Flexible Furlough Leave – The NEW New Normal?

Posted by: on Jun 3, 2020 | No Comments

Employers and employees (and even employment lawyers) all raised eyebrows at the Chancellor’s use of the term ‘furlough’ on 20 March 2020 as part of the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis – but it has quickly become one of the most significant developments in UK employment law of all time. It is hard to recall anything more radical. And now things are set to change ….. again.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term (and we doubt there are many, sadly,) Furlough Leave describes a situation where an employee is not required to work as a result of Covid 19, and is instead put on a period of leave.

Employers can currently recover 80% of salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for any employees they have placed on Furlough Leave, from what is known as the “Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme” (CJRS).

An employer can place any employee on Furlough Leave, including part-time employees, employees on agency contracts, and those on flexible working arrangements (including zero-hours), as long as, broadly speaking, they were on your PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020.

For those employers who do not “top up” their furloughed employees’ pay to 100%, then as this will result in a reduction to their employees’ salaries of at least 20%, we have been advising employers to, where possible, seek to agree Furlough Leave and the corresponding reduction in pay with their employees, and confirm this agreement in writing.

Whilst on Furlough Leave, employees can take part in volunteer work, and can even seek alternative employment, but they are not currently permitted to carry out any work for you whatsoever.

For all other purposes, employees on Furlough Leave remain your employees, and continue to accrue all other benefits and entitlements (to include accrual of holiday).

What’s next for the CJRS?

Since its introduction, the CJRS has seen an estimated 8.4 million of the UK’s employees furloughed – at a cost to the Government so far of circa £15 billion.

On 12 May 2020, it was confirmed that the CJRS would be extended until the end of October 2020, but that employers would need to start contributing to the costs of the CJRS in the coming months. Whilst the next full version of the official Guidance to the new CJRS will not be published until 12 June 2020, what we now know is that:

  • There are no changes to the CJRS for June and July;
  • From August employers will need to pay the NI and pension contributions for their furloughed employees (in respect of the hours the employee does not work);
  • For September employers will need to fund 10% of the Furlough Leave pay (i.e. HMRC will pay 70% up to a cap of £2,187.50) and NI and pension contributions; and
  • For October employers will need to fund 20% of the Furlough Leave pay (i.e. HMRC will pay 60% up to a cap of £1,875) and NI and pension contributions.

The CJRS will end entirely on 31st October 2020 and will be closed to new entrants from 30 June 2020. From this point onwards, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for at least a full three-week period prior to 30 June 2020. This means that the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be the 10 June 2020.

In addition, from 1 July 2020, the number of employees an employer can claim for in any claim period cannot exceed the maximum number they have claimed for under any previous claim under the CJRS.

Flexible Furlough Leave

The recent announcement also set out a further change to the CJRS and the concept of Furlough Leave. Under the current Furlough Leave arrangements an employee cannot carry out any work for you at all whilst on Furlough Leave, however from 1 July 2020, you will be able to ask employees on Furlough Leave to carry out work for you, on a part-time, flexible, basis. For the hours they work for you they will be entitled to full pay, which you will not be able to recover under the CJRS, but for the hours/days they remain on Furlough Leave, not carrying out any work, you can continue to recover a pro-rata amount (up to the maximums set out above) for the time they are not at work.

Whilst in the absence of definitive Guidance from the Government, there remains a lot of uncertainty, the Employmentor Team are on hand to answer any questions you may have and will provide a further update on the new law an the CJRS official Guidance after it is published, hopefully, on 12 June 2020.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance. If you would like more information on the content of this article, please call the Employmentor Team on 01603 281139.

 

Coronavirus – It’s good to talk

Posted by: on Jun 1, 2020 | No Comments

The current health crisis is a concern for all. Coupled with the crippling effect on the economy, it is fair to say that almost all employees will be worried about the situation, and their future, in one way or another.

Whether your employees are working from home, on Furlough Leave or are preparing to return to the office, taking into account their health and wellbeing, and anticipating their concerns, is crucial in order to ensure a smooth transition in the physical return to the workplace. Failure to do so may result in employee unrest, reluctance to return to work, and sickness absence. All of that of course is best avoided if possible, particularly at a time when businesses are looking to take steps to rebuild and restart.

We have set out below some considerations and practical steps you can take to support your employees whilst also navigating through tricky business conditions, with the aim of striking that ever elusive “right balance”.

Working from home

In a recent survey, over half of employees working from home said they felt isolated, with nearly two out of five employees feeling stressed or anxious, or suffering other mental health issues.

Whilst employers are concerned for the future of their businesses (perhaps also questioning the efficiency of recently established home working practices), employees are equally likely to be concerned for the safety of their jobs, and in some cases whether they are perceived to be working hard enough.

The best practical advice to tackle that issue is this: keep in touch with your employees who are working from home. Hold regular remote meetings amongst teams, provide a weekly update to staff, and ensure managers are checking in with their teams regularly. This allows employers to keep track of workloads, productivity generally, but also, if handled appropriately, can update staff and reassure them on what you are doing as a business to weather the storm.

It is also important to note that your obligations as an employer still apply when your employees are working from home, so it is important that you make sure, as far as possible, that employees are taking regular breaks and taking care of themselves. A “checking in” phone call from you will go a long way and should also help to flag up any wider issues which might store up problems for your business later down the line.

For those with childcare responsibilities, it is important that you understand the pressures they face so you can head off any problems, on an ongoing basis. You may want to consider discussing flexible working arrangements such as staggering start times or allowing them to work their hours across additional days, and if so, how that will be managed and monitored. If both parties have a “plan” in terms of workloads and timings, it is likely to reduce the stress the employee faces and also reassure the employer that work is being handled appropriately. This open dialogue with staff on their childcare position and pressures assists with operational planning as and when staff are called back into the physical office – whilst you may assume that all of your staff will return when your premises re-open, if your parents do not have childcare options (particularly with a phased re-opening of schools), that simply cannot happen. It is best to know that ahead of time so that you can consider arrangements which both work for your business and support the employee; that may require some creative thinking and, if handled correctly, will also ensure that your employee feels supported and valued.

If you have any private health insurance, or employee assistance programmes, now is the time to be signposting employees to the support they can receive through these avenues. Even simply providing employees with information as to where they can find information or obtain further support (such as from Mind) is helpful.

Furlough Leave

Employees on Furlough Leave may be facing a number of concerns; some may feel isolated, some may worry that they won’t have a job to return to, and some may feel guilty, particularly if some of their colleagues are still at work.

As above for those working from home, ensure good lines of communication with regular updates, and referral for additional support through health insurance or employee assistance programmes. It is also a good idea to ask Furloughed employees to undertake training to develop their own skills during this time, making sure that such training does not amount to “work” (so it should not generate income for the business, and must be directly relevant to an employee’s employment). In addition to keeping the individual engaged (and reminding them they are still employed) that also benefits your business with refreshed skills that employee brings with them on their return to work.

Perhaps most crucially, as we start to see the tide change in terms of the lockdown restrictions, many employers are now at the point where they are considering how and when best to call staff back from Furlough Leave, or indeed whether they no longer require those staff and need to commence a redundancy process. It is crucial to employees’ mental health that you update your employees as early as you operationally can as to those factors. Remind employees (as appropriate) that they can and will be called back from Furlough Leave in the near future, to allow them to mentally prepare for what will represent a huge change. That should also “flush out” any employees who may not wish to be “un-Furloughed” to allow you to assuage any concerns those employees may have on a return and / or plan operationally. Equally, if staff may not be coming back, alluding to that at an early opportunity may be appropriate to allow those employees to mentally prepare for that eventuality and indeed source new work.

Returning to Work

Many people are going to be worried about what a return to work might mean; whether a return after a period of working from home or from Furlough Leave. It is important that as an employer you address these concerns and our advice is to have an open an honest dialogue to talk things through with a view to reaching a solution that everyone is happy with.

There are strict health and safety obligations on employers to ensure the safety of their employees at work in terms of protecting their physical health, and controlling the spread of the coronavirus – making sure businesses are “Covid Secure”. That is, of course, the first step any business should be taking before looking to call staff back. Doing that not only ensures that physical health is protected, but should also offer some reassurance to those who are experiencing anxiety in respect of returning to the workplace.

If employees object to returning to work, then ask them why. Try to understand what their reservations are, and see what can be done to resolve these. Communication is key here – your employees are far more likely to be productive and hard-working if their mental health and wellbeing has been considered (and that they feel as though it has been considered), as well as their physical health. Equally, having a clear view on why an employee objects to returning to work will help you in considering whether there are any steps you can agree on to make the employee feel more comfortable, and indeed whether or not such objection is reasonable. That will, of course, factor into any subsequent decision making for you.

There is no doubt that both employees and employers will face tough times in the coming weeks as both try to balance the needs, feelings, and fears of the other. The point is, as the title to this article alludes, for the mental health of your staff, good industrial relations, and indeed for operational planning, communication is key. It really is that simple – it’s good to talk.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance. If you would like more information on the content of this article, please call the Employmentor Team on 01603 281139.

You Are What You Eat?

Posted by: on Jan 7, 2020 | No Comments

Two recent cases look at whether or not vegetarianism and veganism could amount to a protected characteristic for the purpose of discrimination laws.

It’s that time of year when everyone wants to be healthy, watching what they eat, particularly after all those mince pies(!). Two recent Employment Tribunal cases have had a similar focus on eating habits, specifically veganism and vegetarianism, and whether or not those eating habits could amount to a ‘philosophical belief’ so as to be a “protected characteristic” for the purposes of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, alongside other protected characteristics such as gender, race, or disability.

In a landmark ruling in September 2019, where the employer was represented by none other than Employmentor’s very own Sarah Appleton and Dan Chapman, the Claimant was unsuccessful in claiming that his vegetarianism amounted to a protected characteristic.  Simply put, the Tribunal agreed with our experts that vegetarianism is not a philosophical belief, and so the Claimant could not bring a discrimination claim based on any “banter” or other treatment he allegedly suffered by virtue of being a vegetarian.

The more recent case, Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, involved a vegan Claimant asserting that his belief in “ethical veganism” (the belief not only in following a vegan diet, but also avoiding the use of animal products entirely and taking active steps not to harm any animal in any way) should be protected under discrimination law. In this case, the Employment Judge (the same Judge involved in the previous case) commented that he was “satisfied overwhelmingly” that ethical veganism (in that case) is a philosophical belief.

The key distinction between the two appears to be the cogency of the belief, i.e. the reasons for holding the belief being similar or the same. So, whilst people may be vegetarians for various different reasons, some unconnected to a “belief” per se, it appears (although the full Judgment is not yet available) in the vegan case that the Judge was satisfied that in the main, ethical vegans are ethical vegans for the same reasons, and are committed to it as a belief and way of life.

Indeed, an interesting question for future cases is whether or not “normal” (i.e. non-ethical) vegans would be protected – the Judgment of the vegetarian case appeared to suggest they would, although the perhaps deliberate clarification in the second case that “ethical” vegans are protected suggests that “normal” vegans might not be.  So we’ll have to watch this space on that one!

So what should employers do going forward?

The first point to remember is that these decisions are Employment Tribunal decisions only, and therefore not, strictly speaking, binding on either other Employment Tribunals, or, indeed, on employers. That said, both cases attracted vast media coverage and employers therefore should be prepared for more allegations of discrimination on the basis of belief – not just veganism, but other beliefs too, such as a belief in using recyclable materials, or anti-animal testing. As concern for the environment and ethical practices are more and more at the forefront of people’s minds, we anticipate that there may be increasing numbers of these types of claims going forward, looking to expand the “philosophical belief” definition further.

Contrary to some recent commentary, there is no need for employers to start changing their equal opportunities policies to refer to ethical vegans being protected, nor to bring in a whole host of new rules or training.  What employers should do though, is be mindful that more discrimination allegations are likely from staff, and to take steps (as far as possible) to minimise the risk of those allegations coming – that means treating staff fairly and with respect, and shutting down any “banter” which is inappropriate or crosses a line, as soon as you become aware of it.   Put simply, if you are nice to your staff and foster a nice working environment, they will have less reason to complain and (if they are ethical vegans) to allege discrimination.  And that sounds like a pretty good New Year’s Resolution to us…

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance. If you would like more information on the content of this article, please call the Employmentor Team on 01603 281139.

Covert Recordings of Meetings

Posted by: on Jul 11, 2019 | No Comments

With the majority of people carrying mobile phones which are capable of making recordings, it is not surprising that employers have seen an increase in employees covertly recording work meetings. Many times in the past we have been asked by our clients “what can we do about it?”. Historically, our dejected response has been “not a lot”. Well…not anymore!

 

A case handed down this month in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (Phoenix House Limited v Stockman) has confirmed that both an employee and an employer should say if there is any intention to record a meeting except in the most pressing of circumstances, and (on the employee’s part), it will generally amount to misconduct not to do so. It follows that it is therefore permissible to discipline an employee for making a covert recording at work.

 
The level of disciplinary sanction very much depends on the facts. The Employment Appeal Tribunal was keen to emphasise that, contrary to what was argued in the case before it, covert recording of meetings does not automatically amount to gross misconduct (which can result in dismissal without notice). Rather, in determining what level of misconduct has occurred, employers must consider:

1. The purpose of the recording

Was it to entrap the employer or gain a dishonest advantage? Or was it merely to keep a record, ensure that the employee was not being misrepresented, or to take advice?

2. Blame

Was the employee told specifically not to make a recording, or did they lie about making a recording? Or was it more innocent and the employee simply did not think about the fact that making a recording would not be appropriate?

3. Type of meeting recorded

Was it a meeting that would usually be minuted in some way, and a record shared, such as a disciplinary or grievance meeting? Or was it a meeting at which highly confidential, or personal information was discussed?

 
All of those factors are relevant in determining what sanction an employer can impose. Clearly an employee who records a meeting concerning highly confidential business information in order to try and trick the employer, and then lies about it, can justifiably receive a much harsher sanction than an employee who just wanted a record of the meeting, and did not think there would be an issue in taking a recording. As with everything in employment law, each case depends on its facts. Of course if you do wish to take disciplinary action for covert recording of meetings then you will need to follow a full disciplinary process, which we can assist you with.

 
The key action point for employers here is to review and update your policies. If you do not want your meetings recorded (and our advice is that it should be your general policy that meetings are not recorded by either party), that should be set out in your policies – disciplinary, grievance, bullying and harassment, performance management, and any other policies which envisage meetings being held. Equally, you should update your “misconduct list” in your disciplinary policy to set out that recording meetings covertly is considered to be misconduct, or, in some cases, gross misconduct.

 
It is also important to note, even if you do have policies in place, and the employee has acted sneakily in making their recording (etc. etc.), those recordings are still disclosable in an Employment Tribunal. So, whilst you may now be able to discipline employees for making recordings, they can still use those recordings against you… so please please please watch what you say.

 

All in all though, a welcome development for many employers…happy disciplining!

 
Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance. If you would like more information on the content of this article, please call the Employmentor Team on 01603 281139.

Holiday Pay Updates – Voluntary Overtime

Posted by: on Jun 11, 2019 | No Comments

Good news – yet another court decision on how to calculate holiday pay!

The Court of Appeal confirmed yesterday, in the case of East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust v Flowers, that yes, voluntary overtime should be taken into account when calculating holiday pay, thus confirming an earlier Employment Appeal Tribunal decision which we updated you on back in August 2017.

Specifically, the Court of Appeal ruled that where overtime is “sufficiently regular and settled for payments made in respect of it to amount to normal remuneration”, it is irrelevant whether or not the overtime is compulsory or voluntary; it must count towards the calculation of holiday pay.

The law for now

For now, this means that we do have confirmation, from the Court of Appeal, that holiday pay should include a calculation that factors in:

  • Overtime of any sort (whether voluntary, compulsory, guaranteed or not) as long as it is broadly regular and predictable;
  • Commission payments;
  • Shift allowances;
  • Stand by payments;
  • Call out payments; and
  • Any travel payments which are treated as taxable remuneration (as opposed to reimbursement of expenses).

The jury is still out on bonuses, but it seems as though productivity and attendance linked bonuses that form part of “normal remuneration” will likely count towards a holiday pay calculation, whereas more discretionary bonuses such as those based on company performance will not form part of holiday pay.

We are also still unclear, at least for now, on how holiday pay should actually be calculated in practice, specifically whether it should be with reference to pay during the preceding 12 weeks, 12 months, or somewhere between the two.

Future changes – 2020

Fortunately, it is hoped that the end (or at least the beginning of the end!) may well be in sight. Planned changes to the law in April next year, as part of the Good Work Plan, include a commitment from the government to legislate to confirm a 52 week reference period for calculating holiday pay (rather than the current 12 week period), giving employers much needed clarity in this area of law.

Practical Steps

For now, legally speaking, all workers who take holiday should, for the first 20 days of their holiday (as these changes only apply to the first 4 out of the 5.6 weeks statutory entitlement), receive a payment which includes all the elements listed above.

However, given the fact that the applicable reference period, at least until April 2020, is still unclear, and given that even after April 2020, there may be different approaches for different types of worker, this area of law remains a tricky one, and employers who are at all unsure should contact the Employmentor Team, so that we can advise on the most appropriate way for your business to plan for the changes next year, and beyond.

Indeed, given that the changes in April 2020 will apply retrospectively (in that they will require a calculation to be carried out on the basis of the previous 52 weeks) we would urge businesses to start to think now about assessing their workforce and how they are paid during annual leave, so as to ensure not only that compliance next year is practicable, but also to be more confident on staffing costs and budgeting moving forward.

 

It is also worth noting that a further change is afoot in terms of holiday for 2020, and that is the change to the early May Bank Holiday, which will move to a Friday (8 May 2020) as part of the commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day.

 

If you would like to speak with any member of the Employmentor Team to chat through your options with regards to any of the above, please call 01603 281139 to arrange that.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.

Employment Law Changes: April 2019

Posted by: on Apr 1, 2019 | No Comments

As ever in April, there are a number of key changes which come into force today and this week. By way of reminder these are:

National Minimum Wage – 1 April 2019

As from today, the National Minimum Wage rates are:

  • for those aged 25 and over, £8.21 (increase from £7.83);
  • for those aged 21 to 24, £7.70 (increase from £7.38);
  • for those aged 18 to 20, £6.15 (increase from £5.90);
  • for those under 18, £4.35 (increase from £4.20); and
  • for those who are apprentices, £3.90 (increase from £3.70).

Statutory payments – 6/7 April 2019

From 6 April 2019, statutory sick pay is increasing from £92.05 per week to £94.25.

From 7 April 2019, the level of statutory maternity, adoption, paternity and shared parental pay is also increasing, from £145.18 per week to £148.68.

Tribunal awards – 6 April 2019

From 6 April 2019, the limit for a weeks’ pay will increase from £508 to £525. This figure is used to calculate statutory redundancy pay and the basic award in unfair dismissal claims.

The maximum compensatory award for ordinary unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal will also increase from £83,682 to £86,444.

Itemised payslips – 6 April 2019

From 6 April 2019, all workers (as well as employees) are entitled to itemised payslips. Further, payslips must now set out the number of hours paid for where a worker is paid on an hourly rate basis.

 

Whilst these may only seem like small changes, they are not ones to miss as the consequences of failing to follow these changes can have a big impact on employers.

Please be aware that reliance should not be placed on this information in substitution for taking legal advice specific to your circumstances. If you have any questions on any of these changes, please do contact a member of the Employment Team via 01603 281139/ email hidden; JavaScript is required.

 

Issuing Contracts of Employment

Posted by: on Feb 18, 2019 | No Comments

The New Year marks an opportunity to make resolutions for how to be better employers, but as January 1st becomes a distant memory, and the majority of resolutions have fallen by the wayside, a recent case reminds employers of the importance of issuing contracts of employment to new staff, and provides helpful guidance as to when this process should be completed.

Most employers are familiar with their obligations in relation to issuing a “written statement of particulars of employment” containing specific details, including the start date, the rate of pay, the place of work, and the notice arrangements, when a new employee starts employment (usually in the form of a contract of employment).

More experienced HR practitioners may also be aware that the law provides that such a statement must be issued no later than two months after the start of employment, but is not required for employees with less than one months’ continuous service, and that failure to provide a statement can attract compensation if pursued with other employment tribunal claims, of between two to four weeks’ pay.

A recent case involving employees with very short service has muddied the waters on this a little, as the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that an employee with six weeks’ continuous service should have been issued with a written statement of employment particulars, and was therefore entitled to compensation where her employer failed to do so.

The EAT suggested that whilst the law confirms that an employer has up to two months to issue a written statement of employment particulars (and is not required to do so for the first one month of employment), an employee can still seek compensation for not having a written statement of employment particulars if they are employed for between one and two months. Confused? So were we!

The upshot is that employers should now ensure that all employees who have over one months’ continuous service are issued with a written statement of employment particulars – in other words, a contract of employment. That also reflects good practice, to ensure that at least the key terms are set out in writing, to avoid any confusion or dispute.

In any case, from 6 April 2020 and the launch of the Government’s “Good Work Plan”, all employees and, for the first time, workers, will be entitled to a detailed written statement of terms from the very first day they commence work.

So, the moral of the story here is to make sure you have detailed contracts of employment, and that those are issued to employees (for now) in a timely manner (and, from next year, from their first day of employment).

If you need any assistance in relation to preparing contracts of employment, or would like us to review your existing contracts, please do contact a member of the Employment Team via 01603 281139 or email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Reminder: Rest Breaks

Posted by: on Jan 23, 2018 | No Comments

Tribunal confirms that workers must receive an uninterrupted break of no less than 20 minutes where they work for six hours or longer.

As we are sure you are aware, the law states that most workers who work for over six hours are entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted rest break. It is not acceptable, for example, to give two 10 minute breaks totalling 20 minutes.

In certain industries (such as rail and security) those breaks are interrupted. A security guard who ignores a robber attempting to crack the bank’s safe is unlikely to absolve him or herself by saying “Sorry boss, I was on my break!” In these circumstances, where an employee has been prevented from taking their full 20 minutes, an employer must give the employee another rest break, known as ‘compensatory rest’.

Recently the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was called upon to examine what exactly was meant by compensatory rest. Mr Crawley worked in single-manned signal boxes for Network Rail. Whilst signal box operatives are not constantly busy, they are required to continuously monitor and may be required to take steps to ensure the train network operates smoothly and safely. Whilst Mr Crawley was able to take numerous breaks throughout the day (which cumulatively amounted to over 20 minutes), there was no individual 20 minute long break. Mr Crawley said he had not had his 20 minute rest break, and sued Network Rail.

The EAT agreed with Mr Crawley and held that his rest must be an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes. A combination of shorter breaks is not allowed.

What does this mean?

This case is a reminder that employees must have a full uninterrupted 20 minute break. In the event that an employee’s 20 minute break is interrupted, technically they must be given another full 20 minute break. Where an employee is not allowed to take this break, they may in theory bring a claim.

Where a complaint is upheld, the Employment Tribunal will make a declaration that the working time regulations have been breached, and may award damages where the worker has suffered a loss. A public declaration that an employer has breached the Working Time Regulations will undoubtedly cause reputational damage, and may put off customers and potential candidates alike.

Where a lack of breaks makes working practices unsafe, local councils or the Health and Safety Executive can issue enforcement notices, or even bring criminal charges against the worst offenders.

What should I do?

Don’t panic; the likelihood of an employee bringing a claim because of one 18 minute rest break is fairly low (unless you have particularly litigious employees).

Firstly, review your break policy and record keeping practices to ensure that:

  1. all employees are entitled to a full 20 minute break; and
  2. where these breaks are interrupted, there is scope for employees to take a full 20 minute break later.

Employees should be allowed to take a break of at least 20 minutes (and remember these breaks can be unpaid). You may also consider ways in which you can record the lengths of breaks employees are taking (e.g. clocking in and out, timesheets and/or time recording).

You should also remember that 20 minutes is an absolute minimum; a modern employer should allow further breaks where the health and safety of their employees requires it. This may be the case for employees working particularly long shifts.

What are the benefits?

Having adequate breaks helps employees to be productive, safe and happy at work. It also lowers the risk of a claim being made against you and the potential of a damaging working time declaration.

If you have any questions about rest breaks or the Working Time Regulations in general please contact a member of our Employmentor team on 01603 281139 or email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Note: the content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

Are your employment contracts GDPR ready?

Posted by: on Dec 11, 2017 | No Comments

Even before Uber made the headlines (for all the wrong reasons) by covering up a massive data breach, the imminent introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has made data protection a hot topic.

Sexual Harassment: Flirting with Disaster

Posted by: on Nov 10, 2017 | No Comments

Following the series of allegations made against public figures over recent weeks, including actor Kevin Spacey and producer Harvey Weinstein, the topic of sexual harassment is a major national talking point. Whilst the media have focussed on allegations made against public figures, these issues can and do affect the workplace. It is also possible that staff, empowered by recent events and the #metoo social media campaign will begin to come forward with their own allegations and concerns.

As a modern employer you can, and should, take steps to ensure your workplace is a safe and welcoming environment for all of your staff and that any allegation of harassment is handled appropriately. Whether or not a complaint is well-founded, how the matter is handled (both in relation to the accuser and the accused) is key in workplace relationships and the protection of your business and its reputation.

What is sexual harassment?

Having a clear idea of what is (and what is not) sexual harassment is key to protecting your employees and your business. Unfortunately it is impossible to say in the abstract what will amount to sexual harassment and it would be equally unhelpful to trot out a legal definition, as there are some acts which, whilst legal, would be completely unacceptable in the workplace. In broad terms, sexual harassment involves unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.

This debate usually circles back to the ‘hand-on-the-knee’ which landed the former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon in hot water last week. As a rule of thumb, where conduct is sexual in the workplace this should set off alarm bells and a starting point should be that that conduct is not appropriate. Where the complainant alleges that the ‘hand-on-the-knee’, whilst maybe not sexual, was not wanted, a modern employer may wish to treat such allegation as one of sexual harassment.

It is also worth remembering that sexual harassment does not necessarily require any physical ‘touching’. As we have seen over the past couple of weeks, lewd comments, emails, texts or seemingly innocuous advances can result in allegations of sexual harassment.

And yes, for these purposes the workplace includes after work drinks and the Christmas Party!

How do I deal with allegations of sexual harassment?

Where an allegation has been made against a member of staff (or ex-member of staff), a modern employer should deal with it with sensitivity and discretion. You should consider the personal turmoil which may have led up to the complaint and be prepared to hear the complainant out, regardless of your views on the severity of the alleged conduct or the seniority of the alleged offender.

It will usually be appropriate to investigate any alleged incidents of sexual harassment or abuse. The investigation should, where possible, be dealt with by someone independent to the case, the accuser and the alleged perpetrator in a way which minimises distress to all parties involved. Of course the investigation should be confidential, but employers should also consider more practical matters:

  • Should the accused be suspended?
  • Should the accuser and accused be prevented from working together in the short term?
  • What is the most appropriate venue for the investigation? The scene of the alleged incident will rarely be appropriate!
  • Do you need to speak to anyone else about the matter?
  • How will you phrase your questions to both parties?

Depending on the investigation findings it may then be appropriate to take disciplinary action. Conversely if there is no perceived case to answer after investigation, it is crucial that this is communicated to the accused and the accuser sensitively, without blame or judgement on either party. You will also need to think about how to manage the relationship between the individuals moving forward, perhaps with mediation.

What about historic allegations?

In some cases, the alleged conduct will have happened many years before any allegation is made. A modern employer should not dismiss an allegation as false or not worthy of investigation purely because it relates to historic conduct; certainly preparatory investigatory steps should be taken at least.

How can I be pro-active?

Let’s face it – there is little you can do about historical allegations of sexual conduct. There is also little you can do if a sexually charged employee is hell-bent on cornering their crush at the end of after work drinks at 3am in the dark corner of the bar. What you can do is take steps now to ensure that employees know:

  • Exactly what behaviour is, and is not, acceptable;
  •  What action to take if they feel they have been sexually harassed; and
  •  That any victims will be supported.

With that in mind:

  • Produce, publish and communicate your policy on sexual harassment in the workplace, the standards of conduct expected, what you consider to be the workplace and what action will be taken;
  • Re-train your staff (including directors) on sexual harassment and your policy on it; and
  • Review your grievance policy to check that it is appropriate to deal with sexual harassment matters.

Not only should all of that set out your stall on the matter and provide a mechanism for dealing with it, it will also offer you protections and legal defences as an employer if your business ever comes in the firing line.

If you would like more information on the content of this article, details of how to deal with allegations and how you can take a proactive approach to preventing sexual harassment, please call our Employmentor Team on 01603 281139.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.