Call us on:  0808 172 93 22 | Offices: London - Northampton

NEWS

11 million days and counting


11 million days and counting
By Helen Taylor

Over 11 million days each year are lost due to work-related stress according to the Health and Safety Executive. The true socio-economic impact of these lost days each year is probably not fully quantifiable but the scale of the loss must mean the impact is significant. Employers can therefore no longer afford to ignore this problem and focus just on physical well-being.

Obligations

Unfortunately, the law on stress is not set out in one place and is piecemeal, which means it is often difficult for employers to fully appreciate the scope of their obligations. Duties are set out in various pieces of legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. A further dimension is added as employers also have implied duties, including the obligation to provide a safe system of work. Taking these duties as a whole, employers must however ensure that their staff are not exposed to excessive levels of stress when at work.

Productivity

A nod to these legal duties in terms of working practices may minimise the risk of a legal claim but may not provide the support staff need. In tackling the issue, management needs to address the main contributors to workplace stress such as excessive workloads, long hours, bullying and harassment; all these factors should not be ignored as they have a negative impact on staff retention and engagement, absence levels and productivity.
Given the scale of the problem, employers do need to act. A shift in approach does not need to involve a large amount of time and resources. As a starting point, there are some simple but effective strategies that can be adopted:

– Have clear polices which create a supportive working culture and provide managers with guidance as to how to deal with performance management, bullying and attendance issues.

– Encourage more conversations about stress. Talking will help you to understand the causes and therefore put in place the right support when it is most needed.

While these simple steps may provide a solution today, employers will also need to gear up and look to the future.

Winning workplace

Management research and HR studies are identifying that changing demographics mean employers will need to consider new ways of supporting staff by being more aware of their needs and wishes to create the winning workplace. One thing is clear, employees want to ensure that they have both the mental and physical wellbeing to work for as long as possible in the most productive and efficient way. To attract and retain the best talent, the means of providing the right workplace culture to support employees in fulfilling these aspirations will need to be at the top of the HR agenda.

In line with these findings, the government wants to encourage more discussions about disability and health conditions in the workplace. The introduction of a framework for reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing for larger employers although voluntary is one step in that direction.
If work related stress is the growing epidemic that the level of lost hours is indicating, then employers need to act now.

Helen Taylor is principal solicitor at FG Solicitors

Romance and the workplace: should employers regulate?

Romance and the workplace: should employers regulate?

Recent studies indicate that one in five people met their significant other through work. This outranks online dating, introductions through mutual friends and meeting at a bar or club.
Therefore, when it comes to an employee’s right to a private life and the employer’s right to protect its business interests, it is crucial to adopt a balanced framework and accompanying policies. Such policies should express clearly that a company has no wish to interfere in the private lives of their employees, however it is necessary to ensure that all employees, regardless of their seniority or job title, act in an appropriate and professional manner at all times.
The impact of romantic relationships in the workplace varies, and although it may be argued in some cases that the success of a company can be measured by the success of these relationships. It is important to acknowledge the risks and dangers office relationships can have to the culture, performance and integrity of the business.
Employers face having to deal with an increase in personal relationships at work. Whether its personal spats invading a professional environment, pillow talk risking the confidential integrity of the business or the effects of divorce between staff members, it is pertinent for employers to implement relevant policies to protect business interests and effectively run their organisation.
Encouraging honest communication between an employee and employer is vital. Employers should establish with staff members their expectations that employees will keep their private and professional life separate to avoid the risk of relationships crossing over departments or individuals entering into relationships for their own professional gain, the company must consider the necessary safeguarding measures.
The initial precautionary step an employer can take, is to review the current staff handbook for any existing regulations concerning workplace relationships. In order to effectively manage any potential negative issues, employers may want to implement guidelines that employees must adhere to. For example, a company can require employees to notify and disclose an ongoing close relationship for which a relevant impact assessment can be carried out. This way the business is aware of the type of relationships that are developing, can manage the potential problems which may occur and identify what steps need to be taken to protect the business. In addition, an employer can apply policies which prohibit any romantic associations between staff.
The drafting of such policies should be tailored to the company’s needs and interests, with emphasis on the core fundamentals an employer expects of its staff. It should inform the individual that their conduct is to act appropriately and in the best interests of the company, without any impairment of their judgement or undue influence on their behaviour from their significant other. To maintain an honest and transparent relationship with the company to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. To act with integrity, therefore avoiding any preferential treatment between senior level staff and their juniors. Finally, to retain a professional manner in all dealings with and on behalf of the company, including their etiquette when communicating both internally and externally with their partner.
FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR and we can guide your business through any difficulties you may face like this one. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.

Christmas for Employees – Naughty or Nice?

Xmas for Employees

Employment law dos and don’ts at Christmas-time for parties and presents.

Yes it’s that time of the year again: hyperactive children, unsuitable presents and parties where guests outstay their welcome.  And that’s just the staff!  In fact the Christmas spirit (and I’m not referring to the alcoholic one) can be found in the workplace and with some careful planning it can be a “nice” time of the year.  It is however useful to remember the employment law implications of festive activities.  With this in mind, we have set out below some of the dos and don’ts at Christmas-time in terms of employment law.

PARTIES

When parties are going with alcohol flowing, the risk of injury to employees both physically and mentally increases.  Below are some pointers to help mitigate these risks so that everyone enjoys this time of the year.

BEFORE/DURING THE EVENT

DO   DO NOT  
Consider sending a memo/email to employees about standards of conduct required at office functions and the disciplinary sanctions which could result from breaches of these standards. Encourage drunkenness, drugs or violence at the party.  A free bar for the whole evening may encourage heavy drinking.
Ensure that all employees are invited to an office party, even if they are off sick or some form of family friendly leave. Deliberately leave out any employee from participating in festive events.
Ensure the company’s policy on harassment is up to date and remind employees of its existence well in advance.  Guidance may be needed on appropriate “secret santa” gifts (for example, nothing lewd which could be perceived as offensive!). Hold the party at a venue which would not be suitable for some employees to attend due to, for example, disability or religious reasons.
   
Ensure that the venue for the party is accessible by disabled employees. Assume that everyone will eat the same food or refuse to accommodate dietary requests.
Ask employees about dietary requirements  – employees who have certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat beef or pork for example. Leave junior employees to organise a large office party without guidance as to the necessary health and safety requirements.
Ensure there are sufficient security measures in place at the venue. Assume that all partners will be of the opposite sex.
If partners are invited to the party, ensure that the invitation is to any partners, heterosexual or homosexual. Discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at a social event – these conversations can be taken out of context and are open to misinterpretation.
Warn managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with subordinates at the party – words of encouragement and good intentions can end up being misinterpreted.
AFTER THE EVENT 
Consider warning staff that unauthorised absence the day after the party may result in disciplinary action. Use lateness/absence the day after the party as an excuse to instigate disciplinary proceedings against a particular employee, when other employees have been allowed to get away with similar lateness/absence.
Consider how employees will get home from the venue.  Consider booking taxis or sending out train times. Allow employees to drive home after over-indulging.
Follow up any grievances or complaints raised following a party. Ignore complaints or grievances, particularly in relation to sexual harassment.
Investigate any incident as soon and as fully as possible.  If any serious incidents occur (for example violence or sexual harassment), invoke the disciplinary procedure. Encourage gossip after the office Christmas party.
Try to stamp out any gossip after a social event.  It could for example be interpreted as harassment.  

 

PRESENTS

And here are a couple of notes on present giving:

DO DO NOT
Include all employees if you are intending to give gifts. Discriminate against any individual employees when giving gifts.  For example by giving alcohol to an employee whose religious beliefs require abstinence.
Check the examples given by HMRC of “trivial” gifts which may be given to employees without a tax charge.  For example, a turkey, a bottle of wine, chocolates…  

 

Contact Details

For more details about Christmas parties or company policies please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice. 

What we do

At FG Solicitors we generally partner with employers to manage the employment relationship. As a result of years of experience we have developed a unique insight into all the component parts of the employer/employee relationship.
The current climate, however, appears to be one of uncertainty, with regular reports of well-known high street names and brands downsizing significantly or ceasing to trade. This has led to an erosion of confidence generally within the business community.
For some employers, this means a realignment/restructure/reorganisation of the workforce in line with revised corporate objectives.
For others, downsizing is a corporate necessity.
In these situations, where FGS is not acting for the employer, we have the expertise to provide a support service to represent employees on a collective and individual basis in a structured way, which gives the following benefits to the employer:
– We can minimise the disruption to the daily operations of the business and the employees by attending on site and liaising face to face with the potentially affected employees or their elected representatives.
– This is a time and cost effective solution as it can dispense with the need for employees to take time off to seek advice and sign documents
– We can reduce cost by forward planning and liaising with the company’s legal advisers;
– Advise employees collectively on any settlement agreements thereby saving the employer costs at a time when preserving cash is critical
– There will be consistency and certainty of approach as we will be involved from the inception of the process and will be the focal point for employees or their representatives.
– The company will be offering a choice to the employees with FGS giving independent advice to them and this will help to underline the company’s commitment to its pastoral care obligation in the most challenging of circumstances for the employer and the employees.

Harassment or encouragement?

Jack Khurana – Senior Associate Solicitor at FG Solicitors

Hardly a day goes by without another high profile scandal with unsavoury allegations of sexual discrimination or harassment.

Not even our esteemed Prime Minister can escape the scandal of the alleged “under the table thigh squeeze”.
There have been many cases of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace so it’s a brave Employment Tribunal that flies in the face of the current climate and concludes that sexual harassment has not been proven.

This was so in the recently reported case of Raj –v- Capita BS. Raj was employed as a Customer Service agent, whose employment was terminated during the probationary period. Raj complained of sexual harassment against Ward, the line manager, who had on several occasions, in an open plan office, stood behind and massaged Raj’s shoulders, neck and back.

Raj argued, in accordance with the wording of the relevant legislation, that this was unwanted conduct either of a sexual nature or related to Raj’s sex within s.26 of the Equality Act 2010.
Having heard the evidence the Employment Tribunal rejected the claim for sexual harassment and found that although Raj had proven physical contact – massages lasting for two or three minutes, long enough to make Raj feel uncomfortable, and that this had the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating or offensive environment. However, the Tribunal concluded that the unwanted massage was not conduct of a sexual nature.
Rather, the Tribunal concluded, the reason for the massages was misguided encouragement. Contextually, this was a manager standing over a sitting team member. The area of contact, the Tribunal concluded, was with a gender neutral part of the body, albeit in plain sight of other employees in the open plan office. Yes the actions were unwise and uncomfortable, but not sexual harassment.

On appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision on the basis that the Tribunal was entitled to find that while the conduct was unwanted, it wasn’t sexual in nature or related to Raj’s gender.
Arguably, when a man stands behind a woman and massages her back, neck and shoulders in the privacy of their own home, with consent, that is acceptable.

Equally, it’s been argued that, in the workplace, when the woman does not invite such attention, it’s clearly harassment to massage her shoulders, neck and massage.

It may be natural to assume that Raj is female and Ward is male. But that assumption would be wrong in this case. Here the attention and massages were uninvited by Mr Raj – he didn’t ask his female team leader Ms Ward to massage his back neck and shoulders, but when she did, the Tribunal concluded on the facts and evidence before it, that she was encouraging him to improve his performance.

Commentators speculate that had the gender roles been reversed, would Mr Raj’s actions in “encouraging” Ms Ward with unwanted massages on her neck back and shoulders have been construed as of a sexual nature or related to Ms Ward’s sex?

Employers should always bear in mind that all cases and decisions are fact specific. We at FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR and we can guide your business through the minefield of discrimination laws and ensure that you are properly protected against claims like this one. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.

Call us on:  0808 172 93 22

NEWS

11 million days and counting


11 million days and counting
By Helen Taylor

Over 11 million days each year are lost due to work-related stress according to the Health and Safety Executive. The true socio-economic impact of these lost days each year is probably not fully quantifiable but the scale of the loss must mean the impact is significant. Employers can therefore no longer afford to ignore this problem and focus just on physical well-being.

Obligations

Unfortunately, the law on stress is not set out in one place and is piecemeal, which means it is often difficult for employers to fully appreciate the scope of their obligations. Duties are set out in various pieces of legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. A further dimension is added as employers also have implied duties, including the obligation to provide a safe system of work. Taking these duties as a whole, employers must however ensure that their staff are not exposed to excessive levels of stress when at work.

Productivity

A nod to these legal duties in terms of working practices may minimise the risk of a legal claim but may not provide the support staff need. In tackling the issue, management needs to address the main contributors to workplace stress such as excessive workloads, long hours, bullying and harassment; all these factors should not be ignored as they have a negative impact on staff retention and engagement, absence levels and productivity.
Given the scale of the problem, employers do need to act. A shift in approach does not need to involve a large amount of time and resources. As a starting point, there are some simple but effective strategies that can be adopted:

– Have clear polices which create a supportive working culture and provide managers with guidance as to how to deal with performance management, bullying and attendance issues.

– Encourage more conversations about stress. Talking will help you to understand the causes and therefore put in place the right support when it is most needed.

While these simple steps may provide a solution today, employers will also need to gear up and look to the future.

Winning workplace

Management research and HR studies are identifying that changing demographics mean employers will need to consider new ways of supporting staff by being more aware of their needs and wishes to create the winning workplace. One thing is clear, employees want to ensure that they have both the mental and physical wellbeing to work for as long as possible in the most productive and efficient way. To attract and retain the best talent, the means of providing the right workplace culture to support employees in fulfilling these aspirations will need to be at the top of the HR agenda.

In line with these findings, the government wants to encourage more discussions about disability and health conditions in the workplace. The introduction of a framework for reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing for larger employers although voluntary is one step in that direction.
If work related stress is the growing epidemic that the level of lost hours is indicating, then employers need to act now.

Helen Taylor is principal solicitor at FG Solicitors

Romance and the workplace: should employers regulate?

Romance and the workplace: should employers regulate?

Recent studies indicate that one in five people met their significant other through work. This outranks online dating, introductions through mutual friends and meeting at a bar or club.
Therefore, when it comes to an employee’s right to a private life and the employer’s right to protect its business interests, it is crucial to adopt a balanced framework and accompanying policies. Such policies should express clearly that a company has no wish to interfere in the private lives of their employees, however it is necessary to ensure that all employees, regardless of their seniority or job title, act in an appropriate and professional manner at all times.
The impact of romantic relationships in the workplace varies, and although it may be argued in some cases that the success of a company can be measured by the success of these relationships. It is important to acknowledge the risks and dangers office relationships can have to the culture, performance and integrity of the business.
Employers face having to deal with an increase in personal relationships at work. Whether its personal spats invading a professional environment, pillow talk risking the confidential integrity of the business or the effects of divorce between staff members, it is pertinent for employers to implement relevant policies to protect business interests and effectively run their organisation.
Encouraging honest communication between an employee and employer is vital. Employers should establish with staff members their expectations that employees will keep their private and professional life separate to avoid the risk of relationships crossing over departments or individuals entering into relationships for their own professional gain, the company must consider the necessary safeguarding measures.
The initial precautionary step an employer can take, is to review the current staff handbook for any existing regulations concerning workplace relationships. In order to effectively manage any potential negative issues, employers may want to implement guidelines that employees must adhere to. For example, a company can require employees to notify and disclose an ongoing close relationship for which a relevant impact assessment can be carried out. This way the business is aware of the type of relationships that are developing, can manage the potential problems which may occur and identify what steps need to be taken to protect the business. In addition, an employer can apply policies which prohibit any romantic associations between staff.
The drafting of such policies should be tailored to the company’s needs and interests, with emphasis on the core fundamentals an employer expects of its staff. It should inform the individual that their conduct is to act appropriately and in the best interests of the company, without any impairment of their judgement or undue influence on their behaviour from their significant other. To maintain an honest and transparent relationship with the company to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. To act with integrity, therefore avoiding any preferential treatment between senior level staff and their juniors. Finally, to retain a professional manner in all dealings with and on behalf of the company, including their etiquette when communicating both internally and externally with their partner.
FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR and we can guide your business through any difficulties you may face like this one. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.

Christmas for Employees – Naughty or Nice?

Xmas for Employees

Employment law dos and don’ts at Christmas-time for parties and presents.

Yes it’s that time of the year again: hyperactive children, unsuitable presents and parties where guests outstay their welcome.  And that’s just the staff!  In fact the Christmas spirit (and I’m not referring to the alcoholic one) can be found in the workplace and with some careful planning it can be a “nice” time of the year.  It is however useful to remember the employment law implications of festive activities.  With this in mind, we have set out below some of the dos and don’ts at Christmas-time in terms of employment law.

PARTIES

When parties are going with alcohol flowing, the risk of injury to employees both physically and mentally increases.  Below are some pointers to help mitigate these risks so that everyone enjoys this time of the year.

BEFORE/DURING THE EVENT

DO   DO NOT  
Consider sending a memo/email to employees about standards of conduct required at office functions and the disciplinary sanctions which could result from breaches of these standards. Encourage drunkenness, drugs or violence at the party.  A free bar for the whole evening may encourage heavy drinking.
Ensure that all employees are invited to an office party, even if they are off sick or some form of family friendly leave. Deliberately leave out any employee from participating in festive events.
Ensure the company’s policy on harassment is up to date and remind employees of its existence well in advance.  Guidance may be needed on appropriate “secret santa” gifts (for example, nothing lewd which could be perceived as offensive!). Hold the party at a venue which would not be suitable for some employees to attend due to, for example, disability or religious reasons.
   
Ensure that the venue for the party is accessible by disabled employees. Assume that everyone will eat the same food or refuse to accommodate dietary requests.
Ask employees about dietary requirements  – employees who have certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat beef or pork for example. Leave junior employees to organise a large office party without guidance as to the necessary health and safety requirements.
Ensure there are sufficient security measures in place at the venue. Assume that all partners will be of the opposite sex.
If partners are invited to the party, ensure that the invitation is to any partners, heterosexual or homosexual. Discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at a social event – these conversations can be taken out of context and are open to misinterpretation.
Warn managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with subordinates at the party – words of encouragement and good intentions can end up being misinterpreted.
AFTER THE EVENT 
Consider warning staff that unauthorised absence the day after the party may result in disciplinary action. Use lateness/absence the day after the party as an excuse to instigate disciplinary proceedings against a particular employee, when other employees have been allowed to get away with similar lateness/absence.
Consider how employees will get home from the venue.  Consider booking taxis or sending out train times. Allow employees to drive home after over-indulging.
Follow up any grievances or complaints raised following a party. Ignore complaints or grievances, particularly in relation to sexual harassment.
Investigate any incident as soon and as fully as possible.  If any serious incidents occur (for example violence or sexual harassment), invoke the disciplinary procedure. Encourage gossip after the office Christmas party.
Try to stamp out any gossip after a social event.  It could for example be interpreted as harassment.  

 

PRESENTS

And here are a couple of notes on present giving:

DO DO NOT
Include all employees if you are intending to give gifts. Discriminate against any individual employees when giving gifts.  For example by giving alcohol to an employee whose religious beliefs require abstinence.
Check the examples given by HMRC of “trivial” gifts which may be given to employees without a tax charge.  For example, a turkey, a bottle of wine, chocolates…  

 

Contact Details

For more details about Christmas parties or company policies please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice. 

What we do

At FG Solicitors we generally partner with employers to manage the employment relationship. As a result of years of experience we have developed a unique insight into all the component parts of the employer/employee relationship.
The current climate, however, appears to be one of uncertainty, with regular reports of well-known high street names and brands downsizing significantly or ceasing to trade. This has led to an erosion of confidence generally within the business community.
For some employers, this means a realignment/restructure/reorganisation of the workforce in line with revised corporate objectives.
For others, downsizing is a corporate necessity.
In these situations, where FGS is not acting for the employer, we have the expertise to provide a support service to represent employees on a collective and individual basis in a structured way, which gives the following benefits to the employer:
– We can minimise the disruption to the daily operations of the business and the employees by attending on site and liaising face to face with the potentially affected employees or their elected representatives.
– This is a time and cost effective solution as it can dispense with the need for employees to take time off to seek advice and sign documents
– We can reduce cost by forward planning and liaising with the company’s legal advisers;
– Advise employees collectively on any settlement agreements thereby saving the employer costs at a time when preserving cash is critical
– There will be consistency and certainty of approach as we will be involved from the inception of the process and will be the focal point for employees or their representatives.
– The company will be offering a choice to the employees with FGS giving independent advice to them and this will help to underline the company’s commitment to its pastoral care obligation in the most challenging of circumstances for the employer and the employees.

Harassment or encouragement?

Jack Khurana – Senior Associate Solicitor at FG Solicitors

Hardly a day goes by without another high profile scandal with unsavoury allegations of sexual discrimination or harassment.

Not even our esteemed Prime Minister can escape the scandal of the alleged “under the table thigh squeeze”.
There have been many cases of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace so it’s a brave Employment Tribunal that flies in the face of the current climate and concludes that sexual harassment has not been proven.

This was so in the recently reported case of Raj –v- Capita BS. Raj was employed as a Customer Service agent, whose employment was terminated during the probationary period. Raj complained of sexual harassment against Ward, the line manager, who had on several occasions, in an open plan office, stood behind and massaged Raj’s shoulders, neck and back.

Raj argued, in accordance with the wording of the relevant legislation, that this was unwanted conduct either of a sexual nature or related to Raj’s sex within s.26 of the Equality Act 2010.
Having heard the evidence the Employment Tribunal rejected the claim for sexual harassment and found that although Raj had proven physical contact – massages lasting for two or three minutes, long enough to make Raj feel uncomfortable, and that this had the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating or offensive environment. However, the Tribunal concluded that the unwanted massage was not conduct of a sexual nature.
Rather, the Tribunal concluded, the reason for the massages was misguided encouragement. Contextually, this was a manager standing over a sitting team member. The area of contact, the Tribunal concluded, was with a gender neutral part of the body, albeit in plain sight of other employees in the open plan office. Yes the actions were unwise and uncomfortable, but not sexual harassment.

On appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision on the basis that the Tribunal was entitled to find that while the conduct was unwanted, it wasn’t sexual in nature or related to Raj’s gender.
Arguably, when a man stands behind a woman and massages her back, neck and shoulders in the privacy of their own home, with consent, that is acceptable.

Equally, it’s been argued that, in the workplace, when the woman does not invite such attention, it’s clearly harassment to massage her shoulders, neck and massage.

It may be natural to assume that Raj is female and Ward is male. But that assumption would be wrong in this case. Here the attention and massages were uninvited by Mr Raj – he didn’t ask his female team leader Ms Ward to massage his back neck and shoulders, but when she did, the Tribunal concluded on the facts and evidence before it, that she was encouraging him to improve his performance.

Commentators speculate that had the gender roles been reversed, would Mr Raj’s actions in “encouraging” Ms Ward with unwanted massages on her neck back and shoulders have been construed as of a sexual nature or related to Ms Ward’s sex?

Employers should always bear in mind that all cases and decisions are fact specific. We at FG Solicitors are experts in all areas of Employment Law and HR and we can guide your business through the minefield of discrimination laws and ensure that you are properly protected against claims like this one. Feel free to call us on 0808 172 9322 for a no obligation discussion.