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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.

Barking Mad?

19 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Should Employers allow their staff to take dogs (or other animals) to work?

In this weeks video blog, Donna let’s you in on her deepest fears and urges all employers to think about how you keep your staff happy at work.

Achieving a balance between the conflicting desires of staff is difficult at the best of times, but allowing dogs (and other pets) into a workplace when some staff may be allergic to them or have a phobia, can lead to claims for constructive dismissal or disability discrimination.

A clear policy is essential and any job applicants should be made aware of the workplace culture and the pets at work policy during the recruitment process. If they are the best person for the job, it should be their decision to turn down a postion due to pets in the workplace, rather than your decision not to offer the role.

If you are adopting a new policy to allow pets in the workplace, extensive consultation should take place to ensure that all staff are comfortable with the situation. If anyone is not happy about it, then the safest option is not to proceed with the implementation.

Too old for work?

30 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Discrimination, gender   |  No Comments

I am absolutely useless at guessing a persons age.

Whether they are a child, a young adult, a mature adult or an octogenarian, I am just one of those people who can’t tell how old a person is.

I was once told that we needed to organise a gift for a fellow member of an organisation for his 100th birthday.

 “100, are you sure? Can we check that with someone? There is no way he is 100, I had him down for mid to late 70s!” Chess

This little old man was absolutely incredible. He loved chess and still taught it in schools and clubs. On tournament days, he loved nothing more than walking up and down the ranks of players, assessing their positions and providing feedback to them after the game. He would be on his feet from 9 am – 5 pm with a short break for lunch.

100? How?!

With the abolition of the default retirement age (DRA) in April 2011, business owners are increasingly struggling with effectively managing older workers.

The risk of an employment tribunal (ET) case against them for age discrimination looms large over the heads of many employers who are too scared to have a conversation about:

  • Poor performance
  • The employee no longer able to cope
  • The number of mistakes being made
  • The excessive time taken to complete simple tasks.

We are increasingly being asked to help manage older workers out of the business, but in many cases the older worker has been with the business for 20+ years, is part of the furniture and ‘as good as family’.

One client had a 75-year-old caretaker who still insisted climbing ladders to change lightbulbs and cycling home in the dark after locking up the hall following council meetings.

Another client has tried to have a conversation with a member of staff who is making far too many mistakes, only to be told that they will have to carry him out dead as he has no savings, this is his only income and he has no intention of retiring…. ever!

And I had to persuade my own grandma at 80+ to retire as her colleagues were having to redo all her work due to the number of mistakes she was making. How do you tell someone who had run her own businesses, been a highly efficient secretary / PA and had in her latter years been working for a family friend who had known her since he was 5 years old, that she could no longer do the job for which she was being paid?

I could go on.

The harsh reality is that with no DRA, if you want to go belt and braces to avoid the risk of an ET, you have to performance manage the older worker out and that means disciplinary and ultimately dismissal.

For most of our clients this is the least preferred option. They have respect for these workers, they like these employees, in many cases they have learnt a lot from these employees and yet ……..

There is no effective, watertight alternative.

70 womanA BBC article this week disclosed the statistic that the number of women retiring in their 70s has doubled in the last 4 years, from 5.6% to 11.3%. For men the number retiring in their 70’s is 15.6%.

There are lots of reasons for the increase including people living healthier for longer, pensions not being sufficient to support longer lives and people wanting to ‘have a purpose’ for longer.

While there are many advantages for business owners such as an experienced and committed workforce, the disadvantages are beginning to mount up.

Not only are some older workers no longer able to cope, but deteriorating health of themselves or their partners begin to lead to increased absences.  There is also a lack of vacancies for younger workers to join the business and progression is often blocked resulting in people leaving as more senior positions are filled with older workers.

When the older workers do leave, there is then a skills gap in the business as experienced people have left to progress their careers elsewhere.

So what are the options?

  • We have already mentioned performance management and capability disciplinaries leading to dismissals.
  • Redundancy is another option, but with an older worker who has been with the business for 20+ years, this can be expensive.
  • Another way to have a discussion with an older worker about their retirement plans is to have a without prejudice, protected conversation. If you go down this route, it will probably – although not always – result in a settlement agreement and a payment equal to or in excess of redundancy.
  • An alternative might be through a medical process. You would need to have a conversation with the employee and get permission to write to their GP. You would then hopefully receive a report from the GP that supported your concerns about the employee in the workplace. However, a GP is unlikely to tell the employee to retire and may make suggestions such as cutting down on hours or changing to lighter duties.

 

A great time to start a discussion about retirement might be as part of a goals and aspirations discussion as part of the appraisal process.

Asking all employees on an annual basis where they see themselves in 1, 3 and 5 years time can be very powerful. It enables you to support growth of your up and coming talent and it can facilitate a conversation about retirement with your older workers.

As a business owner, being able to gain an insight into the heads of your employees, understand what drives them and what you need to do to develop (or exit) staff is essential for the long-term health of your business.

As with many things in HR, there is no single golden solution, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. The route that you choose to go down will depend on you, your business culture, the employee concerned, your relationship with them and in some cases, your approach to risk.

There is no age-related need for an employee to retire; you can’t make them retire and any botched attempt to do so has the potential to end at the Employment Tribunal.

Extreme care should be taken and expert support sought at the earliest stages, before a friendly conversation is used against you.

Is this an issue that’s affecting your business at the moment?  If you’d benefit from a brief telephone call about it, give us a call now on 01923 504100 or hit reply and let us have your thoughts.

Should the law be telling business owners what to do?

04 Mar
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog   |  No Comments

Cake and Eat itOn losing a case at the High Court in February, Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers used a phrase which completely sums up the modern work place:
“He wanted to have his cake AND eat it”! He used the term after one of his ‘staff’ won a case for worker rights and was therefore able to benefit from sick pay, despite being a self-employed contractor for the previous 6 years.

I often use an analogy to a duck – “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, then it is a duck, regardless of whether you (the employer) or they (the individual) call it a chicken, a hen or a goose!”

However, although the law appears to have been clarified further by this ruling (and other rulings involving Uber and Addison Lee amongst others), there is a vital missing ingredient.

The employment laws which exist in the UK today are archaic! In many cases they are no longer fit for purpose. They are a noose around the necks of employers and they often require employees to work in ways they don’t want to.

Many, but not all of the employment laws have come from the EU as directives, but take a look at the application of those laws across the different EU countries and they bear absolutely no resemblances to each other. Like many legal frameworks, case law has continued to shape the application of the original laws to an extent that original intent is no longer recognisable – we have fences around fences and interpretation on interpretation that leaves today’s employers struggling to employ, manage and / or remove employees (of all statuses) from the workforce.

Young peopleWhile there is still a need to protect the most vulnerable in our workforce from rogue employers, young people entering the workforce today have different skills, needs and values from those still in the workforce at the upper end of the age scale. Employee Management is no longer the ‘one size fits all’, which employment law is still trying to shoehorn us into.

Different industries have different requirements and what is right for a mini-cab company is not necessarily right for a security company or a retailer, a digital agency or an accountancy practice. Equally what is right for a public sector organisation such as a County Council, is not right for an owner managed marketing agency with 2 members of staff. And yet – the same employment laws apply, the same disciplinary and grievance requirements and the same penalties when things go wrong.

Entrepreneurs who set up and run their own businesses need a framework which is fit for purpose. They need to be able to hire the right people, train them and if they are no good, terminate their employment. Presenteeism is not acceptable when employers have a business to run and if their staff can’t do the job, they need to be able to fire them without the risk of an employment tribunal.

The use of alternative employment structures such as umbrella payrolls, the use of contractors and freelancers and the use of zero hours contracts are all highly controversial with Government and the trade unions, but removing all the flexibility which these vehicles provide to today’s workforce and employers is completely counter intuitive.

Progress in society always comes from people who challenge the status quo. Where there is a better model, improved technology, a more suitable path and an alternative reality, change occurs to meet the needs to society and what was once disruptive and unacceptable becomes the norm. Examples are as extreme as the black vote in America and women entering the workplace in the UK.

Progress is essential and inevitable and as such, employment legislation needs to keep up with the changes to enable business owners to run their businesses for a profit, employ more staff in the most appropriate way, pay more in salary and taxes and provide the products and services society needs and wants.

For the law to dictate that zero hour contracts are not appropriate when some employees want to work flexibly to fit in with their family lives and other commitments is a move towards a nanny state.

For the law to dictate that contractors and freelancers are actually employees and entitled to employee rights will in some cases mean that businesses have to stop trading and all those individuals lose their jobs. In these instances, products and services are no longer available. Alternatively, someone else comes along and finds a way to do it differently, perhaps unregulated, illegally or charging more which consumers or the Government are then forced to pay.

Don’t get me wrong – there are times when people shouldn’t be on zero hour contracts or shouldn’t be contractors, but enabling businesses and their workers to be flexible is an essential criteria for today’s modern workplace and the future society in which we will be living.

If an employer and an individual agree on a way of working together which is acceptable to I agreethem both, there is a contract in place (either for employment or services) and they are paying their taxes in line with HMRC guidelines, then why is the tribunal court system even getting involved. In the case of Pimlico Plumbers, the individual’s circumstances changed and while that is regrettable, it should not be to the detriment of the business.

If an individual is working on a self-employed basis, they should be genuinely self-employed and that means taking responsibility for their working hours, taxes, insurance, health, safety and welfare.

Individuals should not have more rights than business owners and they should not be able to have their cake and eat it!

Donna Talks HR with Nigel Botterill of The Entrepreneur’s Circle

19 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Podcast   |  No Comments

Trusted supplierAs an Entrepreneur’s Circle Trusted supplier, DOHR Managing Director, Donna Obstfeld joined Nigel Botterill of The Entrepreneur’s Circle to talk about the seven stages of an employee’s life cycle.

 

Employee vs Worker

24 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Agency workers, Blog, Contract of employment, employee rights, Employees, employent law, Employment Legislation   |  No Comments

As a result of some big legal cases last year, the status of workers is coming under the spotlight like never before. This will be a big area for change in 2017 as the Governement are focussing on understand and protecting Gig Workers.

 

Employee Handbook

23 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, Contract of employment, employee rights, employent law, Employment Legislation   |  No Comments

As a business grows, there is an increasing need for clarity. The Employee Handbook remains the ‘go to’ reference for employers, managers and employees.

Contracts of Employment

22 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Annual Leave, Benefits, Blog, Bribery, Contract of employment, employee rights, Employees, employent law, Employment Legislation, Flexible working, Health and Safety, Holidays, Home-workers, Video   |  No Comments

This is a massive one for me and one that I spend most of my professional career talking about!!!

 

Feedback

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

Providing feedback isn’t just for the candidate’s benefit – it can help you and your business as well. The important thing is to provide the feedback in a positive way that doesn’t expose your business to any risks.

 

 

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