February 15

Rules for the office romance…….!

It’s the 14th February, and love is likely to be in the air. And seeing that we spend 90% of our day with colleagues within our organisation, chances are that falling in love in or around the office environment is highly likely and is happening now more frequently than ever.

Here are a few tips for budding office lovebirds:

Don’t look up or down
One scenario even more potentially disastrous than dating a colleague is a relationship that crosses the command chain. Fancy having an affair with your boss? Then get ready for a career brick wall if it goes wrong. Similarly, bosses should be extremely careful about the legal implications of a relationship with someone further down the food chain.

There is a caveat here: statistics suggest that people who start a relationship with their boss are more likely to end up marrying them, perhaps because both parties realise just how much is at stake.

Loose lips sink ships
If both employees are at the same level in the company, then the romance should be kept as low-key as possible; an office can be unsettled by rumours and gossip around the water cooler. Also, consider what you put out on social media, especially if you have work colleagues who can read your timeline. If you don’t want to answer awkward questions, don’t give people ammunition.

All workers are equal
There is little an employer can do about a budding relationship. But, as an employee, make sure you treat everyone equally. Just because the new love of your life is sitting five yards away, doesn’t mean they’re always right about work-related decisions. Leave your private life at home, and maintain a sense of professionalism at work.

Not in the kitchen, please
PDAs (also known as public displays of affection) are a no-no in the office. No one wants to walk into the kitchen to find you two squeezed up against the microwave while your lunch goes nuclear. Also, never use emotional language – a relationship is private. If you start an argument or row based on something that has happened outside the office, it can have a catastrophic effect on staff morale and therefore the company’s bottom line.

Over and out

There might come a time when your relationship ends, and you may need to talk to your boss about this. This can be tricky and something which, frankly, your employer probably doesn’t need. Always remember that your boss cannot side with either party if your affair is over; they’ll have to maintain discretion and impartiality.

What both staff and employers need to set out from the very beginning is this: we’re all adults and we understand these things happen from time to time, but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Just as you trust your colleagues to drive the company forward, and use their common sense and initiative to implement procedures and plans, you need to trust anyone you might get involved with romantically to behave themselves at work.

Oh….and please, don’t do anything dodgy on the photocopier.

February 8

The benefits of an ageing workforce……

Older employees are an overlooked and underutilised skill and resource. Here’s how to make the most of them in your business:

1. Don’t assume older people want to retire. You may personally long for the day when you can give up work to do nothing, but remember that others may not. Some people find work rewarding and stimulating and it gives them a sense of purpose. Others need to work for financial necessity. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your dream is their dream.

2. Don’t assume they are past it. Put aside any outdated ideas you might have about what old people are like. People over the age of 50 today are an entirely different generation to their parents and grandparents. They are vibrant, energetic and have a lot to give to the workforce through their skills and experience built up over many years.

3. Talk to them. Don’t be nervous when discussing future planning and retirement with older people. Ask them what they would like to do and talk about how that might fit in with the plans you have for the business – it is worth considering phased retirement schemes for example, which can be a good option for both sides. And while you’re at it, ask their advice on how they would like to be managed and supported. If you treat the whole experience as a learning curve for both of you, you may come up with some extremely helpful answers which will be useful for dealing with other older employees.

4. Tap into their knowledge. Use their experience to your advantage by setting up mentoring schemes. Older workers can pass on what they know to younger colleagues, who in turn can give their own insights into new approaches to work. And don’t assume older people are technology-illiterate either. They can be just as good at using new technology as anyone else.

5. Don’t patronise them. Don’t talk down to them and don’t constantly make references to the fact that they are from a different generation. Just because they remember a time before Google existed doesn’t give you a licence to make jokes about ‘the olden days’ in every conversation.

6. Don’t discriminate. Be very careful not to discriminate against older workers in the way that you allocate tasks, or promote, or indeed anything, as you could end up in court facing an unfair discrimination claim. And clamp down immediately on any discriminatory behaviour or remarks by others in the office. Remember that the government abolished the default retirement age of 65 two years ago.

7. Provide training. Older workers might still have another 15 to 20 years left in the workforce, so don’t skimp on training because you are concerned it might not be worth it. It will.

8. Count the advantages. Older workers are more likely to have grown up children than small ones so are less likely to need to be absent for childcare reasons, or to need maternity or paternity leave. They are also less likely to turn up to work tired and hungover after a big night out. Think about it. They could actually be the most reliable workers you will ever have.

December 9

Avoiding the perils of social media at the Christmas Party

The growing use of social media adds the most significant peril to the known dangers of the office party. While the DJ is still teeing up the last track of the night, Facebook and Twitter may already be humming with material that may cause a business far more profound harm than even the worst excesses of the pre-social media era.

Smartphones in the hands of drunk employees is rarely a good idea, but there’s real potential for boisterous staff to cause their employers embarrassment by posting inappropriate images to social media. Lots of people are now connected to customers and clients via Facebook and Twitter, and others post details of their jobs on their profiles.

It’s important for employers to clearly state in advance that what happens at the Christmas party should stay at the Christmas party. Trying to take action afterwards without having made the policy clear can bring its own problems if aggrieved staff take legal action for what they might feel is unfair treatment.

A ‘twitterstorm’, like its meteorological counterpart, blows up unpredictably and can cause devastating damage. There are a frightening number of criminal and civil wrongs which can be committed in 140 characters or less.

Here are just some of them:

Defamation and trade libel: Hospitality businesses – for very good reason – keep a close eye on their social media presence. A simple update such as “Should never have had the salmon! Been ill all night! #OfficeParty” could spark off others weighing in with tales of horror about the venue in question, and it may all end up in a damages claim.

Breach of the Data Protection Act: Uploading photographs to Facebook or Twitter may be part of a good night out for many, but other people may have good personal reasons to want to keep their images off social media, particularly when looking a bit worse for wear. For example, people involved in acrimonious custody disputes or personal injury claims could suffer serious prejudice by an ill-chosen ‘candid’ snap, taken out of context

Section 127 of the Malicious Communications Act: This prohibits “sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”. The prosecution of Paul Chambers – who unwisely tweeted a joke threat to blow Robin Hood Airport sky-high if it didn’t “get its act together” – shows the broad scope of the section. Public sector organisations in particular need to take care.

Discrimination: Anyone bringing a discrimination claim based on a hostile work environment is likely to find a rich vein of evidence in material posted on social media. ‘Laddish banter’ is a phrase which should strike terror to the heart of every HR professional. Offensive comments posted under the influence of alcohol will still be there the next day, and office parties are the worst environment for bringing out such material.

Harassment and stalking: Posting suggestive comments on someone’s Facebook page or persistently tweeting when they’ve indicated no further interest may well fall foul of the Protection from Harassment Act. So, too, do ‘upskirt’ photographs and other forms of ‘sexting’ if uninvited and unwanted.

Is your business at fault?

In addition to the potential damage to their reputation, organisations are considered to be vicariously liable for their employees’ actions when those take place in the course of their duties or reasonably ancillary to those duties. An office party is a function sufficiently closely tied to an organisation’s business to make vicarious liability a real risk.

How should businesses protect themselves?

As ever, the starting point is a well-drafted employment contract and employee handbook. This needs to contain social media policies which not only tackle employees’ use of ‘official’ social media accounts, but also their own personal Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other accounts.
Furthermore, in advance of the office party, specific effort needs to be made to remind employees of the behaviour expected of them there, and that expectations of proper behaviour at the venue also extend to behaviour on social media before and after the party.

This should include:

• Circulating a memo referencing the social media policy together with information about the party itself
• Defining what the organisation considers ‘proper behaviour’, including warnings about various legal concerns, such as the Malicious Communications Act
• Stating whether there’s a policy on circulating photographs taken at the venue, and if so, what it is. The policy should either be ‘no photographs’ or ‘no uploading without consent of all people involved’. However, no matter what the policy is, it needs to be clearly communicated together with the consequences for violating it.

We hope that we haven’t completely killed the Christmas spirit and we wish you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year!

November 9

How to attract, motivate and keep your staff….

Today’s employers face major challenges when trying to recruit skilled workers into their organisations – there is a younger workforce with different attitudes about work and a growing population of older workers heading toward retirement.

Few businesses realise how much employee turnover truly impacts their bottom line and thus it is important that businesses improve their ability to attract, retain and improve productivity. One method, suggested, is by applying the following five-step PRIDE process:

P – Provide a positive working environment
R – Recognise, reward and reinforce the right behaviour
I – Involve and engage
D – Develop skills and potential
E – Evaluate and measure

Provide a Positive Working Environment

Wise executives realise the responsibility for creating a positive work environment cannot be delegated. It starts at the top. One of the main reasons employees quit is the relationship with their boss. The fact is many supervisors and managers are unaware how their actions and decisions affect employee turnover. A critical aspect of an effective retention strategy is manager training. Properly trained managers play a major role in an effective recruitment and retention strategy.

Recognise, reward and reinforce the right behaviour

Money and benefits may attract people to the front door, but something else has to keep them from going out the back. People have a basic human need to feel appreciated and proud of their work. Recognition and incentive programs help meet that need. A successful reward and recognition programme does not have to be complicated or expensive to be effective.

One company founder and CEO gives the keys to his BMW M3 convertible to his employees for a week. This creative way to reward employees has a bigger impact than cash!

Another company rewards each employee’s work anniversary with a cake and a £100 for each year employed.

An organisation with lots of drivers reward employees with a “Safety Bonus Programme” – they screen each employee’s driving record twice a year, and anyone who has gained a penalty is removed from consideration. Those employees remaining at the end of the year divide a pot of £1,000.

Another idea is that on Fridays, all employees rotate jobs for one hour. This builds a stronger team, unity, and improves communication within the company.

Involve and engage

People may show up for work, but are they engaged and productive? People are more committed and engaged when they can contribute their ideas and suggestions. This gives them a sense of ownership.

An organisation known for its ability to create and manufacture new and innovative products holds an annual Idea Exposition during which employees display projects and ideas they are working on. This process creates a healthy climate of innovation and engages all those who participate.

Another has a unique way of making its employees feel valued and involved. One wall within the company contains the photographs of all employees who have worked there more than five years. In addition, their “equality” programme goes beyond the typical slogans, posters, and HR policies by ensuring there are no reserved parking spaces or other perks just for executives — everyone is an equal.

Develop skills and potential

For most people, career opportunities are just as important as the money they make. Surveys conducted show that a significant number of employees would consider leaving their present employer for another job with the same benefits if that job provided better career development and greater challenges.

Skilled people will not remain in a job if they see no future in their position. To eliminate the feeling of being in a dead-end job, every position should have an individual development plan.

Evaluate and measure

Continuous evaluation and never-ending improvement is the final step of the PRIDE system. The primary purpose of evaluation is to measure progress and determine what satisfies and dissatisfies your workforce. The evaluation process includes the measurement of attitudes, morale, turnover, and the engagement level of the workforce. Here is a checklist of items that should be included in your evaluation and measurement process:

* Conduct an employee satisfaction survey at least once a year.
* Hold exit interviews for leavers.
* Improve recruitment to ensure the best match between the individual’s talents and job requirements.
* Provide flexible work arrangements which helps, particularly, working parents and older workers.
* Hold managers responsible and accountable for retention in their departments.
* Start measuring the cost of turnover.
* Focus on the key jobs that have the greatest impact on profitability and productivity.
* Examine those departments that have the highest turnover rates.
* Design an effective employee orientation programme.

June 9

Surviving Euro 2016!

Euro 2016 starts on 10 June, with 51 matches due to be played in France over the course of a month. Many matches take place during or close to many employees’ normal working hours and thus employers need to plan ahead to minimise potential disruption.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland are guaranteed three games each at the group stage. England and Wales have been drawn together in the same group. The two countries face each other on Thursday 16 June at 2.00pm, scheduling that is sure to provide a challenge for many employers!

How best to get through the next month ensuring fun is had by all:

1. Deal fairly with competing requests for time off

Euro 2016: UK nations’ group games

England and Wales (Group B)

Sat 11 June 5.00pm – Wales v Slovakia
Sat 11 June 8.00pm – England v Russia
Thurs 16 June 2.00pm – England v Wales
Mon 20 June 8.00pm – Slovakia v England
Mon 20 June 8.00pm – Russia v Wales

Northern Ireland (Group C)

Sun 12 June 5.00pm – Poland v N Ireland
Thurs 16 June 5.00pm – Ukraine v N Ireland
Tues 21 June 5.00pm – N Ireland v Germany

There may well be an increase in holiday requests from employees who want time off to watch matches. Many requests will be for half a day only to watch a particular match, but others will be for a few days to travel to France. It may not be possible to accommodate all requests but employers should deal with requests fairly and consistently – ie on a ‘first come first served’ basis or putting names in a hat.

By setting out in advance how annual leave requests will be dealt with, employers can manage employees’ expectations.

Where holiday requests cannot be granted, it may be possible to be flexible around working hours to allow employees to watch matches provided they have put their hours in.

2. Take steps to control sickness absence

Staff who know their employer will be monitoring sickness absence are less likely to “pull a sickie” to be able to watch a match (or recover from over-celebration (or commiseration) from the night before).
Employers can help to control short-term sickness absence by making their sickness absence policy clear and addressing the situation if they suspect that an employee’s sickness is not genuine.

3. Take advantage of the tournament to boost morale

Employers can use football tournaments like the Euro 2016 to boost morale among staff by screening key matches in the workplace and allowing employees to watch games together during working hours if operational requirements permit. A sweepstake also tends to be a brilliant way to get everyone involved.

4. Avoid problems caused by excessive time-wasting

During Euro 2016, some employers may experience a reduction in productivity due to employees:
• watching matches on their work desktops and laptops (which may also cause problems with the employer’s network);
• watching matches on their own devices; and
• talking about the football.

While some excitement and wanting to keep up with the latest developments is inevitable, employers can take action to deal with excessive time-wasting and misuse of their systems.

5. Take care to avoid discrimination

Employers need to ensure that no particular groups are disadvantaged during Euro 2016. For example, requests for time off and flexibility around working hours by employees who are not following the tournament should also be considered fairly and consistently.

Employees who are foreign nationals may want to follow their own team and any flexibility afforded to England, Wales and Northern Ireland fans should also be extended to them.

6. Make your expectations clear to employees

By setting out their expectations and clarifying their rules in a sporting events policy before Euro 2016 begins, employers can help to avoid issues around misconduct, absenteeism and harassment.

It should be FUN and a great opportunity for all within the organisation (even if they didn’t think they would be remotely interested!) to get involved. Employers who enter into it with the right spirit, making it clear to all that football can be accommodated provided certain rules are abided by, are much more likely to have a workforce fully engaged in their work…until that whistle blows at which point all, including management, can down tools and enjoy – hopefully!

June 6

Are your interns entitled to a salary and annual leave?

With the summer approaching, students or those just leaving higher education, are going to be on the lookout for internships or work experience placements to enable them to gain valuable work experience and improve their CV ahead of any future job application.

Typically these schemes have been unpaid, or the employer simply offers to pay travel or lunch expenses, and organisations have been accused of taking advantage of people without a job and bypassing the laws on the minimum wage.

Tribunals are taking up the cause and a number of recent legal cases seem to say that an intern who does work that would be paid work if done by an employee or contractor, can be a ‘worker’ for the purposes of national minimum wage law. If they are a ‘worker’, you must pay them at least the relevant national minimum wage for their age – even if they are prepared to work for nothing.

Identifying workers

The law defines a ‘worker’ for the purposes of national minimum wage law as someone who has either:
• A contract of employment with you, or
• A contract with you under which they must personally perform work or services for you. The contract can be in writing or expressed orally or implied from the circumstances.

Using this definition, it is usually relatively simple to determine whether an intern is personally providing a service, and thus entitled to the national minimum wage. The fact that there may be no formal written contract in place and that their title or role is described as work experience/internship/voluntary work makes no difference.

A clear example of where an intern would not be personally providing a service, and thus not entitled to the minimum wage, would be where they are simply learning a job by shadowing a member of staff, no work is carried out by the intern, they are simply observing – they would find it difficult to show they were actually providing a service to the organisation.

Exceptions

It is important to be clear about those students who would not be classified as a ‘worker’ in the eyes of the law and therefore would not be entitled to the national minimum wage:
• students on work experience for fewer than 12 months as part of their course
• students on work experience who are still under the school-leaving age (but not school-leavers working in the UK during a gap year)
• some apprentices and some volunteers

An intern is more likely to be classified as a ‘worker’ during their placement if:
• their placement lasts more than a few weeks
• the placement may lead to an offer of permanent, paid work
• the employer is obliged to give them work to do, and they are obliged to do it
• it is real work of the sort a paid employee or contractor would be asked to do
• the business is relying on their specific skills in the tasks they undertake – for example, a marketing student might be asked to draft a market research proposal to put to an external agency
• they cannot come and go as they please

For example, in one legal case a 21-year old worked as an intern on a publishing business’ website for two months. She worked from 10am to 6pm each day, and had been promised payment. At the end of the two month period the company argued she had been working as an unpaid intern.

The Employment Tribunal upheld her claim that she was a ‘worker’ for the purposes of the NMW, even though she had no written contract. She was clearly doing proper work, of real benefit to the business, which would have been done by a paid employee or contractor if she had not done it. It therefore said she should be paid for her work.

In that case, the intern was doing valuable work. Work can be less valuable but still amount to real work – for example, opening or delivering post, stuffing envelopes or photocopying.

Right to paid holidays

As we have established, the majority of interns will be providing a service and thus deemed to be ‘workers’ who will attract at least the national minimum wage. In addition, those ‘worker’ interns will also be entitled to at least 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year – or, more likely, the pro-rated equivalent to reflect their part time or short term contracted status. This holiday may be taken during the internship or the intern may be paid in lieu of their accrued but untaken holiday at the end of the internship.

Either way, ensuring your intern is allocated the correct amount of holiday entitlement is as important to remember as paying your intern the national minimum wage.

Consequences of ignoring the law

It is important to know if, based on the reality of the relationship, the intern is a ‘worker’ and therefore entitled to the national minimum wage. The consequences of non-payment can be serious – the employer can be required to pay six years backdated pay and could face criminal charges if found to have wilfully neglected to pay the national minimum wage.

May 5

Social media and its role in dealing with malingerers…..!

Managing sickness absence is rarely a straightforward task and dealing with someone that you suspect is not genuinely ill has always been very tricky.

From the colleague whose weekend of hard partying regularly translates into a “stomach bug” on Monday morning, to the workmate who conveniently develops a migraine whenever a deadline looms, they are in every office. However, while managers are always keen to present their suspicions about malingerers, obtaining credible evidence to back up their suspicions is challenging which makes taking disciplinary action for misconduct very difficult.

Step 1: Identify and assess potential evidence

The first step when dealing with suspected malingerers is to identify and capture available evidence to support the suspicions. An employer who has evidence that an employee is being dishonest by claiming to be off sick when he or she is not, may be able to discipline or dismiss for misconduct.

However, mere suspicions and rumours will not suffice to establish misconduct and credible evidence needs to be obtained – something that has become easier with the burgeoning of social media over recent years as it has the potential to provide a generous source of possible evidence. Data protection and human rights laws do, however, mean that employers need to be careful if, and how, they use this type of evidence.

If evidence from social media is presented to the employer, perhaps via another employee, the employer can use it in the same way as it would any other anecdotal evidence or employee tip off. For example, in a recent case a colleague printed off Facebook entries showing that the employee was attending London fashion week, auditioning models for her own agency and choreographing a fashion show, whilst signed off sick from her work. The tribunal held that the employer was allowed to use this evidence in their disciplinary investigation, and the employee was sacked for gross misconduct.

The credibility of the evidence retrieved from social media will need to be tested in the usual way – for example, did the tip-off come from an employee with a grudge to bear, has the information been taken out of context and are the dates of posting accurate?

Many employers also usually reserve the right to monitor work email accounts but a recent case has highlighted that if information gleaned this way is to be used, then employers need to make sure they act in a proportionate way, balancing an individual’s right to privacy and the employer’s business interests and considering if there is a less intrusive way of achieving the employer’s aim.

Step 2: Review the evidence – is it capability or conduct?

The tribunal recently, helpfully, reiterated for employers that “pulling a sickie” is a misconduct, rather than a capability, issue. If your evidence of malingering looks robust and credible then you should be able to start a disciplinary process for misconduct.

However, a lack of evidence of dishonesty does not mean that an employer is powerless to challenge an employee they 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.

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

For example, you could:

- Ask questions (involving the employee’s GP or occupational health if necessary) about the typical symptoms and development of the health condition and whether the individual is affected in an atypical or unusual way.

- Raise discrepancies between the individual’s stated condition of health, their presentation at interview and any previous reports or documentation.

- See if the individual is co-operating with medical evaluation and treatment (reluctance to do so can be a sign of malingering) and, if not, is there any good reason for this?

Such probing needs to be done carefully. Too blunt an approach, without back-up evidence, carries with it the risk of a claim of a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence (and potential discrimination). However, making it clear to the employee that their repeated absences are not going unnoticed can do wonders for attendance.

Step 3: Give evidence of misconduct, but do not jump the gun

Where an employer believes it has 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 – indeed some conditions, for example, mental health issues or bad backs can improve with exercise. Therefore, it is important to carry out an investigation, as you would for any other allegation of misconduct.

Spotting malingerers – potential signs

- 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.
- Reports of activities that seem inconsistent with ill-health, for example: undertaking other work; going on holiday; doing DIY or sport.

Two recent cases highlight this point. In one a community midwife, signed off work due to a knee condition, continued in her second job which was desk-based, one evening a week, and at a time when she would not have been working as a midwife, so she was not being paid twice for the same hours. It was concluded as perfectly acceptable for her to have carried on in the second role, while signed off sick from her role as midwife, so her dismissal on those grounds was unfair.

On the contrary, a hospital consultant was signed off from her NHS role, but still continued to work in a private hospital, while claiming sick pay from the NHS. The tribunal found her behaviour constituted gross misconduct.

Step 4: Remember to follow your procedures

It is imperative to follow a fair procedure however cut and dried the evidence appears. Before disciplining or dismissing the malingering employee for misconduct, you need to 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; in this kind of situation, medical evidence may well be needed. You also need to 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.

Managing malingerers will never be easy, but the rise of social media and people’s seemingly unquenchable enthusiasm for sharing their lives through this has brought with it a useful source of evidence for employers. Used correctly, it may prove the previously unprovable and may encourage employees to think twice before phoning in with that Monday morning “stomach bug”.

February 14

The importance of supporting dyslexic employees…..

Starbucks has lost a disability discrimination case after it wrongly accused a dyslexic employee of falsifying documents when she had simply misread numbers she was responsible for recording.

The equality legislation is vague on whether dyslexia constitutes a disability. It defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on … normal day-to-day activities”. However, it does go on to suggest that under stressful conditions people with dyslexia can be seen to suffer such an impairment. Thus employers should assume that a dyslexic employee may well be protected as disabled.

All organisations must make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities, including dyslexia, under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that a disabled employee is not seriously disadvantaged in performing his or her job. Employers should also have appropriate policies in place and make sure that discrimination is avoided in the recruitment process and the work environment.

The employee in this case had made her employer well aware of her dyslexia but they had failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability, more particularly her reading difficulties, and had discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia. The tribunal also found that the employee had been victimised by her employer and there appeared to be little or no knowledge or understanding of the equality issues.

This case emphasises how important it is for employers to try and understand the effects that an employee’s disability has on that particular employee and whether the employer can take any reasonable steps to ensure the employee is not disadvantaged in the workplace. This case should also serve as a bit of a ‘wake up’ call for employers as dyslexia affects as many as one in ten people, although many have not been formally diagnosed, and thus appropriate allowances and adjustments must be made if an employer is to avoid falling foul of the equality legislation.

February 14

Are employers able to take a robust approach in cases of work related stress?

Occupational stress in the workplace is on the increase. The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey show that in 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work-related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.

It is an issue for employers, not only because of the prolonged absences that can result from stress-related illnesses – 9.9 million working days in 2014/15 – but also because of the potential liability of an employer if workplace stress results in a psychiatric injury and it was foreseeable that an injury might result from pressures at work.

Just how easy is it for an employee to prove that it was reasonable for the employer to have foreseen the psychiatric illness caused by the work place stress and therefore be liable for it? Not very easy according to the recent High Court case of Easton v B&Q plc…..

In B&Q the court was given the task of determining whether the employer had been in breach of its duty of care for one of its employees who was suffering from a work related psychiatric illness. The employee became unwell due to occupational stress and was away from work for five months. He returned on a phased return programme and later relapsed due to depression.

A key point from the outcome of the case centres on the issue of foreseeability. As an employer, if you know or ought reasonably to know that an individual is suffering or at risk of suffering a work related illness, you are obliged to:

* make enquiries;
* take necessary steps to conduct a risk assessment;
* provide support for the individual.

However, as an employer you are entitled to assume that someone can withstand the normal pressures of the job unless they suggest otherwise.

In this case Mr Easton, the employee, did not specifically raise during any meetings or appraisals that he was struggling to cope with the demands of the job. In addition, he had previously had more stressful jobs and coped well. Further, nothing about him gave anyone any clue he might succumb to psychiatric illness and he didn’t complain as he wanted to impress senior management.

An employer can only be liable for an illness caused by work if it was reasonably foreseeable. In this case because it was not brought to the attention of B&Q they were not deemed to be liable. However, caution should be taken by employers with this judgement – it doesn’t always have to be brought to the employer’s attention – it is extremely important to note that there is often a fine line between genuinely not knowing that something is likely to happen and turning a blind eye to clear signals that it might.

Factors for employers to consider when there are concerns over an employee who may be suffering from work related stress are:

* Have there been any complaints by the employee in question, or others?
* Is there a known history of stress related illness in the role? Or employee?
* Are you meeting regularly with employees and documenting appraisals and meetings?
* Is there support in place for early intervention for someone who is suffering from stress related illness?
* Is there an established process and policy in place for an employee to raise concerns?
* Are your managers trained to notice the signs of stress?
* Do you have a counselling service you refer employees to if required?

Employers have a clear duty of care for the mental health and well-being of their employees and must therefore act where concerns are highlighted. However, and as importantly, employees must also be responsible for looking after their own mental health and must seek advice and support when needed in the workplace.

This case highlights the importance of making employees aware of the channels through which they can raise concerns and the need to flag up those concerns clearly and repeatedly to ensure their employer is fully aware of the situation. It does also make clear that employers are not expected to be telepathic and serves as a useful reminder that the threshold for foreseeability of psychiatric injury and breach of duty is high.

Many employees will experience periods of being over worked and stressed at work – very few go on to suffer psychiatric illness as a result. An employer’s obligation to act arises when the indications are plain enough for any reasonable employer to realise he should do something about it.

September 10

Is your business ready for Rugby World Cup 2015?!

The 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off on 18th September 2015 here in the UK. It is due to last for around six weeks with the final being played on 31 October 2015.

It is vital that you plan early to reduce the impact on staffing and productivity levels. Many employers are expecting a spike in annual leave requests and absenteeism. This is especially so if you operate evening shift patterns as England’s group stage games all kick off at 8pm.

Whilst you could encounter problems with over enthusiastic employees who are heading out of work to catch the games (which will primarily be shown in the afternoons and in the evening), you should also recognise that the tournament provides an opportunity to take advantage of high morale and improve levels of employee engagement.

Potential issues:

There are a number of potential issues for you to consider in the run up to the main event:

- too many employees may want to take annual leave on the same day;
- higher levels of unauthorised sickness absences;
- abuse of internet policy;
- discrimination; and
- harassment.

In light of these issues, consider the following steps you could take to reduce these risks well in advance of the start of the World Cup.

Plan in advance:

- instal a TV for all key games – not just the England matches
- harness enthusiasm for the tournament through themed team activities
- remind staff about the organisation’s sickness absence policy
- set some ground rules to cover behaviour throughout the tournament
- initiate flexible working
- accommodate non-rugby fans

Set out expectations

The first step is to ensure that all company policies are up to date, are clear, set out the consequences of any breaches and have been issued to all of your employees, to ensure no-one falls foul. The key policies which should be considered are:

- Holiday Policy;
- Sickness Absence Policy;
- Unauthorised Absence Policy;
- Equal Opportunities Policy;
- Internet and E-mail Usage and Monitoring / Social Media Policy; and
- Disciplinary Policy.

By doing this, you can ensure that employees are clear as to what is acceptable, and what is expected of them. This will make it easier for you to deal with anyone that crosses the line.

How to tackle absences

During such high profile popular sporting events, which tend to last over the course of several weeks, statistics show that employee absences cost UK businesses millions of pounds per day, with most people pulling ‘sickies’ on the day after a key match.

To try to avoid unplanned absences, encourage staff to take annual holiday leave if they want to watch the rugby and enjoy the associated festivities. Be careful to ensure that it is made clear to employees that requests for leave are not guaranteed to be approved and holiday requests will be granted fairly.

Further, make it clear to employees in advance that unauthorised absences during the tournament will be subject to closer scrutiny and they may have to participate in a return to work interview. This will hopefully deter employees from calling in sick unless they are genuinely sick.

Flexibility

You could offer your employees the opportunity to work flexibly around games, for example, allowing them to work through lunch breaks, or come into work early and then leave early in order to watch the game.

There is huge goodwill to be gained from accommodating flexible working requests, as it is a great way to thank and engage staff. To ensure that nothing slips through the net, it should be made clear that any such arrangement will need to be pre-approved in order to ensure that adequate cover is available.

All offers of flexible working must be made available to all employees, regardless of whether they want to watch the rugby. Limiting the offer to rugby fans only is likely to alienate certain employees and cause tension in the workplace.

Watching at work – keeping an eye on the ball

Fortunately, for many employers, most popular matches are scheduled to kick off during the evening, which will limit some of the disruption to the working day, although there are several which start mid-afternoon. However, the impact may be more extensive amongst employees who regularly work late shifts, night shifts and weekends.

Consider showing the rugby at work or even making it into an event that all employees are welcome to attend. Remember to be alert to the fact that not everyone will want to be involved and that all employees should be given the same benefits as employees supporting the England team and their ‘home nations’.

Dealing with alcohol

Many of the tournament’s matches will take place during the evening and it is likely most rugby fans will be enjoying the game with a drink in hand. You need to make it clear that it is unacceptable to come to work suffering from the effects of alcohol the next day such that they are incapable of performing their duties properly. Again, make sure you have an up to date alcohol policy and consider sending a memo reminding staff of its contents.

Internet and Social Media Policies

You may find that employees spend a significant amount of time on the internet, getting score updates or general news about the tournament. If a large number of employees stream a match to their desktops all at the same time there may be an impact on your network, as well as on general productivity levels. Therefore, set out a clear policy about what will and will not be tolerated.

Conclusion

Try and get your staff excited and engaged by competing in a Rugby World Cup fantasy league – the very best way to encourage a friendly and inclusive atmosphere!!