8 Things Every Employer Should Know about References

It is common practice for employers to provide references for employees and ex-employees, but there are risks involved. Here are eight things you need to know before you give anyone a reference.

  1. No legal duty to provide a reference. There is no obligation on you to provide a reference for an employee or ex-employee, unless there is a term in the contract which provides for this. This is irrespective of whether the request for the reference comes from the employee, a prospective employer or any other third party such as a bank or landlord.
  1. References must be true, accurate and fair. You have duties towards the subject and the recipient of the reference. You must take reasonable care to ensure that the information in the reference is true, accurate and fair, and does not give a misleading impression. If you fail to take such care, you could be sued for negligent misstatement and ordered to pay compensation. As an employer you must ensure that any reference you give, or any reason for refusing to give a reference, is not discriminatory and does not amount to victimisation. Employers can be liable for discrimination against a former employee even if it occurs after the employment has ended.
  1. Policy on giving references. It is good practice for employers to have a written policy on providing references. The policy should set out when a reference will be provided, who within the organisation may provide references and what information the reference should include. Many employers have a policy of providing a standard reference including only limited information, for example dates of employment and positions held. This limits exposure to claims.
  1. Settlement agreements. When you receive a reference request, you should check if there is a settlement agreement in place relating to the particular individual. Settlement agreements often contain the wording of an agreed reference, which the employer agrees to provide in respect of any reference requests made regarding the individual. There is more here on Settlement Agreements in one of our previous blogs.
  1. Employee consent to reference. In writing a reference, you are likely to have to process the employee’s or ex-employee’s personal data, as regulated by the Data Protection Act 1998. You need to check that the individual has consented to a reference being provided.
  1. Sickness absence. You must get explicit consent from the individual if you are providing sensitive personal data, such as physical or mental health information. Revealing the number of days an employee has been absent, but not the reasons for the absences, will not require explicit consent. However, this does run the risk of disability discrimination.
  1. Disclaimer of liability. Employers often include a disclaimer of liability arising from errors, omissions or inaccuracies in the information provided in a reference. The circumstances in which a disclaimer will be effective are limited. However, it is still worth you including one.
  1. Sending the reference. A written reference should be addressed to the named individual who has requested it and marked “Strictly private and confidential” and “To be opened by the addressee only”.

What Impact Will Brexit Have on Employment Law?

Although much UK employment law is derived from EU law, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is unlikely in itself to have an immediate impact on employment law as most EU Directives are implemented in the UK by regulations or Acts of Parliament. It will be for Parliament to decide whether to retain, amend or repeal domestic legislation.

It is possible that the UK will be required to continue to implement elements of EU legislation as a condition of a negotiated trade deal between the UK and EU.

Many areas of domestic law that are derived from EU law have been heavily influenced by decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), for example working time, TUPE and discrimination law. ECJ decisions will continue to apply in the UK until the Government or the UK courts determine otherwise.

What impact will Brexit have on EU nationals currently working in the UK?

It is not yet known what rules on immigration and free movement of people will be in place following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. However, employers can reassure employees who are EU nationals that there will be no immediate change in their right to live and work in the UK. The same is true of nationals of the other countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) and of Switzerland.

EEA and Swiss nationals who have lived in the UK for five years or more as a “qualified person” have acquired the right to permanent residence. A qualified person is someone who is working, studying, self-employed, self-sufficient or looking for work. A person who has qualified for permanent residence can apply for a document certifying this.

The UK will have a period of up to two years within which to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. The rights of EU nationals to come to the UK to live and work in the future will be a key element of the negotiations. It is likely that EU nationals who are already living in the UK will be afforded special status, with reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in EU countries.

One option for an immigration framework, in the absence of a negotiated deal allowing freedom of movement between the UK and the EU, is that the current points-based system that applies to workers from countries outside of the EEA could be extended to EEA nationals. For most employers, the main route for employing foreign workers under this system is by sponsoring skilled workers, where they can show that there is a shortage of suitably qualified applicants within the resident labour market. There is scope for a points-based system to be extended to allow the employment of non-skilled workers as well as skilled workers.

On 18 October 2016 we’ll be running our next Employment Law Update workshop, to bring you right up to speed on any changes that might affect your business. You can book your place online here.

 

Information Source: XpertHR

The Latest Legal Changes to Employment

Every year around April and October, changes are made to Employment Law that will affect some, if not all of your employees. In April we ran one of our popular Employment Law update workshops, to tell our clients and contacts what they need to know. If you missed it, here’s a summary of what we covered.

More changes will be happening later this year, so we’re running our autumn event on 18 October 2016 and we’ll send you a reminder nearer the time. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the latest changes and what you need to do about them, do get in touch.

Here are some of the issues we discussed at the recent workshop:

Statutory Rates – these usually change, but this year, statutory family-related pay and sick pay rates were frozen.

Postponing a Tribunal – under rule 30A of the Employment Tribunals Regulations 2013 for proceedings presented on or after 6 April 2016, changes have been made, in order to limit the number of postponements and adjournments that can be granted in a single case in the employment tribunal and introduce a deadline after which applications for a postponement will not be allowed. Employment tribunals must also consider making an award for costs where postponements are granted at late notice.

National Living Wage – this applies to all employees over 25 years of age. The new rate from 1 April 2016 is £7.20 per hour, and is expected to increase to £9 per hour from April 2020. Also from 1 April 2016, the penalty was set at 200% for the total underpayment, for each employee who has been underpaid. 300,000 employees will benefit from this increase, with employers needing to find an estimated £3 billion by 2020. The Government intends to align when the national minimum wage and national living wage rates are amended, to be April for both with effect from April 2017. It has asked the Low Pay Commission to recommend the rate of the national living wage and the national minimum wage for April 2017 and to provide an indicative rate of the national living wage for April 2018. The Commission is due to report back on its findings in October 2016.

Zero Hours Contracts – legislation came into force on 11 January 2016, which states that individuals on a zero hours’ contract must not be unfairly dismissed or subjected to a detriment for breaching an exclusivity clause.

National Insurance for under 25s – employer NICs have been abolished for apprentices under the age of 25. As part of the Government’s drive to encourage employers to create more apprenticeships for young people, from 6 April 2016, employers will not pay employer national insurance contributions for apprentices aged under 25.

New State Pension – a single-tier state pension was introduced on 6 April 2016, replacing the previous basic state pension and additional state pension. Employer-provided pension schemes will no longer be able to contract out of the state pension and receive a national insurance rebate. This means that, where an employer provides a previously contracted-out scheme, its employer and employee national insurance contribution liability will increase. Employers should ensure that employees are aware that there may be an impact on their pay.

The Gender Pay Gap – these new regulations will apply from 1 October 2016, for all private-sector and voluntary-sector employers with 250+ employees. Companies will be required to publish the gender pay gap as it is in the pay period in which 30 April 2017 falls.

If you think that your company and your employees will be affected by any of these changes, please do get in touch for a confidential chat. Call 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

Reporting the Gender Pay and Gender Bonus Gap Data

The draft Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2016 require employers, with more than 250 employees, to publish their first gender pay gap report by 30 April 2018, giving you up to 12 months from the pay period covered by the report to do this. The report must appear on your website, in English, in a manner that is accessible to all your employees and to the public. Once published it must remain there for at least three years.

Employers will have to publish the results, but not the raw data on which the calculations are based, for each of the benchmarks set out below:

  • The mean gender pay gap
  • The median gender pay gap
  • The mean bonus pay gap
  • The proportion of men and women receiving a bonus payment and
  • The number of men and women in each of the four pay bands.

Your report will have to include a written statement confirming that the information is accurate. This must be signed by a director, partner or member of your organisation’s governing body.

As an employer you will also be expected to upload the information to a government website, where the intention is to create a publicly available league table or database.

There will be no legal obligation on you to publish any form of commentary on the figures or to set out any actions that it may be taking to address the gender pay gap. However, ministers have made clear that the Government will strongly encourage you to do so.

You should be particularly aware of the potential damage to your reputation, especially among potential future employees, of failing to set the data in context or to provide an explanation. Where you can report a gender pay gap that is narrower than that generally seen in the wider economy, and/or within its industry, this could enhance your organisation in the eyes of both job applicants and existing employees. However, you cannot assume that a job applicant will automatically be aware that your gender pay gap is better than average. This needs to be spelled out.

If your company’s gender pay gap is wider that the average, additional explanation will help to protect your reputation. Is the gap wide because of the industry in which you operate or the types of roles that exist within it?  For example, women make up only 14.4% of all employees in science and technology occupations and represented just 15% of undergraduate entrants to engineering and technology courses in 2014/15. Employers with a large number of well-paid roles in these areas may struggle to recruit women to them.

Additionally, you may wish to use the opportunity to set out what you are doing to ensure that you recruit, develop, reward and promote women as well as men. This is particularly important if there are few mitigation factors to explain a wide pay gap within your organisation.

Need help with writing your first gender pay gap report? Get in touch to find out how we can help by contacting us on 0118 940 3032 or emailing 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.

Modern Slavery Act 2015 – What Do You Need to Know?

Modern slavery refers to the institutions of slavery that continue to exist in the present day. Estimates of the number of slaves today range from around 21 million to 29 million. While the majority of slaves are found in developing countries, slavery also exists on a smaller scale in advanced democratic nations, for example the UK, where Home Office estimates suggest 10,000 to 13,000 victims.

In order to combat this situation, large commercial companies with a turnover of at least £36 million per year now have to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year. The statement must set out the steps that the company has taken during that year to make sure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains, or in any part of its own business. If the company has not taken any such steps, it must still publish a statement to that effect. The duty to produce a statement applies to financial years ending on or after 31 March 2016.

While this might not apply directly to your business – if your turnover is below £36 million – you might still want to know about it, when considering larger businesses to trade with.

While you might not have to produce a statement, you might like to produce one to show to potential clients.  There is no set template for a slavery and human trafficking statement yet, but we recommend that your statement covers issues such as your countries of operation and supply, the process by which your company assesses whether or not particular activities or countries are high risk in relation to slavery or human trafficking and which of your company’s activities are considered to be at high risk of slavery or human trafficking. The statement should also cover any training that your company requires your staff who are working in specific countries or with certain supply chain managers to complete, to make them aware of the issues of modern slavery and how to prevent it.

If you would like some help in putting together the most appropriate statement for your business, call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email us.

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.

Is Your Staff Handbook Up To Date for 2016?

Is Your Staff Handbook Up To Date for 2016?

Every time Employment Law changes, your staff handbook will become more out of date. Changes are made to Employment Law at least twice a year – usually around April and October. If you haven’t checked your Staff Handbook in the last three years, it will be very out of date by now. This means that some of your employee policies could be very out of date and no longer legal.

Why do you need a Staff Handbook?

A Staff Handbook lets you tell your employees about your workplace rules in an efficient, uniform way. Your employees will know what is expected of them and what they can expect of you. A Staff Handbook can provide your company with valuable legal protections, when employees understand the rules of your organisation. It also gives you a good place to collect policies that must be in writing, such as policies on smoking, social media use, or family and medical leave.

How do you keep your Handbook up to date?

To help you bring your Handbook up to date and in line with current legislation, we can review it for you and make recommendations on what needs to be changed. Send us your Staff Handbook as a Word file and we will read through it – confidentially, of course. We will then send you a list of recommended changes that need to be made. The cost for this review is just £195 +VAT.

Once you have our recommendations, you can make the changes yourself. Or we can do them for you – just ask for a quote for bringing your Handbook fully up to date. Call 0118 940 3032 for more details or click here to email your Staff Handbook to us.