Monthly Archives: April 2012

Social Media in the Workplace

In recent years Twitter, Facebook, U Tube, and LinkedIn have become part of everyday language and life as well as blogging.  Employers have to make up their mind whether to offer access to social media or not and if so decide how their employees can use social media in the workplace which means drafting clear guidelines in a policy.  Many employers to avoid potential misdemeanours  deny access on workplace IT equipment with firewalls.  Problem solved perhaps, but most mobiles and smart phones these days provide access to the internet and, therefore, social media sites which many cunning employees will use.  A social media use policy needs to cover the eventuality of an employee not performing in their duties distracted by the addictive attraction of what their contacts are getting up to. 
Many employers, on the other hand, do provide unbridled access with the caveat of “acceptable use”, which requires definition in terms of which sites are acceptable to access and transparency in terms of monitoring.
Social media sites are a public forum for all and sundry to view what they are writing about.  Employees thefore need to be careful what they share with the world.  There are examples of employees describing the wonderful time they are having on social pursuits when they have called in sick to their employer and other employees who have openly criticised their employer.   An HR policy needs to cover what actions the employer will take if such activity comes to light.
When drafting a social media use policy it is important for an employer to consult with the workforce and/or unions before finalisation in order to get buy in. Implementation of the policy should be followed up by line manager training.
New recruits should be made aware of the policy as part of induction.

Employee Relations and the Tanker Drivers

The current dispute of the tanker drivers and their threat of striking due to an apparent  erosion of their employment rights over the years shows the power that unhappy employees can have.  In this case they may bring the country to its knees if they strike causing an even bigger fuel shortage.  Employee relations is not good.  The tanker drivers feel they have been badly treated over the years and finally have had enough.   They are worried that the “turn and burn” culture required by the petrol companies is forcing them to deliver faster for less; corners are cut on health and safety whilst they are responsible for the delivery of 38,000 tons of volatile fuel.  They are fighting for minimum standards.
Originally the dispute was about safety but now through their union, Unite, they are requesting better pay and pensions.  It has been reported that one company sought to cut the pay of its drivers by £9,000.  It seems the tanker drivers feel undervalued.
The industry appears to have gobbled up the profits without passing on the benefits to the drivers.  To reduce staff costs and increase profits the drivers have been TUPE transferred to outside contractors and in the process their pension providers have been changed many times.  
Under TUPE regulations terms and conditions can not be changed unless for an economic, technological or organisational reason.  Pensions do not transfer under TUPE but a new employer has the obligation to provide a comparable pension scheme.  With many final salary pension schemes closing the only alternative has been to provide a money purchase scheme which are dependent on performance of that product to pay out in the long run.    
Conciliation talks through ACAS will start imminently.  Hopefully ACAS can work with the union to ensure that basic working conditions and employment rights are improved creating an action plan to move forward.  Employers have a duty of care to their employees and need to ensure there are basic safety standards in place that protect all concerned.  Furthermore they need to ensure that the reward the drivers receive, both financial and non-financial, is acceptable and motivational.
If the basic principle of HR management of fairness is applied to this situation it can be resolved.

Rise of the Unfair Dimissal Qualifying Period

On 6 April 2012 the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims rises from one to two years. The change will only affect new employees whose employment starts on or after April 6 2012. Those employees already in employment will retain the current qualifying period of one year. The change will not affect automatic unfair dismissal claims.

The new timeframe to terminate employment of an employee, if they are not performing to standards, will be one year and 51 weeks.  For employees commencing employment before 6 April 2012 it remains before the 51 week mark.  This is because an employee is entitled to include their one weeks’ statutory notice period in their length of service, to obtain the requisite period of service to entitle them to bring an unfair dismissal claim.  However if an employment contract specifies longer notice than the statutory then termination should be considered many weeks, or months, beforehand.  For example if an employee employed after 6 April has one month’s notice specified in the contract, dismissal should be considered at the 22.5 month stage (or 10.5 months stage for those employed before 6 April). However, in my opinion an employer should not wait until the qualifying period is looming to terminate a badly performing new employee. 

Employers need to use probationary periods effectively to monitor and test new employees picking up quickly on any issues of poor performance providing an opportunity to improve.  Furthermore employers should diarise the cut-off points for continuous service to ensure employees do not attain the requisite qualifying period.  A fair procedure should be adopted when terminating employment including maintaining the paper trail.  Furthermore employers should be vigilant with how they manage employees to avoid possible discrimination as there is no qualifying period to bring an employment tribunal claim for that. 

The introduction of the higher qualifying period is part of the government’s drive to promote employment and to give employers the chance to try out new recruits without fear of unfair dismissal claim.  Time will tell whether this employment reform will assist businesses and boost economic recovery.