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.

How Do You Deal with Harassment at Work?

Harassment can be physical, verbal or non-verbal and a wide range of different types of behaviour at work may potentially be perceived as harassment. This blog gives some examples of behaviour that could be perceived as harassment.

Sex-related harassment:

  • Telling jokes about women
  • Making derogatory sexist remarks
  • The display of sexually explicit material on computer screens or in calendars
  • Leering at a woman in a manner that is overtly sexual
  • Physically touching someone in a sexual manner where such conduct is not welcome
  • Remarks, banter or jokes of a sexual nature
  • Making sexual suggestions or persisting with sexual advances after it has been made clear that such approaches are unwelcome.

Racial harassment:

  • Calling someone a nickname linked to his or her skin colour or nationality
  • Remarks, banter or jokes about people from different racial backgrounds.

Disability harassment:

  • Using insulting terminology when referring to a disabled colleague
  • Excessive staring, for example at someone with a facial disfigurement
  • Mimicking a disabled colleague’s mannerisms or speech.

Religious harassment:

  • Remarks, banter or jokes about particular religious beliefs or religious practices
  • Derogatory remarks made about a particular item of clothing or jewellery worn by someone as a symbol of his or her religion.

Sexual orientation harassment:

  • Deliberate isolation of someone on grounds of his or her sexuality or perceived sexuality
  • Deliberately behaving in an effeminate manner in the presence of someone who is gay
  • Calling someone a nickname based on his or her sexuality or perceived sexuality.

Age harassment:

  • Banter and jokes that make fun of older people or demean their abilities
  • Calling someone a name linked to his or her age
  • Ignoring someone, or treating his or her views as worthless, just because he or she is younger or older than other employees.

Guarding against offensive jokes, banter and remarks

General banter linked to sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or age is the most common form of harassment in employment. You should make sure that you properly brief all your staff as to the types of conduct and speech that might cause offence to others and make it clear that such behaviour will be unacceptable.

If you’re concerned about harassment within your company – and you need someone to speak to about it, call me now on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

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 12 Days of Christmas

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Merry Christmas …

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

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How Will the Apprenticeship Levy Affect Employers?

The apprenticeship levy, which the Government hopes will help create three million new apprentices by 2020, is due to come into force in 2017, with a view to creating millions of apprenticeships across the UK. The levy is expected to raise an estimated £3 billion by the end of this Parliament.

If your business has an annual payroll cost of less than £3 million, then you will not be required to pay the levy. If you have more than this, however, there will be a 0.5% tax on your payroll bill, which will be paid through PAYE.

The Government estimates that approximately 22,000 organisations will be required to pay the levy. Many smaller employers will be impacted as well as the large companies, as a workforce of 100 people and an average salary of just over £30,000 will take businesses over the threshold.

Employers that do not pay the levy will still be able to access government support for apprenticeships through the Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS). Employers in England that pay the levy and provide apprenticeship training will receive a ‘top-up’ to a digital account. The training must be provided through an accredited provider and, at this point, it is presumed that HRMC will be responsible for enforcing the payment from the employer and ensuring payment to the training provider.

Some employers have voiced concerns over how funding will be distributed, as each course will need different periods of training time and different evaluation methods. For example, an apprenticeship in engineering may need 12 months, while some apprenticeships in sectors such as retail may need less time.

Potentially, it will be difficult to make a one-size-fits-all scheme translate into meaningful and empowering apprenticeships that benefit both employer and employee.

How Can You Use the Apprenticeship Levy?

Consider the areas in your business where training is most needed, to ensure that the apprenticeship levy works in favour of your organisation. It is possible that many employers will not recoup the levy that they pay, and will therefore simply see it as another employment tax.

What Should Employers Do to Prepare?

One of the key parts of preparation for employers is ensuring that you have the financial capability to pay the levy.

Start to think more broadly than the immediate view of an ‘apprenticeship’ as something for young starters. Consider what training your business has put off because of the possible cost, and ascertain what could be done as an apprenticeship so that you can get the best value.

If you’re not sure how best to prepare for the Apprenticeship Levy, or you’d like some advice taking on an apprentice, contact us by calling 0118 940 3032 or emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

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”.

How Do You Handle Unauthorised Absence from Work?

What do you do when one of your members of staff keeping missing work for no apparent reason, or doesn’t come back when you expected them to after their holiday? This is known as unauthorised absence and needs to be handled quickly and efficiently.

The first thing to do is find out why someone has been missing work. Is it unusual or do they keep missing work? Next you need to get in touch with them and follow a procedure. This short video will tell you more about this.

We can help you put a procedure in place for handling these issues and can provide you with a template letter to send to staff who have been absent without your authorization. Just call us 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk for some confidential advice.

Staff Accuse B&Q of Using the National Living Wage as an ‘Excuse’ to Cut Pay and Benefits

Employers are being warned to avoid kneejerk moves when introducing measures to offset increased wage costs.

A petition drafted by a B&Q manager, accusing the DIY retailer of slashing employee benefits in an effort to offset the costs of the national living wage (NLW), has so far attracted more than 120,000 signatures. As an employer you could face a similar negative reaction if you attempt to alter terms and conditions as a result of the law to increase salaries for your lowest paid staff. The £7.20 an hour wage came into force on Friday 1 April.

As part of the change, the B&Q employees say that the retailer has suggested time-and-a-half pay for working Sundays and double time for working bank holidays; a restructuring of allowances for employees working in parts of the UK where the cost of living is higher; and the removal of a summer and winter bonus, which equates to 6% of annual salary.

The petition says that B&Q staff are required to accept the new terms and conditions of employment, or face losing their job.

“Big businesses like B&Q are using the NLW as an excuse to cut overall pay and rewards for the people who need it the most,” the petition reads.

B&Q denies that the changes to terms and conditions are as a result of the NLW, stating that a review of its pay and reward framework was launched “long before” the new wage was announced.

A B&Q spokesman said: “Our aim is to reward all of our people fairly so that employees who are doing the same job receive the same pay. That isn’t the case at the moment, as some have been benefitting from allowances for a long time when others have not, and that can’t continue.”

A survey from the Federation of Small Business found that 54% of SMEs believe they have been negatively impacted by the 50p an hour increase in pay, and will put off hiring new staff as a result. 41% will cut staff hours, while 26% plan to erode pay differentials by freezing or cutting the wages of higher paid staff.

According to analysis by the FT, employers are actively are actively considering increasing the number of self-employed individuals or apprentices – all of whom are exempt from the NLW – in their staffing mix.

But Esther Smith, employment partner at UK law firm TLT, warned that this could leave employers open to discrimination claims.

“Employers may, consciously or unconsciously, look to employ younger people to avoid the higher wage costs.  Also, if they operate zero hours’ contracts, they may elect to offer less work to those people over 25,” she said. “Both of these actions would expose the employer to age discrimination claims.”

Before you make any major decisions which could affect your business and your employees, get in touch by contacting us on 0118 940 3032 or emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

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 sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

This information was provided by Xperthr.

Shared Parental Leave Take-Up Could Be 30%

Two surveys published to mark the anniversary of the introduction of shared parental leave suggest that its take-up could be around 30%, although more in-depth research is needed.

Widespread reporting that the take-up of shared parental leave was just 1% has demonstrated much of the media’s appetite for an extreme headline, but may also have hidden much higher take-up than anticipated.

Shared parental leave became available for parents of babies born on or after 5 April 2015. It allows working parents to share leave and pay, provided they qualify.

Research from My Family Care and the Women’s Business council suggested that 1% of men in the organisations surveyed – not 1% of fathers as was widely reported – had taken up the opportunity of shared parental leave.

The combined survey of more than 1,000 individuals and 200 HR directors found that opting to take shared parental leave was deeply dependant on individual circumstances, particularly on their financial situations and levels of pay on offer from employers.

The 1% figure was based on data from 200 HR directors about their organisations’ employees and was given as a proportion of all men employed, not a percentage of fathers eligible to take shared parental leave.

Of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 10% had had a baby or adopted a child in the past 12 months. Of this group, 24% of women and 30% of men said they had taken shared parental leave.

While the subset is small, another piece of research by Totaljobs among 628 respondents revealed similar findings.

Out of its 86 respondents that had a child in the past year, 31% said they are using or had used their right to shared parental leave; 48% did not use their right; and 21% said they were not eligible.

With sample sizes of new parents so low though, experts warned that it is difficult to place too much confidence in the data, although the fact the two surveys had similar figures for take-up among fathers was encouraging.

Mark Crail, content director at XpertHR, said: “If the 30% figures are correct then take-up has been higher than expected – it’s good news, not the shock-horror story that much of the media has been running about these research findings.

“The problem is, many employers simply will not know whether or not men are eligible for shared parental leave unless and until they apply. If someone’s partner has a baby and they choose not to tell their employer, they won’t show up in the records. That makes it extremely difficult to get a good overview of what’s really happening. The research should be taken with a pinch of salt.”

The two surveys also appeared to tally when respondents answered questions around what might stop parents taking advantage of shared parental leave.

In the Totaljobs research, most (85%) of those surveyed said families could not afford to take advantage of shared parental leave; 81% feared there would be an impact on their career; and 78% said that lack of awareness was a factor.

Nearly three-fifths of women (58%) and slightly fewer men (53%) said mothers preferring to be the main carer was a factor in not taking advantage of shared parental leave.

In My Family Care’s research, a factor why respondents – both mothers and fathers – had chosen not to take up shared parental leave was financial affordability, with 55% citing this as the main reason. Nearly half (47%) said it was because their partners did not want to share the leave, while a lack of awareness about the options was cited by 46% of respondents.

Of the 200 employers questioned, the majority said they enhanced maternity pay (77%) and paternity pay (65%), but just under half (47%) enhanced shared parental pay.  The same number offered statutory benefits only.

An impact assessment by the Government on the introduction of shared parental leave also assumed that take up would be low (between 2% and 8%) reflecting the minimal take-up of additional paternity leave, which was introduced in 2011.