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Pension Regulator declares Auto Enrolment a Success

The latest Pensions Regulator’s commentary and analysis has revealed that 66% of employees pension auto enrolmentare now members of a pension scheme, compared with 47% in 2012.  The Pension Regulator declares auto enrolment a success.  It seems the historic decline of the working population to provide for their pension has been reduced.

Compliance rates of 95% have been recorded in relation to the first group of small and micro employers to implement automatic enrolment. Almost 60% of employers who are still to go through the process are micro firms with between one and four employees, and around 950,000 employers are forecast to implement automatic enrolment within the next two years.  It is therefore important that small and micro businesses engage with the process.

The report also found that around three million employees have been enrolled in a master trust, and more than 185,000 employers used the ‘Duties Checker’ tool on the Pensions Regulator’s website between October 2015 and March 2016.

However, the implementation of this statutory process by all businesses, continues to face problems as it has been reported that enforcement action taken against businesses for failing to comply is up by 300%.  The Pension Regulator has escalating powers to deal with non-compliance in the form of fines that can accrue on a daily basis.  The Pension Regulator can also ndertake investigations and issue compliance notices.

In the next two years 950,000 small and micro businesses will have to put a pension scheme in place.  If they do not understand the process they should be seeking advice as soon as possible.


When Should You Bring In HR Assistance For Your Business?

Outdated or non existent employment contract and employee handbook

This is one of the main reasons I am contacted by small and medium sized businesses.  It is quite easy for existing documents to get out of date as the employment law changes frequently.  Despite the implementation of the Employment Rights Act 1996 that requires an employer to provide a new employee with employment terms and conditions (contract) within eight weeks of starting employment, many business still do not do so.  Failure to provide this document can lead to compensation equivalent to up to four weeks pay in an employment tribunal.  An employee handbook sets out the guidelines and rules that all employees have to adhere to and should be drafted in accordance with current employment law.  Outdated policies could lead to wrong actions being taken against an employee and a possible employment tribunal.

Lack of understanding with employment law

Since the 1990s there has been a steady stream of laws related to employment that have been implemented in the UK.  Employee issues such as disability, pregnancy, discrimination, health and safety and pay can be complex to deal with.  Many laws now contradict one another and it takes an employment law specialist to unpick the essentials for any given employee situation.  The cost of failing to understand current employment law could lead to an employment tribunal.

A disciplinary matter needs urgent attention  

From time to time a serious situation may occur in the workplace and it is important that, even if it is minor, that it is dealt with quickly.  Certainly in agross misconduct situation it is often essential to suspend  an employee or employees as soon as possible whilst a thorough investigation takes place.  Time is of the essence to ensure that any important evidence is not hidden or destroyed.  It is important to take urgent advice where you feel you are lacking experience of how to adequately handle these matters.

An employee is not performing well

So many businesses have under performing employees that they fail to deal with.  Unfortunately this can impact on profits and employee morale.  It is not nice for fellow employees to see a poorly performing colleague not being dealt with by management.  The matter should be dealt with in a structured legal framework  to try and get the employee back on track.  It can be time consuming to deal with but ultimately the employee can be fairly dismissed if a performance management process fails.

You have no time to deal with employee matters  

Dealing with employee issues can be very time consuming.  With a problematic employee you have to meet with them and keep a paper trail of what you have done to try and manage the situation.  Most business owners prefer to keep their focus on the business which is time consuming enough without have to deal with problematic employees which is where HR can help.

Consultation Launched About Trade Union Bill

The government has just launched consultation about the Trade Union Bill as they propose to reform strike ballot laws and modern trade union law.  The consultation will close in September 2015.

The main proposals are:-

  • industrial action will require a 50% turnout
  • 40% of all eligible voters must vote in favour of industrial action which affect important public services
  • the ban on using agency staff to cover striking workers will be lifted
  • a 4 month limit on a strike mandate, after which another ballot is required
  • more specific requirements for the wording of the ballot paper
  • banning automatic opt-ins to political donations from trade union subscription fees
  • increased notice to employers so they can prepare and put contingency plans in place
  • tackle intimidation of non striking workers

The government has published the draft Trade Union Bill, along with three separate consultation documents on ballot thresholds in important public services, hiring agency staff during industrial action and tackling intimidation of non-striking workers.

The Government claims that the proposed legislation,will create greater transparency around union practices and will ensure strikes are the result of a clear and positive democratic mandate from union members after all other possibilities have been explored.

This has of course angered unions as they claim it would make all legal strikes impossible.

Overtime Should Count in Holiday Pay

Workers have won a groundbreaking case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal to include overtime in holiday pay.

This means all people working voluntary overtime could claim for additional holiday pay. Currently, only basic pay counts when calculating holiday pay.

The details of the ruling, particularly on whether claims can be backdated, have yet to be released.

The ruling could be appealed to the Court of Appeal, meaning a final decision may be years away.

The ruling has widespread implications for all companies paying overtime to their staff.

The government estimates that one-sixth of the 30.8 million people in work get paid overtime. This means around five million workers could be entitled to more holiday pay.

The coalition and business groups had argued strongly that overtime should not be included in holiday pay calculations.

If claims can be backdated, businesses stand to lose billions of pounds, some estimates suggest.

“Up until now some workers who are required to do overtime have been penalised for taking the time off they are entitled to,” said Howard Beckett of Unite.

“This ruling not only secures justice for our members who were short changed, but means employers have got to get their house in order.”

Three Ways To Address Sickness Absence Problems

sickness absence

Source: Free Digital Images/marcolm

As an HR consultant one of the hot topics that my clients speak to me about time and time again is sickness absence.  This is a big problem across the UK and creates a significant cost to businesses of all sizes.  However the type of business that is most affected is one that is in the SME market.  Small and medium sized businesses can ill afford the costs that sickness absence brings as they often have little flexibility.  According to the latest CIPD research after the public sector and not for profit organisations, the manufacturing and production industry have the highest average of sick days at 6.2 days per year.  The main cause of short term sickness absence is minor illness whilst long term absence is linked to heart problems, stroke and cancer.  In this blog I discuss three ways to address sickness absence problems.

The first way to address sickness absence is to have a strict reporting procedure in place.  There should be a clause in an employee’s contract that states that they should phone in to report sickness to their line manager within one hour of starting work followed by regular communication if the absence is to continue.  It should be the employee themselves and not a relative, partner or anyone else.  They should phone in and not text or email.  The idea behind this is that if an employee knows they will have to speak to their line manager and may not be ill at all, but just seeking a day off, they may think twice about doing so.

The second way is to implement documented return to work interviews.  These should be completed on the day the employee comes back to work.  This may address the problem of sickness absence because the employee can be scrutinised by their line manager about the situation.  If they have been swinging the lead they may appear edgy – body language is key.  The interview should include welcoming the employee back, discussing the sickness absence in full – is the employee better now, is there any further treatment, etc. The line manager should then ensure the employee knows their first responsibility is to their employer now they are back at work and should be filled into what has happened with their work since they have been off,

The third way to address sickness absence is to monitor the situation – recording who has been off and why on a spreadsheet or in a human resource information system for a report to be produced.  It can be very helpful and illuminating to see the information in black and white.  Problematic members of staff can be highlighted and dealt with using a robust sickness absence procedure.  Documented meetings will track how an organisation has dealt with an issue.  This is really important if ultimately dismissal occurs with a potential employment tribunal claim lurking in the background. An employer needs to show they have been fair and reasonable.


Fathers and Partners Time Off For Ante Natal Appointments

ante natal

Source: Free Digital Images/adamr

From 1 October 2014 fathers and partners are entitled to take time off to attend ante natal appointments if they are in a “qualifying relationship” with a pregnant woman. This new statutory right will be unpaid. Employees and agency workers who are considered to be in a qualifying relationship include:

  • a pregnant woman’s husband, partner or civil partner, i.e. if she’s in a same-sex relationship
  • the father of the child
  • the parent of the child; and
  • intended parents in a surrogacy situation who meet specified conditions.

Employees may only attend two ante natal appointments and no more than a maximum of six and a half hours for each one.  The appointment must have been made on the advice of a registered GP, midwife or nurse.

The employee will be required to confirm in writing their intentions to attend an ante natal appointment and include the following:

a) that the employee has a qualifying relationship with a pregnant woman or her
expected child;
b) that the employee’s purpose in taking time off is to accompany a pregnant woman
to an ante-natal appointment;
c) that the appointment in question is made on the advice of a registered medical
practitioner, registered midwife or registered nurse; and
d) the date and time of the appointment.

The employer may not ask for proof in the form of an appointment card as that is the property of the expectant mother.  The company may refuse the right to time off if not convenient.  Employees do not need continuous service for this right, but agency workers need 12 weeks of the same kind of job to qualify. 

The government has introduced this statutory requirement as research shows that less than one third of fathers take time off before the birth of their child and wish to encourage more involvement.


The Dos and Don’ts of Staff Poaching

staff poaching

Source: Free Digital Images/Adell Rucker

Companies have long eyed up competitors’ talent with a view to bringing them on board to increase their own competitiveness.  However this activity is fraught with danger in terms of potential legal consequences.  There are many dos and don’ts of staff poaching.

If a company has an eye on a competitor’s employee there are potential ways that they can be recruited.  They could be approached direct, but another method could be to use a headhunter or executive search company. These are  specialist recruitment agencies who will source management and top level jobs.  They will act as a middleman seeking out and approaching key individuals putting distance between the employer and potential employee.

Having a professional network can help a company reach out to targetted individuals.  The use of social media in recent years has done a great deal to enhance professional networks.  Indeed the power of Linkedin has grown dramatically in recent years.  It is said that anyone of use has 200 contacts within our circles and we are six steps away from contacting the person we would like to talk to.  That is very powerful.  Contacts in our network can come from many different sources – partners, family, friends, neighbours, clients, etc.  The traditional old boys network has always worked rather well.

Employers should always beware of taking on competitor’s employees who have a restrictive covenant clause in their contract which may be pursuable in a court of law.  The wording of such a clause is, of course, key.

For those employers that value their employees and fear them being poached by competitors there are key things to do in order to protect their interests.

Providing an interesting job is really important so that employees maintain job satisfaction along with career development opportunities is essential to meet career aspirations  Succession planning will provide a career path that top performers can see and value acting as a retention tool.  A comfortable work environment is also really important to encourage engagement.  It goes without saying that financial reward should be right although non financial benefits are also important.  Becoming an employer of choice is great to bamboozle the competition.

Having managed to recruit successfully a further way to protect themselves, a company should include a restrictive covenant or non-compete clause in a contract that includes details on the timescale that an employee may not work for a competitor and a banned geographical location.  It is always good to draft something that would stand up in a court of law.  It may not be viable if the restriction is not integral to the business’ survival.

If a company receives a letter of resignation from a valued member of staff who may have been poached consideration may be given to tactics of how that employee can be persuaded to stay.  If they are valued, this is always worthwhile.



Four Reasons to Review an Employment Contract

Much of the work that I do as an HR consultant is reviewing employment contracts and employee contracthandbooks.  This can be due to taking on a new client with existing documents as well as providing this service to existing clients. Here I provide four reasons to review an employment contract.

Employment law seems to change every five minutes.  The government have now decreed that employment law changes should be made April and October each year, but often changes are often implemented outside of these months.    Employment law therefore can move on very quickly and employment terms and conditions can get very out of date if they are not reviewed on a regular basis.  For example pension auto enrolment will be hitting the SME market and it is important to add in an appropriate clause to the contract to comply with statutory law.  This is important if there is no clause relating to pensions in the document or an existing pension scheme is detailed.

Sometimes an employment contract may not contain all the appropriate clauses.  For example I recently reviewed a document that did not contain a continuous service clauses.  This is essential as detailed by the Employment Rights Act 1996.  In a TUPE situation where an employee transfers from one employer to another and possibly again and again, often the only way to track an original start date is by the continuous service date on the contract.  The Employment Rights Act 1996 (part 1) details all the essential clauses that need to be included.

These are:

  • the names of the employer and employee
  • the date when the employment began
  • the date on which the employee’s period of continuous employment, as mentioned above
  • the scale or rate of remuneration or the method of calculating remuneration,
  • the intervals at which remuneration is paid (that is, weekly, monthly or other specified intervals),
  • any terms and conditions relating to hours of work (including any terms and conditions relating to normal working hours),
  • entitlement to holidays, including public holidays, and holiday pay
  • incapacity for work due to sickness or injury, including any provision for sick pay, and
  • pensions and pension schemes,
  • the length of notice which the employee is obliged to give and entitled to receive to terminate his contract of employment,
  • the title of the job which the employee is employed to do or a brief description of the work for which he is employed,
  • where the employment is not intended to be permanent, the period for which it is expected to continue or, if it is for a fixed term, the date when it is to end,
  • either the place of work or, where the employee is required or permitted to work at various places, an indication of that and of the address of the employer,
  • any collective agreements which directly affect the terms and conditions of the employment including, where the employer is not a party, the persons by whom they were made, and
  • terms relating to where the employee is required to work outside the United Kingdom for a period of more than one month

A copy of the employment terms and conditions should be provided to the employee within eight weeks of commencing employment.

Another reason for an employer to review an employment contract is when they wish to make changes and negotiate new terms.  A review of the existing terms first may highlight the changes that need to be negotiated.  However, the employer can not change terms and conditions of employment on a whim, there needs to be clear justification, not least, to convincingly explain the situation to employees. It is important that all the terms are clear.  Often I come across contracts that contain discretionary clauses.  When discretion is used to make judgements human subjectivity can come into play possibly leading to discrimination when one employee is treated less favourably than another.  Rather than have discretion, clauses should be clear to avoid any discriminatory variances.

Following a merger or acquisition where two companies (or more) may come together, a company may be faced with various terms and conditions.  An employer may wish to harmonise terms and conditions following a TUPE situation for various reasons – difficult business conditions, simplicity, cohesion, redress imbalances, restrictive convenants or difficulty with providing benefits.

Previously with TUPE legislation it was impossible to change terms and conditions post-merger except for an ETO (economic, technological or organisational) reason as previous terms were protected.  However since 31 January 2014 the law has changed. Businesses with collective agreements may negotiate a change one year post-transfer provided the changes are not less favourable.  Contractual changes will be permitted for economic, technical or organisational reasons with the agreement of the employee and or where a contractual right of variation exists.  However, the latter does not permit an employer to unilaterally impose a change and consultation should always be undertaken and written agreement gained.

If a contract is reviewed and changes are to be made consultation with and written agreement from employees is essential.  Employees can be provided with a brand new set of employment terms and conditions to sign or may be issued with contract variation letter with copy for signature depending on the extent of the changes.

Maria Miller’s Demise – A Blow for Equality?

It could be argued that Maria Miller’s demise does not bode well for equality.  There are now only three women in the cabinet and her role was filled by a man, Sajid Javid who is to become the new Minister for Equalities.

Women have long been under-represented in the government and particularly at senior level.  It was a miracle that Margaret Thatcher rose to the heady heights of Prime Minister and shattered the glass ceiling.  As she rose through the ranks she dyed her hair blonde in an effort to appear more feminine in response to criticism, however, once she got into power she chose to act like a man and had voice coaching to tone down her shrilly voice.  She was only interested in self-advancement however as there were few other women in her government and none in her cabinet.  She did little to advance equal pay or childcare.

Tony Blair’s Labour government encouraged more women into the profession but it is still a male dominated environment.

Today in all professions there are very few women at the top and it is a struggle to get there.  Ruthlessness seems to be the key. Some women emulate men discarding their high heels and wearing trouser suits in an attempt to bury their femininity.

Women do have an important and equal contribution to make to the workplace.  So what can they do to improve their chances of making it big?

Well they should take on diverse and challenging assignments, taking every opportunity to develop new skills.  Having completed an accomplishment they should shout about it to the rooftops.  Women need to be visible and promoting their talents.  Hiding their light under a bushel will get them nowhere and they will be trodden on by the stampede of men eager to get to the top.  Men are naturally competitive and women should show more willingness to compete in a man’s world.

Women should take more risks, after all nothing ventured nothing gained.  The “fake it till you make it” attitude should prevail.  Women should be open to any opportunity – who knows where it might lead.

Women should learn to be direct and succinct.  They should attempt to leave the soft and fluffy image to one side if they want to get ahead and get to the point without trying to wrap ideas and statements up in soft language and waffle.

But what can employers do to ensure that women have a helping hand to rise through the ranks?  Positive action in terms of recruitment and promotion are essential.  “Women are actively encouraged to apply as they are currently under-represented” should be included in job or promotion adverts.  Women should be given every opportunity to progress in the workplace and be included in succession plans being identified for roles at the top.

Flexible working for all employees comes into force in June 2014 and flexible working requests should seriously be considered by employers so that they can hold onto valuable women’s skills rather than let them be a statistic in annual turnover or being a casualty of a poor work life balance attempting to have it all. Women should be assigned a mentor to help them develop and employee reward should be structured so that equal pay rules and the current gender pay gap is closed.

Dressing For Business In The Workplace

As soon as this topic is mentioned many people think, ‘formal dress,` certainly a jacket at the very Janeleast! This was certainly the case 10-15 years ago, happily dress codes have changed and relaxed, however this leaves many in a clothing dilemma surrounding ‘smart/casual’ business wear! Many, though not all, do not understand what this entails and often ask ‘does it really matter?’

My answer to this is, how eager are you to earn more money? Get promoted faster? Find a new job, or simply just get noticed in the office rather than fade into the background. Many hours are spent honing their CV hoping to impress the reader and yet when it comes to the interview, few spend more than a couple of minutes considering what their visual impact should be!

James Caan of Dragon`s Den fame, was taught as a young recruiter that you look from the feet up to decide whether the person he was interviewing was a suitable candidate. Why should your shoes be so important? Well, you can tell a lot by how they are cared for! Dirty, worn, scruffy shoes may indicate a person who is not interested in detail and has no pride in themselves. This may seem harsh but contrast this to a pair of clean, shiny shoes, this is clearly someone has taken the trouble to make sure every last detail is covered off and could indicate at work you are happy to go the extra mile!

Some might dismiss this out of hand as being unimportant; however in this very competitive market place can you afford to leave any small detail to chance? Considering your personal brand is vital to make sure your image is congruent with the company you represent. You would not trust a solicitor wearing jeans and a t-shirt, equally would you wouldn’t want a receptionist greeting your clients chewing gum, wearing bright garish nails and spending all the time on her mobile phone!

If you would like to be ahead of the competition and be remembered for the right reasons, an hour`s image audit could make the difference between success and failure! At the very least, you will become more confident in your outward appearance which will pay dividends, not only in the work place but socially too!

This is a guest blog by Jane Sumner of Image Matters.

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