Family Friendly Policies

28 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Employment, Employment Legislation, Flexi-time, Flexible working, gender, Home-workers, HR Policy, HR Support, Human Resources, Job Sharing, Maternity, Part-time Workers Act, Paternity, people management, Policies and Procedures, reduced hours, Video, Vlog   |  No Comments

A full set of policies around maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay need to be developed so that employees feel valued and their skills are not lost from the business, but so that they business is able to function effectively with short and long term absences as a result of the prospective and actual birth of a baby.

The law provides for statutory time off and pay, but companies can provide more or structure things differently.



Social Media

14 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, HR Policy, Policies and Procedures, policy, Social Media, Video, Vlog   |  No Comments

Companies need to think about what they will and will not allow their staff to do in terms of social media.

Do employees have access to company accounts and if so, what are the rules around the use of that account?

If employees comment on ‘a day at the office’ what might the implications be for your business in terms of reputation to clients, suppliers and exisiting or potential employees.

A clear, well thought through policy is essential to enable apropriate use of social media for your business.

Bullying & Harassment

06 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Bullying, Discrimination, employee rights, Equality Bill, Health and Safety, Video, Vlog, Wellness   |  No Comments


Employers are obliged to protect staff from bullying and harassment. Generally, this is in terms of discrimination, but may include anything from their favourite football team, what a person wears, their hobbies or their mannerisms.

Employers are obliged to ensure that the work environment is mentally safe for everyone and therefore free from bullying and harassment.

Prevention is better than cure and employers can be held vicariously liable if they don’t take adequate steps to prevent bullying and/or harassment taking place.


05 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Discrimination, employee rights, Employees, employent law, Employment, gender, HR, Maternity, Part-time Workers Act, Policies and Procedures, Race Discrimination, Recruitment, RIsk, Sexual Orientation, Video, Vlog   |  No Comments


Well written policies and procedures which are communicated and applied consistently are the key to ensuring that the risk  of discrimination is reduced as much as possible.

Employees (as well as workers and job applicants) could bring claims for discrimination on the basis of Age, Gender, Race, Beliefs, Marital Status, Disability and Sexual Orientation.

Care must be taken not to over generalise i.e. “everyone must wear trousers” or “everyone must work on a specific day of the week” as this could have a disproportionate negative impact on a sub sect of your workforce. Therefore you end up discriminating against some, as a result of trying to treat everyone the same.

Snow Days

01 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Bad weather, Blog, Business Continuity, Contract of employment, employee rights, Health and Safety, pay, RIsk, Schools, snow, Video, Vlog   |  No Comments


How to manage staff when the English weather turns is always a topic for discussion among employers. In this video (one from our #AskDOHR series) we give employers different elements which they need to consider when making decisions about their business and whether or not to pay staff who fail to come to work due to bad weather, school closures or transport shut down.

The way in which you treat snow days will very much depend on your business. Certainly if you’re providing a service such as fire brigade, police, hospitals, district nurse, GP, or anything that’s critical,  you will have to have a business continuity plan for ‘snow days’.

However, there are lots of work environments such as offices, gardens, building sites, leisure centres, delivery drivers and factories  and as such, circumstances are going to be different for each one and for each type of business.

There are lots of elements you need to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to stay open:

  • Health & Safety – is the work environment safe – do you have heating and running water?
  • Health & Safety – can people reach work safely? If not, can you do anything to improve access such as gritting or sweeping paths?
  • Transport and Infrastructure – are buses and trains running? Not just to get people to work, but to get them home again as well.
  • Duration – How long is the bad weather due to last and can you put different plans in for different days? Perhaps the business could shut down for a day, but perhaps not for 2?
  • School Closures – It’s also very difficult to force people to come to work if they’ve got no childcare. While some children are old enough to be left at home, others will not be. Friends and family may all have their own snow issues and not be able to help out on a ‘snow day’ as they might otherwise be able to do.


There is no right and wrong way about how you deal with this. However, the first thing to do is to look at your contracts of employment. What options are available to you?

  1. pay them regardless of whether they make it into work
  2. unpaid leave for anyone unable to come to work
  3. allow them to use holiday (if they have any left) to be paid for their time off
  4. allow people to work from home (where business appropriate for them to do so)
  5. put people up in a hotel to enable them to reach work easily – again this will depend on their personal circumstances

Be sensible. Think about the value of your relationship with your staff. Think about the expectations of your clients. It’s a business decision and it doesn’t just come down to money. It also comes down to good will and relationships not only with your staff, but with your clients, suppliers and perhaps the community at large.

People are going to understand when everything else around you comes to a grinding halt. We’re on red and amber alerts across the country. Everybody is going to be aware of that. It’s about making an effort, it’s about doing the right thing. It’s about staff showing willing, offering to work at home, offering to come in. Would you allow them to bring a child into the workplace? Would that be appropriate if the school is closed but they can still get to work? It’s about getting a balance, it’s about give and take and it’s about relationships.

Look after your staff, they’ll be more motivated to support you. But there are times where you need your staff to turn up to work and failure to do so could cause massive implications for your clients or the community.

The decision ultimately is yours, you are the business owner, the buck does stop with you, but do what feels right and don’t put yourself in breach of your own contracts, policies and procedures.

Health & Safety

18 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Health & Safety is essential for all employers, no matter how large or small your business.

Watch our Top Tip to find out more.

Why Ignoring The Reality Of Sexual Harassment And Gender Inequality Could Be Your Undoing In 2018

16 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

I was on BBC radio again the other day, discussing the fallout from Carrie Gracie’s resignation over gender pay discrimination. (If you want to listen to the clip, just click HERE)

Quite rightly, the issue of gender inequality has reared its head a lot in the last few months, and I think it’s one that looks set to define 2018 for a lot of businesses and their HR professionals.

But it won’t be alone, because sexual harassment will be right up there with it.

With the #metoo initiative, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and Kevin Spacey, it feels like every week there’s another prominent public figure outed for their sexually harassing behaviour.

It’s awful, and terrible, and not what this world should be like.

And for the purposes of this article, it’s also not what the workplace should be like.

But sadly, for lots of businesses, it’s a problem that needs dealing with, and as I was reminded over the holiday break, there’s a right way and wrong way to deal with it.

The Problem

As everyone was winding down for the festive season, I got a call from a client: they’d had a nightmare at their ‘Christmas Party’.

One of the male employees (Male A), put his arm around a female colleague for a photo and touched her inappropriately in the process.

Another male employee (Male B) was the female’s boyfriend and witnessed the event.

Chaos ensued, with Male A punching Male B in the face.

What Is The Correct Course Of Action?

As the boss, what would you do when faced with the situation?

Was this just ‘alcohol-fuelled chivalry’ that could be laughed off?

Or is it assault?

Does the female have the right to be defended, and does Male B have the right to defend? (And if so, to what extent?)

The problem in our case was that the business simply didn’t want to deal with it, and to be honest you can understand why.

The trouble is, as a business owner, you’ve got no choice – you’ve got to be the one able to make decisions and have uncomfortable conversations.

But this MD didn’t want to do that – instead, he hoped it could all be dealt with informally, and consequently, he nearly ended up with a sexual harassment claim against the business.

And that’s what I want to make clear: sexual harassment accusations are not ‘light-hearted’ things.

They’re serious. They can cause significant problems for you and your ability to keep trading.

Knowing what you can and can’t do when it comes to sexual harassment, and understanding what the law requires are VITALLY important.

And that’s where a code of conduct and an employee handbook come in.

If you’re ready to get serious about protecting your business from these sorts of threats, then get in touch – you can email me personally at and I’ll do all I can to help.

Oh, and out of interest, what would you have done with Male A, Male B and our female employee? And what do you think is the ‘right’ thing to do? Comment below and let me know…

Why Corporate Jargon And Nonsense Stops Businesses Taking HR Seriously

10 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Compensation, Contract of employment, Employees, Employment, Human Resources, people manaagment, Policies and Procedures, Recruitment, training   |  No Comments

(And The Four Processes That Most Business Owners  Need To Go Through When Dealing With Staff)

I’ve been studying and practicing HR for over 25 years. 

Which means that I ‘get it’.  I ‘understand’ it.  However ludicrously worded something is, or however jargonny a contract sounds, I can usually root out the genuine meaning, and what it means in the real world.

However, use the term HR or Human Resources in front of your common or garden business owner and you’ll often get a blank look, especially if they have never worked in large organisations or corporations that have had a whole HR department dedicated to looking after the staff, employees, and contractors.

But here’s the thing, whether you’re Mickey the Butcher or Microsoft, you still need to be able to practice HR correctly – failure to do so puts your business under significant risk from an employment tribunal.

With that in mind, this article is designed to help you to do exactly that, by cutting through the jargon and breaking down the four processes that you’ll need to go through, whether you’ve got two employees or 20,000.

So the first area is recruitment: the hiring of the right staff. 

Make sure that you know the skills that you need and that the people that you are hiring have the ability to do the job, but don’t forget that attitude and aptitude are also really, really important. 

Making sure that somebody has the right attitude, is going to fit in with your business and your culture will engage with your goals and has the ability to learn the rest of the skills that you need to give them is absolutely vital. 

Why?  Nobody is going to come fully formed, so you need employees who can be moulded, and moulding is all about attitude. 

And, as a plus point, when employees are not fully formed, they are generally easier to work with – they don’t have the same fixed ideas about things that someone who has ‘been there and done it’ has.

In addition, it is also really good idea to hire people who are better than you at key elements of the business. You shouldn’t be sweating over the books when someone else will be able to do them quicker, easier and more effectively than you.

Similarly, you may be good and able to type your letters up yourself, but actually having a VA or an in-house PA is going to drive your business forward much quicker for you as they are freeing up your time. 


The second element is Employee Relations

Now, this is a big area for HR!

At the most basic level, it means giving all of the staff that you hire a contract of employment. 

It means making sure that you have made decisions about:

  • How much holiday they are going to have
  • What you are going to do in the event of sick pay
  • What dress code you want within your business
  • What time you want people at work
  • What time they work till
  • How long their breaks are

Sound extreme?  Perhaps.  But by documenting all of these from day one, there is absolute clarity for you and for your staff, and no one can pretend that they didn’t know what was expected of them.


The third element is training, development and learning. 

Now, all three of these take time and happen in multiple phases, but all business owners need to be mindful of them; otherwise, they generally don’t happen.

Generally, the first phase is known as “induction” and when you first bring somebody into the business, the best way to get them to hit the ground running is to induct them properly. 

Once they know what they should be doing, it is all about monitoring and managing their performance so they are performing at the best possible level that they can.

And again it takes practice and they will improve over time, which is why regular documented progress meetings are a really, really useful tool.  No matter what size your business, whether you have one employee, five employees, or 25 employees, sitting down with your staff on a regular basis, sharing your vision, sharing the goals and asking them to deliver key elements of those goals is essential to moving the business forward. 


And then there is reward. 

Reward can come in multiple formats. 

Pay is the most obvious but there is also commission, bonus and other incentives which you give to your staff to encourage them to reach the targets that you set or to reward them for achieving certain outcomes. 

However, reward is also about the environment in which people work. 

It’s about the way in which you treat them, the pizza in the office on a Friday or giving people a day off to go and deal with an emergency because you know that they have been in the office late working on projects for the last three or four weeks.  

Reward is also about the culture and the corporate social responsibility that the business shows. 

Many youngsters nowadays are choosing to work or not work for companies based on the ethos of those companies. 

People are becoming more picky and people want to work for great bosses and brands that they believe in. 

Consequently, positioning your business (no matter how big or small) as an employer of choice will really help you to recruit and to retain the right staff for your business. 

So, as a business owner, the next time you think about your role within the business, you are not only the finance person, the marketing person and the salesperson – you are also the HR person. 

You are responsible for the recruitment and retention, the training and development, the reward and the frameworks within which your staff work and operate. You are also responsible for the way in which your staff are going to help you to achieve business success, by making sure that you are an effective manager.  That takes practice, but as they say, practice makes perfect.

Elder Care and the Impact on Business

24 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

With the General Election just around the corner, one thing has been in the news A LOT: elder care.

The Conservative Party announced that as part of their manifesto, workers would be given a legal right to take a year’s leave to care for elderly relatives.

(There has been what some have called a “u-turn”, with May announcing a “cap” on how much people pay for care, but that’s another story for another time!)

Obviously, as this involved workers, it was slap bang in my remit, so I got a call from BBC Berkshire asking me to go on to the radio and discuss it.

I love doing these radio interviews as they help me to think about and talk through some of my thoughts on the issues raised.

I always try to give a balanced view as I can almost always see the situation from both the employer and employee perspective.

However, on this occasion, I was also focused on the differences between micro and small employers and the impact this kind of policy would have on them vs a larger employer.

In summary, a qualifying employee would be entitled to up to a year off to care for an elderly relative.

My initial thoughts:

  • Does it have to be a parent, or would you qualify for an in-law, a grandparent or Old Manan aunt without closer relatives?
  • Are you only allowed one period of absence or can you have a year off for each of your elderly relatives? And if so, what would the time gap need to be between the absences need to be?
  • Does the company have to hold your position open for you, or could it be one of equal standing?
  • What proof is needed prior to being able to take leave?
  • What happens if the elderly person passes away before the end of the year, can the employee return early? What impact does this have on the fixed term temp hired to cover the leave of absence?
  • What happens if the elderly person still requires care at the end of the year and perhaps their condition has deteriorated?

Unlike childcare leave, eldercare appears to be much more complex for employers. A parent can plan for the future care of their child from a specific point in time. The future is much less certain for an adult carer.

Yet the need for time off remains very real and for many employees, there are elder and child care issues (either as a parent or a grandparent) to be managed effectively so that while employees are at work they are performing at the highest and most focused levels, whilst still being able to support the various members of their family.

I do not believe giving people a year off work is the solution.

For the smallest of businesses, having even one employee off could be 10, 25 or 50 percent of the workforce.

If an employer has 2 or more employees requiring time off to care for elderly relatives, a business is just going to stall and potentially fail.

Employers must be able to hire, retain and rely on good quality, highly engaged employees.

A large employer with hundreds or thousands of employees will be able to manage with some employees taking a year off unpaid, but this is just not the case for the smallest of employers.

So, what is the answer?

I believe that employment legislation needs to be much more flexible, enabling and empowering for both employers and employees.

No one has a crystal ball and no one can predict what support elderly relatives will require in 12 months’ time.

By introducing a more flexible approach to work and extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, staff with ongoing responsibilities could potentially reduce their days, reduce their hours and / or take up job shares.

While this won’t work for all roles in all companies, there are advantages to this approach:

  • The employee has the right to ask and must put together a business proposal to support their request
  • The employer must consider the request properly and respond in reasonable timescale, but is not obliged to accept the proposal if the business cannot cope
  • Only one request would be allowed in a 12 month period, allowing for consistency within the business
  • The change would be a contractual change to terms and conditions
  • The skills and knowledge of the older worker are retained in the business
  • This is a long term option to allow for care over an extended period of time, possibly for multiple family members
  • This allows people who still require an income to earn while providing care for their elderly relatives


File 24-05-2017, 14 56 39At a time when older workers’ need to stay in the workforce longer and longer for financial reasons and already have a tough time competing with younger employees for jobs, introducing a year off policy is just going to deter employers from hiring older workers.

There is already a significant concern about the risk of an age discrimination claim among employers and the more extensive the ‘rights’ of older employees, the more cautious employers will be about taking on older staff.

In addition, caring responsibilities are generally the domain of the female members of the family and this will be even more so if a year off is granted unpaid as the females are generally paid less than males (not saying this is right or always the case, but this is evidenced in all statistics).

Therefore, the impact on the family income – while still significant – is not as high as it would be if a male member of the family had to take a year off unpaid. This sort of policy will be another factor suppressing the employment and pay of female employees and could again result in discrimination cases, this time for gender.

Business owners in small companies already feel like they have a noose around their necks when it comes to employing staff. They need human resources to grow their business, but the more complex employment legislation becomes, the more employers will look for alternative employment models, including the use of overseas workers, freelancers, zero hour contracts or temporary staff.

Flexibility is going to be essential in futureproofing the UK workforce and enabling staff to take a year off unpaid and guaranteeing them a job on return is not conducive to a competitive, dynamic, economy.

Small businesses make up 99.3% of private sector business but only 24% of small businesses employ staff and this must increase significantly if the UK economy is going to continue to thrive.


What do you think?  I’d love to get your view on this issue, so comment below and let me know.

I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks …….Let’s make lots of money

16 May
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Following comments by Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellows at a charity event for the Belgravia Society, I was asked by BBC 3 Counties Radio Presenter Roberto Perrone which was more important to employers Beauty or Brains. You can hear my short interview here, Brains or Beauty?but as always with my interviews, they get me thinking much deeper about a topic and therefore here, I share more of my thoughts from an employment perspective.

As the Pet Shop Boys lyrics (the title of this blog) from the song Opportunities suggests, there is a balance to be had. Having looks without the brains is useless in business. The world’s most successful models, many of whom have gone on to start their own businesses, have either been highly intelligent women (or men), or have had the nous to put some very astute people around them and perhaps more importantly, have known how to hold those people to account.

Having good looks can certainly buy you more time in an interview process; but if the interviewer knows how to interview properly, the door is very firmly shut if the candidate does not have the brains to do the job. And therein lies a problem! Many interviewers do not interview properly and then wonder why the staff they have hired can’t actually do the job they were asked to do. Regardless of how a person looks, if you are trusting them with your business, with your clients and with your profits, they MUST be able to do the job, and ideally do it better than you can do it yourself!

Another aspect of brains vs beauty debate is the labels and associated definitions themselves. Who determines beauty and how do you measure brains?

I have met some ‘beautiful’ people who dress badly, make no effort to make themselves presentable and some who are so shy that they just hide behind ‘a bad look’. On the other hand, I have met people I would not describe as being naturally beautiful, but they always look good. Clothes fit properly, they are good colour and style matches, clothes and accessories are always co-ordinated and they are always well groomed. Given equal ‘brains’, who would you hire, the more beautiful person who doesn’t care about what they look like, or the less ‘beautiful’ person who takes the time to make the best of themselves?

Equally, I have met some of the most ‘brainy’ individuals who have absolutely no common Who to employ?sense, no ability to put their ideas out to the general population and no interpersonal skills whatsoever. Are these people the best employees for my business? Well, that depends on what the business is and what the roles are. There are companies who need these sorts of people, but they often also employ someone to be the spokesperson, the public face or the intermediary, rather than let the ‘brains’ lose on the public.

As with many things ‘HR’, circumstances are vital. Understanding what is really needed in an organisation or role at any point in time is essential. You may need brains. You may need beauty. But I would strongly argue, that getting the right balance between the two (for your business) is the key to business success.

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