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.
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?
- pay them regardless of whether they make it into work
- unpaid leave for anyone unable to come to work
- allow them to use holiday (if they have any left) to be paid for their time off
- allow people to work from home (where business appropriate for them to do so)
- 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.
I’ve been in Human Resources (HR) for over 20 years. When I was first introduced to the discipline, it was known as Personnel and today when I am speaking with clients, I refer to it as ‘managing employees’ or ‘staff management’. Why give a fancy name to what business owners just need to be able to do to run their business effectively?
10 years ago I set up my own business. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with it or what it could become, but it was mine. I knew I didn’t want to be an interim HR Manager for large businesses, I wanted to help small businesses to grow and through their staff, achieve greater success. Over time my own business grew and like so many of my clients I had to take the decision whether to take on staff. This was an absolutely terrifying decision. Could I generate enough income for two of us? Would my clients trust someone else with their ‘HR’? How do I transfer my approach to managing employees (which is very different) to my team?
Fortunately, being in the profession, I knew how to do the people things ‘right’. How to hire, how to induct, contract of employment, how to monitor performance etc. But I was still scared. However, I had a safety net – the ‘zero hour contract’. I could guess how much time I would need the staff for and if there wasn’t enough work, they didn’t work. For one member of staff, if the work in a day dried up or she was waiting for 5 different people to come back to her and couldn’t’ move on, she would take a break for 3-4 hours and come back on later in the day. It suited my staff and it suited me and my business. It meant I could hire a number of people with different skills and deploy them as the business needed. They were employees, so bound by our policies and procedures, invested in – in terms of training and coaching, and supported with their personal development, but able to collect kids from school, take holidays or meet friends for lunch as they wanted. As a small business owner this was the flexibility I needed.
As time has gone on, my business model has changed, we have expanded and the inflow of work is more sustained, being able to pay staff at the end of each month is less scary and I know I have staff to deliver client work as needed, but I still have concerns and I believe that all small business owners feel the same:
• What happens if someone decides to take a hit at the business?
• What happens if someone thinks they have been treated unfairly?
• What happens if someone resigns and fails to work their notice period?
• What happens if someone leaves and takes your clients with them?
• What happens if someone leaves and takes your staff with them?
These are realities for almost all of my clients and some have had to shut up shop as a result!!!
Contracts of employment are great because, if written properly, they set out certain rules, policies and procedures which employers and employees commit to when signing the contract. However, as I warn many of my clients, they are not worth the paper they are written on unless you are prepared to enforce them.
Let me describe a scenario at this point –based on a real client: A firm of gardeners. Employees were provided with tools and a van. Employer came in one Monday morning to find the van unlocked in the yard with a note from the employee saying “I quit”. No notice provided. The employer then has to cancel and reschedule work at very short notice.
If the employee had been fired, the employer would have had to pay 1 months notice or the employee could take him to the employment tribunal for failing to do so. However, in this instance it is the employee who has breached his contract and not given the required notice, but what options has the employer got – in reality, none!
The situation gets worse – Over the next few weeks the business owner starts to receive cancellations from clients no longer wishing to have their gardens maintained by the company. No one would say why, but a pattern emerged. They were all clients who had been serviced by the former employee. Not only had he left with no notice, he was now poaching clients as well.
What options has the employer got? Well he could try to take out an injunction, but if the clients choose to leave, that is their right. They can purchase their gardening services from whomever they wish! Same gardener, same services but cheaper… why wouldn’t you?
So the business owner is left feeling ‘had’. The contract of employment, although legally binding, costs too much in time and effort to enforce. So is there another way?
I believe there is, but it requires a change in the law. Theresa May’s 10 point plan for the post-Brexit UK economy ‘supporting businesses to start and grow’ is one of her main objectives for Government intervention. This points towards the entrepreneurs, the micro and small business owners, those which account for 99.3% of private businesses in the UK and employ over 15.7million people.
With Brexit around the corner and a once in a generation opportunity to create our own laws as we come out of Europe, this is the time to really look at our employment legislation and to balance the needs of employers and their businesses with the protections required for employees.
Frances O’Grady of the TUC together with other Trade Unions and their officials claim that the fees that an employee has to pay in order to take their employer to an employment tribunal are unfair and prohibitive and should be scrapped. There is a consultation taking place at the moment on this very subject and while the whole subject of employment tribunal fees is under review, I ask the question “is the system of employment tribunals even fit for purpose?”
Another scenario for you: A customer service call centre with a sales team of 2. Both employees are new and being trained. Both have contracts and are on a 6 month probation period. One of the employees is really struggling. Extra help is bought in to support her, extra supervisions are provided and weekly meetings are being held. It emerges that the employee is spending about 3 hours a day surfing the internet. At 3 months she is given a performance review and told she is not at the required standard, reminded that she is on a probation period and that she needs to start making some profitable sales. At 5 months she announces she is pregnant. A week short of her 6 month end of probation, there is a review meeting in which she is told that as she has failed to improve, failed to take on board the training she has been provided with, is still spending too much time on her phone surfing the internet, her employment is being terminated by reason of failing her probation.
It is stressed, that she is not being fired for being pregnant (there are plenty of other workers who have been pregnant, had babies and returned to this workplace), but because she is just not capable of doing the job for which she has been employed.
A week later ACAS contacts the employer to advise them that the employee is taking a case against them. It eventually emerges that the employee wants £28k and is threatening a sex discrimination case on the grounds that she is pregnant.
The employer does not want to settle as they have done nothing wrong, but they now have two choices, settle and pay something or fight it and incur a lot of time money and stress with no guarantee of the outcome. ACAS makes no attempt to resolve the issue, they purely act as a go between for what should be 4 weeks, could be 6 weeks or could be less if the other side play stupid games. At the end of this period the ACAS system automatically issues a certificate saying that conciliation has failed and the employee can now take the employer to the employment tribunal. Until this point, the employee has not had to pay any money, but if the employer refuses to pay a settlement they are now likely to end up in the employment tribunal.
The TUC claims that Employment Tribunal claims have dropped since the introduction of the fees and yes they have, but not for the reasons that the TUC and others would have us believe. The figures have dropped because employers want to get on with running and managing their businesses. Business owners do not have the time, money or energy to fight with the risk of losing, with the costs of solicitors to defend the case or with the time wasted in preparing for an employment tribunal just because an ex-employee has decided to take a chance.
They are after a settlement. Their solicitors often don’t want a settlement as they earn more from defending a claim in the Employment Tribunal, but the employee wants a quick pay-out and I frequently come across people who have already taken one employer to the tribunal (or threatened to). Employers end up paying at the ACAS stage to make the employee’s claim go away, to know what the financial impact is as a fixed amount and to enable them to move on and focus on their business.
There are lots of different systems across the world and while I recognise that some are better than others, if this government is serious about enabling small businesses to grow and succeed, the noose has to be removed from around their neck and the laws need to be equalised between employer and employee.
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.
As a business grows, there is an increasing need for clarity. The Employee Handbook remains the ‘go to’ reference for employers, managers and employees.
This is a massive one for me and one that I spend most of my professional career talking about!!!
The Employment Tribunal has ruled that two drivers are infact ‘workers’ under the definition in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and therefore are afforded protections not available to genuine freelancers.
This case will be appealed by Uber, they can’t afford not to because of the implications for their global business model. Uber have also looked at the use of driverless cars and this may well speed up that development as ‘engaging workers’ is more expensive than ‘using freelancers / contractors’.
We are often asked by our clients what alternatives there are to having someone working as an employee, especially for new or small businesses, the thought of having employees and all the implications of employment law is enough to prevent them growing their business. The use of contractors, freelancers and gig workers has made business growth possible for many business who would just not have taken the risk with employing staff.
As employment law becomes more and more constraining for businesses, business owners seek ‘new and innovative’ ways of working. Until it is tested in the courts and deemed to be illegal, they will take their chances and that is exactly what has happened here.
In short, with our clients we apply the duck test:
If it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and looks like a duck, then it is a DUCK, no matter whether you call it a hen, a bird a chicken or a goose!
In this case the courts have decided that Uber has workers who are DUCKS and nothing else.
The implications are as workers:
- they have to be given paid annual leave
- they are subject to the working time directive regulations
- they are entitled to National Minimum and Living wages and
- they are protected against whistle blowing.
They are not employees, therefore there are other benefits they are not entitled to, but even the above will cause Uber and other companies to have to rethink their financial models.
What makes my line of work fascinating …. People!
What drives me to destruction …. People!
There is an old saying ….. “there’s none so queer as folk” and in my line of work I never cease to be amazed by what I see, what I hear and how far people (both employers and employees) are prepared to rub up against the very edges of the law.
I regularly get calls from BBC Three Counties Radio being asked to comment on an HR story which has hit the news. This has ranged from Jeremy Clarkson hitting a producer to dogs being allowed in the workplace and most recently a female employee being sent home from work because the heel of her shoe was not high enough and a butcher who advertised a vacancy but didn’t want any drama queens to apply!
Interestingly, I have now noticed that ahead of going live on air The Producer always asks me my opinion and then the presenter takes the opposite view point. Over the years I have been doing this, I know exactly how the presenter would generally respond (regardless of my view point), but once the discussion gets going he ensures we have a good debate around the issues. Some of these discussions become very interesting as we can generally both argue for the employer and the employee on both sides on any argument.
This is one of the greatest problems faced by employers, you can always see a situation from multiple perspectives and making the ‘right’ decision will depend on your business, your morals, the law, your finances, the individual themselves and the rest of your team (both internal and external). It is very rare that there is a black and white decision with no risks attached.
One recent interview focussed on an agency worker who had been assigned to work on reception in the London office of a global management consultancy company. She had been informed that a uniform would be provided on arrival and that she needed to wear black shoes with a heel of between 2 and 4 inches. She was wearing smart black flat shoes but was sent home as she was ‘inappropriately’ dressed.
Now on the one hand, an employer is absolutely entitled to have a dress code policy and enforce it; but on the other hand it must be reasonable and not expose the employer to any risks. In this case the risks are that the employee can bring a sex or disability discrimination claim:
- A male employee would not be asked to wear a heel of between 2 and 4 inches.
- An employee with a knee or back problem might struggle to wear a heel
- There is no requirement of the role to wear such a heel
- Examples of job related requirements might include:
- the use of personal protective equipment i.e. steel capped shoes, hi-vi jackets or ear defenders
- training shoes in a gym environment to protect the floor
- lace up shoes for the police
- Examples of job related requirements might include:
In a similar scenario we dealt with recently, an estate agent had a dress code policy in which all employees were required to wear suits. For ladies this could be a trouser, skirt or dress suit, but it had to be a business suit. This was clearly stated in the dress code of the company and was in contracts of employment which every employee was given and signed before commencing work. A male employee refused to wear a tie. His manager asked him nicely and informally. His manager called him into a meeting to discuss any issues or concerns and to point out that there was a contractual obligation. The employee’s attitude was “I’m not wearing a tie and you can’t make me” – my polite interpretation and a summary of the conversation. The line manager warned the employee that they were in breach of company policy, that everyone else complied with the policy and continued failure to follow a reasonable request would lead to disciplinary procedures.
As in so many cases we see, the employee goes running off to the doctor. Now usually they come back with a fit note signing them off work for 4 weeks due to work related stress a.k.a. being asked to do something they don’t want to do or being told that they could face disciplinary action. (Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of employers who do put their employees under incredible, unacceptable stress, but we are talking about a tie).
In this instance, the employee returned with a fit note from his doctor stating that wearing a tie gave him migraines. So what does the employer do? The doctor says the employee can’t wear a tie. Well, is it the tie which is to tight or the short collar? The employer, willing to make a ‘reasonable adjustment’ gave the employee four options:
- Undo the top button, and then push the tie up to hide the open collar
- Buy shirts with larger size neck sizes
- Buy a collar extender to increase the neck size
- Wear a clip on tie
The employee still refused. He ended up in a disciplinary meeting the outcome of which was a written warning. He is still refusing to wear his tie and the company will be taking further action.
Is a tie, or the height of the heel worth making a fuss over? Well, that depends on the nature of your business.
Is the dress code policy reasonable and appropriate to the working environment? Each employer needs to think about whether they want their staff in specific clothes or a uniform or in deed to refrain from wearing certain clothes. Every business owner needs to decide what is right for them, their business and their clients. For some businesses and organisations, it doesn’t matter at all, while for others the staff wearing branded clothes or specific colours or personal protective equipment is expected and essential and in some instances, the dress code may only apply at specific times or locations.
Whatever dress code you want to enforce, there are 4 golden rules:
- Be clear about what is and is not allowed / required
- Check that the policy itself is not exposing your business to the risks of discrimination claims
- Document your policy (ideally in your contracts of employment) and ensure that it is properly communicated to remove any doubt
- Be consistent in its application, so as not to discriminate against any group of employees