Do You Know What the Latest Employment Law Changes Are?

April is the time of year when certain employment law changes come into effect. It’s important to ensure that your business is up to date with legislation. This can be difficult, especially if you don’t have an HR department. Highlighted here are some current and soon to be implemented changes that might affect your business.

Pensions and Auto-Enrolment Minimum Contributions

It’s important to remind your staff that this month, there will be a mandatory increase in contributions. Employers will need to contribute a minimum of 2%, and employees 3%, providing a total minimum contribution of 5% per month.

Statutory Rates

Most years, the Department for Work and Pensions proposes new rates for statutory payment in line with the Consumer Price Index. This year, 2018, the rates are as follows:

  • Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) – paid at a rate of 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, the remaining 33 weeks are paid at the statutory rate (or at 90%, whichever is lower). From 1 April 2018, the statutory rate increased from £140.98 to £145.18 per week.
  • Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) – will also increase from £140.98 to £145.18 per week.
  • Maternity Allowance – payable for those who don’t qualify for SMP payment, this will also increase to £145.18 per week.
  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – as from 6 April, the rate will increase from £89.35 to £92.05 per week. You can offer more if you have a company sick pay scheme, but you cannot offer less.

The amount that your employees must earn to be entitled to these rates is also increasing from £113 to £116 per week. Employees earning less than this will not be eligible.

National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates

As from 1 April 2018, the minimum hourly rates have increased slightly to the following:

  • NLW for employees aged 25 and over increased from £7.50 to £7.83
  • NMW for those aged 21-24 increased from £7.05 to £7.38
  • NMW for those aged 18-20 increased from £5.60 to £5.90
  • NMW for those ages 16-17 increased from £4.05 to £4.20
  • NMW for apprentices aged under 19, or over 19 but in their first year of apprenticeship, increased from £3.50 to £3.70

Changes to Tax on Payments in Lieu of Notice (PILONs)

As from 6 April 2018, an element of all payments received in connection with a termination of employment are chargeable to income tax as general earnings. Whereas previously, if you didn’t have a contractual right to make a PILON, any payment made in respect of an employee’s notice entitlement was regarded as ‘damages for breach of contract’ with the first £30,000 paid tax-free, with no NICs due. For further information on this, click here.

Employment Tribunal Maximum Awards and Limits

With immediate effect, the maximum amount of a week’s pay to calculate the basic award for unfair dismissal or a redundancy payment increases to £508. The maximum amount of the compensatory award for unfair dismissal increases to £83,682.

And finally, GDPR!

With all the publicity and hype around this topic, you are probably aware that the new GDPR – General Data Protection Regulations – come into effect on 25 May. To find out more about this from an HR point of view, read my newsletter here.

If you need advice on how any of the above relates to your business specifically, I’d be delighted to help. Do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Top Five Employment Law Cases in 2016 (So Far!)

Here are the top five employment law cases of 2016 so far, some of which have fairly far reaching implications.

Commission and holiday pay – Lock and another v British Gas Trading Ltd (No.2) (EAT)

This Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed with the employment tribunal that the Working Time Regulations 1998 can be interpreted to require employers to include a worker’s commission payments in the calculation of his or her holiday pay.

The case went to the Court of Appeal and was heard on 11 July 2016. The Court of Appeal judgment is awaited.

Childcare vouchers during maternity leave – Peninsula Business Services Ltd v Donaldson (EAT)

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) advice has traditionally been that it is unlawful for an employer to make the suspension of childcare vouchers scheme membership during maternity leave a prerequisite of joining.

Official HMRC guidance stated that “non-cash benefits, such as childcare vouchers that can be used only by the employee and are not transferable…must continue to be provided during ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave”.

Peninsula’s childcare vouchers scheme was the subject of a legal challenge because its scheme requires employees to agree to suspend their membership during maternity leave.

An employment tribunal decision that Peninsula’s childcare vouchers scheme was discriminatory was overturned by the EAT. The EAT found that employers that make deductions from an employee’s salary in return for childcare vouchers do not have to continue to provide the vouchers during maternity leave.

Monitoring employees’ social media – Barbulescu v Romania (ECHR)

In this Romanian case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) examined the scope of employees’ right to a private life in relation to social media activity.

An engineer who was dismissed for using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his family, as well as professional contacts, challenged his employer’s actions as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, the ECHR held that the employer’s actions were justified because it was seeking to verify that the employee was using his work computer and social media account for work purposes only.

This case will now go to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber. The hearing is scheduled to take place on 30 November 2016.

Misconduct dismissal for “pulling a sickie” – Metroline West Ltd v Ajaj (EAT)

The EAT affirmed that an employee who makes up, or exaggerates the effects of, an injury or illness to take fraudulent sick leave is fundamentally breaching the implied term of trust and confidence and can be dismissed for misconduct.

This case reiterates for employers that “pulling a sickie” is a misconduct, rather than a capability, issue. This means that a dismissal for fraudulent sick leave must be based on reasonable grounds, following a reasonable investigation.

Reasonable adjustments for disabled people – Carreras v United First Partners Research (EAT)

When considering the duty to make reasonable adjustments, employers need to pay particular attention to disabled workers’ hours of work.

In this case, the disabled employee believed that he was disadvantaged because there was an expectation in his workplace that employees work late, even though there was no strict requirement to do so.

In upholding the reasonable adjustments claim, the EAT held that working late does not have to be presented as an instruction to cause a disadvantage.

In practice, workplaces can put pressure on employees to conform, even if there is no written rule or direct management instruction.

If you think any of these issues could affect your business, do get in touch with us. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

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

 

Source: XpertHR

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.

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.

Can Santa Get the Sack?

Santa

Can Santa get the sack?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Guide to Employment Law Changes – 1 October 2014

On 23 October we’ll running our next Employment Law Update workshop. This half day session is aimed at business owners and managers who need to keep up to speed with the changes, to make sure they stay legal. We’ll go through all the new changes and give you the opportunity to find out how they might affect your business.

There are still some places available, so to join us at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire for just £15 +VAT, click here.

Here are a few of the changes we’ll be looking at.

Antenatal rights for fathers and partners

Working fathers will have the choice to take unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments with a pregnant partner. These rights will be available for employees who are in “qualifying relationships”, which means they:

  • are the expected child’s father
  • are the pregnant woman’s husband or civil partner
  • live with the woman in an enduring family relationship and are not a relative
  • are one of a same-sex couple who is to be treated as the child’s parent under the assisted reproduction provisions
  • are the potential applicant for a parental order in relation to a child who is expected to be born to a surrogate mother.

From 1 October both employees are permitted to take time off to attend the same appointment. However you may refuse to grant an employee time off where it is “reasonable” to do so. But you must tread carefully as employees can bring a tribunal claim against you for unreasonably refusing time off. You should adopt a clear policy of how such requests will be dealt with and the parameters for refusal.

Employment tribunals must order equal pay audits

Greater sanctions are to come into force to ensure that employers are carrying out equal pay audits. As part of a new tougher regime, employers who are found in breach of equal pay legislation can be ordered by the Employment Tribunals to carry out an equal pay audit and make the results of that audit public. If the Tribunal determines that you have unreasonably failed to comply with its obligations, it can impose a fine of up to £5,000 at each hearing, in order to address your non-compliance.

Reservists better protected against unfair dismissal

To encourage more new recruits to sign up as a reservist of the armed forces, the Government is making signing up more attractive to people who worry that enlisting might cause problems with their job and career. From 1 October 2014, the statutory qualifying period for unfair dismissal will be removed in the case of a dismissal connected with an employee’s membership of the Reserve Forces. However, reservists will still have to prove that it was unfair to dismiss them because of their absences from work – they will not be treated as automatically unfairly dismissed.

The changes will apply to employees whose effective date of termination falls after 1 October 2014. Prior to these changes, reservists were at a considerable disadvantage when pursuing a claim for unfair dismissal as a period of call-up could not count towards the two year qualifying period needed to bring a claim.

The government is also reducing the financial burden on reservists’ employers.Small and medium-sized employers will now be able to claim £500 per month (pro-rated for part-months and part-time employees working fewer than 35 hours per week) from the Ministry of Defence during periods when a reservist employee is absent on military service.  Employers will also be able to claim up to £110 a day for additional salary costs incurred in providing cover for the absent reservist.

Increase in national minimum wage

Following the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission the Government has implemented the following increases to the national minimum wage which take effect from 1 October 2014: the standard rate for those aged 21 and above will increase from £6.31 to £6.50 an hour; the rate for those aged 18-20 will increase from £5.03 to £5.13 an hour; and the rate for those above the compulsory school but aged under 18 will increase from £3.72 to £3.79 an hour.

There’s a lot more happening, so to keep ahead of the changes and to find out more about these ones, join us on our workshop on 23 October 2014.

 

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.

How Can I Sack Someone Legally?

This is a question I’ve been asked recently. It’s easy to fire someone, but not so easy to do it without getting into trouble, so here are some tips for sacking staff legally.

1. When you fire an employee, remember the three essential steps

First, invite the employee to a meeting with you. Make sure they realise it’s a disciplinary meeting, not a chat about the weather. Second, let them have their say. Take notes and record how long it lasts so you can prove it wasn’t rushed. Third, ask a senior manager to review your initial decision – you need an impartial opinion. If you fail to follow any of these steps, the dismissal is unfair and could go to a tribunal.

2. Fire employees consistently

Last year, you discovered that someone in your sales department had been colluding with a rival. You gave him a warning. A few months ago, you found out that another salesman was doing the same thing. You sacked her. Watch out – if you behave inconsistently, you won’t have a leg to stand on in court.

3. Take your time and don’t rush into firing anyone

Don’t ambush a member of staff with an allegation and fire them on the spot. Notice of a disciplinary hearing must be given at least 24 hours before the meeting.

4. Be wary of sexual discrimination

Dismissing or demoting a pregnant employee (or woman on maternity leave) can lead to problems. It can be considered as sexual discrimination, even if you believe you have a strong case for sacking her. Make sure you get the legal issues right.

5. – and other minority groups

Regardless of length of service, i’?s unlawful to dismiss an employee on these grounds: sex or marital status; colour; race; nationality or ethnic origins; physical or mental disability; sexual orientation; religion.

6. Record everything

Companies get into legal hot water by forgetting to record things like verbal warnings. Make employees sign a form to say that they’re aware of the action taken against them and agree that it’s fair. Don’t let anything slip by undocumented.

If you need to sack someone, follow these steps carefully. Get some advice before you rush into doing anything and you’ll avoid costly problems.

Unfair Dismissal Claims – Q and A

Here are some common questions about unfair dismissal and my answers to them.

Q – What is unfair dismissal?

A – Dismissals are classed as ‘automatically unfair’, regardless of the reasonableness, if an employee is exercising their rights related to the following:

  • Pregnancy, including all reasons relating to maternity
  • Family reasons, including parental leave, paternity leave, adoption leave or time off for dependants
  • Representative and trade union membership grounds and union recognition
  • Discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation
  • Pay and working hours, including the Working Time Regulations, annual leave and the National Minimum Wage.

Q – When is a dismissal fair?

A – Dismissal is normally fair if an employer can show that it is for one of the following reasons:

  • A reason related to an employee’s conduct
  • A reason related to an employee’s capability or qualifications for the job
  • Because of a redundancy
  • Because a statutory duty or restriction prohibited the employment being continued
  • Some other substantial reason of a kind which justifies the dismissal.

Q – How do you dismiss employees?

A – The key points to remember are:

    • Dismissing employees should be the last resort and employers should carry out necessary investigations without unreasonable delay to establish the facts
    • Employers should use a fair and consistent procedure when dismissing employees
    • It’s always best to try to resolve any issues informally first
    • Employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed
    • Set out in writing your rules and procedures for handling disciplinary procedures
    • Make sure employees and managers understand the rules and procedures for disciplinary issues.

Q – When can an employee make a claim about unfair dismissal?

A – In most circumstances employees will need to qualify before they can make a complaint to an employment tribunal. They need:

  • At least one year’s continuous service for employees in employment before 6th April 2012
  • Two years for employees starting employment on or after 6th April 2012.

Q – How do you avoid costly mistakes?

A – Before thinking about dismissing an employee, stop and think – are you doing the right thing? To make sure that you comply with the law and don’t make any costly mistakes, whether you’re an employee or an employer, get the right advice.