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.

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.

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.

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.

How Do You Handle Unauthorised Absence?

Occasionally you might find yourself faced with a situation where one of your employees is absent from work without explanation and without permission. They simply fail to turn up for work. The absence might be for just a day or two or – in the worst case – you might never see them again. What can you do about it? How should you handle unauthorised absence?

Contacting your Employee

The starting point is for you to try to make contact with you employee by telephone on the first day of unauthorised absence, to find out why they have failed to turn up for work. Logs of all attempts at contact should be kept, whether these are messages left on an answer phone or with relatives or flat mates, or whether there has simply been no answer when the employee’s telephone number is rung. Remember to call landlines as well as mobile numbers, if you have them.

If your attempts to contact your employee are unsuccessful, it is recommended that you contact the employee’s stated emergency contacts – usually parents or siblings, spouse/civil partner or partner.

If nothing has been heard from the employee by the second day of unauthorised absence, you should step up your attempts at contact, by writing to advise the employee that they have failed to attend work on the relevant dates and have not provided any reason for non-attendance. You should cite the previous attempts to contact the employee in your letter, and ask the employee to make contact with you by a set date, to confirm their position. Allowing a couple of days for contact should be sufficient. The employee should also be advised that unauthorised absence without good cause is a serious disciplinary offence, which may, depending on the circumstances, amount to potential gross misconduct.

Assumed Resignations

Some employers state in their letter that the employee’s conduct in failing to attend work implies that they intend to, or have, resigned; if they fail to make contact by the stated deadline, it can be assumed that this is the case and appropriate action can be taken. Do note, however, that for a resignation to be implied by conduct, at the very least you must make enquiries and warn your employee of your intentions.

It is only in exceptional circumstances that resignation will be the proper inference to draw from an employee’s conduct. In most cases, the contract of employment does not end until you accept the employee’s breach of contract in failing to attend work, by actually dismissing them. This is because tribunals will generally hold that the withdrawal of labour and the failure to contact the employer are not of themselves enough for a resignation. Rather, the employee must have actually communicated an intention to resign to the employer.

Given that it is likely that a tribunal will hold that an assumed resignation is in fact a dismissal, as the employer, you should incorporate your normal disciplinary procedure into this process. This will involve writing to the employee to invite them to a meeting to discuss the unauthorised absence, setting out the possible consequences of this behaviour. Of course, if the employee has failed to reply to the unauthorised absence letters, it is highly likely that they will fail to turn up for the disciplinary meeting and will not provide any reason as to why they could not attend. This means that the meeting will probably go ahead in the employee’s absence and that they will then be notified of the outcome in writing and given a right of appeal.

Disciplinary Action

In many cases, you’ll be able to make contact with your employee and they return to work. When this happens, you should promptly investigate and ask the employee for a proper explanation at a return to work interview. If there are no acceptable reasons for the absence, the matter should be treated as a conduct issue and dealt with in accordance with your disciplinary procedure. Even if the employee says that they were sick, they will need to explain why no contact was made with you, as required by your company sickness absence reporting procedure. An investigation might well turn up the fact that the sickness absence was not genuine, and there may still be a disciplinary case to answer.

Unauthorised leave can lead to a fair dismissal, especially where a prior warning makes the consequences of the absence quite clear and the absence is for longer than a day or so.

Unauthorised Holidays

You may become aware in advance that an employee plans to take unauthorised holiday. This is most often connected with holiday requests that you legitimately turn down, but when the employee tells you that they are taking the time off anyway, because a holiday or flight has already been booked.

Where an employee has a holiday request turned down, you should write to them confirming the legal position. Even if you choose not to do this for all declined holiday requests, as a minimum, you should do it if you subsequently find out that an employee plans to take the time off work anyway. The employee may tell you this directly – often in a fit of temper – or you may hear it from another member of staff.

The letter to the employee should state that their holiday request for the relevant dates was declined and set out the reasons why. It should go on to say that, if the employee does still take the time off, not only will they not be paid for it but it will also constitute unauthorised absence. The letter should make it clear that unauthorised absence is a very serious disciplinary offence amounting to potential gross misconduct and that the employee will be at risk of summary dismissal on return from the holiday. You should finish by inviting the employee to reconsider their position in light of the possible consequences.

If the employee ignores the letter and goes on holiday, on their return you should invite them to a formal disciplinary hearing to discuss the matter. Don’t try to hold this meeting in the employee’s absence, given that you already know that they would be unable to attend. Instead, suspend the employee on the day that they return and set up the disciplinary hearing for a few days later. Assuming that a fair disciplinary procedure is followed and that you had legitimate reasons for turning down the employee’s annual leave request, a dismissal on these grounds is likely to be fair.

As with all disciplinary and dismissal issues, make sure that you have a proper process in place and that you follow it to the letter. If you don’t have a procedure for dealing with unauthorised absence or any other staff issues, get in touch and we’ll talk about how we can help you set up the processes that you need.

If you have any questions about how to handle unauthorised absence, contact me straight away by calling 0118 940 3032 or by clicking here to email me.

Take Seven Steps to Improve Employee Performance – Part One

When you’re looking to grow your business, you’re only as strong as your weakest member. Dealing with somebody in your team who doesn’t live up to the standards you require is difficult, both legally and ethically. Before you show an employee the red card, be sure you have tried everything that is expected from you, the employer, to guide them and push their performance to a higher level.

There is a seven stage process you can follow, to help you tackle poor performance. Here are the first three steps to take:

Step 1: Informal Conversations

Your starting point for resolving issues should be to deal with them early and informally. Sit down and discuss your concerns with your employee. Use these meetings to encourage and develop the behaviour and performance you want.

Never automatically assume that the employee is at fault. Investigate the causes of poor performance before deciding what action to take. Your aim should always be to help your employee bring their performance up to standard.

Step 2: Offer Support

Where your conversation reveals a cause that’s not the fault of your employee, your initial response should be to offer help and support. Regularly monitor performance, referencing the objectives and timescales agreed, where appropriate. You should offer ongoing support, even after the discussion; and keep records and notes of all informal discussions.

Step 3: Performance Review Meeting

If, following informal discussion and support, and from monitoring your employee’s performance, you don’t feel improvements have been made, you’ll need to follow a formal capability procedure. This procedure provides for a series of performance review meetings with the employee following which formal warnings may be issued.

You must give your employee at least 48 hours’ notice of a performance review meeting and ensure the arrangements are handled with discretion and confidentiality.

Make sure you’re accompanied at the meeting by a colleague or HR representative. Their role is to support you and take accurate notes of the meeting, enabling you to focus on handling the session fairly and appropriately.

There’s a lot to take in here, so we’ll cover the next steps in another blog. In the meantime, if you need any help now with a staff performance issue, call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk and we’ll give you some advice.

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.

Dealing with Gross Misconduct – How do You do it?

Gross misconduct is behaviour so bad that it destroys the relationship between you and your employee and it usually results in dismissal. But what exactly can be considered gross misconduct? It’s important to know, so that you can avoid unfair dismissal claims.

Here’s how to identify and manage gross misconduct.

What is gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is a serious breach of contract and includes any misconduct which, in your opinion, causes serious damage to your business, or irreparably breaks down trust and relationships.

There is no exhaustive list, but it can include theft, physical violence, bullying, damage to property, accessing pornographic sites, damaging your firm’s reputation, inability to work due to alcohol or drugs, breaching health and safety rules, failing to obey instructions, or serious neglect of duty. Repeated minor misconduct, such as being late to work, is not gross misconduct, although it can lead to dismissal after previous unexpired warnings.

Should my staff handbook include examples of gross misconduct?
Include a list of examples of what usually counts as gross misconduct, but state that it is non-exhaustive as you cannot provide for every eventuality. Each case should be looked at individually and consideration should be given to all the circumstances.

What procedure should I go through if someone has committed gross misconduct? When disciplining an employee you should follow your own disciplinary procedure and the Acas Code of Practice. If you don’t follow the Code it may render a dismissal unfair and could increase the amount of compensation an employment tribunal awards against you.

If you believe an employee has committed gross misconduct, you may need to suspend them to allow a full investigation to take place. This won’t be necessary in all cases, but it will usually be appropriate in cases of serious misconduct. If an employee is suspended it should be on full pay.

Carry out a fair and balanced investigation. At the end of it you may decide that no further action is necessary. However, if matters are to be taken further the employee should be invited to a disciplinary hearing where they will be given the opportunity to state their case and respond to the allegations against them. The hearing should then be adjourned for you to make your decision. You should notify the employee of your decision in writing and inform them of their right of appeal.

How can I decide if something counts as gross misconduct or not?  
If you’re unsure, get legal advice. In any case, if an incident is not obviously gross misconduct, it’s always better to go for the lesser sanction than to dismiss someone as such a dismissal may be held unfair. The current maximum compensation for unfair dismissal is £74,200.

If you need any more advice about identifying or dealing with gross misconduct, please do get in touch, to make sure you can avoid and tricky situations.