The 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, a Contract in a pear tree. Make sure that you have up to date contracts for all your employees.

 

 

 

 

 

On the second day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, two boxing gloves. Don’t go picking a fight with your employees just because they don’t do what you want them to do. Learn to manage them properly!

 

 

 

 

On the third day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, three French Hens. If you have employees from Europe, keep an eye on our blog for news of how Brexit could affect your employees and your business.

 

 

 

 

On the fourth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, four dreaded words. “You have been fired!” Before you rush to sack anyone, check to make sure you have a good reason and make sure you do it properly.

 

 

 

 

 

On the fifth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, five golden things. Here are the five stages of HR that your business will go through.

 

 

 

 

 

On the sixth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, six staff-a-laying. Keep your employees delivering all those golden eggs, to the best of their ability, by looking for ways to develop them and their performance.

 

 

 

 

On the seventh day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, seven swans-a-swimming. If, like a swan, you’re all grace and elegance above water, while below you’re frantically paddling to keep afloat of all things HR, just get in touch to see how we can help.

 

 

 

 

On the eighth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, eight maids-a-milking. Except that these days, you have to let the men do the milking too, if they want to! You’re not allowed to discriminate. Acas can help you create a fair workplace.

 

 

 

 

On the ninth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, nine ladies dancing. And the men can dance too!

 

 

 

 

 

On the tenth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, ten lords (and ladies) leaping at the Christmas party. Make sure you lay down a few rules for proper behaviour, so that things don’t get out of hand.

 

 

 

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, eleven pipers piping. Make a big noise when your staff do a great job. Look for the best way to reward them.

 

 

 

 

 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, twelve drummers drumming. I keep drumming good HR practices into my clients’ businesses, to help them grow successful companies that are great places to work.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas …

And have a stress free New Year with lots of happy, productive employees!

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What’s the Safest Way to Withdraw a Job Offer?

I have been asked a lot of questions recently about withdrawing job offers based on poor references, so I thought that I would write about it in more detail here. 

Can you withdraw a job offer once it has been made? What risks do you face as an employer if you change your recruitment plans?

Sometimes you will need to withdraw an offer of a job. The hiring situation may change because of a general recruitment freeze, a restructure within your organisation or a change of management. The funding for the post might have been withdrawn or you may become aware that the selected candidate is not suitable after all.

Job offers can be withdrawn after they are made, but there are risks associated with doing this. Withdrawing an offer because circumstances have changed looks like bad planning and could affect your company’s reputation. The employee may be able to bring a tribunal claim for breach of contract.

When is the contract of employment formed?

An employment contract is formed once an unconditional job offer is made and accepted. If you withdraw an unconditional job offer once it has been accepted, you are effectively terminating the contract and could be liable for damages for the individual’s loss.

Even though the individual has not started working for you, there will be a notice period due – just as with other terminations. Damages could amount to what the individual would have received if you had given proper notice – including any pay and benefits due.

What if your recruitment plans change?

If your recruitment plans change due to business needs and you have to withdraw job offers, you should notify the recruits as soon as possible to try to limit the damage and enable them to mitigate their potential loss. The selected candidate might not have resigned from their current employer yet. If they have, they may still be able to ask for their old job back – the sooner this is done the better.

Pre-recruitment checks and job offers

Most job offers are conditional on the new recruit satisfying certain conditions. The selected candidate may need to provide references or evidence of qualifications, or they may need to demonstrate their right to work in the UK. If the individual does not satisfy one or all of those requirements, you can withdraw the job offer without being liable for damages.

If you don’t make it clear that the job offer is conditional, and then withdraw the offer because the recruit has not satisfied one of your requirements, this will amount to a breach of contract and you may be liable for damages. Offers of employment should make absolutely clear that they are conditional on certain requirements being met. Failure to do so can be costly.

If you’re considering making or withdrawing a job offer and you want to make sure that you’re doing it properly, contact us first for some advice. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

What Do You Do if an Employee Appeals Your Decision?

If you’ve had to make a decision about one of your employees and an issue such as their flexible working request or a disciplinary situation, your employee has the right to appeal against your decision.

What do you do next? How should you handle their appeal?

Your employee can appeal against a disciplinary decision on both conduct and performance matters, or any other employment decision, but they must do so in writing. They need to set out the grounds for their appeal within the number of days set out in your own policy, of you giving them your decision.

You should then hear their appeal without delay. Where possible this should be done by a manager, preferably more senior and not previously involved in the case. This is not always possible in a smaller business, so the same manager or owner may have to hear the appeal, and they must be objective. At this meeting you need to hear what your employee has to say, and consider it against all the facts. You may need to carry out further investigations in order to reach your conclusion, before making your final decision.

Following the meeting, you should write to your employee to tell them the outcome of the appeal, and how the decision was reached. Examples of all the letters for all stages of the formal disciplinary process are available from the Disciplining staff section of the Acas website.

Whatever decision is made regarding the appeal, you must keep a confidential written record of the case.

If you run a small business and need someone impartial to handle appeals, or initial disciplinary meetings for you, do get in touch to talk about how we can do this for you. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

Changes to the National Minimum Wages

The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 lays down minimum levels of hourly pay for certain employees. The current rate for those aged 21 and over is £6.70 per hour. From 1 April 2016, the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016 introduce the national living wage, set at £7.20 per hour, for workers aged 25 and over.

The National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 make sure that the hourly rate, at which a worker is entitled to be paid in respect of his or her work in any pay reference period, is the rate that is in force on the first day of that period. The pay reference period is a month or, in the case of a worker who is paid wages by reference to a period shorter than a month, that period. Therefore, where a pay reference period begins before 1 April 2016, the old rate of the national minimum wage will apply for that pay reference period.

From 1 April 2016, the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016 introduce a compulsory national living wage of £7.20 per hour for all workers aged 25 and over. The Regulations also double the financial penalties for which employers will be liable if they are found to have paid any workers below the national minimum wage. The penalty is increased from 100% to 200% of the total underpayment for all workers specified in the HMRC notice of underpayment.

If you need to know more about these changes, how they affect your business and your employees, or how to handle the changes, come to our next Employment Law Update workshop. It is being held on 12 April 2016 in Wargrave, Berkshire and costs just £20 +VAT. Click here for details and online booking.

How NOT to Interview Your Next Employee

Your business is growing and you’re looking to expand your team and take on a new member of staff. How hard can it be? Once you’ve advertised the position and collected all the CVs from the applicants, all you have to do is carry out a few interviews. But if you’ve never interviewed before, or you’ve had no formal training in how to do it, you need to be careful. These days there are many things that can trip you up during an interview. You can be sued by someone before they even start working for you, so this issue of Working Together looks at what you should not ask in an interview and what you can ask.

The key purpose of an interview is to assess the skills, experience and general background of a candidate, to help you make a decision on whether that person is the best person for the job you’re looking to fill. Interviewing is the most commonly used method of assessing prospective employees and it should be a two way process. An interview should be a forum through which each candidate can obtain information about your business and the job.

Here are some topics you should NOT ask about in interviews:

  • Marital status or marriage plans
  • Childcare arrangements
  • General family commitments or domestic arrangements
  • Actual or potential pregnancy or maternity leave
  • Their partner’s occupation and mobility
  • Any actual or potential absences from work for family reasons.

Employment tribunals take the view that these questions, if asked of a female candidate, indicate an intention to discriminate. Instead, you should ask questions that explore the ability to perform the job and they should be asked of all your candidates.

Interview Questions1

So what can you ask?

  • Your questions should check facts about background, test achievement and assess aptitude and potential
  • Ask specific questions on work experience, qualifications, skills, abilities, ambitions and strengths or weaknesses
  • Ask open questions, “what”, “which”, “why”, “how”, “where”, “when” and “who”, rather than closed questions
  • Ask questions that are challenging, but never in a way that may be intimidating
  • Ask questions that require examples of real situations that the candidate has experienced
  • Ask factual questions about past experience and behaviour.

Once you have gathered all the information you need, through open questioning, you should be in a good position to make a decision. Make sure your questioning covers work experience, qualifications, skills, abilities, knowledge, ambitions and strengths and weaknesses. Don’t allow gut feeling alone to determine the selection decision, because gut feelings are inevitably influenced by personal attitudes, and may result in unlawful discrimination. Focus on the requirements of the job and the extent to which each applicant’s background matches these.

I recently ran an interviewing skills workshop for one of my clients and some of their staff. If you’d like me to deliver the same thing for you, do get in touch by calling 0118 940 3032 or clicking here.

Improving Performance Through a Probation Period

Taking on new members of staff for a growing business can be a costly and time consuming process – especially if you get it wrong. Finding the best person for your business is important, and many people think that they can sit back and rest once their new recruit arrives on their first day. But that’s just the start of it!

This blog looks at how to give your new employee the best start with your business.

You worked hard on crafting the best Job Description for your new team member. The adverts went out and the applications came in. You spent time interviewing potential candidates to join your team. Finally you found them – the perfect person to work with you. They even turned up on their start date. What happens next?

If you think you can just sit back and expect your new recruit to get on with their job and perform as you expect them to – with no input from you – you’ll be disappointed.

The first thing to do – even before a new employee joins you – is to decide on the length of their probation period. This could be between three and six months, depending on the type of work being done. The probation period is your chance to start assessing your new recruit; it’s their time to find their feet and get used to their new role. It is a vital tool in measuring the performance of a new employee.

Next you need to plan when you’re going to review their performance, during the probation period. Planning a review halfway through is a good idea – don’t leave it until the end. This allows you to take action if you’re in any doubt about their ability to do the job for which you have employed them. Their performance will only get better if you do something about it. They might not have understood the job that you need them to do, so this is the time to go over what you expect from them. It’s also a good time for them to air any concerns they might have about their future with you.

You should next plan to review the performance of your new recruit before the end of the probation period. This could be after five months, if the probation is six months in length. This gives you time to properly review their performance and plan any action that needs to be taken – such as training or development. This will put you in the best position to be able to confirm whether or not your new recruit will be staying on.

If you decide that they will not remain with you, and your employment contract is correctly worded, the notice period for a new employee is usually less than for someone who successfully completes a probation period. If they have to leave, you can quickly turn your attention to finding a better person to fill their role.

There is no legal requirement for using a probation period at the start of an employment contract. However, it is a very good way of making sure you get the right person for the job, after all the time and effort you put into the recruitment process. Just make sure that your employment contract explains all this and that you discuss the use of the probation period with anyone to whom you offer the job!

Are Your Employees Fit for Work?

The Department for Work & Pensions has finally launched its service for employers, employees and GPs, to help employees who have been sick for four weeks or more to return to work.

It has been designed to reduce sick pay costs for employers by facilitating a quicker return to work and by providing an occupational health service to small businesses with limited access to this type of resource.

As an employer you can access web and telephone advice about any work related health matters affecting you and your employees by visiting www.FitForWork.org or by calling 0800 032 6235.

It is not mandatory to use the service but you should now consider updating your sickness absence policies to reflect the availability of Fit for Work. You should make sure your managers know about the resources offered and that they may be contacted by the service concerning an employee referred to them. They also need to understand how to deal with a Return to Work Plan from Fit for Work and the fact that this plan removes the need for a fit note while it remains current.

You can refer an employee to Fit for Work if:

  • They are still employed by you
  • They have been absent for four weeks or more
  • They have not been referred for an assessment within the last 12 months
  • They have provided consent to be referred and
  • They have not already been referred to the service by their GP.

Fit for Work offers:

  • Advice by telephone and online, including information on adjustments at work or general work related health advice
  • Referral for an occupational health assessment. Employees referred will be contacted within two days of the referral and a telephone assessment completed. In some cases a face to face assessment may be deemed necessary
  • A Return to Work Plan. This will be provided to the employer by email and the employer should then consider whether it can act on the recommendations.

Fit for Work may contact you to gain an understanding of your specific workplace, when recommendations in the Return to Work Plan have not been actioned, or in cases where the relationship between you and your employee are identified as one of the obstacles to a return to work.

Employees will be discharged from Fit for Work when they have returned to work (including on a phased return basis) or when the Fit for Work service can no longer provide assistance or if a return to work has not been possible after three months.

Find out more at www.FitForWork.org or call 0800 032 6235.

Holiday Pay Judgment: What Does it Mean for Your Business?

On 4 November 2014, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) handed down its decision in three significant employment cases. It is a ground-breaking decision which gives some clarity to various European Judgments on the issue.

The key points to take from the decision are that:

  1. Holiday pay should be equivalent to a worker’s “normal” pay. What is “normal” depends on whether the payment in question has been made for a sufficient period of time to justify the label of being “normal” (the regularity / pattern of payments will be relevant in making this decision).
  2. Overtime which a worker is not permitted to refuse (i.e. guaranteed and non-guaranteed overtime) must count as part of their “normal” pay when calculating the pay they should receive on holiday.
  3. The Working Time Regulations which transposed the European Working Time Directive into UK law is incompatible with the Directive, but can be interpreted so as to give effect to these changes.
  4. The vast majority of workers will only be able to recover underpayments in the last three months.

However, there are various intricacies which employers need to appreciate:

  1. The Judgment only applies in respect to the 20 days’ annual leave guaranteed under the Working Time Directive, not the additional 8 days’ leave which is a purely domestic-driven right, set out in the Working Time Regulations. As such, workers can expect to receive a higher rate of holiday pay (that which includes overtime, commissions and various other payments) for 20 out of their 28-days’ holiday per year, with the remaining 8 days being paid at the level it previously was, unless their employer decides to pay all 28 days at the higher level.
  2. Where workers’ previous periods of holiday are separated by a gap of less than 3 months, they may be able to recover underpayments for a longer period than the 3-month limit set out above, by arguing that the underpayments form part of a “series”. Even in those cases however, it is unlikely that they will be able to go back in time to recover underpaid holiday for more than one holiday year.
  3. There is no definitive statement in the Judgment to confirm that purely voluntary overtime (that which the employer is not obliged to offer and the worker is not obliged to accept) would also be included. However, comments in the Judgment and the underlying ethos of the various European decisions could be said to lean towards the view that voluntary overtime which is regularly worked by a worker would count as part of their “normal” pay and hence should be included when calculating holiday pay.
  4. Whilst the domestic 12-week reference period for calculating average pay might be maintained going forward, there could be a change to this (brought about through case law or legislative change) due to the fact that some workers’ pay is highly variable throughout the year and a 12-week snapshot could be misleading depending on the 12-week period captured. For example, a retail worker who does far more overtime during certain periods (perhaps Christmas) would have a far higher average number of hours as their “normal pay” if they took leave in January. Similarly, a salesperson who takes leave shortly after an unusually large commission payment could receive inflated holiday pay which is not representative of “normal pay”. In such cases, a longer period may be necessary and justified. In one of the Opinions of an Advocate General, it was suggested that a 12-month reference period might be appropriate. This is not binding however, and we shall have to wait and see how this issue is resolved.

As a result of this Judgment and other employment cases we can now say with some confidence that the following elements of a worker’s pay should count when calculating their first 20 days’ statutory holiday in a holiday year:

  • Commission payments
  • Guaranteed and non-guaranteed overtime that is regularly worked
  • Incentive bonuses
  • Travel time payments (not expenses, but payments for the time spent travelling)
  • Shift premia
  • Seniority payments (payments linked to qualifications/grade/experience)
  • Stand-by payments
  • Certain other payments (such as “flying pay” and “time away pay” provided such payments are not expenses).

In Conclusion

The recent EAT decision will give some comfort to businesses that feared potential back-payments for 16 years’ holiday entitlements by their workforce. However, you must now resolve past liabilities and start paying correctly going forward. This will increase your operating costs. It is estimated to be approximately a 3-5% increase on payroll. The parties have been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, so the position on this issue may yet change.

Holiday Pay – Is There a New Way to Calculate it?

It was recently reported in the press that certain trade unions are encouraging their members to launch claims against their employers in respect of payments they may be owed as a result of the recent case of Lock v British Gas Trading Ltd. In that case, the European Court of Justice ruled that commission had to be taken into account when calculating holiday pay, rather than just basic pay.

As most UK employers only pay basic salary for holidays, the potential impact of the ECJ’s decision, and other similar cases that have been brought since, is substantial, and could include unlawful deductions claims stretching back a significant number of years.

It appears that two of the country’s biggest unions are taking steps to actively promote claims from their members. Meanwhile, employers groups are pressing the Government to introduce emergency legislation that will limit the impact of the rulings which are at odds with current UK law. Employers have warned that unless such measures are taken, the resultant legal costs could seriously threaten economic recovery.

The two main options open to employers remain unchanged. You can either:

1. Take steps to mitigate past liabilities and reduce future liabilities by introducing changes to holiday pay so that it includes all elements of normal pay (e.g. overtime and commission). The legal argument here would then be that this “breaks” the series of any unlawful deductions which an ET deems to have been made, meaning that employees have only three months from the date of the change to bring a claim (i.e. the clock would start ticking for employees). However, the success of this strategy is not guaranteed. Tribunals may determine that it was not reasonably practicable to bring a claim in time if the legal position was uncertain.

2. Wait for the outcome of the aforementioned EAT cases, and Employers’ appeals for emergency legislation to limit the impact of the rulings to date.

Whichever route you choose to take, it is advisable in the first instance to review your existing methods of calculating holiday pay and assess potential liability. It may also be worth considering establishing a fund in this regard wherever possible.

Three Stages to Getting Recruitment Right – Part Three

In three blog posts I’m covering some of the basics of getting recruitment right – especially if you’re taking on your first member of staff. First we looked at how to find the best person (click here if you missed that post or would like to read it again.) In Part Two we covered what to do when your new recruits start working for you, which you will find here.

In this blog, the final part of the series, 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 Three – What do you do at the end of their probation?

The first thing to do is to make sure that you have actually agreed a probationary period with your new employee. Three months is the minimum and works well for simple jobs, but this can go very quickly. A six month probationary period is a good length of time for you to decide whether or not you want to keep your new employee within your business.

The next thing to do is to book a meeting with your member of staff, once a week during their probation period. Put something in the diary at the same time every week for a few months, especially if you don’t work closely with them. If you don’t see them every day, then this is a good way to check in with them. It’s your chance to find out how they’re getting on – are they reaching their targets, or are there parts of their role that they’re struggling with?

What happens if they reach the end of their probation and you’re not happy with their progress? You need to take action! You can extend their probation period, to give them time to work the performance issues you’ve identified. If you’d been having regular meetings, you’ll know early on if there’s something wrong and be able to do something about it. Don’t leave it until the end of their probation period to tackle an issue, or spring the surprise on them!

And if you are both happy? Then you’ve got a fully fledged new member of staff on your team. But don’t think that you can just sit back and relax! Being a boss/manager of people is an ongoing job that doesn’t finish at the end of probation. We’ve talked more about useful tools like appraisals, performance plans and setting targets in other blog posts – just use the search box on the front page of this blog to find what you’re looking for.

If you have a specific question about one of your employees, do get in touch for a chat and some advice.