October 10

With the onset of winter comes the rise in absenteeism . . .

Rates in staff absenteeism soar in winter and unexpected absences can affect business productivity and profits. If they become a regular occurrence they may affect morale and motivation.
A real ‘sticking’ point for employers facing absenteeism is making the decision as to whether the absence of their employees is genuine or not. In a CBI Absence Study in 2011, almost a third of employers reported believing that more than 20% of their staff absence was not genuine, with 93% believing that sick notes were issued too readily by GPs. Illnesses such as colds and flu were the most frequently mentioned reason for sick leave; stress the second most common; followed by complaints of back pain and recurring medical conditions.
While it may be difficult to plan for unexpected absences, as an employer there are steps you can take to help you deal with the problem and minimise the potential disruption:
• Ensure staff understand the sickness absence policy and that it is followed consistently throughout the business.
• An effective policy should cover the following: 
– Method of notification if an employee is late, ill or absent for any other reason 
– When they should submit a self-certification form or medical certificate,
– Sick pay arrangements, 
– The occasions when time off may be permitted, 
– The consequences of not complying with the policy.
• Make it company policy to always carry out a ‘return to work’ interview – to welcome back the employee, check they are well enough to be back at work, find out why they were away and update them with any news. It may also deter staff from feigning illness.
• By implementing a common practice for recording sick days, you can glean key data such as the number of working days lost, the frequency of an employee’s sickness and whether absenteeism is more commonplace within a particular department. This may help you detect and tackle any underlying issues such as workplace bullying.
• Unhappy staff are more likely to take time off. Creating a friendly environment, where staff feel valued as part of a team and where flexible, family friendly policies are in place is likely to prove more effective at keeping absenteeism to a minimum.
• Cases of genuine long-term sickness or regular occurrences of short-term sickness, should be handled sensitively. Regular contact with an absent employee will help to prevent them from feeling isolated and will provide you with a clearer idea of their situation. You should establish whether their illness amounts to a disability and if so reasonable adjustments must be made to help the employee return to work and carry out their role more easily.

The CBI Absence Study in 2011 reported that staff are each absent from work for, on average, 6.5 days a year. Unauthorised absence is normally the ‘odd day off’– whether paid or unpaid it is costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable and can result in deadlines being missed, lowered customer satisfaction, lower moral among colleagues and even lost business. Setting out clear policies, monitoring absences and understanding your legal requirements will enable you to keep on top of the issues and hopefully reduce the amount of absenteeism within the workplace.

September 6

The Paralympics have shown just what disabled people are capable of, with support and when they are valued . . .

The Paralympics are a great reminder of the success that can be achieved by overcoming barriers presented by disability. Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered by a disabled employee, but there are other incentives for making these adjustments besides merely avoiding liability for discrimination claims – many businesses enjoy a number of benefits from being equal opportunities employers.
Employers who make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and promote equality of opportunity in their workforce in other ways are more likely to attract and retain a wider and more diverse pool of talent and expertise.
Making reasonable adjustments means disabled employees feel valued and supported and this often improves morale and employee loyalty. Significantly, making reasonable adjustments will often mean that the employee is better able to carry out their work; leading to improved productivity and performance. Such improvements in performance and morale will also likely lead to a reduction in absenteeism.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a ‘provision, practice or criterion’ of the employer puts a disabled employee or job applicant at a substantial disadvantage compared to others. A failure to do so will amount to disability discrimination.
Adjustments can be wide ranging, may be major or minor and what is ‘reasonable’ will depend on a number of factors and will vary from organisation to organisation.
The types of reasonable adjustments include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
• Changing the work location of the employee: a more accessible floor, a different site or allowing the employee to work from home.
• Making changes to the workplace such as installing ramps, lifts or stair lifts.
• Changes to equipment: such as chairs, screen raisers or magnifying screens.
• Changing the way information is communicated: in writing rather than orally where possible, or vice versa, and using different font sizes, colours and language.
• Offering employees access to services such as counselling.
• For mental health disabilities, such as depression, a ‘buddy’ system may be implemented whereby the employee is assigned a mentor.
• For a dyslexic employee, an employer may install text-to-speech software, specialist spell-check and timekeeping packages and assist with checking written work.

However, what is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment for an employer to make will vary according to factors such as: the extent to which the adjustment is practical and effective in removing the disadvantage, the financial costs involved, the alternative options and the size, nature and resources of the business. It is worth reiterating however, that employers should also keep in mind the benefits of making reasonable adjustments and of being an equal opportunities employer.

September 1

Appraising teachers in a more ‘commercial’ fashion . . .


The new arrangements for teacher appraisal that came into effect on 1 September 2012 specifically apply to maintained schools, but independent schools would be ill advised to ignore the spirit of the regulations at the very least.
The main thrust of the guidance is to remove the overlap between the current appraisal and capability systems enabling underperformance to be tackled more swiftly and effectively.
Teachers must now be appraised annually against a set of goals and targets that will have been decided on the basis of the outcome of their previous annual appraisal, but also following consultation with the teacher concerned – by involving teachers in the process, rather than taking a ‘top down’ prescriptive approach, teachers are more involved and positive about the appraisal process which means appraisals are much more likely to encourage and support progress and improvement.
Although schools previously had some sort of appraisal system in place it was often termed ‘performance management’ which is very misleading, because the two are so very different – appraisal is a means of monitoring the performance of a teacher whereas ‘performance management’ is a method used within a capability process ostensibly to improve performance but in reality often the beginning of the inevitable slow march to dismissal.
The recent changes to the capability procedure bring it in line with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and make the process shorter and less complex than was previously the case. The most important change is that the suggested length of the monitoring and review period of a teacher following a first warning has been reduced from 20 weeks to between 4 and 10 weeks. Although the guidance makes it clear that the length of the review period must be reasonable in the circumstances of each case and must provide sufficient time for improvements to take place, this is, nonetheless, likely to lead to a speeding up of the process in which schools can, and probably will, deal with underperforming teachers. Previously, a school would have had its work cut out persuading an employment tribunal that a period of review less than 20 weeks was reasonable, now it seems that it would become a much easier task.
Private sector employers do not commonly have explicit written prescribed methods, but if they did it is unlikely that they would be as long as 20 weeks. The range of 4 to 10 weeks (although in fairness probably the upper end of that) is far more reasonable with all relevant factors being considered, just as private employers do.

Independent schools are not obliged to follow this recently introduced guidance but your school is a business and these suggestions are all commercially sound and adopted by private sector employers in every sector of the marketplace. A structured process of appraisal coupled with a clear capability policy is essential in ensuring employees are supported, if necessary, whilst they reach their potential but their employment may be fairly terminated if it becomes clear that such potential will not be reached.

July 6

Employers should start preparing for the new pensions regime.


From October 2012 a new pensions regime will start to be phased in which will eventually, by 2017, require all employers in the UK to automatically enrol eligible staff into some sort of pension scheme and importantly, for the first time, to pay minimum contributions.
Employers will have to automatically enrol eligible staff in either the Government’s scheme – The National Employment Savings Trust (‘NEST’) – or an alternative scheme which meets the qualifying conditions as laid down in the legislation; this could be an existing occupational or personal pension scheme. Eligible staff will be able to opt out if they wish but employers will have a duty to re-enrol individuals who have opted out every three years.
The aim of the legislation is to encourage those who have not traditionally contributed to a pension to build up provision for their old age. It is therefore expected that many more staff than at present will become members of pension schemes and this will involve a significant increase in administration and record keeping for employers.
Experts are warning that it will take at least a year of planning ahead of the staging date to implement a suitable scheme and so employers need to start preparing sooner rather than later with the key steps being:
• To check the organisation’s staging date
• To assess your workforce
• To choose a compliant pension scheme or review your existing pension scheme
• To communicate the changes to all your workforce
• To automatically enrol your ‘eligible jobholders’
• To register with The Pensions Regulator and keep records
Every employer, no matter how small, will have to implement a staff scheme or face the threat of fines and even prison. The potential financial sanctions for failure make non-compliance a distinctly unattractive option.
There are also considerable advantages to firms, in terms of staff retention and motivation, from providing a good pension scheme. Pensions are a valued employee benefit and organisations should factor in the retention, recruitment and motivational benefits of their firm’s bottom line when deciding not only in which scheme to enrol staff, but also what level of contribution they will be making to their employees’ funds.
A key benefit to employers of not waiting until the last minute to set up their pension scheme is the forecast impact on the bottom line. At the staging date, all of a sudden an organisation is going to have to put in 3% of its salary bill as a contribution into a pension. However, if you start in advance of your staging date you will be able to take that cash flow hit more gradually and, in addition, you will be able to offset the contributions against pay rises that you may want to give to your employees. What you can’t do is wait until your staging date and then give all your employees a 3% wage cut in order to put the money into the pension fund – it is illegal to do that under the new legislation.

There are definite financial advantages for firms in not leaving auto-enrolment to the last minute. Offering a decent pension is proven to be a sound business move, and there is an abundance of suppliers and advisers out there ready, willing and able to help you through the process.

June 6

Boost productivity by adopting flexible and home working.


With the Olympics nearly upon us the merits, and otherwise, of ‘home working’ have been discussed in businesses both in London and where regionalised events are taking place. However, leaving the Olympics aside, employers are increasingly adopting flexible and home working practices as a corporate strategy because it makes good financial sense.
Although remote workers are thought to complicate a manager’s job, a highly distributed workplace has too many potential advantages to dismiss.
O2 conducted a pilot during February this year, in which staff who would normally work in an office were compelled to work from home. This helped employers to see very clearly the cost savings available with a policy of home working:
Of the 3,000 workers subjected to the pilot, just 125 ‘mission critical’ people worked from their desks as normal. The remaining staff saved a collective £9,000 in reduced commuting costs, while 14 percent said they saw more of their families and 36 percent said they were more productive than when at work. An additional 12,000 hours, time otherwise spent commuting, was spent working. Workers said they spent a further 1,000 extra hours sleeping and otherwise relaxing.
The top five reasons why employers can benefit from home working are:
Better staff recruitment and retention – Home working can widen the recruitment pool by attracting people who have traditionally struggled to find work, such as single parents, those with disabilities and those workers who are geographically isolated. In addition, lifestyle concerns can easily trump salaries in a top worker’s decision process.
Improved motivation and productivity – Employees are more likely to have a high morale where employers are seen to take account of their needs. Employees who enjoy flexible working are better at meeting tight deadlines, will put in the extra mile when the business needs it and take time off when more convenient, improving personal productivity.
Improving the quality and reputation of the service – Good employment practices can enhance the reputation of a business. Home working and flexible working can extend the hours when businesses are in touch with customers.
Reduction of sickness absence and travel costs – Not working in an office environment can reduce exposure to colds, flu and other contagious diseases. Cutting out the commute can reduce stress. Motivated staff are less likely to take sick leave, another way in which the business may benefit from increasing productivity.
Infrastructure cost savings – Home working can save on car parking space, office rent and running costs. Businesses save millions each year through flexible and home working, whilst Suffolk County Council is an example of an organisation that was able to cut the size of its new central services office block by one third by using these practices.
In today’s world, true competitive advantage in business is being able to anticipate change, react quickly and be there 24/7. With flexible working in place you can do just that, creating a new way of working that takes into account business productivity factors as well as improving quality of life for your employees and yourself.

Considering the aforementioned benefits, it would be wise for employers to think about incorporating a work from home policy, or expanding their current policy. In the past, home working has sometimes been considered a risk for employers. However, as technology advances and business norms change, it could soon be more of a risk not to incorporate home working into talent management.

June 1

Boost productivity by adopting flexible and home working.


With the Olympics nearly upon us the merits, and otherwise, of ‘home working’ have been discussed in businesses both in London and where regionalised events are taking place. However, leaving the Olympics aside, employers are increasingly adopting flexible and home working practices as a corporate strategy because it makes good financial sense.
Although remote workers are thought to complicate a manager’s job, a highly distributed workplace has too many potential advantages to dismiss.
O2 conducted a pilot during February this year, in which staff who would normally work in an office were compelled to work from home. This helped employers to see very clearly the cost savings available with a policy of home working:
Of the 3,000 workers subjected to the pilot, just 125 ‘mission critical’ people worked from their desks as normal. The remaining staff saved a collective £9,000 in reduced commuting costs, while 14 percent said they saw more of their families and 36 percent said they were more productive than when at work. An additional 12,000 hours, time otherwise spent commuting, was spent working. Workers said they spent a further 1,000 extra hours sleeping and otherwise relaxing.
The top five reasons why employers can benefit from home working are:
Better staff recruitment and retention – Home working can widen the recruitment pool by attracting people who have traditionally struggled to find work, such as single parents, those with disabilities and those workers who are geographically isolated. In addition, lifestyle concerns can easily trump salaries in a top worker’s decision process.
Improved motivation and productivity – Employees are more likely to have a high morale where employers are seen to take account of their needs. Employees who enjoy flexible working are better at meeting tight deadlines, will put in the extra mile when the business needs it and take time off when more convenient, improving personal productivity.
Improving the quality and reputation of the service – Good employment practices can enhance the reputation of a business. Home working and flexible working can extend the hours when businesses are in touch with customers.
Reduction of sickness absence and travel costs – Not working in an office environment can reduce exposure to colds, flu and other contagious diseases. Cutting out the commute can reduce stress. Motivated staff are less likely to take sick leave, another way in which the business may benefit from increasing productivity.
Infrastructure cost savings – Home working can save on car parking space, office rent and running costs. Businesses save millions each year through flexible and home working, whilst Suffolk County Council is an example of an organisation that was able to cut the size of its new central services office block by one third by using these practices.
In today’s world, true competitive advantage in business is being able to anticipate change, react quickly and be there 24/7. With flexible working in place you can do just that, creating a new way of working that takes into account business productivity factors as well as improving quality of life for your employees and yourself.

Considering the aforementioned benefits, it would be wise for employers to think about incorporating a work from home policy, or expanding their current policy. In the past, home working has sometimes been considered a risk for employers. However, as technology advances and business norms change, it could soon be more of a risk not to incorporate home working into talent management.

May 16

Landmark ruling on compulsory retirement age.


A landmark ruling by the UK Supreme Court last week has said that employers are entitled to set a compulsory retirement age if they can prove there is a legitimate reason for doing so. This is despite the change in the law last October which stopped employers compulsorily retiring workers at 65. The important distinction with this ruling is that the Court only said it was acceptable to force an employee to retire, not that it was acceptable to force a retirement at 65. It is therefore possible to justify a retirement age, not the retirement age of 65.
The Court set out new guidelines enabling an employer to dismiss on grounds of age, as follows:

  • They must consider a range of alternatives to retirement
  • They must be able to show specific public interest justification in each 
case where retirement is imposed – ie:
  • It will make it easier to recruit younger workers
  • It will enable promotion of middle management
  • It will enable employers to plan their workforce for the future and train others
  • It will enable the careers of older workers to end with ‘dignity’, rather than being dismissed for poor performance
  • They need to show they have considered other options such as flexible working hours or allowing employees to stay on for a short period.

What is important is that employers need to show these aims are legitimate and are being genuinely pursued. For example, improving the recruitment of young people in order to achieve a balanced and diverse workforce is, in principle, a legitimate aim. However, if in fact there is no problem in recruiting the young and the problem is in retaining the older and more experienced workers then it may not be a legitimate aim for the business concerned.
The situation following this ruling ought to be welcomed by employers. The legislation that came in to force in October, preventing compulsory retirement at 65, caused uncertainty as they were worried about asking workers aged 65 or over to leave the business for fear of being accused of ageism. This Court ruling has made the law clearer in that it reinforces the fact that workers cannot be retired just because of ‘stereotypes’ of age, but is very clear about the fact that they can be forced to retire where a business can justify a compulsory retirement age based on legitimate aims, provided they are proportionate.

This Court ruling has not specified what the correct age is to retire somebody – rather, it has sent the clear message that the abolition of the default retirement age of 65 does not mean employees cannot be retired at a given age, it just means it needs to be a more considered decision than previously was the case.

April 1

Allocating paid time off work . . .

With an extra bank holiday in 2012 employers should be planning how to deal with holiday requests.

Last year we had the Royal Wedding. This year we have another extra bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on Tuesday 5 June 2012. How should employers deal with this and more general questions surrounding holidays from work?

Are all staff entitled to the day off on 5 June 2012? 
Not necessarily and some employers will have to keep their businesses running on that day. There is no statutory right to paid time off on bank and public holidays, although all workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ holiday each year. Employers need to check what the employment contract says. If it says employees are entitled to 25 days’ paid holiday plus all bank and public holidays they will be entitled to take the extra day and be paid for it. If it says 25 days’ holiday plus the usual bank and public holidays then they would not. If they wanted to take the extra day’s holiday they would have to request a day’s holiday in the usual way.

What about part-timers?
 Some employers give paid time off for public holidays to part-timers who would otherwise work on the day the holiday falls. That approach obviously works in favour of those part-timers who work Mondays since most public holidays occur on that day, but disadvantages those who do not. The better option is to give part-timers pro-rata entitlement to holidays and public holidays so those workers are not treated less favourably than full-time staff. So, if full-time staff are entitled to 25 days, plus all public holidays, someone who works 50% of full-time hours will be entitled to 12.5 days plus four of the public holidays (4.5 in 2011 and 2012).

This may mean that employees who work Mondays will not be entitled to be paid for all the public holidays they take off and should be given the option of treating the extra days as unpaid leave or taking it out of their remaining holiday entitlement. Conversely, those who do not work on Mondays may have more pro-rata public holiday entitlement than the number of public holidays which fall on their normal working days and they will have to take those off at other times. Employers should try to be consistent in the way they treat all part-time staff.

Is ‘first come first served’ the best way to deal with holiday requests? 
One of the difficulties with this approach is that it is not always clear whose request came in first. Another problem is that some employees may put in a request so early, as a matter of course, that no one else stands a chance of getting in first. Generally speaking, ‘first come first served’ works well, but it might be better for staff to take turns if there is a particular holiday period that tends to be popular, for example, the school holidays or the days between Christmas and New Year, or around the Easter break.

Are compulsory shutdowns a good alternative?
 Possibly, however, before requiring everyone to take leave, employers should consider whether this creates a particular disadvantage for workers sharing a protected characteristic (such as sex, religion or belief) who may need to take their annual leave at other times, for example, during school holidays or religious festivals. If an employee brought an indirect discrimination claim along these lines, the employer would need to show that the shutdown was justified – in other words a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If the employer is in a sector which traditionally shuts down over Christmas – for example the construction industry – they may be able to argue that there is an operational need for them to have a shutdown because there is no work to do and that this amounts to a legitimate aim. However, they would need to show they had considered the needs of their workers in assessing whether the shutdown was a proportionate means of achieving that aim. The other point to bear in mind is that if staff were previously free to choose when they took holiday, requiring them to take it at a particular time is likely to amount to a change in their terms of employment. If the employees’ consent cannot be obtained there may be the risk of claims for breach of contract or constructive unfair dismissal.

February 6

2012 . . . a summer of absenteeism?

With the Olympics descending on London this summer, employers should plan ahead to minimise the risks posed by abnormally high demand for holiday, absenteeism and travel disruption around London and the other Olympic venues.

According to a recent survey of 1,200 organisations conducted by BT, the general view of the Games is positive, but the report also found that just under a third of respondents, 29%, had yet to make even the most basic preparations for the Games.

If you have not already done so, now is the time to start preparing your organisation for the Olympics. With 100 days of travel disruption expected in London – from the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations at the beginning of June to the close of the Paralympic Games in September – employees are likely to face disruption to their journeys to and from work, especially if travelling at peak times. Some organisations are considering altering working hours or introducing temporary flexible working over this period.

The risk of absenteeism is also high, as indicated by a recent survey which found that as many as 1 in 6 employees would consider pulling a ‘sickie’ to watch the Games. Employees should be reminded of the Company’s policy on absenteeism and make it clear what behaviour will be considered acceptable. State clearly that unauthorised absences from work will be investigated as a disciplinary offence.

You are also likely to experience a higher than usual demand for leave over the period of the Games and an effective system will be required to deal with competing requests fairly – whilst still ensuring employers have adequate staffing levels to conduct their business over the Games. Employers may choose to develop a specific holiday policy for the Games with leave authorised subject to business need, by random selection or on a first come first served basis. An employer who is flexible and permits employees to watch key events at work may help to minimise unplanned absences.

You could also consider introducing temporary flexible working measures, such as allowing employees to work through lunch, leave early, modify start and finish times, or allow shift workers to swap shifts. You will, however, need to consider the consequences of offering preferential treatment to Olympic and Paralympic fans compared to other employees who have made unsuccessful flexible working requests in the past.

With many employees having spent considerable sums on tickets, they should be encouraged to submit their holiday requests as early as possible to avoid disappointment. A further 1 million tickets to the Games will be going on sale in April 2012. If you are unable to authorise any further holiday this should be clearly communicated to employees before the ticket ballots open to avoid employees buying tickets they will be unable to use – especially as they are non-transferable!

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