HR for small businesses

20 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Hertfordshire, HR Consultant, HR Support, Human Resources, SME   |  No Comments

An employer is never too small to need HR support. From the time you employ a single person, you are subject to employment law requirements. A written contract of employment, employers liability insurance and health and safety are the bear minimum.

Once you reach five employees, you need to offer a pension scheme (although you do not need to contribute) and you need to have certain policies documented.

Even with one employee, a business is at risk of an employment tribunal if it fails to get things right. The risk of discrimination and the legal requirement to provide time off to care for dependents are just a couple of examples of risks which are relevant to businesses of all sizes and can actually be more of a risk to smaller companies as the company is less able to take up the slack.

It is never too early to get HR advice for your business.

DOHR provides a complete HR support and consultancy service for businesses of all sizes across Northern London and Hertfordshire. Give us a call on 01923 504100 for a free chat to find out how we can minimise the risk your employees can bring to your business.

Are your employees trapped abroad?

19 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Absence, Holidays, Human Resources, pay   |  No Comments
As a working mother, I am hearing lots of stories of friends and teachers stuck at a wide variety of holiday destinations unable to return to school.

The current travel ban is affecting everyone, but how are employers coping?

There are several issues to consider as an employer:
~ Firstly, the impact of having employees absent from work as they were on holiday and are now stuck, and
~ secondly, the impact on business of having employees unable to travel to meet with clients, attend training, attend meetings etc. or to return to the office from such meetings.

So how are employers coping?
Well the second issue is perhaps the easiest to deal with. With the increase in technology, people have laptops, internet access, skype, instant messaging, smart phones etc. and it is now easier than ever to stay in touch with people, or work remotely.

The first issue is a little more complex.
~ Employees are not likely to have taken their laptop on holiday with them, therefore they have no way to work remotely.
~ Some employees may not need a laptop for work as their role involves face to face contact with the customer i.e. in a retail environment.
~ If they are on annual leave, do you continue to pay them?
~ Do you deduct absence days from their annual leave entitlement? and what happens if they haven’t got enough?

The answers to these questions will vary significantly between businesses and there is no right or wrong answer. There are however, some key issues which must be considered when taking decisions on how to treat these employees:
~ Firstly, you need to be aware of discrimination. Treat all employees consistently. Ideally you will have a business continuity policy and procedure and this should provide you with a framework for handling such situations.
~ Secondly, clearly communicate what you are intending to do and how it will be done. This reduces fear and panic among the workers, especially those who are stuck back in the office, not knowing what to do.

To get more assistance with ensuring the risk to your business is minimised, please contact us on 01923 504100 or via our website at

Are you ready for fit notes?

14 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Absence, Fit notes, Human Resources, sickness, Wellness   |  No Comments

Did you know that the next time your staff are off sick, they no longer need to bring you a sick note. From April 6th, you need to ask them about a Fit Note.

These are still issued by the GP, usually after seven calendar days of absence, but instead of just informing the employer that the employee is not fit for work, the GP now needs to focus on what the employee can do and decide whether the employee could come back given certain scenarios. GPs have to tick one of four boxes:

  • Not fit for work (this is the equivalent of the old sick note)
  • Return to work on restricted hours
  • Return to work on restricted duties
  • Return to work with physical changes to the environment

Some things to bear in mind:

  • There is no legal obligation to follow the advice given, as long as you have an objective business reason for not doing so
  • Employees do not have to return to work, even if the GP says they are able to do so with restrictions
  • If an employee returns on reduced hours, the employer only pays them only for the hours they are working
  • If the employee is on lesser duties, the employer can pay the appropriate rate for the job being done
  • Employers are not obliged to create a job for the employee to do, if they can not do their ‘normal’ job

Consistency and fairness are going to be essential in implementing this change in the law. Documenting and communicating your company sickness policy is essential. For help updating your policy and procedures, please feel free to contact us

Can you afford to give employees time off to train?

14 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in employent law, Employers, Human Resources, training   |  No Comments

On 6th April 2010, the law changed to allow all employees to request time of to train.

Here are some of the issues which need to be considered:

  • Will the training benefit the employer as well as the employee?

If it won’t benefit the employer, you can turn down the request.

  • Will you give the time paid or unpaid?

There is no requirement to pay salary while an employee is taking time off for training, even if it will benefit the employer.

  • Will you pay for the training?

Again, there is no need to pay for the training, even if it will benefit the employer.

  • By saying yes to some employees and no to others, you may open yourselves up to discrimination claims.

Have a clear policy and procedure and communicate the criteria you will judge all applications by.

To find out more about the new legal entitlement to request time off for training or for assistance with your policy development, please contact us.

Are your beliefs ‘protected’ in law?

03 Nov
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Business, Discrimination, employent law, HR   |  4 Comments

I’m sure many of you do not follow the employment case law. However, when it makes the six o’clock BBC news, it may be worth paying attention to.

Firstly, in case any of you have missed it, here are links to two articles about the said Employment Appeal Tribunal decision handed down today. The actual EAT judgement and a BBC article summarising it.

So, what are the implication for employers?

Well since the introduction of the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003 discimination of any employee on the basis of “any religion, religious belief, or philosophical belief” has been illegal. Religion and religious belief have been widely understood and consistently interpreteted, but philosophical belief is harder to define; and if you can’t define something, how can you prevent discrimination on the basis of it?

When the law was first introduced there were concerns about office banter over many a passionate belief – football teams for example. Employee A supports Local Team United and all other employees (and the boss) support Local Team City. Can office banter be deemed discriminatory if employee A is not promoted, not offered the same opportunities etc?

When is a political belief or a deep rooted way of life a philosophical belief protected in law?

How does this affect company policy on discrimination, bullying, harrassment and equality of opportunity?

This is a case which we should all now be watching.

Thoughts and experiences please.

Do we need a high pay commission

17 Aug
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in bonuses, Business, high pay commission, Human Resources, pay   |  5 Comments

When you hear that 100 key figures have come out in support of a ‘high pay’ commission, it does make you stop and reconsider your view, re-evaluate your thoughts and do I want to change my gut reaction? ……….. No. Why do we need a high pay commission? Is it shutting the door after the horse has bolted? Probably. Is it going to stop the same thing happening again? Probably not! Is it going to decrease our ability to attract top talent from around the world? Yes. Will it lead to our top talent leaving in search of their fortune? Absolutely.

By restricting pay settlements, imposing excessive taxes on top earners and smothering an employers ability to attract and retain top talent, a high pay commission has the ability to destroy exactly that which it is trying to build – a strong economy.

There are very good arguments for controlling remuneration. Linking pay and bonuses to both long term and short term performance is essential. Defining good performance and distinguishing exceptional performance plays a vital role in incentivising and rewarding top performers, but equally employers must not be scared to say, “you weren’t good enough this year, there is no bonus, no pay rise etc.”

We do not need a ‘high pay’ commission. We do need employers to look at what they pay, how they pay and when they pay. It must be appropriate, motivational, performance and time bound.

Childcare Vouchers

04 Aug
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Benefits, childcare vouchers, HR, Human Resources   |  No Comments

If I told you that as an employer you could make a financial saving by offering your employees something that many of them would really value, would you want to hear more?

Well, by introducing childcare vouchers and offering them to all your employees through a tax efficient salary sacrifice scheme, you could do just that.

Employees can opt for up to £243 per month in childcare vouchers instead of £243 of their salary – they sacrifice money for vouchers. As a result employees pay no tax or NI on this money and the employer pays no NI.

The vouchers can then be used to pay nurseries, after school clubs, summer schemes and other recognised childcare providers.

Unfortunately, they can not yet be used to pay relatives (such as grandparents) who care for your children while you are at work, but the Government are thinking about it – slowly!

Childcare voucher schemes can be introduced in conjunction with other benefits or in isolation. They must be offered to everyone to be eligible for their tax free status and certain contractual changes are required, but savings can be made even if only one employee takes up the benefit.

Is there an alternative to redundancies?

08 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in pay cut, people management, reduced hours, redundancy   |  No Comments

Recession and redundancies, two big ‘R’ words on many people’s lips. But when times get tough and employers have to tighten their belts, is redundancy the only options, or indeed the best option…….

Thinking about one of my clients, things were financially bad, very bad – so bad that if immediate action was not taken to cut costs, the business would have folded within three months. 15 years of hard work, dedication and achievement down the pan in the period of least than 12 months – unimaginable, but a harsh reality.

So what were the options?
Firstly, move the offices to a smaller, less a prestigious location – a real possibility until the costs were really assessed, with 6 month break clause fees, the cost of finding new premises, the cost of having them made fit for purpose, the cost of informing everyone of the move and updating all company paper, cards, marketing etc…… the savings required would take far too long to achieve, if in fact they could be achieved at all.

And so, cut marketing spend…… this was done to some degree, but then how do you generate new business to keep the business going – not the ideal solution and again not going to achieve the results needed in the timescale required.

So then lets look at the biggest cost – oh yes, people – lets get rid of some of them and then we will make a ton of savings – right? WRONG.

The cost of redundancy was high due to the age and service of the employees, paying that out was not going to save money within three months. In addition, everyone in the company has an area of expertise and as with many small companies there is not a lot of overlap, so by getting rid of one person, the company loses the ability to service those clients, lose the business and end up no better off than if they had kep the employee in the first place.

So what are the options?
The ideal solution is actually a combination of measures and the exact combination can be achieved by identifying exactly what the business needs now, what it might require in the future as business returns to ‘normal’ and what it can sustain in the interim.

By introduing a combination of the following measures the company achieved it’s aims:

  • Reducing hours for some employees
  • The 2 business owners took a 50% pay cut
  • Reducing pay for all senior staff by 20%
  • Reducing pay of 4 junior staff by 10%
  • Placing one employee on a zero hours contract and using him to deliver to a specific client base as and when there was work in his area of expertise
  • Stopping company pension contributions which was up to 10% depending on service
  • Introduing a bonus pay system directly related to new clients and specific targets

A proper consultation process was entered into with all employees. They were given a very clear picture of the company’s financial situation, they were presented with the options and the company’s proposal and asked to respond with their thoughts but also with alternative ideas for cost savings.

The outcome was that all employees agreed to the proposed changes and were given reassurances that the situation would be reviewed every three months with a view to improving the terms and conditions as soon as feasible, even if it was in stages.

Retaining quality employees who have been loyal over the years, understand the company and their clients and have the skills and experience to consistently deliver to a high standard will play a vital role in the company’s ability to survive and then thrive into the future. The recession will not continue forever and companies have to focus on how they want to come out the other side.

Managing employees within the law and in a morally sensitive way is vital to company survival.

How are you preparing your business for swine flu?

29 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Business, Human Resources, people manaagment, policy, sickness, swine flu   |  No Comments

Do you and your client have a strategy for managing an outbreak of swine flu?

Does your sickness policy encourage people to stay at home and work from there rather than come into the office if they are feeling ill?

Do you pay for the first 3 days of sickness absence before SSP kicks in? If not, you are encouraging people to come to work even when they are not feeling well.

Take a look at your policy now. Make amendments to protect your staff and your business. It is possible to put in place emergency measures on a temporary basis.

Think about your people, think about your business and have a contingency plan…. don’t put it off, the government are preparing and you must prepare your business NOW!

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