How should you deal with social media in your workplace?

Did you know that misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain’s economy billions of pounds every year? Time theft, defamation, cyber bullying and invasion of privacy issues can affect both your employees and your business, so you should take steps to formalise and control the use of social media.

Your social media policy

As part of your HR strategy, you should develop a social media policy to clearly set out what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace when using the internet, emails, smart phones, and networking websites. You need to be clear on the distinction between business and private use, and what amount of private use is acceptable for your employees. You also need to ensure that employees know what they can and cannot say online about your business and other employees.

It’s a good idea to develop these clear guidelines working alongside members of staff and management to ensure acceptance. Employees do not want to feel controlled about what they can and can’t do, in regards to their freedom of speech, and having input into the social media policy will build engagement throughout the business.

It’s also important to set appropriate rules for employees that might be tweeting or blogging on behalf of the company. What tone of voice they use, what they should and shouldn’t say to customers, how they react to complaints and so on can be standardised and the risk reduced by providing guidance beforehand. Make sure they know what information they can and can’t disclose, the opinions they can express and also give guidance on any relevant legislation or copyright issues.

The affect of social media on other areas of your business

Using social media to recruit candidates is now extremely popular and very useful given the exposure available through popular online platforms. However, employees should be made aware that, when recruiting, it may be discriminatory or unfair to assess potential applicants through their social media sites and profiles. Amending your current recruitment policy and procedures to include this information will reduce the risk of employees using social media to find out more about applicants.

It’s also a good idea to look through other existing policies to see how social media and internet use might affect them. For example, including the term cyber-bullying in policies regarding discrimination and bullying in the workplace.

When looking at disciplinary procedures, related to online activity, you should try to apply the same standards of conduct as you would in offline issues. You need to make employees aware, throughout the business, that whatever is said online will have the same consequences as comments made ‘in real life’.

If you need guidance on social media use and social media policy in your business, contact me today

 

What should I do when an employee requests flexible working?

Flexible working can take many forms. Whether it’s homeworking, a temporary contract, part time working, flexitime or job sharing, it can encompass a range of ways of working that can make life easier and more productive for your employees.

Although it can seem like an added hassle for limited reward, the benefits of flexible working are vast, and as such a task force has been established to promote this in the UK.

The benefits of flexible working for your business

In January 2019 The Flexible Working Task Force, a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities launched a campaign to increase the uptake of flexible working. The task force was established in March 2018 to widen the availability and uptake of flexible working across the workforce.

The task force has highlighted business benefits of flexible working, including:

  • Addressing skill and labour shortages by making work more accessible to older people and those with caring responsibilities, for example
  • Improving productivity by increasing employee motivation
  • Boosting job satisfaction, engagement and well-being, while also helping to reduce sickness absence
  • Helping organisations to retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities
  • Creating more diverse workforces which reduces the gender pay gap by giving more opportunities for women to progress into senior roles.

Another study from PWC has shown that when employees are offered the choice to work from home, they are 48% more likely to rate their job satisfaction as 10/10 (Source: http://hrnews.co.uk/why-the-modern-workforce-needs-flexibility/)

The Flexible Working Task Force also stated that “the potential benefits of flexible working are being missed because of unsupportive manager attitudes, limited available options and the negative assumptions of some employees about flexible working, for example that their job may be at risk if they seek to change their working patterns.”

How can employees request flexible working?

It’s important to act quickly when an employee requests flexible working, and to consider not only their request but also the needs of the business. Legally, if an employee makes a request for flexible working, you must consider their request and decide upon it within three months.

Only employees with 26 or more weeks of service have a statutory right to request flexible working.

Acas states that employees must:

  • make their request in writing, state the date the request is made, the change to working conditions they are seeking, and the date they would like the change to take effect
  • state whether they have made a previous application for flexible work and the date of that application
  • what change to working conditions they are seeking and how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business
  • if they are making their request in relation to the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for disabled employee.

Once this request is place, you, or their manager, should arrange a meeting to discuss the request and find out what the employee is asking for and why. This must be done as soon as possible as three months deadline to complete this process also includes any appeals. If you are willing to grant the request without needing any discussion then meeting may not be necessary, but it still may be useful to it to ensure that is the best solution for both employer and employee.

There may be many ways to make the request for flexible working work for your business and the employee. For example, if it is only a temporary change that is needed, an agreement may be reached together without having to make permanent changes to the contract of employment.

What if I need to refuse a flexible working request?

You can only refuse a flexible working request if there is a legitimate business reason for doing so, from a list of the following:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural changes to the business.

If you want to consider flexible working for your business and are unsure of the process, contact me today

 

How should you suspend an employee?

In my last blog we looked at when you should suspend an employee, but do you know your legal responsibilities for the process?

A suspension is when an employee does not have to attend or undertake any work but continues to be employed by you. Suspensions should only be considered if there is:

  • a serious allegation of misconduct
  • medical grounds to suspend
  • a workplace risk to an employee who is a new or expectant mother.

A suspension should not be used as a disciplinary sanction, but you can use it in a disciplinary procedure if absolutely necessary, or if there are risks to an employee’s health.

What happens if a suspension is necessary?

If suspension is necessary, you need to provide the employee with a suspension letter. This needs to include:

  • the reasons for the suspension,
  • how long it is expected to last,
  • their rights and obligations during the suspension.
  • Their point of contact (such as a manager or HR) and contact details.

You need to make it very clear that the purpose of suspension, if is part of a disciplinary procedure, is to investigate the matter and it is not an assumption of guilt.

As an employer, you need to continue the employee’s full pay and benefits during the period of suspension. However if there is a serious allegation of misconduct the employee may not receive their full pay is there is contractual right for you to suspend them without pay or benefits, or if they are not willing or able to attend work .

You should seek advice if this is the case. An unpaid suspension may lead to accusations that the disciplinary procedure is not fair, and leave you open to risk.

Medical and Maternity Grounds

An employee suspended from work on medical grounds must receive their full pay unless they have been employed for less than one month, are not willing or able to attend work, have unreasonably refused suitable alternative work or have been have been suspended for more than 26 weeks.

An employee suspended on maternity grounds must receive their full pay unless they either are not willing or able to attend work (for example because they are ill) or have unreasonably refused suitable alternative work.

If the suspended employee advises they are ill and would not be able to attend work if required, they should receive their usual sick pay.

How long should a suspension last?

Acas states that the period of suspension should be kept as brief as possible and regularly reviewed to ensure it is still necessary.

You need to keep the employee regularly updated about their suspension, the ongoing reasons for it, and how much longer it is likely to last; with regular contact maintained between the employee and their manager and/or point of contact during the suspension.

When suspended, you should let the employee know that they are still expected to be contactable during normal working hours and available to attend any necessary meetings or interviews.

You also need to ensure that the employee is supported and able to contact someone at the workplace to discuss any concerns they may have. If the suspension is part of a disciplinary procedure, you may ask the employee to not communicate with other staff while they are suspended.

If the employee wants to go on holiday during their suspension, they must still make a request to take annual leave.

What happens when you end a suspension?

Once a suspension has come to an end, the employee should return to work immediately. It may be a good idea to arrange a return-to-work meeting on their first day back to provide an opportunity to discuss any issues and resolve any concerns, especially if they are feel worried about returning to work. You can arrange this away from the workplace if necessary.

If you need some advice regarding a suspension or have any other queries about HR, contact me today.

 

 

When should you suspend an employee?

If you think you have a situation with an employee that calls for a suspension, do you know your legal obligations and their rights? Do you know when you should consider suspending an employee?

A suspension should not be used as a disciplinary sanction, but may be used in a disciplinary procedure if absolutely necessary, or if there are risks to an employee’s health.

What is a suspension?

A suspension is when an employee continues to be employed by your business but does not have to attend or undertake any work. You should usually only consider suspension from work if there is:

  • a serious allegation of misconduct
  • medical grounds to suspend
  • a workplace risk to an employee who is a new or expectant mother.

Suspension as a result of misconduct

You shouldn’t use suspension as part of a disciplinary procedure unless it is absolutely necessary. Most disciplinary procedures will not require suspension, as an employee should be able to continue doing their normal role while you investigate the matter.

However, as Acas states, you can consider suspension if there is a serious allegation of misconduct and:

  • working relationships have severely broken down
  • the employee could tamper with evidence, influence witnesses and/or sway the investigation
  • there is a risk to other employees, property or customers
  • the employee is the subject of criminal proceedings which may affect whether they can do their job.

In these cases, consider alternatives to a suspension where possible, such as a temporary adjustment to the employee’s working arrangements. This could involve being moved to a different area of the workplace, working from home, changing their working hours, being placed on restricted duties, working under supervision and being transferred to a different role within the organisation (with a similar status to their normal role, and the same terms and conditions of employment).

If suspension is the only option, work with the employee to keep it confidential, and if this is not possible, how they would like it communicated to the rest of the business. Suspensions can have a damaging effect on the employee and their reputation if not managed properly.

You may also need to consider whether you should escort the employee from the workplace, remove the employee’s pass and/or IT access if appropriate and/or ask the employee to not contact other employees during your investigation.

Suspension on medical grounds

You have a duty to ensure the health and safety of your employees, and in some instances health professionals may recommend an individual worker is unfit to work in a particular area or hazard.

If this cannot immediately be rectified, you may have to suspend the employee until it is safe for them to return to work. However, before you do this, you need to consider adjusting the working conditions or offering alternative work (at the same rate of pay and on terms no less favourable than the original role).

Suspension due to a risk to new or expectant mothers

In your risk assessment you must consider any specific workplace risks for any employee of childbearing age, who is pregnant, given birth in the last six months and/or breastfeeding.

When you are told about an employee’s pregnancy, you must consider the general risk assessment as well any advice the employee has received from their doctor or midwife. If you can’t remove any possible risk, you should consider temporarily adjusting working conditions and/or working hours, and if that is not possible, offer suitable alternative work, as above. If that is not possible you will need to suspend the employee until their maternity leave begins or it is safe for them to return to work.

The employee must be provided with the outcome of the risk assessment and the reason why the risk could not be removed.

If you think that you need to suspend an employee and need guidance, contact me today.

How can you prevent bullying and harassment in your workplace?

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. If you fail to prevent and/or act on workplace bullying and harassment, you leave your business open to poor morale, loss of respect for management and a decline in performance and productivity, as well as the more obvious absence issues and resignations. There is also a pressing legal side to taking action against mistreating employees, which is the possibility of tribunals, court cases and the damage to your company’s reputation.

What is bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment is defined as any unwanted behaviour that makes a person, or group, feel offended, intimidated, degraded and humiliated. The Equality Act 2010 says that harassment is unwanted conduct that is related to the following characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Instances of bullying may not always be obvious to you as an employer, or other people in the business. It may take place insidiously, it may involve two individuals or groups of people; and it may be an isolated incident or persistent actions.

You also need to be aware that bullying and harassment may not occur solely through face-to-face communications, but by writing, phone or online. Bullying or harassing behaviour could include spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone, exclusion or victimization, misuse of power or position, unwelcome sexual advances, unfair treatment or deliberately undermining a competent worker by constant criticism.

What can I do to prevent bullying or harassment taking place in my organisation?

As described above, bullying and harassment may not be easy to recognise, therefore you need to ensure that any member of staff feels able and confident enough to complain, especially if the situation involves a manager or senior member of staff. All staff need to be aware that complaints of harassment, or anything relating to such complaints, will be dealt with fairly, confidentially and sensitively.

Acas recommends steps you can take to prevent bullying/harassment in the workplace. These include:

  • implementing a bullying and harassment policy, with statement of commitment, examples of unacceptable behaviour, the steps your company will take to prevent bullying and harassment, investigation procedures (including timescales and confidentiality) and how the policy is to be implemented, reviewed and monitored.
  • maintaining fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees
  • setting standards of behaviour with an organisational statement about the standards of behaviour expected.
  • setting a good example: the behaviour of employers and senior managers is as important as any formal policy.
  • training for your managers to recognise, prevent and deal with instances of bullying and harrassment.

If you involve your staff in the creation and implementation of the policy, it will gain additional authority and ensure that everyone feels involved. You need to make sure that the policy applies to staff on and off the premises, including those working away from base, as well as visitors.

If you need help prevent bullying and harassment in your workplace, implementing a bullying or harassment policy or working through the impact of a complaint, contact me today to get advice and find out more about my services

How do Bank Holidays affect your business?

With two bank holidays in May, do you know what your employees are entitled to in terms of leave and additional pay? Find out what your business is legally obliged to deliver to your staff in my latest blog.

What are workers entitled to?

All full time staff are entitled to a minimum of 28 days holiday a year. The eight bank holidays can be included in this, but not specifically on the bank holiday days. This is to reflect roles in industries such as catering, tourism and leisure, and emergency services personnel, where people have to work on bank holidays.

This means is that everyone who works full time get four weeks plus either bank holidays or time off in lieu for bank holidays they have to work. Of course, many people get better than the legal minimum, and it is common for people to be guaranteed all bank holidays off work in their contracts of employment

What does this mean for me as an employer?

As an employer, you can include bank holidays within the minimum annual leave entitlement of 5.6 weeks a year (28 days for a full time worker). Workers have a total holiday entitlement of four weeks (to meet the European minimum) plus eight days, the number of bank holidays enjoyed in most of the UK. There are 10 bank holidays in Northern Ireland.

Are employees entitled to additional pay if they work bank holidays?

Unless you have specified this in their employment contract, employees have no statuary right to additional pay for working on a bank holiday.

What does this mean for part time employees?

Part time employees are entitled to paid bank holidays if they normally work on those days. However, they are also have fewer statutory holiday days each year because they work fewer hours.

If you give your workers additional time off for bank holidays, in additional to their minimum 28 days, this should also be given pro rate to part time staff, even if they do not usually work on bank holiday days.

Most of the UK’s bank holidays fall on a Monday or Friday. Part-time employees who don’t usually work on these days may receive proportionately fewer days leave than their full-time colleagues, so to prevent this inequality you may want to consider pro-rata bank holiday allowance. This is calculated based on the number of days worked, regardless of which day of the week is worked and irrespective the bank holidays.

If you are finding bank holiday entitlements confusing, contact me today to find out how HR That Helps can help you

 

 

 

What are your business’s obligations for volunteers, interns and work experience?

With thoughts of summer and placements being planned, it’s time to talk about the volunteers, interns and work experience that you might take on at your businesses. The three groups are very different, with varying employment rights and obligations for you as a business owner or manager.

Interns

Internships usually take place as part of further or higher education courses, for graduates and undergraduates. These are very beneficial for the students, who can increase their skills and knowledge from the industry they wish to progress in, as well as gaining some worthwhile general working experience.

These internships can last from a few weeks to a year and are part of a formal structured programme.

Acas states that an intern may have employment rights but this will depend on the employment status, and that interns should be paid at least the National Minimum (or Living) Wage if they are carrying out the role as a worker.

There are some exceptions, including if the interns are voluntary workers, on a sandwich placement that is part of a higher education course and if a student is carrying out work shadowing.

If you promise the intern a contract for future work, they are then classed as a worker and are entitled to certain employment rights, including:

  • the National Minimum (or Living) Wage
  • paid holidays
  • protection against unlawful discrimination
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • the right not to be treated less favourably for working part-time.

Volunteers

Volunteers carry out unpaid work, usually for a charity or other non-profit organisation.

If your company or organisation uses volunteers, you must ensure that they have access to the right training and development, as well as a role description. It is also beneficial to have a volunteering agreement as an alternative to a contract of employment, defining the basis of their relationship with you.

As volunteers are not classed as workers or employees, they do not get paid or have a contract of employment.

Work Experience

Work experience is generally undertaken by students of compulsory school age, where they spend a short amount of time with an employer to learn directly about work and the working environment. Some tasks may be performed, but usually it’s a chance for students to observe and learn what happens in a normal working day.

Work shadowing is a similar process where students watch someone going about their day-to-day job. This can be from a couple of days to a few weeks. Again, this observing and learning helps them gain an understanding of the role, which is particularly important if they are considering future careers.

When work experience students and those that are work shadowing are of compulsory school age, they are not eligible for National Minimum Wage or entitled to employment rights as a worker. This also applies to those in further or higher education, if the placement doesn’t exceed one year, and participants in government schemes or programmes to provide training and work experience.

If you’d like to know more about your obligations as a business for volunteers, interns and those on work experience, contact me today.

 

How does Parental Leave affect your business?

Do you know enough parental leave and what your employees are entitled to? My blog looks at the legal obligations regarding unpaid leave to take care of a child.

What is parental leave?

Parental leave is leave, usually unpaid, available for parents to take time off work to take care of their child. It’s available for each child up to their 18th birthday, and employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks per child.

This leave must be taken as whole weeks rather than individual days, unless you agree otherwise with the employee or if the child is disabled.

Parental leave is not to be confused with shared parental leave, which is parents splitting and sharing maternity leave allowance.

Why would employees request parental leave?

Unpaid parental leave may be used to look after a child’s welfare. Examples include:

  • staying with a child who is in hospital
  • spending more time with a child
  • making and settling children into school/childcare arrangements
  • visiting family.

Employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during parental leave.

An employee should give at least 21 days’ notice, and you can ask for this notice to be in writing. If an employee wants to take parental leave straight after the birth or adoption of a child they should give 21 days’ notice before the expected week of childbirth or placement.

Employees can take parental leave at any time up until the child’s 18th birthday but cannot take more than four weeks in any one year.

Do you have to pay employees during parental leave?

There is no obligation to pay employees during parental leave. If you do choose to do so, you need to clearly set this out in the terms and conditions of employment.

An employee qualifies for parental leave once they have completed 12 months continuous employment. After the birth of a child, if an employee starts working somewhere else, they must work continuously for a year before becoming eligible for parental leave.

As Acas states, to be eligible for parental leave the employee must also have a child under the age of 18 and:

  • be named on the child’s birth certificate
  • be named on the child’s adoption certificate
  • have legal parental responsibility for the child.

If the child’s parents are separated or the employee does not live with the child, they still have the right to parental leave if they have formal parental responsibility for the child.

What if the parental leave could disrupt your business?

If you believe that the requested leave could be detrimental to your business, you do have the right to postpone parental leave for up to six months after the original requested start date. If this is the case, you must write to the employee within seven days of receiving their request stating why the leave is being postponed and give new dates for the leave to be taken. You need to make sure that the requested period of leave is completed before the child’s 18th birthday, even if this is less than six months away from the date of the original request.

Parental leave cannot be postponed immediately following a birth or adoption.

If you have more questions about Parental Leave or need any other HR advice or support, contact me today

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.

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.

 

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