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


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.

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.


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


Equality and Diversity – an essential part of your business

Providing your employees with a workplace that is fair and equal is a vital part of your obligations as an employer. Not only is it a legal requirement through the Equality Act 2010, but it also allows your employees to feel supported, safe and happy in their place of work.

As Acas states, under the Act it is unlawful to discriminate against people at work in nine areas termed in the legislation as protected characteristics. These nine areas are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

As I have recently earned my Level in Equality and Diversity, I am educating the businesses I work with about the importance of being aware of these protected characteristics and the issues surrounding equality and diversity, and applying this awareness in their actions as an employer.

Your obligations as a business

As a business, you need to be aware of both of the implications of legislation and also the impact of discrimination on your employees. By understanding these issues and tackling discrimination you will reduce the chance of grievances, disciplinary actions or employment tribunal claims, as well as the associated costs of the disruption.

It can also enhance your reputation as an employer and assist you in attracting, motivating and retaining loyal staff. Staff that feel happy and secure in their workplace are more likely to be productive and motivated, and stay in their jobs. This saves you money in recruiting and training costs, as well as giving you a wider pool of interested applicants to recruit from, should you require more staff.

Your diverse workforce will also reflect the growing dynamic of the country and provide a variation of viewpoints and experience. A diverse workforce will also help an organisation better understand and meet diverse customer expectations in terms of service or product.

How HR That Helps can help

With my advanced understanding of the issues I am now in a position to further assist the companies I work with to create equal and diverse workplaces. By providing an awareness of the issues, legislation and employment practices, I can help you with any queries regarding discrimination and equality. To find out more, contact me today




What do you need to know about agency workers?

If you employ workers from an agency, they are entitled to certain employment rights. Do you know if you are treating your agency workers correctly? What do you need to know about the employment rights of agency workers?

As an employer, you need to be aware of the Agency Worker Regulations. These regulations give agency workers the entitlement to the same or no less favourable treatment as comparable employees with respect to basic employment and working conditions, if and when they complete a qualifying period of 12 weeks in a particular job.

What are Agency Workers?

The regulations that cover agency workers apply to those workers supplied by a temporary work agency to an employer/hirer (ie your business). This includes most agency workers that people refer to as ‘temps’ and those supplied via intermediaries.

Agency workers, in these regulations, are not self-employed, individuals working through their own limited liability company, or individuals working on managed service contracts.

What rights do Agency Workers have when they start employment?

From their first day at work, an agency worker will be entitled to the same access to facilities such as staff canteens, childcare and transport as other employees, and to be informed about job vacancies. They are also entitled to certain employment rights such as national minimum wage.

After the 12-week qualifying period, an agency worker will be entitled to the same basic conditions of employment as if they had been directly employed by you. This includes bonuses, commissions and holiday pay, but does not include redundancy pay, contractual sick pay, and maternity, paternity or adoption pay. They are also entitled to working time rights, such as annual leave.

What other employment rights are Agency Workers entitled to?

  • rest breaks and limits on working time
  • the National Minimum Wage
  • no unlawful deductions from wages
  • discrimination rights under the Equality Act 2010
  • health and safety at work.

If you employ agency workers, or are thinking about employing agency workers and want to know more about the regulations, talk to us today.

Do you know when a grievance has been raised?

  • Do you recognise when an employee has raised a grievance?
  • Do you take steps to resolve it as quickly and painlessly as possible?
  • Are your employees aware of your grievance procedure?

Most employers do not necessarily recognise when one of their employees raises a grievance. What may seem to you as a bit of moan or grumble, can easily escalate. It may even be an issue raised in a resignation letter – if you don’t recognise this as a grievance at the time, it can easily escalate and become a big problem for your company.

You need to recognise when your employee is unhappy and deal with the grievance through a standardised procedure in order to minimise risk to your business.

What is a grievance?

ACAS states that grievances are concerns, problems or complaints raised by a staff member with management. It may be a concern about a working relationship, working conditions, or something else.

What do you need to do?

It’s important that both you as the employer and all your employees know what to classify as a grievance, and so can bring it up with management at the right time. This saves issues building to the point of more formal grievance procedures and resignations.

Make sure that your company’s grievance procedure is in writing, and that all staff are aware of it. This will ensure that your employees know that they need to tell you of the nature of any grievance and issues promptly.

This allows you, or their line manager, to attempt to resolve any grievance informally before having to start formal procedures.

If this isn’t possible, then arrange a meeting as quickly as possible, and carry out any necessary investigations to establish facts. Employees can be accompanied at any formal meeting and have the right to appeal against any formal decision made.

Do you recognise when an employee raises a grievance? Do you need help with formal HR policies and documents? Contact us today to find out more.


Driving Licence Changes– what do you need to know as an employer?

LicenceSince 8 June 2015, the paper counterparts to driving licences are no longer issued by DVLA, or recognised as valid. These paper counterparts usually hold valuable information regarding an individual’s licence – such as address details, categories of entitlement and fines.

This information is obviously crucial if you are employing people as drivers. You are responsible for making sure that anyone you employ has the right licence and qualifications. These checks have to be carried out regularly. If an employee receives a ban and doesn’t let you know, whilst continuing to use a company car, for example, your insurance will be invalid.

So how can you still make sure that anyone you employ has the right licence and qualifications without being able to check the paper counterpart?

The DVLA has two options for employers.

Share my Record – while licence holders can view their licence online, it is restricted to that individual alone. However, they can create a one-off licence check code to share the record with a third party. This includes employers and car hire companies. This unique code is only valid for 72 hours, so some organisation is required by both parties.

Postal or Telephone Checking – You, as the employer, can contact the DVLA by post or telephone to check an individual’s licence details. This does cost money however, with a premium rate number to call the DVLA and a £5 charge for checking by post.

If you employ drivers, or are just about to, make sure you know your obligations. You must ensure that all your employees have the right driving licence, and training if they are required to drive goods vehicles. If you use foreign drivers you must also take care to confirm that they know the rules for driving in the UK.

For any queries relating to employing drivers, or the recent changes to paper counterpart licences, contact me today. I provide much needed commercially aware, risk focused HR advice and support to SME’s and other businesses.

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