March 4

Focus on preventing mental health issues arising in the work place.

Recently, the Prime Minister unveiled plans to transform mental health support in the workplace – the latest public recognition of the rising tide of employees suffering from mental health and stress at work issues. We do not yet know whether this latest initiative will actually help, but it is really important that employers don’t just focus on how to manage employees once they become ill but also what is behind their mental health issues and how they may prevent them arising.

Employers focus tends to be on potential disability discrimination issues – given that there is no requirement for employees to have two years’ service, and there is no cap on compensation if a disability discrimination claim is successful, this is understandable.

Furthermore, disability claims tend to focus upon how the employer dealt with the employee after they became unwell, considering questions such as have reasonable adjustments been made? Has there been unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of disability? Has there been less favourable treatment because of disability?

Although it is important that employers keep these questions in mind when considering how to manage mental health and stress at work issues, too often insufficient attention is given to the reason why an employee may have fallen ill in the first place.

Duty of care

Legally, all employers have a duty of care to avoid causing “psychiatric injury” to their employees. Just as an employer can be held liable for causing physical injuries through unsafe working conditions, so too can liability arise for personal injury, as a result of causing an employee to sustain psychiatric injury.

Occupational stressors can be a key factor in causing an employee to develop a mental health issue, or in exacerbating an existing condition, such as:

• intense work pressure,
• excessive working hours,
• difficult working conditions, such as being subject to bullying,
• unreasonable performance/disciplinary management process,
• during periods of economic uncertainty, even robust employees can be at risk.

And it is not just mental health that is at risk in these situations, as being subjected to high levels of stress can also give rise to physiological disorders, such as a higher risk of heart attack.

Laying the blame

As the link between work and mental illness continues to gain even greater public recognition, there is also a growing trend of employees seeking to blame their employer for breaching the duty of care to avoid causing them psychiatric injury.

To succeed in a claim an employee would have to prove that the injury was reasonably foreseeable. For example, the court would ask – would a reasonable employer have foreseen that the employee was at risk of developing a psychiatric illness because of work-related factors?

What should employers do?

Here are some tips:

• Adopt a company-wide approach to promoting the wellbeing of your staff – make sure you have a stress policy in your handbook and ensure everyone knows it is there and be familiar with its content.

• Make sure line managers are aware of the Health & Safety Executive Management Standards which cover the key areas of work that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates :

o Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment

o Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work

o Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues

o Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour

o Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles

o Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

• Make sure line managers receive education and training on mental health so that they have the confidence to respond and know what to do if an employee asks for help.

• Establish preventative measures, such as return-to-work and exit interview programmes.

• Look out for trends in illness and sickness absence within your workforce. These may identify high risk managers and departments, and you can then take appropriate measures to address any issues.

• Ensure that a manager is accountable for being in contact with an employee who is developing a mental health issue at work. Touch base with them regularly, in an appropriate manner, as this can have a positive impact and reduce the scope for an individual to become embittered and more likely to bring a claim.

If you need any assistance at all please email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk

February 5

The dreaded appraisal!!

In many organisations, appraisals are widely reported to be dreaded by all parties. Managers see them as an embarrassing formality which take up too much precious time. Staff often say they find appraisals daunting, often threatening and, sometimes, even demotivating. Done badly, the appraisal process can indeed frustrate and damage staff relations, especially if seen as a one-off ‘end of term report’ – or even worse, a ‘character assassination’!

As a result, many high-profile organisations are publicly ditching their appraisal systems for a serious of regular ‘catch-ups’ and it can seem overwhelmingly tempting to follow suit, but it is worth looking at the issue more deeply before you do…..

• The clear operational focus of frequent, short-term reviews tends to be dominated by managers setting short-term KPIs, leaving competencies and values overlooked;

• The short-term focus can also ignore employees’ career development, which naturally needs a longer-term focus;

• Changing the frequency of appraisal does not magically make managers more skilled at, or more enthusiastic about, developing staff performance. Nor does it mean that they are
going to be any better at tackling that difficult conversation! Training is all important.

Instead of abandoning the traditional annual appraisal, a better way forward may be as follows:

1. The employee completes a self-appraisal form and the comments of those who work closely with them are fed into that appraisal form

2. The manager adds their comments to the appraisal form

3. The manager (who has been trained to hold appraisals), holds an appraisal meeting and feeds back all the comments – care and sensitivity are required because the system is
transparent with full disclosure which should make those tough conversations easier to conduct

4. The objectives and development goals that are identified in the appraisal meeting can then be reviewed on a regular basis – the appraisal report is not filed away for another 12
months but, rather, is used to monitor progress through the year.

The way ahead may therefore be an annual appraisal followed by regular catch ups through the year. Your employees are also more likely to benefit from an ongoing approach that creates a structure for your staff and better monitors employee progress.

Common pitfalls to be avoided:

• Appraisals conducted by a boss and subordinate alone often lack objectivity. Consider a more senior employee conducting the appraisal, or even an external third party;
• To be effective, all the senior management must be fully committed to the process, should provide training for those who conduct appraisals, and should also make the process
and procedures transparent and consistent throughout their organisation.;
• Appraisal linked to discussions on pay or bonus only diminish the possibility of an honest and objective interchange and may well increase the chances of employee demotivation
and loss of mutual good-will;
• Appraisals conducted in the absence of any clear and agreed statements of what is expected of the individual being appraised (usually the job description) mean that it is
highly unlikely that a review of performance can be either fair or objective.

• Many appraisals are conducted badly: for example:

– without impartiality;
– without proper preparation or due reference to appropriate records;
– without reserving adequate time for the process;
– without careful listening skills and two-way participation;
– without due confidentiality;
– without appropriate follow-up action which is properly recorded and monitored.

• Some methods of appraisal are far too time-consuming, requiring more effort than the parties involved feel is worth-while and/or they are much too bureaucratic, based on a ‘tick-
box mentality’ that allows for no proper discussion;

• Some appraisals concentrate on past performance at the expense of looking forward. The outcome of an appraisal should never come as a complete surprise. It is the saving up of
‘bad news’ until appraisal-time that probably gives appraisals such a bad name.

A reason to appraise….

Despite all the innate mistrust of the appraisal system (by those in particular who have seen the process fail before or conducted badly), the benefits of a well-conducted appraisal process are substantial.

These include opportunities to:

• review performance and development needs formally and objectively;
• seek collaborative solutions to possible problems, before they become a running sore;
• praise and acknowledge good performance;
• improve relationships and internal communications;
• improve the effectiveness of the organisation and its employees.

If your appraisal form needs a refresh or your appraisal process is a little ad hoc or your senior management team could benefit from an external appraiser do get in touch with me at nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk

February 1

Gender pay…workplace harassment and bullying…mental health… are you up to speed?

The spotlight focused on these issues, by both the traditional and social media, has never burned so bright. That they are now openly discussed is a good thing.

So there has never been a better time to scrutinise existing policies on these areas and make sure they are as good as they can be; make any amendments that are needed and ensure that company policies on each are effectively communicated. It’s a time to be proactive and transparent. This not only reassures existing employees but acts as a signal to everyone – including future talent – that your business cares: that these are issues that matter and that you are prepared to act on them.

So what steps should you be taking to make certain your policies on these critical areas are as up to speed as they can be?

1. Scrutinise your company approach to pay and remuneration

Gender pay gap reporting legislation, as anticipated, has moved pay and gender issues to the top of the agenda. Though not the same as equal pay, the reporting has nevertheless highlighted that significant gender-based pay differences exist in far too many businesses.

So you need to scrutinise your company’s approach to remuneration. Check for any unjustifiable differences between male and female employees. If there are differences the onus is on you to prove that these differences are not gender related.

2. Be open with your staff on reward packages and pay rises

The trend among employers is already towards greater openness on reward packages and pay rises. Clearly this is driven to some extent by the gender pay gap reporting, but other legislation has contributed too, such as the Equality Act of 2010 that makes it illegal to prevent or restrict employees discussing pay.

Any employee can make a claim for equal pay at a tribunal – and retain that right for up to six months after they leave your employ. A tribunal can order contractual terms to be equalised in future, and order arrears to be paid for up to six years.

So you need to check for discrepancies in job types and pay structures, set up evaluation schemes to assess what constitutes equal work, check you are not discriminating against part-time workers, and build awareness in the business of barriers to women’s progress.

3. Harassment and bullying – take a stand

From unwanted physical contact and unwelcome remarks to shouting and persistent unwarranted criticism – harassment and bullying can take many forms.

You need to make clear what constitutes harassment and bullying and communicate your policies, including your grievance and disciplinary procedures. Be aware of cyber bullying too. Even if content is posted externally on someone else’s website, you could find yourself liable if it originates in your workplace.

Make sure people know how to get help and how to complain formally and informally. Treat all allegations quickly and confidentially and show that victimisation will not be tolerated. Keep records – names, dates, nature and frequency, action taken and follow up. Treat these with the utmost confidence.

Offer counselling by trained internal or external consultants. This should also be extended to those whose behaviour is unacceptable. They may, for whatever reason, not recognise what the problem is and should be given an opportunity to change.

4. Encourage good mental health

According to NHS figures at any given time one sixth of the adult population will have some form of mental health issue. Despite this prevalence mental health can still be seen as more difficult to deal with than physical health issues. Firstly you need to ensure your company fosters a supportive culture. Remember that legally a mental illness is classified as a disability, so you must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the individual’s needs.

There are a range of actions you can take to improve employee mental health, ranging from training to improve people management skills, to offering third-party assistance or counselling. You need to give your line managers the confidence to spot the warning signs and know how to react.

Ask yourself if it’s a workload issue. You need to get the balance right for all employees. Also would an interviewee coming to your business feel comfortable disclosing a mental health issue? Do your interviewers make your company policy on this area clear? It’s a good test of how confident you are (and how clear your policies are in this area).

Conclusion….

There is a legal agenda behind all these workplace ‘issues’, but above all they are about the overall good of your present and future workforce. If you want to attract and retain the very best talent having clear and well-communicated policies on gender pay, bullying and harassment and employee mental health will not only ensure you do not fall foul of the law – a law your employees have the power to enact through a tribunal – but also make for a better, happier, more empowered, and more productive workforce

If you need advice on any of these issues, please email me at nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk

January 9

What is garden leave and when should it be used?

Garden leave is one of the many tools employers have at their disposal to help protect their business interests.

If you place someone on garden leave (often known as ‘gardening leave’), it means that you require the employee to be away from the workplace during their notice period.

The employer is under no obligation to provide work or assign any duties to the employee for the whole or part of the employee’s notice period. It often involves asking the employee:
• not to perform any service for the company,
• not to attend the premises,
• not to use company equipment,
• to refrain from business contact with customers, suppliers and other employees.

Despite this, they still remain an employee and they will continue to receive salary and contractual benefits in the usual way.

They will also be bound by the express and implied terms of their contract of employment, most especially confidentiality clauses and restrictive covenants. This typically means that they will not be allowed to:

• work for another employer,
• act in a self-employed capacity,
• do anything that is contrary to the employer’s business interests.

They must be available for the employer, for example, if a manager has some queries or needs help with the handover.

Why do employers use garden leave?

Typically you will find a garden leave clause in the contracts of senior employees to:

• stop an employee working for a competitor until their notice period has come to a close (so even though they are not in the office, you retain control over them),
• keep them away from confidential or sensitive company data and prevent them from misusing this data,
• stop the employee from poaching customers or colleagues,
• enable the successor to the role to start work without worrying that the other employee will get in the way,
• they may also be used if the employer is concerned that the post-termination restrictive clauses applicable to the employee are not enforceable.

When can you put someone on garden leave?

It will occur when someone resigns from their post or is dismissed with notice.

What are the risks for employers?

If you do not have a clear and well-drafted garden leave clause in the employee’s contract of employment and you decide to place them on garden leave (and it has not been agreed to by the employee in writing), you expose yourself to the risk of claims of breach of contract. This could entitle the employee to argue that it amounts to a fundamental breach of the contract. They could resign and claim constructive dismissal. It could also mean you lose your rights to enforce post-termination restrictive covenants.

If the employee has a notice period which exceeds six months, the employer may not be permitted to enforce garden leave for the full period. This is because it’s likely a court would think it’s longer than necessary to protect the employer’s business interests.

To check that your business is protected with garden leave provisions and post-termination restrictive covenants please email me at nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk

January 3

Employment law in 2019: seven changes to look out for…..

1. Post-Brexit immigration rule changes

Whether or not a deal on the UK’s exit from the EU is agreed, the rules around the employment of EU nationals will change sooner or later.

The government has introduced a scheme under which EU workers already in the UK will be able to apply for “settled status”, to be able to live and work in the UK indefinitely.

However, employers need to be aware that, going forward, the employment of workers from the EU is likely to be subject to restrictions in the same way as the employment of other foreign nationals, so will need to adjust their recruitment processes accordingly.

2. Start gathering evidence for executive pay reporting

Rules coming into force on 1 January 2019 mean that UK quoted companies with more than 250 employees will have to report on ratios between the CEO and employees’ pay and benefits.

The requirement applies to financial years beginning on or after 1 January 2019 so the first tranche of reporting will start in 2020. However, affected companies should gather their evidence in good time to be able to calculate their pay ratios by the deadline. The information will have to be included in the directors’ remuneration report.

3. Extend itemised pay statements to workers

From 6 April 2019, the right to an itemised pay statement will extend to workers, not just employees.

Further, where a member of staff’s pay varies according to time worked, the employer will have to include on the itemised pay statement the total number of hours worked for which variable pay is received.

This can be done either as an aggregate figure or as separate figures for different types of work or different rates of pay.

4. Publish second gender pay gap report

Employers with 250 or more employees on the “snapshot date” (31 March in the public sector and 5 April in the private and voluntary sectors) must report on their percentage gender pay gap annually within 12 months of that date.

This means that the deadlines for the second round of reports are 30 March or 4 April 2019. Employers need to gear up to publish their second report, if they have not done so already.

Organisations must publish reports on their website and on the Gov.UK website. In the private and voluntary sectors, reports must also be accompanied by a written statement confirming their accuracy and be signed by a senior person as prescribed by the legislation.

5. Be aware of national minimum wage rate increases

The national living wage is due to increase to £8.21 per hour from 1 April 2019. Other national minimum wage rates are also due to increase, with hourly rates rising to £7.70 for workers aged at least 21 but under 25, to £6.15 for workers aged at least 18 but under 21 and to £4.35 for workers aged under 18 who are no longer of compulsory school age.

6. Meet increased statutory family and sick pay rates

The weekly amount for statutory family pay rates is expected to increase to £148.68 for 2019/20. This rate will apply to maternity pay, adoption pay, paternity pay, shared parental pay and maternity allowance. The increase normally occurs on the first Sunday in April, which in 2019 is 7 April.

The weekly rate for statutory sick pay is expected to increase to £94.25 from 6 April 2019.

7. Start preparing for parental bereavement leave and pay

The government has confirmed that it intends to introduce a right for bereaved parents to take paid time off work.

Under the current proposals, bereaved parents will be able to take leave as a single two-week period, as two separate periods of one week each, or as a single week. They will have 56 weeks from their child’s death to take leave.

The new right is expected to come into force in April 2020, but employers should start preparing for it during 2019, and could decide to introduce their own bereavement leave policy if they don’t already have one.

If you need any help email me at nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk

November 28

Santa or Scrooge…..a fine line to ensure the office party is a success…….!!

The work’s Christmas party is a great opportunity to celebrate a year of success and gather colleagues together in a more relaxed environment.

To ensure everyone has a great time a huge amount of organisation needs to go on behind the scenes, before you even think about venues! Even fairly small teams can consist of a wide variety of cultures and religions and so, for starters, you need to make sure you take an inclusive view – and then there are all kinds of extra considerations to make.

Here are our top ten tips for hosting a Christmas party that will enable you to brilliantly tread the line between Santa and Scrooge:

1. Make sure that everyone feels included, especially if they don’t share the religious values associated with Christmas – this means checking that the day of the week you choose isn’t sacred for other religions that could mean certain staff members can’t join in.

2. Declare a ‘no pressure’ policy, so nobody feels obliged to attend if they don’t feel comfortable, but don’t forget to invite those on family related leave.

3. Make sure catering covers vegetarians, vegans, those that abstain from alcohol and any special dietary needs – and that everything’s clearly labelled.

4. Relax the rules – while it’s an extension of the workplace in some regards, you still want people to have fun – but remind them that normal rules of behaviour apply.

5. Provide written guidance on personal conduct. Remind staff about your discrimination policies – any inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with in the same way as if it occurred during normal working circumstances.

6. Don’t lay on a free bar – it makes any rules under points four and five more difficult to uphold. However, it is Christmas, so you want to get into the spirit a little – offer to buy the first round of drinks or provide a bottle of wine for each table.

7. Try to assign a designated non-drinker from management to keep a subtle eye on staff without spoiling any legitimate fun.

8. Remind staff not to drink and drive and consider organising a mini bus to pick up and take people home. Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available too!

9. If you employ under 18 year olds you need to consider the venue if you hold it off work premises to ensure that they allow under 18s on the premises.

10. If the party falls on a work night, clearly state your expectations for attendance in the morning – even if that means letting everyone come in an hour later or providing a free breakfast!

Wishing you a very happy Christmas and a sparkling new year!

November 8

Four top tips for recruiting great staff….

Recruiting the best people for your business goes hand in hand with running a successful business. There are other factors in play, but recruitment is one of the most important and also one you can control the most.

Here are four tips for successful hiring:

1. Recruit people who are motivated and driven to succeed

Motivation and a drive to succeed are often far better indicators of long-term potential success in a position than academic results and previous experience.

Good academic results are an indicator that a person is driven, but they only prove they possess the drive to achieve good academic results (for which the motivations might be parental approval or peer competition).

A common assumption is that experience is the most important factor to take into account when it comes to recruitment. Obviously, to recruit within a technical area, a minimum level of technical knowledge and skills is required by a candidate, but an alternative approach is to hire a less experienced person with a larger amount of drive and hunger for success, than a more experienced person.

2. Look for people who are willing to experiment, fail and learn from their mistakes

Regarding failure as a learning opportunity rather than an embarrassment is critical to rapid development and the likelihood of someone using their initiative.

NASA asks people in interviews to discuss in detail a time that they made a serious mistake and what they learned from it. People willing to experiment will be happy to do this, people unwilling to do so generally try to excuse the failure by blaming external factors (or won’t have a failure story at all). You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t accept you are making them.

3. Don’t rely on interviews: introduce practical tests and competency-based hiring

Interviews are a very poor way of choosing people and companies tend to hire confident people in preference to capable ones. There is also a tendency for the hiring manager to recruit people similar to themselves.

Assessment should, therefore, be made more practical. This is easier for some jobs than others, but the very least you should be doing is a competency-based interview: very specific questions designed to work out if the candidate has the actual skills (and motivations) you need. Make sure you ask for specific examples where they demonstrated that they had the skills you want and applied them in a real-life example.

4. It’s a two-way process

Think carefully about the candidate experience – what is it like applying to you? Is it a simple and transparent process, do they get good feedback? Make sure you put as much effort into selling your company as a place to work as you do to giving people hurdles to get over and create the interest first of all.

Finally, be prepared to move fast for the right people. The best people will have many options; make sure you have your offer to them first. You will not look desperate if you have followed a rigorous selection procedure.

October 16

Common pitfalls when dealing with maternity….

According to the Office for National Statistics the autumn is the most popular season to give birth!

To ensure you are up to date with the full range of maternity rights women are entitled to and some of the pitfalls employers fall into……the following is worth a read…

Maternity leave

Recent figures show that most women on maternity leave will want to return to work after their leave – three-quarters of women with children now work, a 50% rise in more than 40 years. However, despite the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 which specifically protects pregnancy and maternity, the law is still quite complicated for both employers and new mums to navigate and frequently things go wrong.

Pay rises

Women on maternity leave should always be considered for pay rises even though they are not working. Any pay rise should be backdated to the beginning of their maternity leave, irrespective of the period the pay rise covers.

If the woman earns more than statutory maternity pay (SMP), the pay rise will not affect her salary after her first six weeks of leave, as the amount she is entitled to is capped after this point. However, any pay rise will result in an increase in pay for her first six weeks of leave, which is calculated at 90% of her earnings unless she usually earns less than SMP.

Redundancy consultation and selection

There is a myth that women on maternity leave cannot be selected for redundancy – this is not correct, although they obviously cannot be selected because they are on maternity leave. If a redundancy situation affects an employee on maternity leave they must be consulted about the proposed redundancy even though they are not at work. Although the woman may choose not to take part in discussions, she should at least be given the option.

If selection criteria are used, those on maternity leave must not be disadvantaged. For instance, if there are no recent appraisals or sales figures to consider, choose a time period when there is data available for everyone or look at alternative selection processes.

An employee on maternity leave should not be given preferential treatment which could lead to her male colleague being made redundant. For example, in a recent case an employer discriminated against a male employee when treating a woman on maternity leave more favourably.

Redundancy – alternative roles

If a woman on maternity leave is selected for redundancy then she does have enhanced rights – the employer must make positive efforts to find her similar roles elsewhere in the organisation, not just give her a link to the vacancies on the website. If there are vacancies that are suitable for her then she must be placed in this role without the need for competitive interview, ahead of other colleagues.

Bonuses

If a bonus is awarded to employees for a period where the woman has been on maternity leave for part of that period, then case law says an employer can pro-rate the bonus and pay it only for the time she was working. However, if the bonus is in respect of work done before the maternity leave, then this should be paid in full.

Reasons for dismissal

If a woman is dismissed while pregnant or on maternity leave then she is automatically entitled to written reasons for dismissal, without having to ask for them or without having to have a qualifying period of two years’ employment before she is entitled to them.

Keeping in touch days (KIT days)

An employee may work for up to 10 KIT days during her maternity leave without bringing her leave to an end or losing her SMP. The KIT days have to be agreed with the employer, the employee cannot insist upon them. Any work done on a day during maternity leave will count as a whole KIT day even if it is only for an hour or so.

Be very clear about how much an employee will be paid for working a keeping-in-touch day during her maternity leave, and whether her statutory maternity pay will be paid in addition to payment for the KIT day or offset against it.

Pay rise that coincides with pregnancy or maternity leave

Ensure that employees are not denied a pay rise that they would have received had they not been on maternity leave. Recalculate SMP entitlement by applying the increased level of pay to the whole of the SMP calculation period and bear in mind this recalculation will have to be done even when the pay review comes after the end of the paid period of maternity leave.

Be aware that a pay rise may result in an employee becoming entitled to SMP. Inform employees of the pay increase and pay any amount owing promptly. Keep records of any changes made in the payment of maternity pay.

Knowing what rights women have while on maternity leave is important to ensure the business is supporting and rewarding employees in accordance with the law. This is not only good for their people, but also for the employer’s reputation and for attracting and retaining the best talent.

If you need any help at all email me at nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk.

October 1

Employees too sick to come to the office yet well enough to work from home…..sound familiar?!

If one of your staff members phones in sick, they can self-certify for up to seven days. What this means in practice is there is no need for a doctor’s note, but you can ask them to fill out a form on their return to work explaining the reason why they were off.

If an employee is sick for longer than seven consecutive days, including non-working days, they will need a doctor’s note, also called a fit note. This will either say whether an employee is “fit to work” or “not fit to work”.

A sick employee is therefore one who is not working as a result of either self-certification or GP-certificated sickness. The starting point must be that a sick employee is someone who cannot carry out the duties of their work – if a person is too ill to attend the place of work then they are too ill to work per se.

Working from home is a privilege and not a right….

There is a tendency for employees to take the odd day or two as ‘working from home’ whilst they have a simple cold or possibly a more spurious excuse! This must be addressed within the workplace. Working from home is a privilege and not a right and it is not down to the employee to decide unilaterally that they are going to work from home for a day! An employee working from home must be for a genuine reason, must be agreed in advance and must be as productive via email and phone and as available as if they were in the office.

Genuine reasons to work from home…

However, there may be circumstances when it is appropriate to work from home when sick – for example, it may be possible to feel too ill to get into the workplace but feel fit enough to sit in front of a computer and work.

A blanket policy that states that if you are too sick to come in then you do not work may be the way forward for some employers in certain industries where home working is impossible. Some companies may be able to take a more flexible approach and judge each case individually – for example if someone has broken a limb they may be able to work from home, whereas if someone is seriously ill with a virus or off with mental illness they are likely to be advised not to work whether at home or in the office.

In the age of technology it is understandable that some people within reason will wish to keep on top of their work. In these instances, where the employer has sanctioned working from home, a note will be made that they were working from home with approval and whilst sick and thus lower productivity may be expected. It is never the employee’s sole decision that they shall work from home for health reasons!

On the basis that the employer has imposed a clear policy that working from home is not just a ‘given’ at the whim of an employee, when might you want to work from home whilst off sick?

There are three main reasons why you might work from home whilst off sick:

• The fit note provides options for you to continue working in a different capacity (ie. from home) instead of going off sick entirely.
• Working from home may be used as part of a rehabilitation programme and as a preliminary step towards you returning to work after an accident or illness.
• As part of a ‘reasonable adjustment’ under the Equality Act 2010 when it has been agreed that working from home is necessary.

What are the responsibilities of employer and employee when working from home whilst off sick?

The employer’s and employee’s obligations under health and safety legislation continue to apply even if you are working from home. Both employer and employee should ensure that working from home meets the law with regard to the workstation and its positioning in the home.

The employer also needs to consider whether the employee shall be sufficiently productive to attract full pay or whether working from home will be on a part time basis and salary is made up using SSP or any company sick pay scheme. All these aspects should be discussed before commencing home working.

If you are working from home during a period of illness, you should be monitored and supervised and a plan should be drawn up aimed at increasing your attendance at work (if this forms part of the rehabilitation programme). Your employer will need to cover the cost of supplies such as printing, broadband, paper, telephone charges.

Presenteeism…..how to deal with employees who insist on working when signed off sick?

Employees may still be signed off sick by their GP but want to return to work whether for financial reasons (if there is no company sick pay) or simply because they are conscientious and keen to keep on top of their workload.

Office workers are easy to regulate. However, regular home workers may be more difficult to monitor. If you find they are working while they are signed off, either through their own volition or through the tacit consent of a manager, you may want to ensure this stops until they are fully recovered and speak to both employee and manager to make it clear they should not be working.

For both office and home workers you may wish to specify that, if they are signed off by a doctor they are off sick and should not work under any circumstances – whether from home or from the office. From an insurance perspective if you continue to allow an employee to work while signed off it could represent a breach of your duty of care as an employer and could make you liable for further damage an employee suffers if they continue to work whilst sick.

If you want any advice at all please email me at nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk.

September 16

Making mental health a priority in the workplace…..

Stress is frequently identified as one of the biggest causes of long-term sickness absence in our workplace. It is defined as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. It is not an illness but can result in a detrimental effect upon a person’s physical or mental health including anxiety and depression.

There is an added problem in that many employees who have been absent from work due to high levels of stress find the thought of returning to the same place of work stressful in itself. The longer someone is absent from work, the harder it can be for them to return without occupational health or medical intervention, particularly if there is no likelihood of a change in working practices when they go back.

What can cause stress at work?

Stress can be caused where an employee is unable, whether through a lack of skill, training or confidence to fulfil the requirements of a job. The inability to complete a job could be the result of inadequate working practices, poor communication or insufficient support to perform their role. Generally, stress cannot be avoided completely, and it may be caused by external factors. However, it is an employer’s duty to provide a system of work that manages levels of stress in the workplace.

How to tackle stress in the workplace?

1. Recognise the potential legal consequences for employers of failing to protect employees from workplace stress (constructive dismissal, personal injury, unfair dismissal, breach of the Working Time Regulations).

2. Remember that all employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees and that “health” in this context includes mental health.

3. Focus on measures that will prevent workplace stress:

* Stress is not a taboo subject, but one discussed openly;
* Awareness of presenteeism….send employees home who are clearly struggling but insist on turning up to work;
* Ensure managers are properly trained as promotion beyond capability is a common cause of stress;
* Good communication is paramount to ensure your workforce are up to date and not feeling anxious about significant forthcoming changes.

4. Ensure that workloads, targets and deadlines are realistic and strive to give individuals more control over their work.

5. Talk to employees regularly to monitor if the demands being made on them are within their individual coping resources.

6. Tackle practices that place pressure on employees to work consistently long hours and take positive steps to ensure that every employee takes regular breaks and holidays.

7. Offer flexible working hours and patterns whenever possible and encourage employees to achieve a work-life balance.

8. Offer sufficient coaching and training to enable employees to perform their job effectively and confidently.

9. Implement an anti-bullying and harassment policy and complaints procedure, making sure that everyone knows that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.

10. Ensure effective two-way communication between management and staff at all times.

11. Be vigilant to the possibility of employee stress and do not assume that an absence of complaints means that no stress problems exist. An awareness of stress or potential stress requires the employer to address the situation.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, it is imperative to recognise that workplace stress is a serious issue and must be addressed in a positive and constructive manner with a view to prevention or reduction wherever possible. A stress at work policy in your handbook is a MUST!

If you need an up to date stress at work policy or any help at all with a stress at work case, email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk.

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