Monthly Archives: February 2012

Employers – Are You Engaging Your Employees?

Companies can easily increase their profits by actively engaging with their employees.  It makes sense that the more engaged employees are the harder they will work with the sense of a shared purpose which will ultimately benefit the business hugely.  Employees need to feel valued and that they are being listened to.  There are lots of ways an employer can improve employee engagement.
It is important to praise people and say thank you for a job well done.  Saying thank you goes a long way to increasing morale and can often work more wonders than a pay increase.  Recognising an employee’s success  can be an informal process or formally implemented with an “employee of  the month” certificate.  Ask employees for their ideas then share and implement the good ones. Provide a new and interesting project that will motivate an employee having taken the time initially to find out what they would like to do.  Find out what your employees want from an employee survey and encourage high participation to ensure “true” results which should then be used for improvements.  Think about implementing manager “back to the floor” sessions so they can experience what it was like “just being an employee” and understand current employee issues with the aim to put things right that are not working.   
Make time for fun in the workplace; organise a lunch for everyone to attend either on site or in a nice restaurant or install a TV for lunchtime viewing. Provide a nice working environment and allow employees to customise their personal space.   If deadlines or targets have been met allow employees to leave early on a Friday. Offer stress relief activities. Celebrate birthdays. 
All these ideas are either low or no cost and can make a huge difference to engaging employees to improve the bottom line.  

Tackling Racism in Football

Racism in football has been in the news several times in recent months. John Terry is charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand and now Mark McCammon claims he and other black players at Gillingham Football Club were treated differently to white players and is making an employment tribunal claim for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal to be heard later this year.  The Prime Minister is aiming to crack down on racism in football and will be examining the lack of black coaches, managers and referees in the game.  The Football Association are now looking at tougher punishments for players and managers accused of racist behaviour.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of race. Race includes colour, nationality and ethnic/national origins.  It doesn’t matter if the discrimination is done on purpose or not. What counts is whether, as a result of an employer’s actions, an employee is treated less favourably than someone else because of race. The Equality Act 2010 Act protects all racial groups, regardless of their race, colour, nationality, or national or ethnic origins. Every part of employment is included; recruitment, terms and conditions, pay and benefits, status, training, promotion and transfer opportunities, right through to redundancy and dismissal. There are four kinds of unlawful behaviour.

a) direct discrimination – where race is an effective cause for less favourable treatment eg not being offered a job because of a particular nationality,

b) indirect discrimination – where rules or policies are applied to everyone but which particularly disadvantage members of a particular group if that can not be justified eg qualifications required for a job post which have only been gained in the UK,

c) harassment – participating in or allowing or encouraging unwanted behaviour that offends somone or creates a hostile atmosphere eg making racist remarks,

d) victimisation – treating someone badly because they have complained or supported someone bringing a complaint about discrimination eg taking disciplinary action against someone as punishment for their complaint about race discrimination.

Employers need to have a clear policy and procedure in place that gives clear guidelines for conduct and how misconduct will be dealt with.  The FA would do well to heed this advice. 

Are Zero Hours Contracts Legal?

Yes zero hours contract are legal.  They are contracts that are provided to casual and sessional workers.  They are ideal for an employer wishing to have a flexible workforce to meet fluctuating work demands.  Zero hours contracts are used extensively in the hospitality industry and social care sector.  They operate on a mutual no obligation relationship; the employer has no obligation to offer work and the worker has no obligation to accept the work.  For the employer it is advantageous to have a bank of casual staff to call upon when increased demand arises and to be sure that someone will be available to do that work.   

Zero hours contracts only command pro rata holidays in terms of employment rights and it is important to keep records of hours completed to calculate holiday pay.  Holidays can then be paid quarterly or, if appropriate, on a rolled up basis carefully following the rules for rolled up holiday pay.  Workers with zero hours contract should be used on an ad hoc basis only so that additional employment rights can not be pursued in an employment tribunal.

How Can I Grow and Improve my Business Through Better HR Management?

A company’s employees ie its human resources are its greatest asset and how they are managed can be the key to growing and improving a business; this should always be a strategic objective regardless of company size.  HR management can include recruitment, induction, performance management, health & safety management, pay and benefits, wellness, diversity, employee motivation, communication and training to name but a few aspects.  Providing leadership and promoting culture whilst adhering to employment law are also essential.
Better HR management starts with making good recruitment decisions so that you are recruiting the right quality of individual with the key skills your business needs.   A structured recruitment process is required that incorporates ability and psychometric tests along with the traditional interview.  Providing a competitive pay and benefits package will attract the right calibre of applicants in the first place; benefits can be both financial and non-financial eg flexible working is highly valued by employees with minimal costs to introduce.  A well designed, structured induction process will then settle your new recruit  into their job so they begin to quickly start performing well.  Consideration to an ongoing varied training and development plan is essential to keep the momentum going and develop key skills which will benefit both the individual and the business.
Employees should be managed fairly and equally by trained line managers who encourage them to get involved in the work environment through two way communication.  They should be provided with interesting work that provides job satisfaction.  Recognition for successes is important and can be provided financially or through feedback and praise so that employees feel valued.  This will stimulate their motivation to work harder.  Employees can therefore become an engaged workforce which leads to higher productivity with a huge impact on the bottom line allowing a business to grow and improve. 

Do I need a barrister to defend me at an industrial tribunal?

One of the recent search terms on my website (employment tribunals page) has been “do I need a barrister to defend me at an industrial tribunal”.  The simple answer is no you don’t need a barrister it’s whether you can afford one.  There are, however, other more cost effective options to consider.  You could always think about representing your employment tribunal case yourself.  This would be the most cost effective route in terms of finances, however, in terms of time it would be very expensive.  You will have to ensure you have your paperwork in order and that you adhere to the essential deadlines set by the employment tribunal office.  The process can be very lengthy and time consuming depending on the issues related to the case.
As an alternative if you don’t have the time you may like to instruct a solicitor to represent your employment tribunal case,  however, although this would be time effective the financial costs of using a solicitor could be very high as they often charge by the hour for their time.  You would also need to check that they have the experience of representing in court – some don’t. 
A more cost effective solution both in terms of your time and money would be to instruct an HR consultant experienced in the tribunal process with a demonstrable track record of undertaking employment tribunal work.  An HR consultant can often offer more flexible charging terms.  They should be able to coach you seamlessly through the process keeping you fully informed as to what is happening at each step, but not involving you until really necessary.  They should also be able to undertake the paperwork processing, liaison with the other parties, ACAS and the tribunal office, negotiation settlements then providing effective representation during the hearing if things go that far.  

Developing an HR Strategy

For any organisation that has employees it is important to develop an HR strategy for the future which will provide a 3-5 year direction for the organisation in order to gain competitive advantage. 
The use of a SWOT analysis can help develop an HR strategy in looking at how external factors (opportunities and threats) can impact on internal factors (strengths and weaknesses) identifying plans for improvement and/or growth.  External factors can include those related to political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental issues.  Therefore an organisation must analyse which or all of these will have an effect.   For example employment legislation is constantly changing (dependent on EU implementation requirements and government interpretations).  This has an impact on employees in that an organisation has to ensure an engaged productive workforce that are being managed within the law.
To analyse the internal factors, an organisation must look at its tangible HR resources ie specific employee skills and experience, recruitment strategies, staff motivation, staff turnover, etc. to identify its strengths and weaknesses. 
By cross referencing strengths and weaknesses against opportunities and threats clear plans can then be developed on paper for an HR strategy.  Employees are an organisation’s greatest resource so such a long term plan is essential for success.

The Importance of Consultation during Redundancy

The recent case where ex-Woolworths staff received a whopping £67m compensation payout at an employment tribunal demonstrates the importance of consultation in a redundancy process.  In this case the administrators failed to consult the shop workers union on the redundancies and instead focused on trying to find a buyer.

The tribunal found the administrators of Woolworths had failed in their legal duty to consult the union with the result that over 24,000 former employees received a Protective Award of 60 days’ pay, capped at the statutory maximum of £330 a week that applied at the time.   It had been the view of the administrators that closures were inevitable therefore there was no genuine open minded consultation. Also the time allocated to consultation meetings was far too short which also demonstrated their opinion that redundancies were inevitable.
The judgement sends a clear message to employers for the price paid for failing to consult properly.  It is really important to carry out a fair and reasonable consultation process in good time before any dismissals take place.  A group consultation should announce the company’s proposals then be followed by individual consultation meetings.   When carrying out a collective consultation process with unions or employee representatives individual consultation needs to take place as well.
During individual consultation employees need to know the selection criteria applied and how they have been scored and at the same time be given the opportunity to discuss ways to avoid redundancy. They should be gven the opportunity to suggest ways of avoiding redundancy.  The employer may have alternative employment opportunities available in the company which should be discussed with the employee explaining how the roles can be applied for.  Employees need to fully understand the redundancy process and it should not be rushed at all.
Employers should keep a paper trail to show that full and meaningful consultation has taken place, which includes letters and notes from all the meetings.
More information can be found on the ACAS website

Growth in Part Time Working

The Office of National Statistics has today announced that many people in the UK are having to take part time work rather than full time when seeking employment.  The figure is at its highest level since records began 20 years ago.
Whilst it may be unfortunate that those people seeking full time work can only take up part time work, at least, they are in employment, keeping up their skills until hopefully the economy returns to normal and more opportunities for full time work returns.  They are also avoiding the benefits trap. 
Part time work as part of flexible working can, however, benefit both employer and employee.  For an employer it may be more effective to offer part time hours certainly keeping costs down which is important during these difficult economic times.  With a fixed budget an employer can still bring in skilled and experienced labour without breaking the bank. The use of part time labour can reduce pressure on full time employees and cut an employer’s overtime bill. Part time working can increase productivity and provide an advantage over competitors. 
Part time working can include working  shorter days or fewer days in the week, but also term time working and job sharing. Part time employees should be treated the same as any full time employees which includes offering the same terms and conditions and equal treatment.  Consideration to communication is key as part time employees need to be kept in the loop given they are not present in the workplace all the time.   
For an employee the benefits of part time working can be having a better work life balance, improved health and well being and time for other responsibilities. 

Relationships in the Workplace

A wise employer draws up a policy for dealing with relationships in the workplace.  This can include  advising the potential employer on an application form or during a job interview  that you have a partner working for that organisation to an obligation to alert an employer when a new relationship starts as it often can given the amount of time employees spend at work. Few employers choose to ban relationships in the workplace all together as this could be bad HR practice in most circumstances.  However in some cases there could be a betrayal of professionalism eg tutor/student, doctor/patient so clear guidelines need to be in place. 
Working with a partner can potentially cause all sorts of problems from compromising confidentiality to emotional problems spilling into the workplace if things go pear shaped so a well communicated policy needs to be in place.   The policy needs to cover inappropriate behaviour, favouritism, abuse of authority, conflict of interest, etc and consideration should be made to including family members working together.  Fair and consistent treatment should be the aim. 
Employees should read their contract and employee handbook to understand their responsibilities. 

Managing Sickness Absence

The first Monday in February is unofficially known as “National Sickie Day” as it is the day employees are most likely to call in sick.  The reasons being the freezing cold days, travelling to work and home in the dark and the summer holiday in the very distant future.  It is estimated that this year 400,000 employees will have done so costing the UK economy £43m.
Every year sickness absence costs £700 per employee in the UK. Given the state of the economy businesses can not afford to put up with employees consisting calling in sick so managing sickness absence is very important.  Absence is a financial cost to the business as well as a cost to motivation and morale of the workforce.
There are two types of absence that need to be dealt with using a fair procedure.
For frequent intermittent absence where an employee phones in on a regular basis with indiscriminate illnesses, employers need to track what is happening to look for any trends such as the Monday/Friday syndrome or an employee being sick at particular times.  Armed with the information the employer then needs to discuss the situation with the employee to find out what is causing the absence, using an occupational health referral as required.  The employer needs to stress an improvement is required and then if that does not happen move onto use of the disciplinary process if appropriate.  If a disability has come to light during medical investigation then reasonable adjustments are essential.
For long term absence where an employee has a serious medical condition then regular meetings are essential with an occupational health referral for advice on how to manage the situation.  Long term if the employee is unable to return to work then an ill health termination must be considered.