Zero Hours Contracts – do they have a role to play in your business?

20 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Contract of employment, employent law   |  No Comments

Since May 2015, employers have not been ‘allowed’ to include exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts of employment. However at the time, there was no penalty against them if they did so or if they disciplined an employee or treated them less favourably for working elsewhere or asking for permission to work elsewhere.

Finally, some decisions have been have been taken and legislative changes made which will give workers additional protection and enable business owners to decide whether or not zero hours contracts are appropriate for use in their business; whether they provide the flexibility the business requires and whether they are the most appropriate form of contract to use.

The Exclusivity Terms in Zero Hours Contracts (Redress) Regulations 2015 came into force on 11th January and provides employees with a number of rights and more importantly consequences for the employer if these rights are breached.

signUnfair dismissal and the right not to be subjected to detriment treatment

Any dismissal of a zero hour contract employee is automatically unfair, if the main reason is that she/he breached a contractual clause prohibiting him/her from working for another employer. No qualifying period is required to bring such an unfair dismissal claim; and, it is also illegal to submit a zero hour worker (note: worker which means they do not have to be an employee!) to detriments if they work for another employer in breach of a clause prohibiting them from doing so.

Employment Tribunal

Employees and workers now have more rights at the employment tribunal with respect to claims related to their zero hours contract.

A worker may present a complaint to an employment tribunal where an employer has infringed their rights but, the worker only has three months from the incident (or last occurrence of a number of incidents) to raise the complaint. However, a tribunal may consider any such complaint which is out of time if, in all the circumstances of the case, it considers that it is just and equitable to do so


Where an employment tribunal finds that a complaint presented to it under the regulations is well founded, it may take one of the following steps as it considers just and equitable
• making a declaration as to the rights of the complainant and the employer in relation to the matters to which the complaint relates
• ordering the employer to pay compensation to the complainant. The employment tribunals have discretion over the amount of compensation awarded and again refers to a ‘just and equitable’ decision.

Implications for employers

2016 employment law changesUntil there is some case law in this area, we really have no idea how this will impact employers: whether it provides enough of a disincentive to employers when considering the use of zero hours contracts and whether the compensation and fines handed out by the employment tribunals will make the use of zero hours contracts null and void.

There are many businesses where having your employees work for a competitor is not a problem, but there are definitely environments where not having an exclusivity clause will be an issue and employers will need to very carefully consider whether a part time contract will provide greater cover. At this stage we also don’t know whether a robust non compete clause prohiting workers working for a direct competitor will fall foul of this legislation.

Also the new Government guidance provides examples of what is considered “inappropriate use” of zero hour contracts and states that zero hours contracts should not be used as a permanent arrangement for an employee who works set hours each week, even if the hours worked are part time. At this stage it is unclear whether an exclusivity clause in a part time contract would be treated the same as in a zero hours contract should it be challenged in an employment tribunal.

As always, it is essential to get proper advice when drawing up contracts of employment. Zero hours contracts have been a huge benefit for many small and growing businesses, and fortunately their use has not been banned entirely, but their role now needs to be reassessed and their value carefully considered for each new employee taken on and a zero hours contract may no longer be the most appropriate basis of employment in the future.


Who looks forward to going back to work after the Christmas break?

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

BluesOn 5th January 2016  the topic on BBC Radio 3 Counties Drive with Rob show was ‘people moaning on Facebook about going back to work after Christmas, should these complaints be taken seriously by employers, or should they turn a blind eye?’ and, as Hertfordshire’s tip top HR specialist (Rob’s words not ours), I was asked to comment on air.

In summary, it depends on the nature of the post, the audience reading the status update, the employer and the job. To listen to the interview, Click here.

A lot of the time, people experience ‘New Year blues’ and it’s only the thought of going back to work that is a hassle. Many people dread the thought of having to get up early, put a suit on, put makeup on, drive to and from work and actually wear a proper pair of shoes after wearing their slippers for the past two weeks over Christmas!! In this case, it’s just whinging and once the employee is back to their working routine and in the swing of things they are fine and therefore comments on Facebook complaining about going back to work should be taken with a pinch of salt and ignored.

However, if the comments are combined with other negative behaviours, and the employee continues to have a bad attitude, to moan about how much they hate their job and their boss or they discuss their feelings with clients and suppliers, you, as the employer need to  take notice of this and manage the situation in a calm, considered and legally compliant manner. Now, don’t be irrational and go ahead and fire them – it is not as simple as that; talk to your employee and find out what their issues are. Many people’s New Year resolutions are to get a promotion or change departments, or even change their career path completely. Sometimes people genuinely aren’t happy in the job they’re in and that is when the employer must step in and ask their employee(s), what can I do to keep you engaged and stimulated? As an employer you should do all you can to be fair and keep your employees happy, engaged and productive – it is better for business. Recent reports indicated that as many as 18% of employees start to job hunt in January and over 20% cited being bored at work as the primary motivator.

Many employees are unlikely to look forward to going back to work after having a relaxing and joyful two week break over Christmas with family and friends. Going back after a summer holiday is no different. Everyone is entitled to a little whinge and moan, however, as an employer, keep an eye out for a bigger pattern of negative behaviour, because it may be more than just a moan!

Annual Leave Over The Festive Season

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

Donna was recently asked to comment on Viking’s survey about annual leave over Christmas. See a snippet of what she had to say by clicking here

Her full article can be seen below:

Planning annual leave for the festive season will vary depending on the sector in which the business operates. Retailers are unlikely to allow staff to take leave from Mid-November – Mid-January to ensure that they have sufficient cover for the Pre-Christmas period and January sales. This is industry standard and although it can be frustrating for staff, it is expected within the sector.

Hospitals, police, paramedics, prisons and other 24/7 operations need to ensure that they have the right staff in place to deal with the expected and the unexpected at all times and therefore scheduling and rosters over the festive season will be clearly laid out in policies and procedures and communicated a long way in advance to enable people to plan for their time off.

However, many businesses do allow staff to take annual leave during the festive period. Many companies will have decided on their Christmas closure dates and whether or not employees get the days in addition to their annual leave or from their normal entitlement. Not everyone can take time off at once if the business needs to continue to operate, however, it may be possible to function with a skeleton team to cover essential operations.

With the increase in workers of different religions, some businesses will allow those of the Christian faith to take time off at Christmas and their non-Christian colleagues provide the cover. This is usually a reciprocal arrangement for Jewish New Year or Eid for example. This is usually an unofficial practise rather than policy, but does allow staff to get time off when they need it.

Taking a break is important to the health and wellbeing of all staff; but when the time is taken will depend on the policies, practices and needs of the business. Care must be taken at all times to ensure that the policies and practices within the business do not expose it to the risk of a discrimination claim. Consistency, clarity and fairness must be balanced with the needs of the business and the needs of the employees and this is a difficult tightrope to walk.












Has your workplace gone to the dogs?

25 Nov
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

dog at workWe’ve all seen or heard of those workplaces that offer extra perks for their employees. And for pet owners, there is one perk that they value very highly: the ability to take their pet to work with them.
In fact, digital online marketing agency The Bio Agency conducted a survey of 3,000 office workers. Of the people questioned, as many as 55% admitted they would feel more motivated if they had a pet in the office.

Even the White House, arguably the most well known workplace in the world has an office pet – Bo Obama, the First Dog.

Terri Bodell, a consultant clinical psychotherapist and stress expert stated:
“Pets at work can help employees to relax, reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure, which can decrease absenteeism and improve staff morale.
Not only that, but employees that take a break to walk their dog seem to return to work in a more productive and positive frame of mind.
It can also be good for team bonding and office dynamics. Pets in a workplace can help promote social interaction and help people collaborate more effectively.”

Legally however, things aren’t quite so straightforward – they never are!!!
Here are some of the issues to consider:

1. Which Pets?
Not everyone has a dog and due consideration must be given to which pets would be allowed in the office – dogs, cats, snakes, ferrets…. You get he idea. If dogs, which is the most common pet at work, only under a certain size, only certain breeds, only of a certain age?

2. Health and safety
As a business owner, you can be held accountable if an animal you allow in the workplace injures your staff, your customers, or even the postman. It could be worth checking the pet owner has insurance that covers any injuries caused by the pet, or even ask the employee to sign an agreement that will require them to cover the costs of defending any animal attack cases that come your company’s way.

3. Property damage
There’s always the danger of pets damaging carpets, computers, office equipment, furniture and anything else vulnerable in the workplace. You could also be liable if an animal destroys another employee’s personal property that they brought into the office. Again, insurance and signing agreements to cover damages are a good first step, but if you lease your office space, then pets might not even be an option, so check with your landlord and your lease agreement.

4. Staff wellbeing
Not everyone is a pet lover. Some people have a crippling fear of animals, and others are deathly allergic to them. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to ensure a healthy and safe environment for your staff. This includes their mental wellbeing and an employee with a phobia can be a real problem. If you do decide to introduce a policy allowing pets into the workplace, recruiting new staff is easier as you tell them that your policy is to allow pets and they are either happy with that or they are not and they will decide to join you or not based on their own personal circumstances.

For existing staff, this is more difficult and the introduction of a new policy (or practice) will require consultation and ultimately agreement from everyone concerned.

5. Service animals
If you are confronted with an accommodation request by an employee or a customer who needs a service animal whilst on you premises, you must handle the situation appropriately and delicately to avoid potential complaints and liability. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees who have disabilities – and that includes accommodating any guide dog or assistance animal that has been trained by an accredited organisation.

6. Appropriateness to your environment
There are some businesses where having a pet in the workplace would be an absolute no go. This would include any environment where food is prepared and sold such as a café or restaurant.
In some environments, having a pet can be very beneficial to the clients for example in a care home. The petting of animals can be very therapeutic, lower stress, cholesterol and blood pressure.

So if you’re considering opening up your workplace to employees’ pets, you absolutely Cats at workmust put appropriate policies in place that include:

  • What animals you will allow
  • when animals are welcome
  • any restrictions or requirements
  • what happens if the animal is aggressive, damages property, or is disruptive to work

As always with your HR policies and procedures, your Pet at Work (PAW) policy must be applied consistently to avoid any discrimination claims.
Make sure the owner follows your policies and keeps their pet under control. Of course, you should also make sure the animal is fully licensed and vaccinated, it could be worth asking to see proof of these.
If you’d like more tips and advice regarding animals in the workplace, just get in touch we’d be more than happy to oblige, so just chat to us online below or give us a call

Listen to my chat with Roberto Perrone of BBC 3 Counties Radio to here more on this topic Radio Interviews


Bullying is prevalent in UK workplaces… and it’s on the rise

19 Nov
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Bullying, Discrimination, Policies and Procedures, Race Discrimination   |  No Comments

It’s National Anti-Bullying Week, and shockingly, Acas have reported that over the past year they received around 20,000 calls about harassment and bullying at work.

Some callers even reported that workplace bullying caused them to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.

Bullying is defined as any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It’s not necessarily always apparent to others, and may be happening in the workplace without your awareness.

Recently published results of the largest ever survey (with 24,000 responses) regarding attitudes towards race in the workplace, contained some particularly troubling findings…

According to the Race at Work report from Business in the Community (BITC), racial harassment and bullying in the workplace is prevalent.

The report found 3 out of 10 employees in the UK had witnessed or experienced racial harassment in the workplace in the last year alone, a disappointing increase on previous years.

Only 55% of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers said they felt like a valued member of their team, compared to 71% of white employees.

Despite this, 65% of BAME staff said they enjoy working for their organisation, compared to 61% of white employees. Additionally, 64% of BAME employees said they’re keen to progress in the workplace, whereas for white employees the number was a mere 41%.

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at BITC stated:

“Despite having greater enjoyment and ambition for work, the experience of workplace processes and cultures for BAME employees is certainly not ideal. This is compounded by the extremely worrying finding that incidents of racial harassment and bullying appear to be on the rise. The scale of this challenge is immense and needs immediate action.”

This report raises some major issues that employers absolutely must address.

But workplace bullying isn’t limited to racism.

Results of another study have been released this week, revealing that workplace bullying is a growing problem in Britain and many people are simply too afraid to speak up about it.

People don’t always feel confident enough to complain, particularly if the harasser is a manager or senior member of staff. Sometimes, they’ll quite simply resign.

It’s therefore very important for employers to ensure that staff are fully aware of the options available to them when it comes to bullying or harassment, and that these of course remain confidential.

These findings provide some real eye-opening truths on the current state of bullying in the workplace, and it’s vital that employers reflect on these results and have a good look at their working environment.

Start taking action today to ensure that your business is fully implementing anti-bullying policies and utilising managers with good people management skills. Here are some recommendations for taking action:

  • Promote training and awareness of bullying in the workplace (there are more incidences of bullying within minority ethnic groups; women in male-dominated workplaces; those with disabilities or long-term health problems; LGBT people; and those working in health care)
  • All people managers to have mandatory training to deal with bullying and harassment (inexperienced employers feel they lack the skills to go through complex grievance and disciplinary procedures that bullying allegations may involve)
  • Managers at every level to have objectives around ensuring harmony and inclusion in their teams (managers alerted to bullying allegations may favour simply moving staff around rather than investigating and dealing with underlying behaviours)
  • Senior leaders to recognise that harassment and bullying exists and take action to erase it from the workplace
  • Employers to review succession planning lists to ensure the inclusion of diverse talent from all walks of life
  • Ensure appropriate policies and procedures are in place (barriers to people making complaints to do something about unwanted behaviour might make the situation worse)

You may not be aware of any bullying or harassment in your workplace, but according to these recent results, the chances are there may be something going on.

Bullying is the enemy of diversity and consequently, business performance and profits.

By not challenging unacceptable behaviour and not effectively implementing your Anti-Bullying Policy, you put your diverse culture at risk, and ultimately, your business itself.

You can make a difference.

Commit to speaking out.

If you witness behaviour that you consider to be bullying or harassment, take action. If you hear someone in the office use unacceptable language, challenge it.

Let’s prevent these numbers from rising any further, instead, we can take action and decrease them.

If you’re interested any further advice regarding this sensitive issue, please don’t hesitate to contact us

And if you’d like to have a listen of my recent interview where I discuss my thoughts on this subject, you can do so by clicking this link!

Corporate Excellence Award 2015: Best for Support Services

10 Nov
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Award, Blog, Press Release   |  No Comments

Following their triumphant win as ‘HR Consultancy of the Year’ last year, DOHR has now won a further two awards to add to their collection.

The first is the Corporate Excellence Award for ‘Best for Support Services’. This is awarded by Corporate Vision who state: ”When it comes to the business world, true excellence takes many forms. From an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and consistently stunning results, to the never-ending quest for innovation and the ability to change, not only a department or business but an entire industry, firms mark themselves out as exceptional in countless ways.”
They go on to say “The 2015 UK Corporate Excellence Awards focus on those firms and individuals across the British Isles, regardless of size, age, specialism or value, that are not just successful – that goes without saying – but undoubtedly and demonstrably special; the people and businesses that define how we view and regard their entire industry and who, taking their place firmly at the forefront of their respective sectors, become a byword for forward-thinking excellence and achievement.”
Building on this winning streak, DOHR has also picked up Corporate Livewires’s ‘Most Outstanding HR Consultancy Firm – UK 2016’. These are global awards with many household names among the winners from 2015. DOHR have been told that they were nominated and selected for the award specifically because of their SME employment legislation compliance product HR in a Box™ as it is not only cost effective, but also innovative, business focussed and practical”.

Understandably DOHR Managing Director, Donna Obstfeld is delighted by these wins. “The awards process is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I am thrilled that we have been nominated and then selected as winners of these two business world awards. To have the recognition last year within our own industry was great, but this just takes it to another level as the business world starts to realise the value that we as an HR practice, are able to add to their business success.”

DOHR Press Enquiries
Beverley Lewis
Tel: 01923 866 034
Notes for Editors:
1. Donna Obstfeld is available for interview
2. DOHR is an HR practice supporting micro, small and medium sized businesses. They are based in Hertfordshire with clients are nationwide.
3. If you wish to reproduce this article on your website, please link back to the original source
4. For more information about the Corporate Vision awards visit
5. For more information about the Corporate Livewire awards visit

When Social Media Goes Wrong

13 Aug
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, HR Policy, Social Media   |  No Comments

Having to give an employee their notice is never a pleasant experience for either party.

If the situation does arise, the best outcome is that both you and the member of staff in question can leave the relationship amicably with the right contracts and paperwork to back you up…

However, that’s not always the case.

I came across an article this week that described the recent dismissal of a canal worker:

After eight good years of service, the employee was dismissed due to his actions on Facebook two years previously, he took his case to a tribunal where the mitigating circumstances allowed him to claim unfair dismissal.

Now I don’t claim to be the Queen of social media, but I DO  know that posting derogatory comments about your work and your boss on your Facebook account, plus letting the world know you’re getting drunk on company time is a rather stupid idea that definitely isn’t going to stay private.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal  have since overturned the decision, and the unfair dismissal charge has been dropped.

As these cases involving social media are still fairly new and few in number, it’s easy to see why businesses aren’t always prepared when their staff act inappropriately online.

However, it’s essential that you layout your  expectations and make sure your employees have the correct guidelines, knowing what they can and can’t do when they are using the internet not only at work but when referencing work as well.

How to create boundaries between social media at home and work…

  • Develop a policy setting out  what is and what is not acceptable for general behaviour and the use of the internet, emails, smart phones and social media at work.
  • Employees should regularly check the privacy settings on their social networking pages, as they can change.
  • Employers should inform and consult with their employees if planning to change the monitoring of social media activity affecting the workplace.
  • Make sure you have the necessary clauses in your contracts to back up your policies.
  • Make sure your policy on bullying includes references to ‘cyber bullying’…..just in case!

Make sure your business is covered and it’s far less likely that your team will make such misdemeanours or that your employees can take action against you.

A Medical Certificate Instead of a Tie!

06 Aug
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, HR Policy   |  No Comments

I had to dish out some fairly unexpected advice this week that I thought I’d share, it had all of us laughing and debating a rather interesting point.

I have a very successful client who owns an Estate Agent and as most of his staff are client-facing, the dress-code in his workplace is ‘business smart’. However, one of his male members of staff was refusing to wear a tie, as they give him migraines. As he produced a doctor’s note to confirm this, my client was at a bit of a loss as to what to do.

The Research

Despite the medical note, I decided I needed to do some research myself, and there are some studies that show that neck-ties can cause tension and pain in the neck and head:

I also discovered the obligatory celeb who supports this idea:

And those who believe that wearing a tie is a cure for migraines (tie it tight around your head)!

Anyway, apparently 67% of men buy shirts that are too small for their necks which can in turn reduce circulation to the brain, or result in muscle tension in the back and shoulders – so it may not be the tie at all:)

Back to our client

Our objective: to find a solution that would work for both the employee – no migraines and the employer – a smart employee

Our advice:

  • Ensure your employee understands why you have a dress code
  • Discuss some options to reduce the tightness around the neck, without removing the tie
    • loosen the tie
    • wear a bigger collar size
    • Undo the top button of the shirt
    • try clip-on ties
  • Ensure that you are clear about the implications if they continue to refuse to wear a tie

In most cases, reaching a compromise that both you and your staff are happy with is a far more desirable outcome than taking any further action.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when creating a dress code policy in your workplace:

  • Be practical and safe – Take into account what your staff are doing on a daily basis, who will they meet? Are they going to be travelling? Will they lift anything heavy?
  • Beconsistentwith your dress code- A lot of the discrimination claims that arise out of dress codes really arise out of their inconsistent application.
  • Make sure you consider all the racial, gender and religious implications of your dress code.
  • Make your code clear – ensure there’s a policy that staff can easily access (via a handbook or their manager) to find out what is expected of them.
  • Get some advice to make sure you’re prepared.



More ……. You want More?

30 Jul
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Easier to dump your partner than ask for a payrise





Discussing a pay rise can make for a pretty tricky conversation, whether you’re the one doing the asking or you’re the one being asked.

In fact, recent research shows that British people actually dread it more than any other conversation, including breaking up with a partner!

Well, that’s what this article from the CMI shows…

Now, the fact that staff find it difficult to ask for a pay rise doesn’t surprise me at all, but the fact that they would rather split with their partner than have the conversation with their boss ….. well, that’s a lesson for us all.

Yesterday, I spoke with Roberto Perrone on the BBC three counties radio drive time show and we discussed how an employee should ask for a pay rise

Here’s a 6 minute snippet of the show for you to listen to…

Click here!
More…. You want more?

But as employers, you may now find yourself on the receiving end of a request for a pay increase and how you respond to that request will say a lot about you and your business. Here are some quick tips:

  • Don’t let a request catch you off guard – have a plan in case an employee makes the request
  • Don’t shut the door in their face – If you don’t have time for the discussion there and then, book them into the diary so they know you will make time for them
  • Don’t just say no
    • if they have done their research, tell them you will look at it and come back to them
    • if they haven’t done their research, ask them to go away and build a case to convince you
  • If you say no to the pay increase, make sure they understand why
  • Provide a timeframe in which to review the situation, especially if they deserve it and you just can’t afford it
  • You do not want good staff to leave just because of a couple of thousand pounds, the recruitment costs may cost you more than that to refill the vacancy

 Here’s the link again if you need it More…. You want more?

And remember, if you need any help with difficult conversations, or want some impartial advice, we offer training and support to line managers and business owners, so just give me a call

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