Six Common Summer Employment Issues

With high temperatures possible during the summer months, in this blog we’ll look at some employment law scenarios that you may have to deal with, as an employer.

Maximum office temperatures – The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature in the workplace needs to be “reasonable”. However, there is no maximum temperature. What is reasonable will depend on the nature of your workplace and the work being carried out by your employees. Factors such as whether or not the work is strenuous or physical will need to be taken into account.

Unauthorised time off – If a holiday request is refused but your employee goes ahead and takes the time off anyway, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. You should carry out an investigation to establish whether or not the absence was for genuine reasons. If, however, there is no credible explanation from the employee, it may become a disciplinary issue and your disciplinary process will need to be followed.

Summer dress codes – It may be reasonable for you to adopt a more relaxed dress code during the summer months. However, the extent to which your employees may be allowed to dress down when the temperature rises will in part depend on the role he or she performs.

In the case of customer-facing roles, certain standards of presentation may need to be maintained. For health and safety reasons, it may be necessary for employees to continue to wear protective clothing, irrespective of summer heat.

One way or the other, you should ensure that the dress code is reasonable, appropriate to the needs of your particular business and does not discriminate between groups of employees.

Competing summer holiday requests – Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, you are not obliged to agree to an employee’s request to take holiday at a particular time, unless the employment contract provides otherwise.

If competing requests for holiday are received from different members of staff, your managers may prioritise requests, provided that they do this in a way which is fair and consistent, for example on a first-come, first-served basis.

To avoid the short periods of notice for requests and refusals, it makes sense for your business to have its own holiday policy in which you can set out your own notice provisions and other arrangements relating to holiday.

Late return from summer holiday – Issues may also arise in the case of an employee who returns late from his or her summer holiday. In the first instance, you should allow the employee the opportunity to provide an explanation. Supporting evidence, for example a medical certificate in the case of ill health, should be requested.

However, if the explanation does not appear genuine, you will need to consider following your disciplinary policy.

Summer work experience – The school summer holidays are typically a time when employers offer school-age children the opportunity to carry out work experience. You do not have to pay a child of compulsory school age while on work experience. However, all other rules and restrictions on employing young people will apply, and relevant approvals from the local authority or school governing body will need to be obtained.

Is your business ready for more heat this summer? If you need any advice regarding working conditions for your employees over the summer, just get in touch. You can call 0118 940 3032 or email me at

Source: XpertHR

Is Your Business Ready for Ramadan?

For many Muslims, Ramadan is a period of religious observance, which includes fasting from sunrise to sunset. To help make sure your business is ready, here is a checklist for employers that will help you support any of your employees who observe religious festivals.

  1. Have a policy on religious observance

Your managers should familiarise themselves with your employer’s policy on religious observance during working hours. Making allowances for observance to employees of one religion, but refusing to provide equivalent benefits to employees of a different one, will amount to direct religious discrimination.

Having a policy on religious observance during working hours should have a positive impact on your employees. An absence of such a policy, together with a failure to be supportive towards employees whose religious beliefs require them to observe certain practices, could lead to accusations of religious discrimination.

  1. Show tolerance on reduced productivity levels

It is likely that the productivity of an employee who is fasting will be affected, particularly towards the latter part of the working day. You and your managers should be aware of this and not unduly penalise or criticise an employee whose productivity has suffered because he or she is fasting during a period of religious observance.

  1. Find a way to accommodate annual leave requests

You may experience high demand for holiday requests for a certain period from employees observing religious festivals. The end of Ramadan is marked by the Islamic holiday of Eid, which also signals an end to the fasting period. As an employer, you may, as a result, receive a large number of requests to take holiday towards the end of Ramadan.

It may be impractical for you to grant all of the requests. However, you should be supportive towards employees who observe religions other than Christianity, particularly because the majority of Christian holidays are provided for in the UK as bank holidays.

  1. Consider the effects of training events, conferences and offsite meetings

You may find that some of your employees who are in a period of religious observance are reluctant to attend training events, conferences or offsite meetings.

During Ramadan, Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food and drink between dawn and sunset. This means that you should consider carefully an employee’s request to be excused from attending work conferences, offsite locations, training and similar events during Ramadan because a failure to do so might amount to direct and indirect religious discrimination.

Your managers should arrange to meet with the employee concerned to explore fully his or her reservations about attending an event and determine whether or not a compromise can be reached. For example, the presence of food and drink at the event might be one of the concerns for the employee.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins on Monday 6 June 2016 and it ends 30 days later on Tuesday 5 July 2016.

If you need help developing a policy for religious observance or holidays for your business, please contact us and we can provide one for you. Call 0118 940 3032 or email

This information was provided by Xperthr.

How to Handle Bank Holidays

Employers run the risk of a holiday ‘giveaway’ if they don’t check their employee contracts when it comes to annual leave.

Some employees are set to gain additional annual leave due to the days on which the Easter bank holidays fall this year, next year and in 2017. The wording in some employees’ contracts could land employers with an unanticipated liability for paying additional holiday, as a result of variations in Easter dates.

The issue will affect employers that operate an annual leave year that runs from 1 April to 31 March, and that set out their employees’ paid annual leave entitlement using wording along the lines of “20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays”.

Under working time rules, employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave, or 28 days’ leave per year for employees working a five-day week. The 28 days can include bank holidays, of which there are usually eight per year.

The way in which the 2015 Easter break fell meant that, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were bank holidays on 3 and 6 April. In 2016, the bank holidays are earlier: Good Friday on 25 March and Easter Monday on 28 March. However, in 2017, Easter is later, with Good Friday falling on 14 April and Easter Monday on 17 April.

This means that two Easter breaks fall within a holiday year running from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016: the Easter break that fell early in April 2015, and the Easter break falling in late March 2016. Affected employees will gain from two additional bank holidays (on top of the usual eight) for the leave year.

Failure to honour a contractual clause providing for “20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays” will result in the employer being in breach of contract, regardless of the fact that there are more than the usual number of bank holidays.

For a holiday year running 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017, employees would appear to lose out. There is no Easter break during the whole of the annual leave year, meaning that they will be entitled under their contract to just 26 days’ leave.

As an employer you should not rely on a bonus in holiday entitlement from one leave year to be ‘evened up’ by giving employees less than the statutory minimum in the next leave year. The 28-day entitlement is a statutory minimum and you cannot negotiate out of it, other than by an agreement with your employees to carry forward up to eight days’ holiday into the following leave year.

If you’re not sure what you need to do to avoid being in breach of your employee contracts, contact me on 0118 940 3032 or email and we’ll help you work out the numbers.

Holiday Commission Payments – The Verdict

Finally we have the decision about the calculation of commission payments.

This well publicised case was brought by Mr Lock, an employee of British Gas. He was paid a basic salary and commission based on the sales he made which represented, on average, over 60% of his take home pay.

British Gas paid holiday pay to Mr Lock based on his basic salary only, plus commission on sales he had earned prior to the holiday period. This resulted, in the weeks and months after the period of leave, in times when Mr Lock only received basic salary and not commission. This was because Mr Lock was not at work during the period of leave, did not make sales and did not generate any commission.

Mr Lock brought a claim against British Gas contending that his holiday pay should be based on basic salary and average commission.

The employment tribunal asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) whether employers should include commission when calculating holiday pay and both decided that Mr Lock should be paid holiday pay including overtime. Since the ECJ we have been awaiting for the employment tribunal to see how to give effect to the ECJ decision.

At the hearing Leicester employment tribunal made it clear that the case was not about whether the commission received by Mr Lock should be included because the ECJ had already decided that it should. The case was about whether the Working Time Regulations could be interpreted to give effect to the ECJ decision.

The employment tribunal concluded that it could by adding wording to the Working Time Regulations which requires employers with workers who have normal working hours but who receive commission or similar payments to calculate holiday pay as if their pay varied with the amount of work done. The effect is to require employers to calculate holiday pay based on an average of the previous 12 weeks’ pay.

The Next Steps

Not all commission payments will qualify and have to be taken into account. You should reconsider how you calculate holiday pay if you operate a similar commission scheme, as you may face a claim for back pay. Legislation was introduced to limit the impact of such claims by restricting back pay for two years for cases on or after 1 July 2015.

This decision relates only to the calculation of four week’s holiday and not the entire current statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks or any enhanced holiday. You should also check any contractual provisions. If you need any help calculating holiday pay for your employees, call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email us.

What’s the Best Way to Keep Your Staff Happy?

Happy employees make happy clients and customers. Here’s a check list of all the things you should be doing, to keep your staff – and therefore your clients and customers – happy. How many are you doing?

  • Improve their engagement with your company – low cost options include offering flexibility, the opportunity to buy or sell holiday and working from home
  • Cheer everyone up – buy them food at work
  • Give lots of praise – in public, if necessary
  • Recognise their achievements – a lot
  • Be reassuring (but realistic) about job security
  • Be flexible about working hours and opportunities to improve their work life balance
  • Be open, honest and involved with your team
  • Keep them in touch with all the news – good or bad
  • Keep up with employees training and development – it does not need to cost a lot. Don’t abandon development and new opportunities. Job training is perceived as a value
  • Develop your company culture – involve everyone in decisions and provide opportunities for staff who don’t normally work together to get to know each other
  • Offer chances to put forward suggestions – it could save you a fortune and it increases the sense of ownership and belonging
  • Provide regular team meetings to reinforce the company culture and beliefs
  • Think about using a promotion as a low cost way of improving self-esteem and self-worth
  • Treat everyone with respect – it doesn’t cost anything and it improves motivation.

How well did you score? What more could you be doing to keep your staff happy?

Can Santa Get the Sack?


Can Santa get the sack?

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat … but so is Santa! He’s now too big to fit down the chimney; the elves think they have man flu; and Rudolf says the roads are blocked with snow so he can’t get to work!

You might think that Christmas runs smoothly at the North Pole – after all, they have all year to plan it. However, this year there are a few problems for the Head Reindeer (HR) department to sort out.

Father Christmas is too big to fit down the chimney. All year Santa has been relaxing at the North Pole and as a result, his girth has expanded somewhat. The Head Reindeer is worried that he won’t be able to do his job properly – after all, he is supposed to climb down chimneys in order to deliver presents. Can he get the sack for not being able to carry out the work in his job description? If Santa is morbidly obese and can’t carry out his daily tasks, he could be classed as disabled. This means that sacking him because of his girth may be discrimination – something the Head Reindeer would like to avoid!

The elves think they have ‘man flu’. They’re sneezing and coughing and their noses are running, so they’re really like to stay in bed – especially during December when work gets really busy. Are they allowed to take time off sick, when Father Christmas thinks they just have colds? Staff taking time off for sickness usually increases over the winter months, so the Head Reindeer will need to speak to each of the elves and find out what’s actually wrong with them and make sure they have the right evidence to support the reasons for their absence. Keeping in contact with sick staff is always a good idea. After all, how can Christmas carry on without the elves?

Rudolf says the roads are blocked with snow. He says he can’t get to the office because of the weather conditions. He can’t really work from home, although for some staff, it’s worth setting up remote access, so that they can still work, even if they’re not in the office. The Head Reindeer needs to make sure that the Staff Handbook is up to date, to cover issues like bad weather. And he needs to find out how else to get Rudolf to work, if there is snow on the road, or Christmas might have to be cancelled.

With a little bit of forward planning (and perhaps some advice from an expert) the Head Reindeer (HR) manager will be able to make sure that everything goes to plan for a great Christmas. At least he can let all the elves take time off together, once the festive period is over!

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.

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.

(HR) Human Resources for Small Businesses

When you run a small business, taking on and managing staff can be one of the hardest things to get your head around. Here are a few of the basics that you need to get right.

Employment contracts – This is the most important HR document you’ll have in your business. You’re legally obliged to provide every employee with a written statement of the terms and conditions of their employment within two months of them starting with you.

National Minimum Wage – Almost all workers in the UK aged 16 or over are legally entitled to be paid a minimum hourly amount. The rate is reviewed every year and usually increases in October. Click here for the current rates.

Holidays – All employees are entitled to a minimum amount of time off per year. For full time employees the maximum is 28 days. You can work out your employee’s holiday entitlement by clicking here. Some companies like to give their staff an extra day off on their birthday, if it falls on a working day.

Pensions – Since July 2012 changes have been brought in. Every business will have to provide eligible employees with a qualifying pension scheme and make minimum levels of contributions into it. Talk to pension providers to find out when you need to set up your scheme.

Statutory Sick Pay – When an employee is absent from work due to sickness for more than three continuous working days, they become entitled by law to receive Statutory Sick Pay.

Discipline and Grievance Process – When dealing with disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace, you should follow the Acas Code of Practice.

Dismissal Procedure and Tribunals – Dismissing an employee is fraught with risk for employers, so you should make sure that you follow the correct procedure and take advice.

These are just a few of the things you need to know. It’s best to deal with issues before they become big problems, so if you need any more advice, please do get in touch.