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What are the benefits of contracts of employment?

This is the question that I get asked a lot and there are many pitfalls for employers who do not have contracts of employment in place for their staff.

Many are surprised to learn that it is in fact law that employees receive written terms and conditions of employment within two months of taking up their position within their company. Employers can also be fined between 2 to 4 weeks pay per employee for failing to have written terms and conditions issued to staff.

Employment contracts comply with the employment legislation and should set out their employment rights, as well as the responsibilities and duties that you expect your employees to work to when they are employed by you.

The good news is that a good employment contract doesn’t have to be lengthy and confusing. In fact, the clearer, more concise and easier it is to understand, the better.

Contract of employment

A contract should be created for each new employee and tailored towards their specific role, including, but not confined to the following:

  • Details of the position offer, including job title
  • Primary duties and responsibilities that the role includes
  • Details of salary
  • The duration of employment, whether it is permanent or for a fixed period of time
  • Details of any benefits such as holiday entitlement, pension, bonuses, health insurance plans etc
  • Restrictive covenants or a non-compete agreement, stating the employee cannot work for a competitor or start a competing business within a specified time frame, if necessary
  • Reasons and grounds for termination
  • Confidentiality guidelines

While creating contracts of employment might just seem like another thing you have to do, their implementation actually affords many advantages!

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ADVANTAGES OF CONTRACTS OF EMPLOYMENT

Saves you money

Julie Pollock from Consult HR reported that when designing contracts of employment she has helped business owners:

  • Reduce the amount of overtime paid
  • Reduced the amount of holiday pay
  • Have control over when staff can take their holidays so they are not taking holidays when they are required to work
  • Protect the reputation of your business through appropriate policies

Reduces risk

The main advantage of having contracts of employment in place is to reduce the risk of future claims by employees. By ensuring both parties (employer and employee) are in agreement to the terms and conditions, which are then signed, this binding contract serves to reduce the chance that one party will have grounds for legal action later down the line.

Setting standards

Stating exactly what you expect from an employee in their role, standards of performance and what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.  By communicating this to employees from the outset will reduce the amount of time you spend speaking with employees, advising them of your expectations and correcting behaviours.

Protect sensitive information

For roles which involve the handling of sensitive or confidential information, a contract of employment will further protect this. A confidentiality clause will ensure sensitive information, which could be valuable to competitors is not leaked. Furthermore, the employee will not be able to use this information should they wish to compete with you.

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TOP MISTAKES EMPLOYERS MAKE IN CONTRACTS OF EMPLOYMENT

The don’t have any at all

You’d be surprised by how many companies don’t offer contracts of employment for employees. In fact, many don’t realise they have a legal obligation to do so. In the long-run, this can actually be more costly, disputes are much harder to resolve if it is not set out clearly in black and white, so protect your business and ensure you have these in place.

Copying someone else’s contract

Employers at times use standard terms and conditions and don’t really pay much attention to the content, and treat it as a tick box exercise.

They use templates from the internet or use the terms from another company and introduce it into their business.

This is highly dangerous because what is in one company’s contract may not necessarily be relevant or appropriate to your business.

The wording of your contract is critical when you want to draw an employees attention to something that you are unhappy about, or want to correct, are in dispute or worse case scenario situations that could lead to fines.

By having the correct wording should bring about a resolution very quickly, however having particular wording in contracts that you do not intend or are unaware of can be costly.

Not keeping them up-to-date

Often, a job role, working conditions and salary change over time, so contacts of employment need to be kept up-to-date to reflect this.  This also applies when employment law updates occur and policies may need to be updated.

Not having them for all staff

Many believe that contracts of employment only apply to full-time staff or should not be issued to senior staff within the business, but the fact of the matter is that ALL employees, including temporary, part time or fixed term employees have the same rights as full-time employees and should ALL be issued with contracts.

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GETTING ASSISTANCE WITH YOUR CONTRACTS OF EMPLOYMENT

At Consult HR, our outsourced services regularly sees us assisting with contracts of employment. We can help you:

  • Develop robust terms and conditions of employment that both comply with legislation and are specifically tailored to suit the requirements of your business.
  • Develop procedures which sets out the expectations that are required by the employees during their employment with you.
  • These policies and procedures are designed to protect your company in litigation claims.
  • We also develop Employee Handbooks.

For more information, get in touch today! Call Julie on: 078 5808 9006 or email: Julie@consulthr.co.uk

Top tips for managing employees’ mental health

October 10th marks #WorldMentalHealthDay so it’s time to talk about mental health in the workplace.

With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem each year in the UK, it’s highly likely that we all know someone affected by depression, anxiety or stress. And so of course it affects us at work – in fact poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99 billion each year.

Employers are affected by working days lost due to absence, have experienced staff leaving their employment and staff not performing in their jobs.

Therefore, as an employer, taking steps to manage employees’ mental health in the workplace has never been more important.

Each new case of stress leads to an average of 29 days off work…can your company afford this?

So with this in mind, here we share 6 top HR tips for effectively managing mental health at work.

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1. Ask the difficult questions

It is not unusual for business owners and managers to fear talking to staff about their health. They don’t know what questions they can ask and they are frightened of overstepping the boundaries of asking the wrong questions. But in reality, if you don’t ask the questions then you don’t know how to help. There’s no denying that mental health isn’t the easiest topic to talk about, especially at work. Employees may worry that sharing details of their mental health may lead to them being treated differently. However in society, in recent years, there has been a shift in attitudes towards mental health.

Conducting return to work interviews will provide you with the opportunity to discuss the employees absence, identify early signs and put supporting measures in place to help the employee.

2. Don’t be the ostrich – Early intervention is key

44% of people who suffer from stress have cited that the cause is heavy workload. In such situations if the matter is not addressed, a fitness to work certificate citing ‘Stress At Work’ is highly likely to land on your desk.

Ignoring this only leads to the situation getting worse and could result in:

  • The employee’s absence being long term, which was avoidable
  • Working relationships break down
  • The employee submits a grievance
  • The employee’s health deteriorating
  • You lose very experienced, reliable staff
  • Claims are taken against the company for their treatment

Have open communication with your staff, listen to any issues they raise and seek a resolution early.

If the employee does go off due to stress at work, ask them to explain what the cause of the stress is and work through a solution to enable the employee to return to work as quickly as possible.

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3. Remove prejudice

It’s essential that if an employee shares details of their mental health, that they are still given the same opportunities as other staff members. It’s easy to unconsciously make a decision such as giving a candidate a new project because another employee’s work life is stressful. It is good practice to have conversations with employees who have cited mental health problems and discuss how their work can be managed in order to help alleviate this.

4. Awareness sessions

Educating staff on how to build their mental health resilience is an excellent way to reduce mental health absences and improve the overall wellbeing of staff.

One way to do this is by holding an awareness week or awareness sessions at regular intervals throughout the year, inviting speakers in to share their experiences or offer education sessions. Opening up the channels for communication is the perfect place to start.

From this, staff can identify the signs of depression, stress and anxiety at an early stage and implement some of the tips and recommendations from the sessions to prevent their health deteriorating.

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5. Stress is not always created in the workplace

We all lead very busy lives and commonly employees’ mental health suffers as a result of something that is happening outside of work, in their personal lives such as:

  • Marriage break-up
  • The loss of a close friend or family member
  • Financial worries
  • Caring responsibilities

Even though this has resulted from external factors this can still impact on the individual at work.  So remember to acknowlege that they are working through a difficult time in their life and offer support where you can.

6. Encourage a stress-less environment

Doing what you can to promote a stress-less work environment will work wonders. Start by instilling a good work-life balance, in which long hours and out of office emails are not a part of your company’s nature. Remember, employees who are less stressed are more productive. Appreciating employees and advocating empowerment go a long way in promoting a happy team.

This is a growing area that employers are struggling with. If you need help with an employment issue that involves mental health, get in touch today. Contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or email julie@consulthr.co.uk to discuss further.

Top tips to reduce employee absenteeism in the workplace

We’ve just had a scorching May and early June and fingers crossed, the good weather is set to return. While the sunshine puts a spring in our step, it has brought with it some problems, with many employers reporting that they noticed a rise in absenteeism in the workplace.

In particular, employees are phoning in sick when employers suspected that they were basking in the sun in their gardens or soaking up the sun at the beach!

With the average UK worker being absent over six days annually, costing employers an average of £554 in sick pay per employee, no doubt you are keen to limit this cost within your business.

Effectively dealing with employee absence and differentiating between genuine absence and those taking advantage is a common challenge that many employers face.

So what exactly can you do to reduce employee absenteeism? Here, Julie Pollock from Consult HR provides her top tips on how you get a handle on it this summer.

employee absenteeism

Have a clear policy in place

The first and most important step is to ensure that your company has a practical, well-written policy in place, which is given to employees when they take up their post. The document should state the process which employees are expected to follow should absence from work arise. Having clear attendance and absence policies will keep employees versed on the standards expected of them, as well as assisting managers when dealing with proceedings. Furthermore, the policy should be readily available to staff, such as on the company’s intranet. This easy access and high visibility will enhance its importance. Finally, asking employees to read and confirm they have understood the procedures regarding absence helps improve compliance.

Conduct return to work interviews

The thought of having to sit down with a manager face-to-face to explain absence, after taking a ‘sneaky’ day off can be enough to make employees think twice about actually phoning in sick.

So having return to work interviews as standard practice can reduce your absence levels without you even noticing.

Ensure managers are approachable

If employees don’t have an understanding point of contact in the form of a manager, they may be less likely to discuss issues or requests which could avoid absence. For example, if an employee feels they can’t approach staff for a couple of hours off to attend a necessary appointment, the result of this may be calling in sick at the last minute, requiring a full day off work. Having an open, sympathetic ear will help put employees at ease and open the door for communication and ultimately reduce absence levels.

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Monitor absence

If you aren’t already doing so, monitoring absence patterns and levels is an effective way of foreseeing potential problems. This will help you identify those employees you need to have a conversation with, distinguishing between those who genuinely need assistance with ongoing health problems and those who may be taking advantage of your company’s sick pay scheme.

Keeping a record will also help you to keep abreast of trends, ie those that have ‘Monday-itis’. Furthermore, this can help notify you of absence trends, which may reveal that the employee has some external issues, which are impacting on their ability to attend work and may be resolved in a short period of time with some support from you.

Communication Is Key

Where you identify some concerns with an employee’s attendance at work, address the matter early by having a conversation, advising the employee concerned what your concerns are. This in itself may be enough to correct the problem early without the matter getting out of hand.

Health and wellbeing programmes

Companies which offer health and wellness programmes, have been shown to have lower levels of absence than those which don’t. These programmes cover a range of conditions, such as offering on-site yoga classes at lunchtime, to helping employees quit smoking or lose weight. There should be no pressure for employees to participate but they should be made aware of such programmes should they wish to avail of them. As well as helping improve health and wellbeing, staff moral will be higher and good working relationships will be developed, not to mention improved attendance levels.

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Instil flexible working hours

This is a big decision for a company to take, but one which can result in lower levels of employee absenteeism. Flexible working can take many forms such as working from home, job-sharing, part-time, term-time, job-shares and flexitime. Being able to fit working hours around the demands of a busy life, will again, ensure employees take fewer unexpected days off work. Furthermore, being accommodating instils a greater level of trust between the employer and employee.

Keep staff moral high

Keeping staff motivated is an effective way to ensure absence levels are kept to a minimum. Encourage good morale with incentives, recognition programmes, career advancement opportunities and arranging social events for teams. Undoubtedly, a combination of emotional and physical factors are responsible for preventing employee absenteeism. A positive work environment is a key factor in encouraging staff to come to work everyday.

If you are struggling with employee absenteeism in the workplace, help is at hand. At Consult HR, many companies have benefited from our outsourced HR services. For more information, get in touch here.

Are you ready for April’s statutory rates changes?

In just a few weeks, changes to statutory rates will come into effect. So what are these and how can you ensure your company avoids negative publicity for non-compliance? Here, we share the changes you need to know about, plus why 179 companies have been hit with huge fines.

The start of April is when businesses are required by law to adhere to the new statutory pay rates.

The latest list published by the government outlines 179 companies fined for not paying minimum wage to their employees. Global brands such as Wagamama, Marriott Hotels and TGI Friday’s are among the top offenders, while Northern Ireland based businesses Moy Park, Wilson’s Country Limited, QCS Contract Cleaning Ltd and Tayto were also named and shamed. The result of this has seen all 179 companies incur hefty fines, as well as being obliged to compensate workers for their shortfall.

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Wagamama is believed to have failed to pay £133,212 to 2630 workers, while TGI Friday’s owed its staff £59,348.

Reasons for underpayments include failing to pay workers for travelling between jobs, not paying overtime and deducting money for uniforms.

As well as being required by law to pay back the shortfall to employees, the named companies face fines of up to 200% of the wages owed.

Julie Pollock from Consult HR said: “Employers should not underestimate the power of the Government in this area and the compliance officers can commence an investigation and remove information from an employer’s premises with no warning. They have also taken to ‘naming and shaming’ those employers found to be in breach exposing them to negative publicity.”

In Wagamama’s case, the breach came about because the company did not provide a uniform: Wagamama’s gave staff T-shirts that they expected to be worn with a black skirt or trousers. However, by not paying for the additional items, the restaurant breached minimum wage regulations.”

Unpaid breaks, requiring staff to arrive early for their shift and unpaid time spent in meetings could all lead to underpayment of wages.

There are also warnings that employers making deductions from staff for the cost of the Christmas party could also fall foul of the law if these deductions lowered employees’ wages to less than the minimum wage.

Moreover, additional payments such as tips and service charges should not count towards wages.

Back in 2017, Argos topped the list for paying below the minimum wage because staff were expected to attend unpaid briefings and undergo lengthy security checks outside working hours.

Primark and Sports Direct were among 260 UK employers who had been named and shamed by the government for failing to pay the national minimum wage and national living wage.

The key here is to ensure that as a business, you are adhering to the new statutory rates.

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Confused by what exactly this all means? Don’t panic! We’ve laid it all out for you…

The changes are as follows:

National minimum wage

The hourly rate will increase as follows:

  • From £7.05 to £7.38 for 21-24 year olds
  • From £5.60 to £5.90 for 18-20 year olds
  • From £4.05 to £4.20 for 16-17 year olds
  • From £3.50 to £3.70 for apprentices aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship.

National living wage (for 25 years and over)

The hourly rate will increase from £7.50 to £7.83 for 25s and over.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

The weekly rate of SSP increases from £89.35 to £92.05.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

The weekly rate of SMP increases from £140.98 to £145.18.

Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP)

The weekly rate of SAP increases from £140.98 to £145.18.

Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP)

The weekly rate of SPP increases from £140.98 to £145.18.

 Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SShPP)

The weekly rate of SShPP increases from £140.98 to £145.18.

The government takes a ‘no excuse’ approach against companies for failing to pay staff less than minimum wage and ‘ignorance of the law’ will not be an acceptable explanation for non-compliance.

Undertake a review of your working practices and make necessary adjustments to any areas of risk is the advice from Julie Pollock from Consult HR, if you want to avoid penalties and protect your business from reputational damage.

If you need some help with a particular staffing issue, get in touch here today! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook here for the latest HR news and free advice, and leave your name & email address in the comments section below to sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Love is in the air; potential problems with workplace romances

Is love in the air in your workplace? As an employer have you ever thought of the problems associated with workplace romances? Here, we get to the heart of the topic by looking at how to effectively deal with relationships in the office.

A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), revealed that 41 per cent of office workers have experienced a romantic relationship in the workplace. With figures higher than a lot of us probably expected, this topic definitely deserves discussion.

Here, we reveal the potential problems that can arise as the result of workplace romances and how to effectively deal with them.

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A ban is a no-no!

While as an employer you may deem it appropriate to have an all-out ban on personal relationships at work, this is both unrealistic and a breach of the Human Rights Act. A blanket ban on romantic relationships is likely to aggravate employees, fuel the relationship and create friction between the employer and employee, not to mention the potential law suits that could arise.

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Make it clear

Having a clear policy will ensure that everyone knows exactly where they stand. In the policy, define what you deem as “inappropriate conduct” in the workplace, which could lead to disciplinary action. It is also worth outlining a broad ban on “intimate behaviour” while at work, such as kissing, holding hands or touching. The employer is also within their rights to ensure couples keep communications at work, strictly professional, which extends to electronic communications. For example, sending and receiving emails, should not focus on subjects which are not related to work. Employees should be made aware that management have the right to monitor such exchanges and intervene if necessary.

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Talk is cheap

Often the biggest worry about workplace romances is the exchange of information between the two parties. Employees should be made aware that it is a breach of their contract to share confidential information. This extends to discussing the proceedings in meetings, staff changes or other commercially sensitive information. Again, this is an area which can be outlined in the company’s policy, highlighting that discussing confidential matters with a partner can lead to disciplinary action.

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When love becomes heartbreak

The breakup of a work relationship often has the biggest impact on the workplace. When relationships turn sour, this can lead to a feeling of unease between the two individuals involved with the impact being felt by the rest of the workplace. And of course, not forgetting the headache it can give a manager! In order to deal with this effectively, having a rule in your policy, which states that employees should inform management if there is a change in their personal relationship, can help with this. Notifying employers gives management time to address any potential problems early, as well as reminding employees of what is expected of them in the workplace, in light of the separation.

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Refrain from playing cupid

It’s worth bearing in mind, that sexual harassment can take a wide variety of forms. In the employment tribunal case of Craddock v Fontoura t/a Countyclean, the business owner’s behaviour was deemed as sexual harassment after he frequently suggested that a male and female colleague should form a relationship. Despite honourable intentions, the employer’s need to play cupid between staff was unwelcome.

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In summary, office romances aren’t always hearts and flowers. Employees are entitled to a private life, and employers should only interfere when this has a direct impact on the workplace. Consult HR can help you with your staffing problems. If you need help with this, contact one of our HR experts on 078 5808 9006 or get in touch here.

How to avoid tears, tantrums and legal actions following your office Christmas party

Tis the season to be jolly but with the office Christmas party comes the need to keep both your employees and business safe during the festive frenzy. With a staggering 9 out of 10 businesses having had an employment issue as the result of a Christmas party, here are my top tips for avoiding tears, tantrums and legal actions this festive season.

You are invited to attend…

As an employer organising a Christmas party, you are undoubtedly responsible for the behavior of your employees at the event. When it comes to inviting staff, avoid discrimination claims by extending the invite to everyone. This includes those who are sick, on maternity leave or who may have mentioned they are unable to attend.

At the time of inviting employees, it is important to address the code of conduct that is expected of them, highlighting that social events connected with work are an extension of the workplace. In particular, staff should adhere to the Dignity at Work and Bullying and Harassment policies or indeed, these should be put in place if they are not already in existence.

The Chief Constable of the Police in Lincolnshire was held accountable for the actions of a male employee, who sexually harassed a female colleague, whilst at a pub. The Employment Appeal Tribunal in The Chief Constable of Lincolnshire v Stubbs [1999] ICR 547 upheld the original Employment Tribunal’s conclusion that “attending a public house for relaxation immediately after the end of the working day is, in our view, merely an extension of employment…”

 

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It was the drink talking…

In Judge v Crown Leisure Ltd [2005] IRLR 823 (CA), a company director who attended the office Christmas party advised Mr Judge that he planned to align his salary soon to meet that of a new employee who was earning considerably more. Two years later, with no advance in salary, Mr Judge resigned and claimed constructive dismissal. His claim was dismissed in the view that the Director was merely providing “words of comfort”.

Beware of promises made. Don’t make promises about pay rises or promotions at the Christmas party. The employer here was not held to it but a different tribunal may have ruled differently. Plus, the entire affair is costly in time and money so it’s best to avoid this type of conversation outside of the office.

The morning after

As employers are obliged to provide a safe place of work, be mindful of employees who are required to work the day after the Christmas party, especially those who have to drive or operate office machinery.

Employers should make employees aware of their expectations in not returning to work the day after the Christmas party under the influence of alcohol or drugs. With this in mind, it is advisable to limit the amount of free alcohol that employees have access to at the Christmas party.

 

Office Christmas party

Secret Santa implications

Although fun and a highlight of the festive season, the anonymity surrounding Secret Santa can result in inappropriate or offensive gifts being swapped. An easy way to avoid potential problems, is to make staff aware that this practice falls under the Dignity at Work and Bullying and Harassment policies, which they should keep in mind when purchasing gifts. It’s also advisable to put a spending limit on gifts in order to ensure that all staff feel included.

Beware of social media

While many believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, a clip or photos of your office Christmas party going viral on social media, for all the wrong reasons, can bring with it much more than just a hangover. With the popularity of social media on the rise, comes an increase in the number of cases involving inappropriate use of social media sites.

To avoid this, employers should have a Social Media Policy in place, which advises employees not to place material online which could negatively affect the reputation of the employer, or which breaches its Bullying and Harassment Procedures. Employees should be reminded about the practice of social media in the run up to Christmas.

The Christmas bonus conundrum

At this time of year, it is common practice for Christmas bonuses to be given, as a gesture of goodwill. However, with the effects of the economic downturn still lingering, employers often question whether they are obliged to give employees such bonuses.

If an employee’s contact is silent in relation to this payment, it can be argued that if this has previously been a custom, it is an implied term in his/her employment contract. To avoid this, employee contracts should be very clear that Christmas bonuses are at the discretion of the employer.

 

Office Christmas party

Have fun

While this all might sound a bit Scrooge, we don’t advocate that your Christmas party should be a bland affair, free of all fun. With the correct communications and employee expectations laid out beforehand, the office Christmas party can be a great event, devoid of drama and disciplinary hearings.

Happy Christmas from Consult HR.