How Do You Handle Employee Suspension? Part Two – What Happens Next?

In a previous blog, which you can read here, we looked at how best to handle suspending an employee. There are certain principles that you need to consider, before you can move on to other considerations. We’ll cover these in this blog.

The Length of Suspension

In line with the Acas code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, the period of suspension should be kept as brief as possible, and its continuance kept under review. Where possible, you should tell your employee how long the suspension is expected to last, and update them as to the progress of the investigation and any delays. The suspension should be lifted immediately if the circumstances of the case no longer justify it.

Pay and Benefits

Your employee should be fully paid during a period of suspension, unless there is a clear contractual right to the contrary. All other benefits should also continue unless the contract states otherwise.

The Risk of Constructive Dismissal

If you impose an unjustified period of suspension, this may amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, entitling your employee to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. Whether or not you are in breach of this implied term will depend on the circumstances of the particular case. Suspension of an employee may put you at risk of such a claim if, for example:

  • the suspension is imposed without reasonable and proper cause
  • it is imposed in an unreasonable way
  • the suspension is unpaid, in the absence of a contractual right for it to be without pay
  • there is an unnecessarily protracted period of suspension
  • the employee who is suspended is permanently replaced.

The Conclusion of the Investigation

On completion of the investigation, you must decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action. If there is, you should follow your disciplinary procedure and the Acas code of Practice as soon as you can. It may be appropriate for you to keep your employee suspended until the disciplinary procedure is complete if the circumstances still justify it.

If no disciplinary action is needed, you should lift the suspension and ask your employee to return to work without delay. It may be that they feel aggrieved by the period of suspension, so it is advisable for you to have a return-to-work meeting to enable your employee to discuss any concerns that they may have and allow you to address these concerns. You should assure your employee that the period of suspension has not affected their position, or continued employment, and that they will not suffer any future detriment as a result of the suspension.

As with any tricky situation with a member of staff, if you have any concerns about the best course of action to take, please get in touch with me for some confidential advice, before taking any action. It is vital that you follow correct procedures. Call me on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

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.

Managing the Malingerer

Managing sickness absence is always difficult and dealing with someone who you suspect is not genuinely ill has always been trickier. You might have seen it happen and had your suspicions, but how to you prove that the sickness was not genuine? It’s not easy, so here are some suggestions to help you.

Step 1: Identify and assess potential evidence

The first step is to identify and record available evidence to support your suspicions.

If you have evidence that one of your employees is being dishonest by claiming to be off sick when he or she is not, you may be able to discipline them or even dismiss them for misconduct.

Mere suspicions and rumours will not be enough to show misconduct. However, social media has the potential to provide a good source of possible evidence. If you are presented with evidence from social media, perhaps from another employee, you can use it in the same way as you would any other anecdotal evidence or an employee tip-off.

The credibility of the evidence retrieved from social media will need to be tested in the usual way. Has the information been taken out of context and are the dates of posting accurate?

There is debate over whether social media posts are in the public domain or private, in which case, your employee could argue that this breaches their right to privacy. However, interference with the right to privacy can be objectively justified and might be permissible if you have reasonable grounds to believe that your employee is fraudulently claiming sick pay.

In general, as an employer, you should be able to rely on such evidence, but each case would need to be assessed on its own merits and ‘fishing’ exercises are never advisable.

Step 2: Review the evidence

If your evidence of malingering looks robust and credible then you should be able to start a disciplinary process for misconduct.

A lack of evidence of dishonesty does not mean that you cannot challenge an employee you suspect is not really as ill as they claim. People will often continue to take unwarranted time off where they believe their absences are passing unnoticed.

You can address this by ensuring that return-to-work interviews are carried out following each occasion of absence and encourage your line managers to probe further (or push for medical evidence) if faced with evasive or inadequate answers.

Step 3: Give evidence of misconduct

If you believe you have evidence of dishonest behaviour, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Remember that employees do not have to be bed-bound, or even at home, in order to be unfit for work.

An employee posting pictures of himself on holiday or doing sport or other leisure activities may still be genuinely unwell. Many health conditions do not improve as a result of lying in bed. It is still important to carry out an investigation, as you would for any other allegation of misconduct.

How do you spot malingerers?

Some of the signs include patterns of absence, such as the same day each week; triggers for absence, such as being invited to a disciplinary meeting; reluctance to provide medical evidence or attend appointments; posts on social media; tip-offs from colleagues and reports of activities that seem inconsistent with ill-health, such as undertaking other work or going on holiday.

Step 4: Remember to follow your procedures

Before disciplining or dismissing the malingering employee for misconduct, you must follow your own procedures and the Acas ‘Code on discipline and grievance’, as you would do in any other disciplinary scenario.

You will need to put the evidence to the individual, hear their explanation and consider if that explanation requires further investigation and medical evidence may be needed.

You must also consider the individual circumstances of the case and any mitigating points, such as length of service and previous disciplinary history, as well as how similar cases have been dealt with in the past.

Make sure you follow this process any time you are unsure of how ill an employee really is. If in doubt about how to handle such a situation, contact us by calling 0118 940 3032 or clicking here to email us and we’ll help you through it.

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.”

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.

Changes to Employment Law – Can You Keep Up?

Changes to Employment Law – Can You Keep Up?

Twice a year, in April and October, changes are made to UK employment law. There’s a lot that you need to know, so to help you keep abreast of the changes, I’m running one of my very popular workshops to discuss and simplify the changes. It will be held on 1 May 2014 and Hennerton Golf Club, Wargrave, Berkshire. Click here to book your place.

Here’s a summary of some of the proposed changes to due to take place this spring:

  • Power of Employment Tribunal to impose Financial Penalties on employers. The Employment Tribunal will have the power to order an employer who has lost a case to pay a financial penalty, to the Secretary of State, of between £100 and £5,000. The penalty will be imposed where the employer has breached any of the worker’s rights. Tribunal Financial Penalties apply from 6 April 2014.
  • Early conciliation to come into force. Before lodging a claim to the Tribunal, all claimants will need to notify Acas first, where conciliation will be offered. If conciliation is unsuccessful within the set period the claimant can proceed to lodge a tribunal claim. This comes into force on 6 May 2014.
  • Statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay increase. The rate of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption rate will increase to £138.18.

In addition, there is this change, to be brought in by the end of 2014:

Managing sickness absence. A health and work assessment and advisory service is to be introduced, offering fee occupational health assistance for employees, employers and GPs. The service can provide an occupational health assessment after four weeks of sickness absence.

To keep your business fully updated, why not book your place on our workshop? The cost is just £10 +VAT, so to reserve your seat, just click here to book online.

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.