that you need to know about. We do the research so that you don’t have to! Our next workshop will be from 10am – 1pm on 30 March 2017 at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire. Before the event we will do the digging to find out about all the important legal changes that might affect your business and your employees. Then we deliver them to you in simple sections throughout the workshop, helping you to understand what you need to do about particular changes.

The workshop costs just £20 +VAT, to include plenty of tea and coffee to keep you going through the morning. You can ask any questions you have in total confidentiality and talk to the other participants about how they will be handling the next round of changes.

Click here to reserve your place now.

Is the Increase in Tribunal Fees Stopping Employees Being Treated Fairly?

Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013. Fees start at around £160 to issue a Type A claim (such as unlawful deduction of wages or breach of contract) and £250 for a Type B claim (e.g. unfair dismissal and discrimination claims). A further hearing fee of £230 must be paid for Type A claims and £950 for Type B claims.

Is the increase in tribunal fees stopping employees from taking their employers to tribunal? Is this reluctance to stand up for what is due to employees allowing some employers to treat their staff unfairly?

Since these fees were established, the number of cases being heard at Tribunal has decreased. April to June 2014 shows an 81% drop in claims compared to the same period in the previous year. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tribunals-statistics).  Is this because too many employees can’t afford the fees, or is it just that they don’t want to have to pay the fees?

UNISON has been fighting to have the fees abolished since they were brought in and in August 2015 announced that it would take the case to the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeal rejected its appeal. UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “The decision is a huge disappointment and a major setback for people at work. Many unscrupulous employers will be rubbing their hands together in glee at the news. There is stark evidence that workers are being priced out of justice and it is women, the disabled and the low-paid who are being disproportionately punished. Our fight for fairness at work and access to justice for all will continue until these unfair and punitive fees are scrapped.”

Due to the Early Conciliation Scheme, anyone wanting to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal must now contact ACAS first. The job of ACAS’s Early Conciliation Scheme is to help reconcile workplace problems before litigation is commenced. Initial indications suggest, according to the President of the Employment Tribunals (England and Wales), Brian Doyle, that Early Conciliation is likely to have had the same effect without the introduction of tribunal fees.

The Scottish Government announced recently that it intends to abolish fees for employment tribunals in Scotland. Should the same be done in England and Wales?

It’s Time to Bring Your Staff Handbook Up to Date

Many businesses experience a quiet time in July and August, when staff and customers are on holiday. If this happens in your business, you can use the extra time you have to make sure that you’re up to date with all things HR.

When did you last check that your Staff Handbook was in line with current Employment Law? Every time changes are made to Employment law – which is usually at least twice every year, in the Spring and again in the Autumn – your handbook will become a bit more out of date. So far this year we’ve seen a number of changes to maternity and paternity laws, including shared parental leave. Flexible working laws have changed, along with those relating to attending antenatal appointments.

So how do you keep up to date?

The Acas website at www.acas.org.uk is a good source of information. It lists all the recent Employment Law changes. You’ll need to look at all the changes that have been made and work out which apply to your business. Then you’ll need to find the relevant sections within your Staff Handbook and bring them up to date. You should do the same with any staff forms and processes that you use, to make sure that you’re fully legal.

Once you’ve updated your HR processes and policies, you need to think about how to introduce the changes to your existing members of staff. If you publish your Handbook in hard copy, you can reissue it – but don’t just print it out and leave it on a shelf next to the old one! Let your employees know which policies have been changed and that they should read the Handbook, so they can see how the changes could affect them.

If you have an Intranet within your business, put your new Handbook onto it and tell your staff about the sections and laws that have changed, so that they can read the relevant sections.

However you share your Handbook, you need to encourage your staff to read it. You could ask each employee to sign a form showing that they’ve read the new Handbook and have understood how the changes affect them. This also gives them the opportunity to ask you about anything they don’t understand.

If your handbook is more than three years old, it will be out of date and will need a bit of work; if it’s more than five years old it will be more of an antique and you might even need a brand new one!

Does updating your own Staff Handbook could sound like a rather daunting task? If so, do get in touch to talk to us about how we can do it for you. Call us on call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

 

 

Family Matters in Your Business

Many of the recent Employment Law changes have focused on family matters. There are more to come in 2015, so it’s important that you are prepared and know how they might affect your business. Many changes relate to the families of your members of staff. While you might not think you’re directly involved, you could be and you need to know how to handle each situation.

Here are some examples: 

2015 Childcare Scheme. From this autumn, almost 2 million families will be able to make use of the tax-free childcare scheme announced in the last Budget. Eligible families will be able to claim a 20% rebate on their childcare costs up to £2,000 per child. How could this affect your business? Research shows that nearly a quarter of employed mothers would increase their working hours if they could arrange good quality childcare. This could be a good thing for your business, but not every family is eligible and some could end up worse off. Some might need to reduce their working hours, which might not suit your business.

Flexible Working. In the past, only parents with children under the age of 17 and carers could apply for flexible working. Now employees who are not caring for others have the right to make a request and as the employer, you must deal with these requests in a reasonable manner. This means you can no longer only expect your employees with children to request flexible working. Now you need to be prepared in case any of your employees makes the request. Do you know how you would deal with these matters?

Time Off for Dependants. All employees have the right to time off during working hours, to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies relating to dependants. This is unpaid leave, unless you’re willing to give paid time off. Employees have a right to a reasonable amount of time off – usually 1-2hours rather than days – to deal with emergencies involving a spouse, partner, child, parent or an elderly neighbour. Leave can be taken to deal with a breakdown in childcare, to put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives, if a dependant falls ill or is taken into hospital or to arrange or attend a funeral. Do you have a plan in place to deal with employees needing to take time off at short notice?

Shared Parental Leave. In the past, mothers could take 52 weeks of maternity leave and receive 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay. Now they can decide to share the leave with their partner. This means that if you are the employer of the partner, you could still find yourself having to give them parental leave, if the mother decides to go back to work early. To make sure your business is prepared for this, know how many of your key members of staff this could affect. Having a contingency plan for what it could cost you.

Antenatal Rights. Pregnant mothers are entitled to time off for antenatal appointments. In addition, partners of mothers-to-be can now take unpaid time off work to go with her to two of these appointments. While you might not have any expectant members of staff, think about the impact on your business of losing a key member of staff for a day – the partner. Can you still hold a Board Meeting with one of your Directors absent?

There have been a number of recent Employment Law changes affecting family matters. However, there are many other legal requirements that you need to be aware of, relating to your employees and their families. For more information the Acas website is always a good place to start.

Employment Law Update Workshop

On 21 May 2015 we’ll be spending the morning at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, going through the latest changes to Employment Law. For individual help with your business and your employees, book your place on the workshop. We’ll talk about how the changes will specifically impact on your business. Click here to book your place for just £15 +VAT.

One of the attendees at a recent workshop said “I thought the workshop would be full of other HR people who knew more than me – but it wasn’t like that at all. I learnt a great deal from the Employment Law update and it was really useful talking to other people to hear how they dealt with similar issues to me.”

How Do You Investigate Staff Issues?

If one of your employees raises a grievance at work, against one of their colleagues, you need to carry out an investigation into the situation, before you make any decisions. How do you go about doing this?

The first thing to consider is that the person against whom the grievance has been raised cannot carry out the investigation. Look for an impartial party to do it, who should decide what information they need in order to fully understand the situation. They should then interview the person who has raised the grievance, before speaking to the other party and anyone else involved. They should produce written evidence and be prepared to look for evidence both supporting the employee and against them.

All people involved should be asked not to discuss the allegation, or look for corroborating evidence or verification of what the employee and other staff are saying. They should also keep an open mind, as what they uncover may not be what anyone expects. For example, someone may be unhappy at work because of a family bereavement they haven’t told anyone about.

The next stage is to respond to the person who raised the grievance, with your decision based on the evidence. It may be appropriate to bring the two people together to discuss the evidence so that they can discuss the situation and plan how to resolve the situation. You must always respond to a formal grievance in writing, with your decision based on your investigation and offer the right of appeal.

The point of carrying out an investigation is so that you do not blunder into a grievance situation, without first finding out what is really going on. If you don’t have your own policy to follow, then use the guidelines published by Acas. As with most employment matters, following a clear process will keep you safe, if an aggrieved member of staff doesn’t like the way in which their grievance has been handled!

Three Stages to Getting Recruitment Right – Part One

Three Stages to Getting Recruitment Right – Part One

In three blog posts I’m going to cover some of the basics of getting recruitment right – especially if you’re taking on your first member of staff.

First we’ll look at how to find the best person, then we’ll look at what to do when they start working for you and in the third blog, I’ll talk about what to do at the end of their probation. This three stage process will help you find and keep hold of the best people for your business – and avoid some costly pitfalls!

Part One – How do you find the right person?

So your business is growing and you’re getting busier and busier. You’re working longer hours, just to keep up with the work and the demands of your clients. You don’t want to turn business away, so you keep working all the hours you can, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Eventually, when your friends and family are really fed up of not seeing you and you’re completely exhausted, you decide it’s time to take on your first member staff.

But you’re too tired to think about it properly and you certainly don’t want to spend your hard earned cash having someone else do the recruitment. So you put the word out among your contacts and network that you need some help in your business. You’re not quite sure what the job would involve, how many hours it will be, or how long you’ll need them. But that doesn’t really matter does it? You just need someone to ease the burden – and quickly!

A number of people respond to your plea for help and you chat to a few of them. One of them seems quite nice and can start straight away, so you meet up to talk a bit more and then offer them the job.

Sounds easy doesn’t it?! Until you find out that your brand new team member doesn’t actually like doing some of the tasks you need them to do. But never mind, there’s plenty of other work to keep them busy. And then they ask about taking some time off for a holiday and one of your clients complains that some of their work hasn’t been done. Before long, you find yourself working longer hours than before you hired someone, just to check up on their work and correct their mistakes. The atmosphere in the office changes and you don’t look forward to going there in the morning.

That wasn’t supposed to happen – it’s your business and you’re supposed to enjoy what you do!

So how do you avoid all these problems? Do some planning! Think really carefully about the sort of person you want working with you and what they will do. Create a solid job description that includes the hours they will work. You can always start someone on part-time hours if you want to try them out. Most importantly, don’t leave recruitment until you’re desperate for help, as this will make you more likely to take on the first person who comes along, who you think will ‘do’. They probably won’t! If you have any doubts about a potential employee, deal with those doubts and take your time to find the best person for your business.

In Part Two of this series we’ll look at what to do when your new recruit (who really is the right person) starts working with you.

The Next Round of Employment Law Updates

The Next Round of Employment Law Updates

Just when you thought you knew everything you needed to know about employing staff, they changed the law! Here is a summary of some of the recent changes that you need to know about.

  • Tribunal penalties for employers – from 6 April penalties can be imposed on employers who lose tribunals. This could be 50% of the award between £100 and £5000 where the employer breaches the employee’s rights and where there are aggravating factors; or where the employer has not made a genuine mistake but has made a deliberate breach of the ACAS code. If you run a small business there is some leniency, but larger employers are expected to follow the new rules.
  • ACAS Early Conciliation – from 6 May, early conciliation is compulsory before a claim can be submitted. The claimant must contact ACAS, who will issue an early conciliation certificate when the process is complete. As an employer, this now gives you opportunity to get early warning of a case or to settle.
  • Statutory pay rates – from 6 April, maternity, paternity and adoption is raised to £138.18. Sick pay rises to £87.55 and gross pay for redundancy is £464.
  • Abolition of the percentage threshold – before 6 April employers could claim back sick pay if it exceeded 13% of the employees Class 1 National Insurance in the month. That threshold has now been abolished.
  • Abolition of SSP record keeping obligations – from 6 April there will be no requirement to keep specified records of dates of sickness and SSP payments. Before this there was a requirement to keep records for three years.

There are more changes proposed for later in the year, which I’ll tell about in future blogs. If you need to know how any of the changes specifically affect your business and your employees, do get in touch and I’ll talk you through what you need to know.

How Will Changes to Flexible Working Affect Your Business?

How Will Changes to Flexible Working Affect Your Business?

In November 2012, the Government published its consultation on modern workplaces and said that from 2014 it would extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. This will have a huge impact on some businesses; do you know how it will affect yours? Do you know how to implement the changes so that you stay on the right side of the law?

Flexible working is seen as a benefit to many people, allowing them to achieve a better work-life balance. For many, this actually makes them more productive at work. Many small businesses have allowed flexible working as it helps them recruit good staff. However, for some businesses, the changes could have different effects. If you don’t fully understand how to use flexible working, your business or your employees could suffer.

The right to request flexible working is currently restricted to parents of children under the age of 17 and carers. This will be extended to all employees from 30 June 2014. It will:

  • remove the requirement for the employee to be a carer to qualify for the right to make a request
  • place a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner
  • require you to notify the employee of your decision within three months of the application, or longer if this is agreed with the employee.

The provisions that implement the new rights will get rid of the statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests and replace this with a requirement to “deal with the application in a reasonable manner.”

The 26 week qualifying period for employees to make a request for flexible working will be retained and an employee can still only make one flexible working request in any 12 month period.

Acas has published some guidelines which say that as an employer, you should do the following:

  • Arrange to talk to your employee as soon as possible after receiving his or her written request (unless the intention is to approve the request)
  • Allow your employee to be accompanied by a work colleague at any discussion
  • Discuss you employee’s request with him or her, where possible in private
  • Consider requests “carefully looking at the benefits of the requested changes in working conditions for the employee and the business and weighing these against any adverse business impact of implementing the changes.”
  • Inform your employee of the decision, in writing as soon as possible
  • If your employee’s request is granted, or granted with modifications, discuss with them how and when the changes might best be implemented
  • If your employee’s request is rejected, ensure that the rejection is for one of the business reasons permitted by legislation and allow the employee to appeal it
  • Consider and decide on all requests, including any appeals, within a period of three months from initial receipt, unless an extension is agreed with you employee.

This means that you can’t just deny a request for flexible working because you don’t understand it, or think it will have a negative impact on your business! Acas has produced a guide that provides good practice advice for employers, which you can download by clicking here.

Employment Tribunals Have Changed – What Do You Need to Know?

From April 2011 to March 2012 there were a total of 186,300 tribunal cases is the UK. The cost to employers was an average of £3900; the cost to the taxpayer was £1900 for each case. Of this total, 46,300 cases were due to unfair dismissal. 24% of the cases were withdrawn, 42% were settled via Acas, 8% were successful following hearing and 10% unsuccessful following hearing.

Since July 2013 a number of changes have been made including:

Cap on unfair dismissal – there is now a basic award which is based on redundancy; and the compensatory award is now capped at £74,200 or one year’s earnings.

Employment tribunal fees – fees are now charged for issuing and hearing tribunal claims and for various applications made during tribunal proceedings. Level 1 fees for simpler claims are £160 for issue and £230 for hearing. Level 2 fees for more complex claims including unfair dismissal and discrimination are £250 for issue and £950 for hearing.

Early sift stage – during this stage, the pleadings will be reviewed by a judge soon after the Tribunal claim form has been received, with claims or responses being struck out if the judge considers there is no reasonable prospect of success.

In addition, Acas is making pre-conciliation changes from early 2014 and financial penalties are being introduced for employers from 6 April 2014.

So should you settle or should you fight? If this all sounds too complicated for you, or you have any specific questions about changes to employment law, don’t go through it alone! Please get in touch by calling 0118 940 3032 or by emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.