Mental First Aiders in the Workplace

Your business should have a trained first aider, and someone with responsibility for first-aid arrangements. This role is usually based on the medical side of first aid, however recent developments by campaigners and in Parliament are showing a case for mental first aiders in the workplace too.

A recent cross-party group of MPs has raised a motion for this change. As Luciana Berger MP argued in the commons on the 17th January 2019, the 1974 Health and Safety Act ensures that every large workplace has someone trained in medical first aid – an accepted and established part of every workplace in the UK. So, why is this not also the case for trained mental health first aiders?

Following a debate, there was a clear win for this motion, and the view that first aid regulations need to be updated to ensure that mental health is treated equally to physical health in the workplace.

What does this mean for your business?

First Aid regulations for your business are flexible and guided by your individual business and its needs. The HSE states that:

“HSE cannot tell you what provision you should make for first aid. You, as an employer, are best placed to understand the exact nature of your workplace and decide what you need to provide.

First aid provision must be ‘adequate and appropriate in the circumstances’. This means that you must provide sufficient first aid equipment (first aid kit), facilities and personnel at all times.”

You must do a first aid assessment to decide on the level of risks for your workplace and what you need to put in place – trained first aiders, first aid kits, training for staff and so on – to ensure that your workplace remains a safe place to work.

So should you add mental health to this assessment? The HSE suggests that you should consider this even before the outcome of January’s motion, supplying advice and guidance on how to proceed.

What next?

If you believe that this is applicable to your business you can consider a number of actions to manage mental ill health in your workplace, including providing information or training for managers and employees, employing occupational health professionals, appointing mental health trained first aiders and implementing employee support programmes.

I am qualified in both Health and Safety and HR so perfectly placed to help your business should you have any problems or queries. Contact me today if you need help with your first aid requirements.

Employment References – The employer’s guide

With January traditionally being a time for job hunting, owners of small businesses may find themselves asking for, and being asked for, more employment references than usual. Is your business prepared? Do you know your obligations regarding employment references?

Do you have to provide an employment reference?

Employment references give important information to potential employees regarding the suitability of an applicant for a role. They are often asked for in job applications, but there is no legal obligation to provide them.

It is up to you and your business whether you provide a reference and how much information it contains. However, if you do give a reference you must make them fair and accurate. It may just be the basic facts of an individual’s employment with you, or a more detailed overview. This can also depend on the nature of your relationship with the employee – as an employer you need to give the facts of employment, but as a manager you may want to provide details of the applicant’s character, strengths and weaknesses.

It is best practice to have a policy to help you and any managers handle reference requests, so everyone is aware what information they can provide.

Asking for employment references for a role

If you would like references from an applicant, they can be requested at any stage of the recruitment process. You must tell applicants if they will be required and at what stage of the recruitment process when they initially apply.

You must only seek a reference from their current employer with their permission.

What should an employment reference include?

Acas guidance states that references can include:

  • basic facts about the job applicant, like employment dates and job descriptions
  • answers to questions such as absence levels and confirming the reason for leaving
  • details about the job applicant’s skills and abilities
  • details about the job applicant’s character, strengths and weaknesses

References should not include irrelevant personal information.

Can you give a bad employment reference?

A reference must be a factual, accurate and fair reflection of the job applicant. Therefore, when opinions are provided, they should be based on facts and not be subjective comments. While you must ensure that your references are not misleading or inaccurate, you can still state the facts relating to the applicant’s skills, experience and strengths.

Some examples where a ‘bad’ reference might be applicable is where the job applicant doesn’t have enough experience of relevant responsibilities, that the reason for leaving the current job is different to what the job applicant put in their application, or that the job applicant doesn’t describe their current job properly.

Using social media to recruit employees

Social media presents a lot of benefits to recruitment, providing both a wider and more targeted approach to finding employers. In some cases, it has changed how employers approach recruitment, and may be the only way they recruit candidates. This in itself may be seen as discriminatory. Using more than one channel of recruitment helps attract potential candidates from different backgrounds. Recruiting from a wider pool of people, not just via social media, can help your business build a diverse workforce.

It can be tempting to look at job candidates’ social media profiles to find out more about the applicant. However, this can be unfair and carries the risk of discrimination. Using information from a candidate’s social media profile without their permission in the recruitment process could also breach GDPR rules.

If you have questions regarding employment references, contact me today


How do religious festivals impact on your business?

With a wide range of different beliefs in the UK, your business needs to have an understanding of the many religious festivals, holy days and observances that may occasionally affect your workforce.

It’s not just the Christmas break that can impact your bottom line – are you prepared for the rest of the year’s festivities and observances?

Which religious festivals affect employees?

Some practices and observances during festivals and holy days may apply to employees whilst they work, including fasting, prayer and abstinence that your business will need to consider. However, it is important to recognise that the nature, duration and requirements vary both on the religious festival and the personal beliefs of the individual worker or employee.

There are many religious festivals, including:

  • Diwali (Hindu)
  • Guru Nanak (Sikh)
  • Lent (Christian)
  • Pesach/Passover (Jewish)
  • Ramadan (Islam)
  • Vesak (Buddhist)

These religious festivals, holy days and observances could mean additional prayers, fasting and abstinence that may impact on your business. However, with planning and management, any adverse affects can be minimised and the actions taken by your company can increase morale and understanding amongst employees.

How can religious festivals impact on the workplace?

Fasting and abstinence, fasting in particular meaning limited or no food and/or drink for a specific day or period, such as the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri and the Islamic festival of Ramadan, may affect performance of employees. As an employer, encouraging flexible working and minimising physically/mentally demanding tasks can help increase productivity and reduce risk.

Some religious festivals may require additional prayers during the day, or for employees to take time off to participate, which may lead to staffing issues or the need for increased breaks during the working day.

There may also be a need to educate staff from different faiths and backgrounds that may not be aware of these festivals. Encouraging greater awareness and understanding of different religious backgrounds is very positive for the workplace. Raising awareness through providing details of religious holy days and festivals in company intranets or newsletter is a good way of improving morale and consideration and reducing any complaints that may arise.

What are your legal obligations as an employer?

As an employer, you are not legally obliged to grant requests for leave on religious grounds. However, as stated by Acas “many festivals/holy days require little or no special workplace action and some flexibility can improve staff morale”.

It is good practice to set out, within HR Policy and employee handbooks, steps that employees may wish to take in the case of religious festivals. For example, discussing and planning requests in good time are likely to minimise the impact (if any) of such requests. You need to balance the requirements of your business and the morale of your employees.

Simple and well-planned arrangements can help manage everyone’s expectations before issues arise. Are your employees asking for a full day off, or a few hours? Would flexible working resolve issues around fasting? Is there a need for a private space for prayer or meditation, in which you could provide a space during the festival or holy day?

Acas says it is generally unadvisable to offer paid special leave for such time off requests. You need to ensure that you do not discriminate in favour of a particular religion. Requests may be dealt with by using annual leave entitlement, flexi-time arrangements, one-off/discretionary flexi time off to be made up at a later time or unpaid leave.

If you are having issues dealing with the impact of religious festivals in your workplace, or need some guidance on how to manage employees with different religions and backgrounds, contact me today.


Have you thought about the impact of the Parental Leave and Pay Bill on your business?

In September 2018 the Parental Leave and Pay Bill, protecting the rights of bereaved parents in the UK, achieved Royal Assent, and is expected to come into force in 2020.

The Parental Leave and Pay Act will give all employed parents a day-one right to 2 weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Parents that are employed will also be able to claim pay for this period, subject to meeting eligibility criteria.

With Parental Bereavement Leave about to become a legal right for the first time in UK history, is your business prepared to deal with the trauma and unimaginable impact that comes with the death of an employee’s child?

What has changed?

Grieving parents currently have no automatic right to time off work, although employers are expected to grant “reasonable” leave in emergencies.

Currently under the Employment Rights Act, employees have a day-one right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, which includes making arrangements following a dependant’s death. The length of time off is whatever can be agreed between you as the employer and the employee.

The new law will grant parents the right to two weeks’ leave, paid at 90% of average weekly earnings or the statutory flat rate – which was £140.98 in 2016-17, if they are eligible.

Small firms should be able to reclaim the full cost from the government, with larger firms recouping about 90%.

Your Bereavement Policy

Although all compassionate leave needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis, it is important to have a bereavement policy in place. As an employer, if you have not done so already, the introduction and communication of your bereavement policy will help all workers know what happens on such occasions and their entitlements.

For parents, the loss of a child will be devastating and as an employer you need to recognise that the whole family will be affected. You will need to consider the situation as a whole as you deal with the affected employee. For example, are they a single parent? Was the child an only child or are there siblings involved?

It is only after you answer these questions that you, alongside the employee, will be able to understand how much support will be needed from the workplace. The answers to these questions will influence how much support from the workplace is needed.

Acas recommends in their good practice guide that a single parent with other children to attend to will possibly need more flexibility (such as time off, flexible working and so on) in order to return to full-time work. Some bereaved parents may need a longer-term change in their working hours.

Supporting the other partner is also something to consider. If one parent is not coping as well as the other, your employee may require more flexibility regarding their work hours.

If you need more guidance regarding your bereavement policy, or supporting an employee through the death of a dependent, contact me today

Rest Breaks – What are workers entitled to?

Do you know how many breaks your workers are entitled to? It may seem like common sense, but entitlements vary depending on age and the time of day your employees are working. If you haven’t thought about the different needs and legal obligations you have when employing night workers, for example, then you may be breaking the law.

What rest breaks are workers entitled to?

There are three types of break. Workers are usually entitled to have one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours. This break does not have to be paid, as this is your decision as an employer. Whether or not it is paid must be specified in any employment contracts.

A daily rest is the entitlement workers have to 11 hours rest between working days. So if they finish at 8pm, they shouldn’t start work again until 7am at the earliest the next day.

Workers also have the right to a weekly rest, therefore an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

These legal requirements apply to those over 18, and there are differences when employing younger or night workers.

Young workers

Young workers, those under 18, are entitled to longer rest breaks. They are required to have a 30 minute rest break if they work more than 4.5 hours (one continuous break if possible), with a daily rest of 12 hours and a weekly rest of 48 hours.

There can be exemptions to these rules on break times, but only in temporary exceptional circumstances. Any rest that the young worker has missed has to be taken by them within the following three weeks.

Night Workers

Night workers are classified as those who regularly work at least 3 hours during

11pm to 6am. You can agree, in writing, between employer and worker, to a different ‘night period’ however legally it must be 7 hours long and include midnight to 5am.

If you do employ night workers, you must offer them a free health assessment written by a qualified health professional, before they start work, with repeat assessments offered regularly. Workers don’t have to accept, but you must keep records for two years of the health assessments and the dates when assessments were offered.

If you are unsure about whether the worker is fit for night work, a follow-up examination by a health professional is required, and you must offer suitable other work where possible if a worker has health problems that a doctor says are related to night work.

Night workers must not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period. This average is usually calculated over 17 weeks, but it can be over a longer period of up to 52 weeks if the workers and the employer agree, with regular overtime is included in the average, but not occasional overtime.

Any night work must be subject to a risk assessment to identify special hazards and work involving mental or physical strain. If the workers deal with special hazards or mental or physical strain, they can’t work longer than 8 hours in any 24-hour period.

Remember that you must keep records of your night workers’ working hours to show they aren’t exceeding the limits, and these records must be kept for at least 2 years.

Young Night Workers

Workers aged 16 or 17 can’t work between midnight and 4am. They usually can’t work between 10pm and 6am (this can be changed to not working between 11pm and 7am, by contract) but there are exceptions if they work in certain industries, such as agriculture or hospitality.

In exceptional circumstances young workers can work at night if there’s no adult to do the work and they’re needed to either handle a sudden increase in demand or maintain the continuity of a service/production.

You, as an employer, must then give the young person a rest period of the same length as the extended shift.

When does these obligations not apply?

The contract you have with a worker may say they’re entitled to more or different rights to breaks from work. points out that workers engaged in more monotonous duties have have to take more breaks to ensure their health and safety isn’t at risk. Conversely, domestic workers in a private house (eg a cleaner or au pair) aren’t entitled to rest breaks for health and safety reasons.

Confused about rest breaks? Talk to me today to find out more


Should you let an employee take a career break?

Taking a career break is a big decision for anyone, and impacts on more than just the individual considering an extended period away from work.

Why do employees take career breaks?

There are many reasons to take a career break. Family commitments, travelling, volunteering or studying are all some of the motives that would cause an employee to think about taking a sabbatical. However, there are no laws that cover taking a career break or sabbatical. Your employees do not have a statutory right to take extended leave from your business.

Do you have to offer career breaks?

Legally, employers do not have to offer career breaks and there are no laws specifically dealing with taking one.

However, there are benefits to your business of employees taking sabbaticals. These extended periods of leave are usually unpaid, and can be used as a reward and motivation. As well as increasing retention of employees, they can increase the skills of your workforce.

How should I deal with employees who want to take career breaks?

You should have a clear policy regarding career breaks, available for all staff.

Career breaks are not a set length of time and can vary (with sabbaticals being seen as a shorter period). Some employees may request a couple of months, others a couple of years. You need to set the terms and conditions of such breaks in your policy, including the length of break that you are prepared to offer.

Other areas that need to be included in your policy are eligibity, and how to apply for a career break, as well as the required notice period. You also need to consider how it will affect the terms and conditions of your employee, such as their annual leave entitlements and contractual benefits.

Can I refuse a request?

As Acas states, “Employers should look at requests on a case-by-case basis, as they will need to consider how the employee’s work and responsibilities will be covered while they’re off. This will help employers if they need to refuse a request for business needs. Employers should be fair and consistent when considering requests to ensure they don’t treat some employees unfavourably or discriminate against them.”

You may wish to refuse a request when the employee has a record of poor performance and attendance, if you are unable to cover their role during their break, or if the demands of your business are too high at that time.

If you are struggling with HR policy and process, contact me today for guidance and support




How much focus do you put on wellbeing in the workplace?

You may think that, as an employer, you have little to do with the wellbeing of your workforce. Apart from the obvious and ensuring their safety at work, do you really need to think too much about the every day happiness of your employees? Actually, studies have shown that wellbeing has a massive impact on workplace performance.

FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%. A recent MIND guide to workplace wellbeing said that these top companies, by supporting staff wellbeing, “reap the benefits through enhanced morale, loyalty, commitment, innovation, productivity and profitability”.

A GOV.UK study also found the same benefits from improving wellbeing, and said that job satisfaction shows a strong and positive link with workplace performance.

So, to get the very best out of your organisation, it makes sense to adopt practices to increase the wellbeing of your staff.

How can you improve wellbeing for your workforce?

Acas defines wellbeing as covering several aspects of the way people feel about their lives, including their jobs, and their relationships with the people around them:

“There will be different factors that influence wellbeing at an individual level, but detailed analysis of a wide range of research studies has suggested that there are 11 key factors for increasing wellbeing to boost performance in general. The research suggests that employers who are able to focus effort on a number of these areas should be able to increase wellbeing.”

These factors are:

  • Autonomy over how employees do their job, giving them a level of independence about how they work, including involvement in decision making.
  • Variety in the task they undertake.
  • The significance of the roles they have, and it’s perceived value in society
  • Clear expectations of their job and feedback, including inductions, terms and conditions and appraisals.
  • Trained line managers offering supportive supervision.
  • Positive interpersonal contact with other people.
  • The opportunity to use and develop skills
  • A sense of physical security, safety at work practices and a pleasant work environment.
  • A sense of job security and clear career prospects
  • A fair workplace, therefore one free of bullying and with effective procedures for grievances or other problems
  • Higher pay is a factor. However, Acas states that this relationship depends not only on the absolute level of pay but how this compares with pay of other workers.

How can you achieve higher levels of wellbeing in your workplace?

It’s clear from looking at these factors that the main way to achieve them, and increase wellbeing for your staff, is through communication. Good processes, training and procedures, and engagement from staff at all levels, will go a long way to creating a better workplace. Encouraging staff to come forward with ideas about their role, tasks and goals, giving them independence and strong relationships with others in the workforce are also part of this communication.

If you need more support increasing the wellbeing or your workplace or putting into place procedures that encourage better communication and engagement, contact me today.




Fixed Term Contracts and Your Business

As the workplace changes and your employees move away from the traditional nine to five, do you know enough about fixed term contacts, how to treat staff on fixed term contacts and how to end fixed term contacts?

What are Fixed Term Contracts?

A fixed term contract is one with an employee or worker that terminates on a specified date or at the end of a particular project or a specific task. Fixed term employees could be employed for seasonal work, be casual employees taken on to cover a busy period or someone covering maternity leave.

Employees are on a fixed-term contract if both of the following apply:

  • they have an employment contract with the organisation they work for
  • their contract ends on a particular date, or on completion of a specific task, eg a project.

Workers don’t count as fixed-term employees if they:

  • have a contract with an agency rather than the company they’re working for
  • are a student or trainee on a work-experience placement
  • are working under a ‘contract of apprenticeship
  • are a member of the armed forces.

Fixed-term employees are:

  • seasonal or casual employees taken on for up to 6 months during a peak period
  • specialist employees for a project
  • covering for maternity leave.

Why do Fixed Term Contracts Matter?

A person’s employment status determines their rights and employer’s responsibilities. You must not treat fixed term workers less favourably than permanent employees doing the same or a similar job. However, you are able to objectively justify less favourable treatment where you have a good business reason for doing so.

If you’re hiring fixed term workers for a long period of time, it’s worth considering that those who work continually for the same employer for two years or more may have the same redundancy rights as a permanent employee. Employees on a fixed term contract for four or more years may automatically become a permanent employee.

Fixed term employees should get:

  • the same pay and conditions as permanent staff
  • the same or equivalent benefits
  • information regarding any permanent vacancies within the organisation
  • protection against unfavourable treatment.

If an fixed contract employee feels they have been treated less favourably they are able to ask for a written statement of reasons for the treatment first. However if the matter remains unresolved they can submit a claim to the Employment Tribunal. This must be made within three months of the date the less favourable treatment occurred.

What Happens When a Fixed Term Contract End?

Contracts will normally end automatically when they reach the agreed end date, and you do not normally need to give notice. If the work ends after two years service the employee may be entitled to a redundancy payment and is entitled to the same redundancy rights as a permanent employee.

If the work ends before the agreed end date, and the contract allows the worker to be dismissed, then you need to give the appropriate notice period. Employers may be in breach of contract if they wish to end the contract and there is no provision to so in the contract of employment.

Any employee on a fixed term contract for four or more years may automatically become a permanent employee, unless the employer has a good business reason not to do so, or a collective agreement removes the right.

If you are struggling with fixed term contracts or other areas of HR policy, contact me today


Anxiety in the Workplace 

Anxiety in the workplace is becoming increasingly common, as shown by new research from the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). Rates of moderate to extreme anxiety and depression among employees have soared by 30.5% since records began in 2013. New data from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) also shows that, in 2017, around 526,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In the same year, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 40% of all work-related ill-health cases.

This is a huge, growing, problem for employers. How can you recognise the signs of anxiety in your employees? And how can you promote positive mental health in your workplace?

What is Anxiety?

Mind explains anxiety as  “what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.  It is a natural human response, however prolonged feelings of anxiety have a negative impact on people’s thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.”

Anxiety in the workplace may be caused by issues such as workload, performance or conflict with colleagues. Other factors, outside the workplace, may include relationship, family or debt problems, which will also affect an employee’s performance at work and attendance levels.

How can I support my staff?

Look out for signs that an employee is suffering from anxiety. These can include:

  • taking more time off work
  • becoming more emotional or over-reacting to what others say
  • feeling negative, dwelling on negative experiences
  • starting to behave differently, feeling restless and not being able to concentrate.

If you believe that a member of staff may be feeling increasingly anxious at work, address these issues as early as possible. You, or the employee’s Manager, should have a conversation in a private place with the employee, ensuring that there are no interruptions.

Ask open questions to find out how the person is honestly feeling, allowing them a lot of time to answer and not pushing them for a response. Try to put yourself in the others person’s position and see things from their perspective to get them to open up to you about any worries or fears. It’s also useful to make arrangements for a follow up meeting to review the situation.

What next?

Staff with good mental health are more likely to perform well, have good attendance levels and be engaged in their work. Take steps to support the mental health of your staff and start creating a workplace where they feel able to communicate safely and easily with their manager can help to reduce the impact of mental ill health in your business.

This could include

  • identifying why you are committed to promoting positive mental health and what your objectives are
  • planning a range of activities and key messages to educate staff and managers and remove any stigma associated with mental ill health.
  • putting support processes in place for staff experiencing mental ill health, such as training managers in mental health and having named mental health champions in the workplace
  • creating a mental health policy and reviewing existing policies
  • ensuring that you and your senior managers champion mental health awareness and act as role models

Other ways you can support employees can be found on the Anxiety UK website.

If you need any help implementing these actions or have a problem with growing anxiety in workplace, contact me today to find out more


Why should employers use Occupational Health?

The benefits for both employer and employee of using Occupational Health (OH) can be substantial.

Health can both affect a person’s work and be affected by it. Whether this is adversely, such as high levels of absenteeism, stress or occupational illness; or beneficially through increased engagement, performance and wellbeing. The outcome of this can be significantly improved by making use of OH.

What is Occupational Health?

As the NHS states “Occupational health teams keep people well at work – physically and mentally. Occupational health services will help keep your employees healthy and safe whilst in work and manage any risks in the workplace that are likely to give rise to work-related ill health.”

Every year over 170 million days are lost to sickness absence, affecting  business. The longer people are off sick, the less likely they are to make a successful return to work. Research also shows that after six months absence from work, there is only a 50% chance of someone making a successful return.

OH focuses on the relationship between work and health, looking at both the patient/employee and the business. It is a specific speciality of medicine, found located within large businesses with responsibility for emergency care and training on site, or independent private clinics

When should you refer an employee?

As a manger you have a duty of care to support your employees and their wellbeing. This means ensuring the people under your supervision are not being made ill by work, or having a possible illness or condition affect their role.

You should considering referring an employee to OH when:

  • They have had several episodes of short-term absences
  • The employee has had a long term or continuous health related absence
  • There is concern that they may have work related health problems or that existing health problems are being intensified by work
  • They may have difficulties coping on return after being absent, such as following a serious illness or disability.
  • There may be an underlying health factor contributing to performance issues.

Are there any barriers to OH?

As a manager, you may feel uncomfortable referring an employee to OH. There may be budgetary restraints or a lack of knowledge around the employee’s health. You may also feel hesitant to invade their privacy, especially as health and the less recognisable conditions such as those regarding mental health are still seen as taboo topics.

However, the benefits of using Occupational Health to support you and your employee far outweigh any negative reactions. The use of OH improves not only the wellbeing of your employee but also the productivity of the company.

How does it work?

You must inform the employee if and when you believe a referral to OH is necessary. You will need their consent, but the OH service can deal with this. The OH will then arrange a confidential assessment of the employee’s health, wellbeing, suitability for their role and other factors.

You will then be sent a report including the following, depending on circumstances:

  • whether there is a health or wellbeing issue which may affect the employee’s attendance or performance at work.
  • how it may affect their attendance or performance, including time needed for appointments, when they will be ready to return to work.
  • recommendations on measures that may assist them on their return to work
  • recommendations on alternative duties or adjustments by agreement with management if they are unable to perform their usual role
  • If the Equality Act may apply and if reasonable adjustments are required.

If you would like further information on the role and benefits of OH, contact me today



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