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.

Is it a Duck?

28 Oct
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Annual Leave, Blog, employee rights, employent law, pay   |  No Comments


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:duck

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.

The Employment Legislation Outlook

03 Jun
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Blog, employent law, National Living Wage, National Minimum Wage, pay   |  No Comments

Below is a summary of planned employment legislation changes.

There are a couple of things to note:

  1. There was no statutory increase in rates in April of this year, except for Redundancy which increased by £4 per week
  2. There may be an alignment of the National Minimum Wage Increases and the National Living Wage increases as the October rate increases have been announced as being in place for 6 months to March 30th 2017
Jan – June 2016 Consultation on extension of shared parental leave and pay to working grandparents – if approved, legislation timetable to follow.
18 June 2016 Posted Workers (Enforcement of Employment Rights) Regulations 2016 expected to come into force.
July 2016 Public sector exit payments clawback regulations enforcement expected.
7 September 2016 New financial sector whistleblowing rules to be introduced.
1 October 2016 Increase in National Minimum Wage
October 2016 Gender pay gap reporting regulations coming into force (first reports due 2018).
October 2016 Earliest likely implementation date for measures in the Immigration Bill 2015-16.
April 2017 Increase in National Living Wage for over 25’s
Potential increase in National Minimum Wage
April 2017 Potential increase in Statutory rates in line with CPI
6 April 2017 Apprenticeship levy due to take effect.
30 April 2017 ‘Snapshot’ gender pay gap reporting begins for employers with 250+ employees.
September 2017 30 hours’ free childcare becomes available for 3 and 4-year olds in working families.
October 2017 Potential increase in National Minimum Wage – if not raised in April 2017
April 2018 Increase in National Living Wage for Over 25’s
April 2018 Potential increase in Statutory rates in line with CPI
30 April 2018 First gender pay gap reports to be published by organisations with 250 or more employees.

David Cameron and the 19.1% hot potato

16 Jul
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Audit, Blog, pay   |  No Comments

It just seems like it’s one HR hot potato after another right now!

On Tuesday, David Cameron announced plans to bring forward a rule that will mean that companies with more than 250 staff will have to disclose the pay gap between their male and female employees.

As things currently stand, for full and part-time workers, there is a 19.1% difference between what men and women get paid, meaning that for every 80p earned by a woman, a man is earning £1.

Whilst you might not employ 250 staff, the news has relevance for every business, regardless of their size, as it outlines the government’s determination to stamp out ‘gender inequality’.

Can you be sure that you’re treating male and female employees as they’re legally obliged to be treated?  Are there any cracks in your policies and procedures, pay or otherwise?

If you’re not sure, I’d be happy to have a chat with you to talk it through – call me on 01923 504100

Do I have to pay staff if they don’t come to work due to the snow?

18 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Absence, Annual Leave, Bad weather, Blog, pay, snow   |  No Comments

On days like today, when the snow is falling steadily and settling rapidly, we are often asked about withholding pay for absent staff.

Our first response is always “What does your contract say”? 

As a general rule, if staff are absent from work and it is not for pre arranged holiday, then as an employer, you are not required to pay for the missed day. If your contract indicates that you will, ‘for reasons beyond their control’ then you must!

In many cases, employers will work with employees to find the most appropriate compromise. Imagine a retail shop – you need to keep trading, so arranging to change the rosters so that people who can get to work do so and those who can’t, cover more shifts to make up the time once the snow has passed.

If you run an office based business, can employees work from home? A little forward planning might mean people taking laptops home when they wouldn’t normally and forwarding desk phones to mobiles, ‘just in case’.

If staff do make it into work and then their child’s school shuts, parents do have the right to unpaid time of to resolve family emergencies and a school closure would be considered to be just such an emergency.

One option that many employers explore is forcing staff to take the day as holiday. It is not possible to force holiday upon people with such short notice, however if an employee suggests it (rather than having the day unpaid) and you as the employer are comfortable with that approach, then there is no reason why the compromise can not be agreed.

So what then happens if the weather deteriorates during the day and you send your staff home, what are your obligations then? Well, if you close the office preventing staff from carrying out their duties, then you are not allowed to make any deduction from salary.

As an ideal, your contracts of employment or employee handbook, should document a policy and procedure relating to snow days.

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to ensure that your employees are working in a healthy and safe environment. Be mindful of field based staff and drivers. Don’t force them to work if it is not safe for them to do so, as you could end up with a corporate manslaughter case on your hands. Issue advice about bad weather driving and ensure they have emergency provisions in their vehicles. Be prepared to cover accommodation costs if your mobile staff get caught away from home stranded by the snow.

I can’t afford to give pay increases!!

04 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Annual Leave, Benefits, Blog, pay, Reward, Total Reward, Voluntary Benefits   |  No Comments

As I speak to my clients, I pick up on general trends. Sometimes it is based on stuff they have heard in the news, sometimes it is the fear of forthcoming legislation; but recently there is one trend which is repeated by almost all of my clients – pay increases! Staff are asking for them because the cost of living is on the increase, but companies can’t afford to give them as the economic future is so uncertain.

Going back five and even ten years, pay increases were generally given by small companies at about 5% and by large companies at 5 – 10% depending on the industry, company and individual performance. In these instances, the pay increase was above inflation and employees generally felt valued.

Today, with RPI at 5.4% and CPI at 5% these sorts of pay increases, if even possible, are barely covering Cost of Living increases. In many cases employees really do understand the pressure their management is under and would prefer to have a job with a low pay rather than no job at all, should the company go out of business. However, employees still need to be able to live: feed and cloth their families, put their children in childcare to enable them to work and to provide an adequate standard of living. As inflation increases and pay rises are not achievable, employers are having to look to alternative ways of motivating staff, ensuring they feel valued and remain engaged in the company, helping it to achieve its aims and objectives.

So, how are companies doing this? The answers vary based on size, industry and performance, but here are some ideas which can be adopted.
Communication and expectation setting
Talk to your staff. Be open and honest with them. If company performance is good, tell them, if it is bad – tell them. If you have to make changes to their compensation packages, tell them why and tell them when you will review the situation and what changes you need to see to provide a platform for restoration of their package. If there are decisions you are making to save costs, consult with staff – they may have useful insights and ideas. Try to put bad news with good news messages, but don’t lie and don’t ‘spin’ – you will loose their trust.
Other Rewards
Good performance does not mean you have to give pay increases. If the performance is due to a one off successful sale or project, providing a one off bonus to show your appreciation is an ideal way to demonstrate how much you value staff. It won’t add to the long term fixed financial commitments of the company, but will enable a set amount of money to be shared among employees.
Access to voluntary benefits is another way of showing staff that you are thinking of them, even in these stretched times. The employer usually pays a small amount per person and this enables the employees to access all sorts of discounts making their existing pay packet go a bit further. Choosing the right benefits programme is important, but it can be a very cost effective way of rewarding staff.
Time off
Providing staff with extra time off can be another cost effective way of rewarding them. This may not work for every business and certainly won’t work if you have a workforce who are too busy to take the annual leave they normally have, but for many extra time off goes a long way.

Getting reward right is hard at the best of times. Getting it right in the current economic climate is even harder.
What has your experience been with recent pay reviews? What alternative approaches have you adopted?

Total Reward

07 Jun
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in pay, Reward, Total Reward   |  No Comments

At a time when Companies are still struggling to provide pay increases for employees, what are the alternatives to ensure engagement and retention of talent within the business.

For many people, choosing an employer, going to work and performing at the highest possible standards is not just about how much they get paid. Pay is important, and certainly people need to feel they are earning a fair and sufficient wage, but increasingly it is the total reward package which is being taken into consideration.

When considering total reward, it is not only the typical transactional elements such as pay, bonus and pension which are taken into consideration, but the relational rewards such as the culture and ethos of the organisation, the learning and development opportunities available and the flexibility of work design i.e. the ability to work from home, work part time or work 10 days in 9.

Employees want to feel valued; they want to be recognised when they have done a good job rather than being scorned for something that has gone wrong. They appreciate and value access to new opportunities, but don’t want to feel they have been taken advantage of. Employees want to be able to contribute in a positive way and feel their opinions are valued and carefully considered when changes are being made.

As the economy starts to recover, employers need to recognise that the most attractive of their staff are the top talent and there is a risk of losing these people if they are not getting what they want and need from your organisation.

Every employee has different motivational drivers. It is vital that organisations understand what each individual needs and what the business must do to recognise, incentivise and reward each employee. Line managers have a vital role to play throughout the organisation. From recruitment to retention, line managers need to engage with their staff, understand their ability to contribute, empower them to do so and ensure that reward and recognition is appropriate.

For companies who need to compete for and retain top talent, creating a culture of Total Reward is essential to the long term success of the business.

Mum vs. Dad

15 Apr
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in HR Policy, leave, Paternity, pay   |  1 Comments

We all know that mum is entitled to maternity leave and pay, and that (if we are truthful with ourselves) in the past potential employers have chosen male over female applicants so as to avoid having to cope with maternity rights.

Now the game changes. New Dads are entitled to up to six months paternity leave AND PAY if mum has returned to work early. Unlike flexible working, the obligation is not to consider but to provide.

If you pay enhanced maternity pay to your female employees then, although not required by law yet, the likelihood is that you will need to treat your male employees equally and that they too should benefit from any enhanced payment schemes.

How will your business cope with this new legislation? What steps have you taken to implement these changes?

Actions for companies are to ensure you have a policy in place for paternity leave and pay and a process which enables notification, planning and business continuity.

Don’t wait until a Dad to be forces the issue. Plan ahead so that your response meets your legal requirements and your business needs.

Parents can save tax if they sign up for Childcare Vouchers before April

08 Feb
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in Benefits, childcare vouchers, pay, Tax   |  1 Comments

Childcare vouchers are a Government initiative aimed at helping working parents with children up to the age of 15.

Each parent can receive up to £243 per month in childcare vouchers from their employer and this is free from tax and National Insurance.

Most childcare vouchers are provided through salary sacrifice, which means parents receive their vouchers instead of part of their salary.

Currently, basic rate tax payers can save up to £903 per year and top end tax payers could save up to £1487 a year.

In April the law changes and although basic rate taxpayers can still save just over £900, higher rate tax payers will only be able to save up to £610 per year and top end tax payers £590 per year.

Employers also benefit from offering childcare vouchers to employees as they do not pay National Insurance contributions on the sacrificed element of salary, this could be up to £373 per member per year.

When taking childcare vouchers, employees must be left with more than the National Minimum Wage after their salary sacrifice. If families receive tax credits, it is also important to ensure that these are not affected.

Vouchers can be used to pay for childcare in nurseries, after school clubs, holiday clubs and Ofsted registered child minders and parents can receive vouchers electronically or in paper format.

For more information about employee pay and benefits or setting up a childcare voucher scheme for your employees, contact Donna at DOHR on 01923 504100 or by email at

Do you employ men?

14 Jan
by Donna Obstfeld, posted in HR, HR Consultancy, HR Support, Maternity, Paternity, pay   |  No Comments

Although we like to think it is a thing of the past, clients still tell me that they are scared to employ young females in case they get pregnant. They don’t want the upheaval or the costs associated with maternity leave such as finding and training temporary staff or loosing key skills and knowledge.

However, from April, the law changes and employers could face these issues when employing either female or male staff.

From April parents will be able to share the maternity leave with fathers allowed up to six months off (providing mum has gone back to work). This time off is paid at Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) rates, currently £124.88 per week.

Although legislation provides SPP, it is expected that in business and organisations where enhanced maternity pay is available, by not offering the enhancement to fathers, employers may be in breach of discrimination laws around gender. In these cases, employers may have to amend their policies to provide for enhanced paternity pay.

So, unlike parental leave which is unpaid and therefore not particularly attractive, it is anticipated that there will be greater take up of extended paternity leave. This may particularly be the case if the mother earns more money than the father, or the father works for an organisation which pays enhance paternity pay and the mother does not.

So, is this a change for the better or the worse? Well, I guess that depends on your point of view!!

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