People Matter November 2020
Is homeworking here to stay?
The COVID-19 outbreak has given many employees their first taste of working from home. At the height of the pandemic, 40% of hours worked in Ireland took place remotely, with only Belgium embracing homeworking to a greater extent.
This shift in working patterns is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Many workers will prefer homeworking, and may be reluctant to return to the office. A recent survey found that 80% of Irish employees want to continue working from home at least some of the time.
Sensing a change in the public mood, the government is considering new legislation to give employees the right to request remote working. This would not guarantee the right to work from home, but it would introduce an official procedure for requesting such a change.
There can be definite advantages to remote working for employers. Overheads are reduced and employees are more relaxed. But homeworking also presents new challenges. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and The Health and Safety Authority have both released checklists for employers considering a switch to remote working. These set out the steps you should take to ensure that home workers are properly cared for.
First of all, a proper risk assessment should be carried out for all remote working spaces. This should be conducted by a trained risk assessor and should cover all the same criteria as an office risk assessment. This allows you to deal with any potential hazards in the employee’s remote working space, protecting both your employee and yourself.
Risk assessments are only the start. Cybersecurity and data protection practices need to be enforced remotely, and extra attention needs to be paid to the mental health of remote workers. If employees wish to work from abroad, you will have to consider the employment laws of their chosen country. Contracts and handbooks may also need to be updated. To say that there’s a lot to think about would be putting it mildly, so don’t hesitate to ask us for help!
Sick pay is changing
In its latest budget, the government touched on several points relating to changes to sick pay. Some of these changes are confirmed, while others are only proposals at the moment.
The main confirmed change concerns the payment of illness benefit. As it stands, insured employees who fall ill have to wait six days before they can claim. From the end of February 2021, this waiting period will be reduced to three days.
This will make life easier for sick employees by giving them faster access to support. It will also save you money if you are currently offering sick pay during the first week of illness, as part of this will now be paid by the government.
This will have no effect on your employees’ eligibility for COVID-19 enhanced illness benefit. Any employee with COVID-19 symptoms can still claim €350 a week with no waiting period. However, at present this scheme is expected to wind down by 1 April 2021.
The government has also confirmed its intention to introduce statutory sick pay for all workers. This would be included in the terms and conditions of employee contracts, bringing Ireland into line with most other EU countries. A model being mooted is that employers would pay normal pay for a period of two weeks.
The government is currently analysing the costs of such a scheme, especially for smaller businesses, and will publish its findings next March. So we don’t know the exact shape of the new regulations for now, but it is likely that providing some form of sick pay will become mandatory. We will keep you posted.
Men often struggle to ask for help, and this can have grave consequences. Statistics show that a man takes his own life every minute, and often conditions such as testicular cancer and prostate cancer go undiagnosed until it is too late.
Movember was started in 2003 as a way to open up conversations about men’s health. Since then, it has turned into a global phenomenon, and its original group of 30 ‘Mo Bros’ has grown to more than six million.
Much of the pressure that men face involves work and money, so employers have an important role to play. You can change the narrative by showing the men on your team that you are there for them. Whether you put on a fundraising event or simply provide information and resources, you can send a clear message: there’s no shame in asking for help.
Preparing for Brexit
With the COVID-19 outbreak demanding so much attention, it’s easy to forget about Brexit. The UK officially left the EU on 31 January 2020, but the real changes will come into effect after 31 December. Some details are yet to be finalised, but HR strategies can contribute to managing the transition.
There is your current workforce to consider. Identify possible changes to visas, pensions, travel and family, and plan how disruption can be managed. You should also look at recruitment. Will Brexit shrink your talent pool? If so, how can you open up new recruitment channels?
The future status of the UK under GDPR is unclear, so it’s important to carry out a risk assessment for any sensitive data stored within the UK.
Don’t forget, creating a supportive environment is vital in times of uncertainty. Keep staff in the loop about any changes and give them opportunities to voice their concerns.
Top tips to keep your virtual business inclusive
Progress in workplace inclusivity is one thing at risk during the new normal. Many of the cues of the physical environment are just not available right now.
However, in our virtual world of Zoom, Teams and other digital platforms we get the chance to come up with new ways of fostering inclusivity by pressing the reset button on the etiquette of meetings.
For example, introduce a facilitator to ensure all voices are heard – not just the extroverts or people with power; invite people to tag their preferred name and pronouns on their profile; take the opportunity to better read non-verbal signals in gallery view; and get people who may not normally feature in a meeting to participate, like a customer representative.
Some platforms even offer automatic closed captioning which can help those with hearing impairments or who speak in a non-native language. There is much more available too, so think creatively and don’t let inclusivity slide. It will help your company benefit from better engagement, better decision making and improved mental health amongst your team.
Powerful small acts of kindness
Did you hear about the French florist and care workers? Like many businesses around the world she was forced to close during the latest lockdowns. Faced with having to throw out her stock, she decided to place free bouquets on cars at a local hospital instead.
It’s just one demonstration of the sense of community spirit and togetherness which has been strengthened by the pandemic. When she reopens her shop hopefully she will have some new customers. It’s worth keeping an eye out for small acts of kindness amongst your team, as well as opportunities to be kind yourself. They’re often good for both the giver and recipient, one way or another.
People Matter October 2020
Employees, cyber-attacks and data protection
As working from home is more widely adopted, email has become an even more important method of communication for many Irish employees. Worldwide email volumes have increased by 34% this year (according to a survey by Webroot) and, inevitably, cybercriminals have smelled an opportunity.
The Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2020 found that more than 40% of Irish companies faced a cyber-attack in the six months up to February 2020, and that is only the percentage who recognised and reported it. Although you have probably given your employees a good grounding in email security, you need to be extra vigilant at the moment, as employee email is one of the areas of greatest vulnerability.
Employees who work remotely may not have easy access to IT support. Without an expert eye to cast over suspicious emails, and with the extra distractions that come with home working, carelessness can follow. Scammers will also take advantage of the sense of emergency surrounding the pandemic to trick employees into giving up sensitive information.
Teaching your employees to spot the tell-tale signs of phishing could prevent significant damage to your company, and will spare the employee the stress and embarrassment of being tricked. It could also help them avoid damaging scams in their personal life which might affect their performance at work.
Remote working also raises issues of data protection. GDPR laws can be unforgiving and they apply to your employees wherever they are working. You should make it clear to your remote staff that they must handle personal data with the same care as they would in the office. This month H&M was fined 35 million euros for breaching GDPR, demonstrating just how harsh the punishments can be.
GDPR also applies to any data you collect for government contact tracing purposes. You are allowed to ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms, but you should only store this information if strictly necessary. You should tell employees exactly what information you have, and delete it as soon as it has served its specified purpose.
If you have any questions about email safety or data protection laws, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Love is not in the air
With many companies forced to return to home working, or having never got people back into the workplace, have we seen the end of the office romance?
The office has always played a prominent role in dating, with 10% of married couples in Ireland meeting at work. In a competitive job market there is more pressure than ever to put in extra hours at the office, meaning the workplace relationships are the most realistic option for many. While online dating has grown in popularity, many people prefer the security of getting to know someone slowly in a neutral environment.
This has all changed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Although it’s easy enough for employees to stay in touch, nobody wants to flirt on a Zoom call. This comes at a time when anxieties about office romances are already high. The #MeToo movement raised many questions about workplace relationships, especially between employers and their staff.
With differing opinions on what is appropriate, many companies are erring on the side of caution. Last year, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was sacked for not disclosing workplace relationships. Prominent New York investment firm BlackRock recently extended its office romance policy to include “external partners” as well as immediate colleagues. This means that employees must now disclose relationships with anyone linked to the company – potentially hundreds of thousands of people if you include suppliers and clients.
A clear policy on workplace relationships is important for preventing harassment, but take care not to go too far. Policing consensual office romances will only force staff to live in secrecy, creating resentment and damaging morale.
For advice on striking the right balance, give us a call.
A summary of October’s Budget for employers
On 13 October, the government presented Ireland’s largest ever Budget. There is, of course, continuing support for employers, including €3.4 billion ringfenced as a recovery fund to stimulate demand and employment. Here’s a summary of headline provisions.
Reduced VAT for the hospitality sector – From 1 November 2020 until December 2021, VAT will be lowered from 13.5% to 9%.
Tax warehousing – To assist with liquidity, employers will be allowed to defer any repayments of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
Future wage subsidy schemes – The government announced there will be no cliff edge when the current scheme ends in March 2021, saying a similar scheme will be in place until at least the end of 2021.
COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) – Extra support will be paid directly to businesses whose customers are prohibited or restricted by government measures. Qualifying businesses can apply directly to Revenue Commissioners for cash payments of up to €5,000 per week.
Remote working – Some of the expense of working from home can be claimed as a tax deduction or be exempt from benefit-in-kind payments.
Would you pass a workplace inspection from the HSA?
As difficult as it is to keep up with the blizzard of public health updates as the nation grapples with coronavirus, it is none the less essential to do so as an employer. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has long conducted workplace inspections, but now they can do so to ensure compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol.
They’ll want to see that a COVID-19 response plan has been prepared; that staff have been trained in it; that you have adequate control measures in place; and that a COVID-19 worker representative has been appointed.
The HSA opening stance will be collaborative, seeking to help companies which are trying to do the right thing, even if they are falling short. However, companies can be shut down if they do not cooperate. If you want help ensuring your Return to Work Safely Protocol is fit for purpose, get in touch.
Care home sexual harassment case
Workplace sexual harassment is often considered as being committed by a colleague or manager. But a recent, and expensive, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) tribunal demonstrates that employers must protect staff from customers too.
It involved a frequently intoxicated care home resident who took to sexually harassing three care workers. Their complaints to management were batted away and they were told to get on with it.
Not only did management know about the resident’s tendencies as it was documented in his care plan, but senior staff had given him alcohol before one of the incidents. Despite this, the care workers were dismissed for supposed malpractice. Going to court, they were vindicated and each awarded €50,000.
Employees are entitled to a safe place of work. As a minimum, companies should have, and communicate, anti-harassment/dignity policies relating to sexual harassment. Training on sexual harassment would be a good way to build on this.
If you’re happy and you know it, please apply
People are often too quick to complain about “political correctness gone mad”, but in this case they might have a point. In the UK, the owner of a Gloucestershire hair salon was contacted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) after she advertised for a “happy” hairdresser at her local job centre.
The DWP told her to remove the adjective as it was discriminatory towards unhappy people. Although clearly ridiculous and the DWP later apologised, you do need to be careful with the words you choose when advertising for staff. Having your adverts checked by a professional can avoid any genuine accusations of discrimination defined by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.
People Matter September 2020
Mental health matters now more than ever before
At the height of the lockdown, a collaborative study by Irish and UK universities found that 20% of Irish people suffered badly with their mental health; in the form of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.
Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, and most of us want to look out for those around us anyway. There is also a clear business case for fostering good mental health in your workforce – it may be the difference between a happy productive team, and an unhappy misfiring one.
Developing the right culture is a huge part of this – it may seem a bit intangible, but it is about creating an environment which leaves no room for stigma or discrimination around mental health issues.
To reinforce this, line manager training on mental health awareness will be beneficial. It will help them to spot issues, manage conversations, signpost available support and talk consistently on behalf of your business.
Many businesses will be in different states of lockdown. You may be operating entirely on your business’s premises, be maintaining remote working patterns, have reduced staffing or some hybrid of the above. Whatever your situation, consider the mental health impact on your team.
If staff are working remotely, ensure your communications and checking-in processes are fit for purpose. In order that staff do not feel isolated, what may have passed as a temporary solution early on may need a revamp if remote working is happening for the long term.
Alternatively, if you are welcoming staff back into the workplace, they may have a different set of concerns. How you will manage COVID-security (particularly if they interact with the public) and their commute to work, for instance. Sharing your risk assessments and plans, and having open conversations will help here. Try to be as accommodating as you can to individual concerns.
You may already offer support which could be invaluable during times like these – such as an employee assistance programme which includes counselling. They can be a cost-effective perk to offer so if you haven’t, now would be a good time to investigate.
For advice on how to manage mental health in the workplace, get in touch.
Support for working parents
September is back to school month but, as with everything in 2020, things are a bit different this year for our estimated one million students and 100,000 teaching staff.
The end of the school holidays usually means an easing of pressure on working parents, with less juggling of work and childcare. This year, though, things are more complicated. Although schools are reopening, some working parents will feel anxious about their children’s safety. These employees may struggle to focus and will need additional support and understanding.
Nothing is certain at the moment: whole school year groups being sent home because of an outbreak is a possibility, a probability even. This means that working parents may be forced to resume childcare duties at short notice.
It is out of everyone’s hands. So planning is a must if you want operations to run smoothly.
Build on any flexible working patterns you have introduced, and be ready to have people working from home again – and not just the parents, as who knows what comes next!
You may have seen a Sky News reporter in the UK was forced to conduct biscuit negotiations with a young child live on air. Interruptions by children are part and parcel of home working. A positive culture will help everyone deal with this. Better still, get the processes down in a working parent’s policy. This way everyone knows where they stand and has a framework to fall back on.
As we have highlighted throughout the pandemic, it is also worth considering the ways in which you can support your employees’ mental health – whether it is just being aware of the issue and factoring it into your management style or offering tangible support through an employee assistance programme.
For help writing a working parent’s policy and other management techniques, get in touch.
Redundancies require procedures
For many businesses redundancies are a fact of life at the moment. Grim, and it is despite most businesses wanting to follow the best practice of exploring all available alternatives such as redeployment, flexible working and agreed wage cuts.
If redundancies are inevitable, don’t forget that there is a technical process that you need to follow. Making an error at any stage could expose you to an expensive claim at the WRC. Your aim should be to end up with the best staff you need to run your business, whilst being fair to those departing and allowing them to leave with their dignity intact. Following the proper process will help you achieve this.
As events move fast it could be that the need for redundancy diminishes during the process. If this happens be extra careful if you look to rehire after the redundancy has completed, especially if you take back the same person. Be ready to demonstrate that you acted genuinely at all times. If you need professional advice talk to us.
A reminder on the EWSS
As you probably know, the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) has ended and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) has taken its place. As the new name suggests, the EWSS is a longer-term initiative. Provided you are eligible, you can claim until March 2021, and claims can be backdated to 1st July. The EWSS also covers a broader range of workers, with seasonal staff and new hires now included.
The payments themselves have changed too. While TWSS payments were calculated as a percentage of net pay, claimants will now be paid one of two fixed weekly rates- either €151.50 or €203 depending on earnings. There are some concerns about the cash flow impact on small businesses as the government will now pay on a monthly rather than weekly basis. They have said they will review this.
Also note that proving your eligibility has become slightly trickier. You will need to demonstrate a 30% drop in turnover as a result of COVID-19 (rather than 25%) and, unlike the TWSS, you will also need a valid Tax Clearance Certificate.
Weighing in on fitness
Did you know that some companies in China and Sweden have enforced mandatory workplace exercise? Employers have a duty of care to their staff but you may think that this takes it too far. However, a healthy lifestyle has been proven to increase workplace productivity, and good health can boost natural immunity, possibly saving you significant amounts in sick pay.
If you want to do more, a good first step would be to discuss the issue with your team. It is essential to be tactful, though. It goes without saying that you should never single out an individual as an example of poor health or lifestyle, but you should also beware of generalisations that could be inadvertently upsetting.
Avoid equating obesity with laziness or gluttony, as some people are overweight through no fault of their own. Handle such conversations clumsily and you could cause ill feeling or expose yourself to the risk of an expensive WRC discrimination case.
If you do decide to introduce on-site exercise, remember to keep everyone socially distanced and COVID-safe.
Socially distanced team building
As many staff continue to work from home, maintaining a sense of team spirit is more important than ever.
Just because your employees are spread out doesn’t mean that you can’t take part in team building activities. Team building can be essential for happiness and productivity and, with a little creativity, there’s no reason it has to stop.
A quick Google will show that it’s easy to turn the team into crime scene investigators or codebreakers for an afternoon. You could even organize an escape room via Zoom. Whatever direction you choose to go, there are plenty of ways to bring your team together whilst keeping them apart.
People Matter August 2020
Are you prepared for a local lockdown?
With a surge of coronavirus cases in midland counties, officials will not rule out local lockdowns, as have been seen in other parts of the world including the UK. Already some measures are being imposed, including the closure of many hospitality businesses, and some general restrictions of movement. It would be wise to have robust plans in place in case your area is next.
Keep an eye on the national situation. Events abroad have shown that local lockdowns can be imposed swiftly, with less than 24 hours’ notice. Even if there is no lockdown in your area, your supply chains may be affected.
Planning and communication are key. Come up with a flexible crisis management plan that sets out how you can keep your business operational with reduced staff. The national lockdown should have given you a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t, so you should try to replicate the more successful aspects of your response. If your employees can work from home, the government advice is to keep them there for now. This prevents the double disruption of employees returning to the office only to be sent home again.
Take this opportunity to review your staff contracts. When hiring new staff, consider a contract that gives you more flexibility. This could include more power to impose lay-offs, requiring employees to take holiday at short notice, or transferring staff to another site. Changing existing contracts is trickier, but you may need to implement these modifications for current staff as well.
Do remember also that quarantine guidelines are still in place. With the contact tracing initiative in full flow, you should expect some of your staff to be quarantined in the coming weeks.
Amid this ongoing disruption, employee well-being is more important than ever. You should continue to check in regularly with remote employees, and make an effort to keep everyone in the loop about upcoming changes.
If you are unsure about contract changes or staffing procedures during a local lockdown, we can help.
NEW Wage Subsidy Scheme
As the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme draws to a close on 31 August, it will be replaced in part by a new support package from the government. This is called the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), and it will run from 1 September to 31 March 2021.
If you are one of the 65,000 or so employers who used the temporary scheme, this may be welcome news, preventing government support falling off a cliff-edge.
As with the earlier scheme, it will be down to you to satisfy the Revenue that you qualify. It’s thought you’ll need to show a 30% decline in turnover or customer orders between 1 July and 31 December, when compared to the equivalent period last year.
Subsidies are only available for employees earning between €151.50 and €1,462 per week. Proprietary directors do not qualify, and people connected to the employer don’t either – unless they received pay through the payroll between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020.
The rates are €151.50 for people earning between €151.50 and €202.99. For people earning between €203 and €1,462 it is a flat rate of €203.
There are anti-avoidance measures built into legislation, so if you are not sure your arrangements will be legitimate do take advice. If the Revenue deems you weren’t eligible they can claw back all payments as well as levy interest and penalties.
If you do use the new scheme, explaining it clearly to your employees is vital. One particular point is over taxation. While you do not face employer tax liability and do not deduct any PAYE on behalf of employees, the payments will be assessed for personal tax for them later in the year. Ensure they understand this now to avoid a nasty surprise later on.
Further financial support for SMEs
Amidst the raft of government support packages introduced to assist businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, is an increase to the Future Growth Loan Scheme. Introduced in June last year, initially with Brexit in mind, this low cost finance is to help SMEs (as well as agricultural and fishing businesses) develop strategic responses to COVID-19 and Brexit.
It’s €500 million expansion means more businesses can benefit from loans of between €25,000 and €3 million over seven to ten years. One of the approved loan purposes is “investment in people” meaning that you could use it to upskill your existing workforce or bring new talent into the business.
The July Stimulus Plan announced last month introduced other measures meaning there is a lot of support out there. Make sure you know your options and use them where appropriate to help your business become more resilient and grow.
Working remotely into the future
Many people have been surprised at just how well working remotely has gone, once it was forced on them. If you needed any further sign that it is here to stay, the government is currently consulting on guidelines to assist remote working into the future.
An earlier government report identified issues to be addressed surrounding health and safety, employment rights, the right to disconnect, equality, data protection and training. While many businesses have adapted short term, it’s clear that to make remote working work long-term, there’ll need to be better frameworks.
As remote working becomes increasingly viable and desirable, there will likely be a pivot point for some job roles, where if you cannot offer remote working it seriously affects your recruitment and retention. Why not reinforce your remote working strategy now, to stay ahead of the game?
Power in positivity and presence
The COVID-19 outbreak has made us wary of viral contagion, but what about emotional contagion?
Research shows that negativity can be just as infectious as germs. If left unchecked, it can cause an office-wide outbreak of low morale.
Humans are intensely social, and our feelings are greatly affected by the feelings of others. If somebody in the office demonstrates a persistently low mood, it will soon rub off on everyone else. This can be made even worse by co-rumination – the constant discussion of problems without reaching a solution. Co-rumination can poison the atmosphere of a workplace, leaving your staff feeling unmotivated and hopeless.
So what can you do to turn things around? The answer is also an evolutionary one. When trying to calibrate our emotions, humans will naturally look to a leader for guidance. By coming into work every day looking happy and energised, you can trigger a shift in perspective, “infecting” the entire office with your positive vibes.
Good clean fun
With cleaning high on the agenda as shops and workplaces reopen, some companies are trying a new approach. In the UK, Tesco has shifted cleaning responsibilities from contractors to floor staff, reporting improved levels of hygiene as a result.
Although effective cleaning takes skill and care, for some it still comes with a certain stigma. That said, other staff will take pride in it, especially if it is used as an excuse for some friendly competition and team building.
Be wary of contractual issues around changing job roles though, or taking cleaning in-house, as rules apply. If you can do it, provide proper training, never ask staff to do something you wouldn’t do yourself and ensure that cleaning tasks are allocated without discrimination.
People Matter July 2020
Workforce planning and a safe return
to the workplace
As we approach phase four of Ireland’s COVID-19 response, you are probably wondering what the coming months have in store for your business.
There is still much uncertainty, but planning as well as possible now will help you prepare for various outcomes. A survey published by CIPD Ireland in June provides some benchmark figures which may help put your own situation in context.
The good news is that mass redundancies are not likely to be as bad as worst case scenarios predicted, and interestingly, that sickness absence dropped markedly during the outbreak. However, this advantage was tempered by the fact that 66% of working parents had to take time off for childcare.
Childcare, along with health/mental health and transport are the biggest concerns that are preoccupying employees as they contemplate the return to work, according to the survey. These types of issues amongst your workforce may be clouding your plans of how to get your people back into work. Indeed, the survey reported 32% of employers are struggling on who to get back and when.
So to ensure you get a cohesive, productive team returning, factor these types of employee concern into your planning – maybe a hybrid flexible working approach is an option, so that they miss the rush hour or can make satisfactory childcare arrangements?
Perhaps, having seen it in action, you are now far more open to the idea of flexible working. Embracing it may see office costs go down and productivity and loyalty go up. While the perfect balance between flexible and traditional working remains to be seen, clear communication between you and your staff will be essential to find the best way forward.
If you adopt more of a home working approach, care must be taken every step of the way. Some staff may relish it, but others may struggle – and perhaps not be forthcoming about their difficulties. While your initial focus may be on productivity and compliance, do bake-in employee well-being to your home working framework.
Get in touch if you require help with any of the above.
Phase four of the recovery is delayed
Phase four of the recovery roadmap has been delayed until 10 August. When it arrives pubs, bars and casinos reopen, plus larger gatherings of people will be permitted both indoors and outdoors.
As the government relaxes restrictions, so may you see the public relax their attitude towards COVID-secure compliance, despite being urged to the contrary. Don’t forget that as an employer, you have a heightened duty of care here to protect people in your workplace, including your staff and members of the public.
The government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol document provides a thorough framework for delivering this duty of care. As well as developing a plan, it talks about the communication and training required for employees in adhering to it. Getting your comms and training right is an important step in ensuring compliance. We can help.
Safe handling of data
As you draw up plans for reopening your business under the phased return to work, much of your attention will be focused on safety. But the safe handling of any extra personal data collected should also be a priority. GDPR has not gone away.
Specific areas to be mindful of include the contact tracing logs and return to work forms recommended in the Return to Work Safely Protocol. The Data Protection Commission advises that personal information collected should be kept to a minimum, processed by the employer for only the intended purpose, and that it should be safely disposed of once used.
Temperature testing of employees is not widely recommended at present. If you did have good reason to implement it, again be wary of how any personal data collected with it is processed.
Are your employees up to speed with GDPR? If not, consider providing some further training.
Managing holiday requests
Given the year we have had, managing holiday requests may be the last thing on your mind. But as life gets back to some form of normality, and even before that, the holiday requests may start flooding in.
Whether they do or don’t, it’s something you should proactively manage now to avoid issues later on. Generally, an even distribution of holiday leave is best for staff well-being.
Key considerations are ensuring that staff are properly rested, complying with the law, and protecting your business from short staffing. There is also the topical issue of any quarantine measures which come into play when travelling abroad.
If you don’t have a process for prioritising holiday requests, now’s the time to get one. First come, first served is basic but fair – with thought, a more nuanced policy may be better long term. We’d also urge you to look at holiday administration software like The HR Dept Toolkit – it’s such a time saver for you. Of course if you do have a policy, refer to that.
As in normal times, you’re entitled to refuse a request for annual leave if it would leave you under-resourced. But do balance this against the need for good employee relations. Under The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, you have the power to instruct when holiday time should be taken, as long as you consult at least a month beforehand and consider family circumstances and their opportunities for rest and recreation.
One interesting point is that laid-off staff not working do not accumulate entitlement to statutory leave during that time. However, if they work for at least 1,365 hours during the leave year they still would qualify for four weeks’ paid annual leave.
On the point of quarantine and foreign travel, it’s down to employees where they go. But make it clear that if they can’t perform duties because of choices they made then they will be placed on unpaid leave.
How has coronavirus changed
the “lunch break”?
Wolfing down a sandwich in front of the computer was the norm for lunch in many offices before the outbreak, despite strict rules about minimum break times. Now with many working from home, their kitchens tantalisingly close, workers are rediscovering the joys of a proper lunch break.
The benefits are clear. Research shows that taking a rest can increase productivity by giving your brain time to unwind. Your mind will continue to work on problems in the background, giving you fresh ideas for tackling challenges when you return to work.
As we come out of lockdown, will we find our eating habits have changed? Working lunches may not work any more due to social distancing measures. We’ve seen surges in demand for products like orange juice as people strive to improve their immunity, and pasta as they seek comfort food. What will the future hold? There’s something to think about on your lunch break.
A prime example of going the extra mile
An Amazon delivery driver has achieved worldwide fame after a hidden camera recorded her going the extra mile for a young customer. A mischievous Delaware child added some additional instructions to his family’s order, asking the Amazon driver to “knock on the door three times and scream abracadabra as loud as you can and run super fast away.” The driver dutifully obeyed, making the boy’s day and cheering up most of the Internet in the process.
Attention to detail and caring about the work are hallmarks of superstar employees. Make sure you acknowledge and encourage them when they go the extra mile. As the face of your business, now’s more important than ever to do so.
People Matter June 2020
Managing remote redundancies
Redundancies are on the rise. They are also beset with issues not experienced before, such as how should the process be conducted during the lockdown?
We must stress from the outset that there is a proper process that must always be followed and documented. Make technical errors in this process and you could be hit with unfair dismissal claims. These can be expensive, with up to two years’ salary being awarded plus costs.
Talk to us if you need support in managing the process. Key pitfalls to be wary of include not having the correct selection pools, not consulting early enough, not adhering to consultation timescales, non-compliance with collective redundancy provisions and selection criteria which discriminate against anyone on one of nine protected grounds set out in equality law.
These would be equally relevant during normal times, but what is different right now is how you deliver the news. Many companies have been turning to video calls.
There is no legal barrier to doing this, but you need to be mindful of how you use platforms like Zoom. One news story featured a lady in America who was made redundant in a group call with 15 other people which she found difficult to deal with. She felt it led to her failing to ask important questions.
Assuming you are using the technology legally and following the correct processes, then we come on to the human touch. For example, we would advise never to do this on a Friday. The person hearing the news tends to not take all the details in and will later have many questions. How will they pay the mortgage? Etc. If it’s done on a Friday, there is usually no one available for two days to answer these questions.
Before making the call think about the person. Do they live alone? Are they shielding? What support can you give them?
You probably already know that video calls can be awkward, so factor this into your approach. There are fewer cues available to pick up on body language than in a face-to-face meeting. Yet it is harder for people to hide if they are upset than during a telephone call. There is also greater potential for embarrassing interruptions, or poorly timed screen freezing or lags.
If you have followed the correct processes it will not be a total surprise when you formally tell them they are being made redundant. Consultation calls exploring the options will have already taken place and this will have given them some chance to process the situation. This should help, but still take care to deliver the news sensitively. Providing outplacement support even if it is just helping to write their CV could make a world of difference to them, and make the process less stressful for you.
A final point. Amongst the emergency legislation enacted at the start of the crisis, the entitlement for employees to request redundancy and potentially receive a statutory lump sum after a period of lay-off and short-time work was deferred. Originally this was until 31 May. Now it has been extended to 10 August in a bid to reduce redundancy scenarios.
Return to Work Safety Protocol
Re-opening the economy comes with the need to implement new health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The government has published a document called the Return to Work Safety Protocol which is intended to help all businesses reopen with the correct processes in place. This is important reading for all businesses.
Though not a difficult read, it is 29 pages long and subject to change as the situation evolves. So we will not try to paraphrase it here. That said, here are a few steers on it to help you understand the context in using it.
The protocol is for all industry sectors. It includes fairly prescribed actions which you will have to take, but how you take them will depend on the circumstances of your business. For instance, you will need to develop or update a COVID-19 Response Plan. They give you a list of areas to include in it, but when it comes down to the detail, this will be specific to you.
You will need to involve your workers in both the planning and the implementation of the response. This may be direct or via a recognised union. You are responsible for their health and safety and that of other visitors to your site. Your employees do bear responsibility for themselves, colleagues and visitors too. Training will be essential.
Dealing with an outbreak in your workplace, hand hygiene, cleaning, travel and PPE are all covered, among many other things. The government stress that it is not an exhaustive list of actions, and that it will change over time. If you need help implementing it, please get in touch.
Dealing with grief in the workplace
Sadly, many people are now grieving the loss of loved ones due to COVID-19. Helping the bereaved can seem daunting and, if any of your employees are in this position, you may be wondering how best to help.
This will not be most people’s area of expertise, so suggesting a charity helpline is a good place to start. The Irish Hospice Foundation and HSE have just launched a national bereavement helpline as a free, confidential space in which to talk about bereavement.
Looking more specifically at what you can do, if you have an employee assistance programme, that may offer counselling and other practical support. Your employment contracts may provide for compassionate leave and even if they don’t, we’d recommend offering a few days paid leave if they need to make arrangements.
Ensure that anyone who has lost someone yet appears to be coping fine doesn’t fall through the net. Being open and communicative will give a grieving employee the green light to act in an open and communicative way themselves, and is the healthiest approach you can foster in your workplace.
Does your HR admin need a review?
Having experienced such a year of upheaval, you may find it wise to review your employment contracts, handbooks and processes as more employees return to the workplace.
If you find that your contracts need amending to reflect the “new normal”, the changes must be agreed with employees. With operations and markets so disrupted by coronavirus it would be hoped that consensus can be reached, given that the alternative may be redundancy.
Be sure to tread carefully and document that fair procedures are followed though, as there is risk of unfair or constructive dismissal. With so many changes afoot, keeping on top of your HR admin is essential. As well as helping with employment contracts, we can provide a range of other HR support functions including record-keeping software. Just ask if there is anything you would like to be doing better.
A change to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme
The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) has seen some welcome new flexibility introduced to it which will allow women returning from maternity (or adoptive) leave to be eligible, and with calculations based on their normal salary.
Previously the way the scheme was devised meant that women who were on unpaid maternity leave were not eligible at all when they were due to return to work. While women who were on paid maternity leave would receive a much smaller sum. The rule changes have been backdated to apply from 26 March.
It is also possible to rehire such employees who you were forced to let go, and for them to qualify for the TWSS once any Pandemic Unemployment Payment to them has ceased.
You will need to contact revenue to get the extra payments processed and they are encouraging employers to do this as soon as possible to get the much-needed salaries to the workers.
Where’s my stapler?
As we rang in the New Year, who’d have thought that borrowing a colleague’s pen could be regarded as a danger to life. But that is the “new normal”. So as employees return from Lay-off or home working, communal stationery will be a thing of the past in many workplaces.
In Australia (a few weeks ahead of us in coming out of lockdown), office suppliers are already reporting spikes in sales as individual equipment ranging from label makers to mini fridges are purchased for each team member. Is this the way forward for your workplace? Or is it a step too far?
People Matter May 2020
Getting back to business
The Taoiseach announced a five-phase plan for easing the COVID-19 restrictions, and in each phase there is a short section dedicated to workplaces. The road map says that between 18 May and 10 August businesses will be gradually permitted to restart or ramp up their operations, as long as the spread of the virus remains under control.
In phase 1 from 18 May outdoor workers will be allowed to return to work so long as they maintain social distancing. Remote working should continue for other workers. Shops that mainly operate outdoors can open, garden centres for instance.
On 8 June, phase 2 begins. Now people who can safely keep a two-metre distance from others like lone workers can return. Small retail outlets and markets can open so long as social distancing can be enforced.
Phase 3 takes effect on 29 June. Remote working should continue if this works for the business. But organisations where employees have limited daily interactions with other people can have staff in. Cafes and restaurants can also open, adhering to social distancing and strict cleaning processes. Other non-essential retail can open (excluding enclosed shopping centres). Limits will be placed on the number of staff and customers per square metre.
In phase 4 from 20 July, the opening of businesses where employees cannot work remotely will be prioritised. But measures must be introduced to permit social distancing. Restrictions will be gradually lifted on high-risk retail professions where there is a population-wide demand, like hairdressing.
And in phase 5 on 10 August a gradual return to work across all sectors will begin.
It’s clear that where possible, remote working will remain the neatest solution for the foreseeable future. But if you do start to introduce employees back to the workplace, a COVID-19 health and safety risk assessment is essential for all businesses.
You’ll need to consider how to manage social distancing, hygiene and cleaning, staying compliant in high risk situations, and protecting medically vulnerable people. Some or all of measures like staggered hours or shift work, rearranging seating plans and extending opening hours may be required to facilitate adequate social distancing.
It’s time to get planning to ensure that you can re-open as soon as you are permitted to!
Do my employees need PPE?
Most employees will not need face masks in their day-to-day work. The Health Service Executive (HSE) tells us that there’s no benefit from using a facemask if you are not already infected. The only benefit is that, if you are infected, it may help you stop spreading the virus to others. But if you were showing symptoms you should not be at work anyway.
However, if you are deemed at a higher risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19, think frontline healthcare workers for example, a respirator mask meeting minimum technical standards may be required. A thorough COVID-19 risk assessment will help you establish this, and whether any other forms of PPE are necessary.
Where PPE is necessary, it is your obligation as an employer both to provide it, and give effective training in its use. For help with risk assessments or just managing your team through Coronavirus, get in touch.
The key to managing absence: invest in mental wellness
Coronavirus-induced stress and working in lockdown is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health. The president of the Psychological Society of Ireland stated he is terrified about how unprepared we are as a nation for the mental health crisis that will follow in the virus’s wake.
If it leads to your employees needing time off work, that will be detrimental to their well-being, costly to your business and increase pressure on those employees still working.
There are ways you can reduce the risk of this harming your business. Adopting and promoting a wellness policy that showcases good mental health practice will not only improve the health and resilience of your workforce, but will also demonstrate your commitment to their well-being – a win-win!
So, here are some tips to help you get your wellness policy off the ground. Monitor when your remote workers are logging in and out. The boundaries between office and home are now blurred and many employees feel under pressure to be constantly available. Extra hours do not equate to better productivity and excessive hours increase the risk of burnout.
Encourage managers and colleagues to open up. You could try introducing virtual coffee breaks and keep reiterating the message that it’s good to talk. Realising that others are in similar positions will help everyone.
Advocate exercise. Its physical and mental health benefits cannot be overstated. Bear in mind though that not everybody likes sport; so it’s worth reminding your employees that anything active, like gardening or a brisk walk, can boost mental alertness, energy and positivity.
And keep ringing the bell for good hygiene. As the country starts to open up, this message is more important than ever.
Be reassured – investing in your employees’ mental and physical health now will pay dividends in the long term!
Black market haircuts
According to Google, what folks are missing most during lockdown is a professional haircut. Or at least, “When will hairdressers open in Ireland?” was the most popular search term question between 1-4 May. In fact there appears to be a burgeoning black market for haircuts.
This is worrying from a public health perspective and also from an employment prospective for hair salon owners. The Taoiseach’s roadmap to easing the lockdown has unfortunately placed the opening of hairdressers in phase four, beginning on 20 July at the earliest. And with so long to wait, punters are reported to be offering four times the going rate to have their locks shorn.
If you find yourself in an industry where there‘s pressure to open earlier than advised, don’t be tempted. As well as the direct health risk of close contact with customers, you could face legal consequences if you put employees in harm’s way.
For better or worse, video calling, remote working and business pivoting have become staples of work life for many people in 2020. Some are coping fine, whilst for others it is a struggle. Rather than simply letting staff get on with it, many businesses are proactively managing morale to maintain that sense of team, and keep productivity up.
What’s right for you will depend on your business culture. And also on the communication styles of your individual employees. Some people thrive off frequent contact, whilst others prefer to be left in peace. So do bear this in mind.
Even where employees are working from home, many businesses are replicating the social side of the workplace successfully by running Zoom quizzes or cocktail hours, even on company time. And with these video meetings being a bridge between the home and work spaces, embrace those interruptions by a dog or child. It’s a telling reminder that were all human and trying to juggle work and life during these challenging times.
A Zoom with a view
Zoom meetings are opening up our homes like never before! And don’t be fooled into thinking nobody cares where you’re working. The popular Twitter account “@ratemyskperoom” makes it crystal clear that people are interested and people are judging.
If you’re concerned that your room doesn’t make the grade, don’t panic. Download a selection of tasteful home backgrounds from Ikea to impress your most discerning colleagues.
Or, if you fancy something more creative, the world is your oyster. Some people have chosen to sit in the Batcave. Others have opted to be accompanied by Netflix sensation Tiger King. Interestingly, beautiful Irish landscapes are the seventh most popular destination background in Zoom (The Caribbean is #1).
People Matter April 2020
Summary of important COVID-19
news for employers
We’ve all had to get used to the huge volume of game-changing news coming through to us on a daily basis. While many of the lockdown restrictions have been devastating for businesses, a lot of support has also been announced to help you get through. Here’s a summary in case you missed anything.
The Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme is available to any business which can demonstrate a significant economic disruption of at least 25% caused by the pandemic. The government will subsidise 70% of employees’ net wages capped at €410 each per week.
New Rates of subsidy apply from 4 May 2020
It is expected that the following new rates will apply to payroll submitted from 4 May with a pay date on or after that date until the end of the scheme. (No backdating of the revised rates prior to 4 May will apply.)
Employees previously earning up to €586 net per week:
An 85% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay does not exceed €412.
A flat rate subsidy of up to €350 shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €412 but not more than €500.
A 70% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose previous average net weekly pay is more than €500 but not more than €586, with the maximum cap of €410 applying.
Employees previously earning in excess of €586 net per week:
For employees whose average net weekly pay is greater than €586 per week but not more than €960 per week, the temporary wage subsidy shall not exceed €350 per week, and shall be calculated with reference to the gross salary paid by the employer and its effect on net average wages as follows:
- A subsidy of €350 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount up to 60% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
- A subsidy of €205 shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 50% but not more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings;
- No subsidy shall be payable to employees with average net weekly pay greater than €586, where the employer pays sufficient gross salary which equates to an amount that is more than 80% of the employee’s net weekly earnings.
The new arrangements also mean that the wage subsidy is available to support employees where their pre-Covid salary was greater than €76,000, and their post-Covid salary has fallen below €76,000, subject to the tiering and tapering rules.
It will run for an initial 12-weeks beginning from 26 March. There’s much detail to understand and it is important to manage your staff within the rules. So do get in touch if you require support and we will help.
COVID-19 Business Continuity Vouchers are available to smaller businesses with up to 50 staff. They are worth up to €2,500 and can be used for third-party consultancy costs. This covers many areas of business planning including setting up home working, and does include HR expertise so may help you with additional support from us.
Illness Benefit for COVID-19 is an enhanced payment for workers who are told to self-isolate or who have been diagnosed with the disease. They must be confined to their home or a medical facility. It is paid at a rate of €350 per week (compared to €203 for normal illness benefit) and can be paid for a maximum of two weeks in self-isolation cases and up to ten weeks for a confirmed diagnosis. Proper certification is required for both.
If you are forced to implement redundancies, the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will offer some help to the staff you let go. It is also worth €350 per week. Make sure you let them know about it. Even during these times it is vital you handle redundancies properly. So contact us for advice.
The government is also publishing guides to support specific sectors with planning for now and the future. These include retail and manufacturing and are worth seeking out if relevant to you.
Announcements on new and amended legislation are coming thick and fast. Remember to stay abreast of the latest news and support your team in following the public health measures.
Can my employees come to work?
With the lockdown extended until at least 5 May, many businesses are being forced to close their doors, even if they are technically able to continue operations. This is because among the lockdown measures there is a ban on people traveling to and from work, unless they are operating in essential sectors.
The government lists these, and it is actually quite a long list: from agriculture and fishing to financial and legal activities. You can see the full list on their website. It is also worth highlighting that if you are part of the supply chain to an essential service here, or part of a global supply chain, then this also grants your team the freedom to come to work.
If your company is permitted to have employees travel to work, you should still explore whether each employee can carry out their role from home. If they can, this should be the default approach. Please ask us if you need advice in creating home working policies or implementing principles of home working management.
For those that do need to come into work, it is essential to maintain good hygiene practices. There will be specifics that may be unique to your business, but every organisation should be covering the basics. These include things like having good hand washing facilities and clear comms about using them, and practising social distancing where possible.
For advice and support in ensuring you are managing your team compliantly and efficiently during the coronavirus pandemic, please contact your local HR Dept expert.
Crisis management and business continuity
It’s times like these when the value of robust business continuity plans comes to the fore.
It’s not business as usual and while you may have had to play catch-up due to the sheer speed and scale of events, there’ll come a time when you can move on to the next stages of planning.
This may include modelling recruitment planning and budgets for example, and also health and safety. At a business and societal level, it is health and safety which is the driving force behind where we are at now. And your health and safety policies will continue to evolve along with the pandemic and beyond.
Another thing that COVID-19 has highlighted is the importance of crisis comms. The best overall advice is to stay ahead of any crisis story. Anticipate questions that will be asked and have answers and actions ready which show you are proactive, caring and honest.
As you’ll know, and may be experiencing yourself, the coronavirus pandemic is leaving many people very worried about their finances.
If you’ve had to reduce hours or furlough staff, be sensitive to the impact this will have. And, if you are in a position to, try to reassure your employees that this is temporary. Although don’t commit to anything you can’t deliver or are unsure of.
Financial anxiety is exacerbated by lack of knowledge. So it’s worth signposting what resources are available at the moment. Some banks are offering delayed mortgage repayments, for example, which may ease current pressures.
Explain employee benefits such as statutory sick pay, the government’s Income Support Scheme and highlight available support or counselling for debt either via your employee assistance programme or an external organisation like MABS.
Your employees will be grateful for any help you can offer at this difficult time.
Navigating digital meetings
While it may be timely that the lockdown comes in an age of technology, for some, digital etiquette is proving rather painful.
Surely, we’ve all experienced the “Can you hear me?” dilemma on video calls? Indeed, some have devised bingo games over how often it will be said.
Connectivity problems are fairly routine, and then some people go even further: inadvertently showing something inappropriate like a body part, ruffled bed sheets or a dubious browsing history. A Welsh Assembly Member was embarrassed by a foul-mouthed tirade caught on microphone. Distractions from doorbells, dogs and delightful children can add to the sense of chaos.
You may find a bit of training support is not amiss. There are plenty of instructional videos on how to use features like virtual backgrounds and the mute function. And more time spent on planning the meetings will help too: who needs to be present, how you will run through the agenda and understanding whose turn it is to speak.
Be mindful that boundaries between work and home life are more blurred than ever. Video calls can be good for adding structure to the working day. But try not to let them eat into downtime in the evenings.
That’s the spirit
In these strange times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by bad news. So, let’s focus on the positive for a minute and consider what amazing developments may emerge from this situation.
Isaac Newton, forced into isolation in 1665 to avoid the Great Plague, developed his theories on calculus, optics and the laws of motion and gravity! Sometimes, a crisis and a bit of thinking time can lead to some world-changing advancements.
Some businesses are even pivoting what they do to support the fight against COVID-19 by supplying the government with vital resources – so much so that the government has created a web page to register new suppliers.
So, let’s all channel our inner entrepreneur and use this time wisely. Maybe an Einstein, Darwin or Tim Berners-Lee has just been waiting for this moment to change the world!
People Matter March 2020
Team building – All for one and one for all
You’ve only got to witness the recent panic buying to know that in times of crisis, self-preservation can alter people’s behaviour. And if a crisis skews behaviour in your organisation, it can damage relationships, team dynamics and company culture.
Promoting a resilient culture within your organisation, where employees collaborate during good times and bad, benefits both your employees and your business. And at a time when your employees may be working from home this is more important than ever.
Building strong, committed teams doesn’t just happen. But it doesn’t have to involve an expensive day out of the office. It can be achieved over time through your company culture, although this means far more than a mission statement on the wall.
It is things like encouraging idea-sharing and interaction, and fostering an atmosphere where your employees have the confidence to feed their opinions back to management. This can be supplemented with team building activities that promote working together and problem solving, in line with your budget of course. They will help forge a sense of inclusivity, shared identity and maybe even friendship. Sharing mistakes made and lessons learned all help to promote a can do attitude, without fear.
You’re not looking for a workforce of carbon copy identikits. Celebrate difference and help employees to identify their own strengths and those of their colleagues.
From introverts to extroverts, right-brain thinkers to left-brainers, there’s a lot to be gained from a diverse team of people working together. For instance, you will avoid the perils of groupthink, and the different perspectives may lead to unique insight that will help your business grow and evolve. You’ll also better represent the breadth of your customer base.
With people across Ireland either working remotely or self-isolating at home to stop the spread of coronavirus, the effect of actions that promote strong teams will be amplified. Being present for your team – whether at the end of the phone or a video call – shows strong leadership. And get them collaborating virtually with each other to avoid the negative impacts of isolation.
Once this immediate crisis is over, you’ll have a great idea of how strong your sense of team is. If you want to develop it, we have a range of creative techniques to do so.
We are all having to adapt to the new and changing coronavirus landscape – and employers have their own set of challenges.
The news is changing frequently, so it’s important to keep up to date with the latest official advice from the government and your sector.
But what should you be doing with your HR hat on? Taking into account official advice review your existing documentation to ensure the appropriateness of any infection control and travel policies.
Understand how your business will respond to absenteeism from illness, self-isolation or caring for a dependant and make sure your policies reflect this. Then communicate these with your staff. There may be a lot of nuance to this, so contact us for advice if you’re unsure.
Flexible working will never work for some businesses. But if it just might for yours, then implementing it now could be the decision that keeps operations running whilst workers have to stay at home. Again, get in touch if you need help making this work for you.
And don’t forget that hygiene is king. So whatever happens in your organisation, make sure it happens with clean hands!
Mental health awareness
Coronavirus may be a respiratory illness, but it’s having a big psychological impact on people across Ireland. And one of the facets of this is their employment.
So as well as having to cope with the economic and health disruption in your business, how can you manage worry in the workplace?
Your top action point is communication. In the absence of hard information, people naturally draw their own conclusions. Many will jump straight to the worst-case scenario and gossip may abound.
Of course there are still so many unknowns, and you may not have definitive answers. But by being honest, keeping employees updated and outlining a range of scenarios from best to worst you will give your staff context and also build trust.
Another tip is to change perception if you can. Try to pitch operational disruption as a challenge to rise to, rather than a hinderance to overcome. It’s known to improve motivation and performance.
Redundancies and lay-offs
The economic impact of coronavirus is grabbing almost as many headlines as the health effects. It’s sad to see so many good companies forced to lay-off staff or implement redundancies. Hundreds of thousands of employees are being hit.
If this becomes a consideration for you, it is essential that your processes comply with the law. Even though many businesses are in crisis mode, corners cannot be cut. Or you could be made to pay by the Workplace Relations Commission.
Laying-off is a temporary measure when there is no work to do. Your employment contracts will dictate what you can do here, although staff may be willing to be flexible given the alternatives on offer. The government has said it will reimburse you for six weeks of lay-off pay at €410/70% of salary per week if this step is necessary. The hope is that it will prevent employment relationships being severed and help individuals suffering hardship.
But if redundancy is the only option, there’s a lot to get right. The aims should be to do what the business needs whilst retaining your best staff, and letting the others go with their dignity intact.
Particular areas to be mindful of include selection criteria (don’t forget anyone off on long-term sick leave or maternity), notice periods and pay entitlements. As with most major decisions you should start by making a business case to support your action. Consider whether any alternative roles can be offered and if not, how you can support staff in looking for new work.
If more than 20 staff are affected then you’ll need to engage with their elected representative or union.
Collective redundancies bring a more onerous procedure for employers, including employee representative elections, a 30 day consultation period before any notice to terminate can be given. Collective redundancies are defined as, during any period of 30 consecutive days, the employees being made redundant are:
• 5 employees where 21-49 are employed
• 10 employees where 50-99 are employed
• 10% of the employees where 100-299 are employed
• 30 employees where 300 or more are employed
Businesses often need a hand getting the process right and handling the difficult conversations. Get in touch with your local HR Dept expert if you need support.
Home working is now a reality for many businesses and their staff. So let’s have a recap of some of the things to consider to ensure it runs smoothly.
Some things are obvious, like ensuring your staff have the right kit and information to do their job. But other issues may not be front of your mind in an emergency situation.
Think, for example, that coronavirus doesn’t make your GDPR obligations go away. Your team members require secure storage for sensitive information and should follow good IT practice.
Health and safety remains important – issues to think about include Working Time Regulations (proactively check your staff take appropriate breaks), and safe use of display screen equipment (you should do a risk assessment).
While schools are closed, you might wish to relax your stance on juggling childcare and remote work. But the job still needs to get done so get the balance right for you.
Most of this can be articulated in a good home working policy. If you haven’t got yours yet, give us a call.
Support for businesses
The government and banks have been working together to provide a wide range of measures to help businesses and their staff survive the coronavirus pandemic. So while we understand the initial feelings of despair, when the business you’ve worked so hard to build is shut down overnight, do thoroughly check what’s available to keep you going.
From (initially) three-month grace periods on repaying existing debt, to new favourable loans, and wage subsidy schemes, much support is out there. And the HR Dept is here too, to advise you on how best to keep your team together or if it comes to it, let them go legally.
People Matter February 2020
How to manage workplace conflict
Conflict is not always a negative. In fact, in the famous management model Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, conflict is a necessary step to a team excelling: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing.
However, conflict must be monitored, with intervention necessary if it threatens to get out of hand. If left unresolved it could be a major drag on productivity, sour your culture, affect your customer service and reputation, and in extreme cases lead to bullying and harassment. Matters will be out of your hands if it develops into a WRC hearing.
So keep an eye out for triggers that could tell you conflict has gone too far. Has morale dropped recently? If it is unexplained, it could be down to a falling out.
Finger pointing when things don’t go to plan is not good – whether the accusations are fair or not, stepping in is essential to get to the crux of the matter and resolve it.
There are many possible reasons behind absence, and stress from conflict is certainly one of them. Investigate your absences to understand them and how they can be reduced.
And sometimes the trigger may be more obvious, such as a debate between colleagues boiling over. It may be especially damaging if it happens in front of everyone.
So if you identify a trigger, what can you do? Everything will be underpinned by your company policies. Particularly relevant here will be disciplinary and grievance policies. Make sure they are well drafted (ask us for a review if you are unsure), and well communicated with the team. Now it becomes clear to everyone what the consequences of unacceptable behaviour stemming from conflict are.
Be careful not to depart from the procedures laid down in your policies. One to one meetings, further investigation and then disciplinary action may all follow. If necessary, mediation can be a good way forward. If you need an independent third party, we can act in this capacity for you.
Hopefully things will return to normal. And from there, more proactive steps can be taken such as team building and psychometric assessments. Both great ways to help your staff understand themselves and each other.
The National Minimum Wage has risen
Don’t forget, increases to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) came into effect on 1 February. The new main hourly rate for anyone at least 20 years old is €10.10.
For 19-year-olds it is €9.09; for 18-year-olds it is €8.08; and for anyone younger it is €7.07.
You can include basic pay; shift allowances and the like; fees, bonuses or commission; zero-hour payments; board and lodgings; and any service charge provided through payroll.
But you cannot include expenses, tips, additional allowances for special duties, payments/benefits in kind, pay in lieu of notice or payments made which are unrelated to work.
Also be wary of making unauthorised deductions. Those permitted by law like PAYE are fine, as are contractual deductions and deductions agreed in writing, like for a health insurance subscription.
You may be able to make deductions for employee errors like bad workmanship, and for supplying them with goods or services for the job. But restrictions apply. Anything else is off limits. If unsure, ask us.
Comments from the head of the Chartered Management Institute on a BBC radio programme sparked debate on what’s acceptable to talk about in the workplace.
There’s a fine line to walk in permitting workplace banter, which can easily spiral into bullying or harassment. But on the radio show, she suggested the line should be drawn the other side of football and cricket chat, describing it as a gateway to more laddish behaviour.
She didn’t think sports talk should be outlawed: just moderated. She said many women in particular feel left out by the topic. This met with much resistance, with high-profile women like an ex-sports minister and BBC journalist poo-pooing the sentiment. It certainly plays to gender stereotypes which is a risky business in itself in the workplace.
So assuming you don’t go as far as to ban sports chat or other topics of casual conversation, it will depend on your culture whether you allow any degree of banter. If banter is appropriate to your business, you should still monitor it and intervene if it gets out of hand.
If someone indicates they are not comfortable with being on the receiving end of banter, that should be respected. Consider it a red flag for the business if any of the characteristics protected by the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 are touched upon. An element of discrimination would be an aggravating factor should you face a WRC tribunal.
It’s essential to have disciplinary and grievance policies. And it would be good practice to have clear and well communicated policies on bullying, harassment, equality, diversity and inclusion. You could also offer training on these, if necessary. For help implementing any of this, get in touch.
Managing absence during bad weather
Severe weather can disrupt just about any business. So it’s good to have a disaster recovery plan and to know your options on managing the team. Especially with a motley crew like Storms Brendan, Ciara and Dennis around!
The first ports of call are your employment contracts. Follow what they say, unless you’re prepared to be more generous.
If not covered in the contract, know that there’s no statutory requirement to pay people if severe weather prevents them attending work. If they can come in but there’s no work available (say there’s been a flood), then you can also temporarily lay them off without pay. You must normally give staff 24 hours’ notice if you change a roster. But in extreme weather this does not apply. Your contracts of employment must allow for this so if yours doesn’t, maybe you need a review?
That said, people have to live. And good employee relations drive productivity. So look for compromise. Could they take annual leave, work from home, or make up time so they still get paid? Ask us for advice in creating a disaster recovery plan.
A not so happy birthday
Far from thanking colleagues for taking the time to wish her a happy birthday, one UK legal secretary threw the book at them, and her employer.
She walked out of the office that very afternoon, wrote a letter of complaint (which claimed she felt ‘ambushed, punched, slapped and humiliated’), resigned a few weeks later and then took the firm to an employment tribunal for age discrimination.
She also argued that she was protected by whistleblowing legislation for exposing breaches in data protection – presumably for revealing her birthday and age to colleagues.
Fear not, if you are a company that likes to promote a friendly workplace culture. The tribunal did not agree with her interpretation of events. They found her sensitivity around her age ‘unusual and extreme’. And that whistleblowing legislation was not relevant as making the disclosures was not in the public interest.
Despite this being an extreme case, it’s worth remembering that we do have an aging workforce and that discrimination does occur. If proven at a WRC court, it can be costly.
The ‘productivity’ toilet
Apparently, a fortune goes down the toilet every year due to lost productivity from extended loo breaks at work. A British company which has designed a patented “Standard Toilet” as a solution estimates it at £4 billion in the UK alone. Its 13-degree slanted seat is enough to make any more than a five-minute toilet trip uncomfortable.
Perhaps it might be effective, but it raises many questions. How would an employee with a disability cope? What if someone is feeling unwell?
We once had a disciplinary meeting for an employee who was loudly snoring form the cubicle due to lack of sleep at home after his first child was born! In this case, an informal chat was enough, and the employer showing understanding and empathy was really appreciated by an employee who then turned out to be an excellent team player. Knowing when to give and take is as important as knowing the rules and procedures to be used when you need them.
People Matter January 2020
What should be on your 2020 HR radar?
Happy New Year!
As ever, a new year brings new employment law and issues. Here is your round up of actions to take and points to consider in 2020.
You’ll have to budget for a higher cost in employing people. If relevant to you, from 1 February the national minimum wage is rising 30 cents to €10.10. This comes on top of the rise in employers’ PRSI, which jumped from 10.95% to 11.05% at the start of the year.
Twice every year, the government reviews the employment permit system for workers outside of the European Economic Area. In their latest review, they’ve identified new shortfalls in the labour market and responded. There’ll be relaxations on the employment of chefs, nurses, professional occupations within construction, and HGV drivers.
Now it won’t have escaped your attention that Brexit is about to happen! It’s useful to remember that our government has set aside substantial funds to support business through the turbulence. €600 million is available as loans to help businesses align with the new world order. Meanwhile €100 million will help people facing job losses. There is also €10 million on hand specifically for small companies at risk.
The EU has introduced a directive on work/life balance which member states have three years to comply with. Ireland already meets or exceeds most of the requirements. They cover the introduction of paternity leave (at least 10 days), ensuring two of four months’ parental leave are transferrable, introducing carers’ leave of five days per year and extending the right to request flexible working arrangements to working parents and carers of children up to eight years old.
On that last point, you’ll have to consider how the right to request flexible working would affect your business, and how you might accommodate it, when it’s introduced in Ireland.
Currently, the 2006 Code of Practice on Access to Part-Time Work (the code) requires employers “as far as possible” to give consideration to employee requests to transfer from full-time to part-time work (or vice-versa). The code recognises that an organisation’s capacity to facilitate part-time (or flexible) working arrangements will depend on business and operational factors.
It notes that an employer may refuse a request for flexible working if it is satisfied that such arrangements would have an “adverse effect on the operation of the business, lead to staffing difficulties or other relevant factors which might impact negatively on the business”.
The code confirms that the facility to change existing hours of work is a “matter to be agreed between the employer and the employee, rather than a statutory entitlement”.
However, it notes that best practice requires employers to “treat such requests seriously and where possible explore with their employees if, and how, requests can be accommodated or how such transfers can be made”.
Separately, the European Union (Parental Leave) Regulations 2013 entitles people returning from parental leave have a right to apply for flexible working.
We advise that no matter who applies for flexible working, that you should discuss the requirements, reasons, duration etc., with the employee, and then make a decision based on business reasons. It is a sure-fire way to help your retention of staff. And don’t fear “setting a precedent”, as each case should be judged on its merits and impact on the business. Of course, all such meetings and decisions should be recorded in writing and kept on file.
The suite of parental leaves was expanded in Ireland last year, where we saw the introduction of a new two weeks of paid parental leave entitlement. Your contracts and handbooks should already have been updated to reflect this. But if not, now’s a good time to review. Please get in touch for assistance.
Retirement age is an area to be particularly mindful of as an employer. There’s no single fixed retirement age (although some jobs have a statutory retirement age). But for most SMEs, it’s what it says in the employment contract that counts. But you must be consistent in how you enforce it.
RTE recently had to pay a former TV producer €100,000 after forcibly retiring her at age 65, despite her saying she would like to work for a further six months.
Among the evidence, RTE said they needed younger people in the role to help make programmes appealing to the youth audience – the WRC did not agree. And the TV producer pointed out that “on-air” colleagues had been allowed to work on beyond their 65th birthdays. The WRC did agree that she had been treated less favourably than colleagues.
Nearly one in five of the Irish workforce is over 55, and many older workers do now wish to work beyond the traditional retirement age. For advice on implementing retirements legally, give us a call.
Gender reassignment in the workplace
“They” (as an alternative to he/she for people with a non-binary gender identity) being voted word of the last decade by the American Dialect Society is just one sign that awareness of gender variation is rising. It’s likely to make gender reassignment more of an HR issue.
Transsexuals are specifically covered in the Employment Equality Acts, meaning you can be penalised at a WRC for treating them less favourably. Other forms of gender variation are not specifically covered. However, with gender and sexuality both protected, there’s enough scope in the existing legislation for anyone experiencing gender reassignment to be protected if treated unfavourably.
So, if encountered, how should you manage gender reassignment? First off, recognise that it will be a sensitive issue and treat it as such. Each case will be unique and it’s wise to take a lead from the employee. They’ll need support and maybe time off for medical appointments. The rest of the team will need support too and a planned communication and support system will be essential. You must consider the wishes of the person in this and be compliant with GDPR too.
Covertly filming employees is not normally on. But as a recent case from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights shows, sometimes it can be a proportionate and legal path to take.
Back in 2009 a Spanish supermarket noticed tens of thousands of Euros worth of stock discrepancies. They suspected staff and installed CCTV cameras with a notification that CCTV was in operation. Some of the cameras were obvious, but some were covert.
Well, it was the covert cameras that caught 14 employees stealing. They were dismissed and five of them argued unfair dismissal in the courts on the basis that their privacy had been breached.
The former employees lost at both Spanish tribunal and high court. And then lost again on appeal at the Constitutional Court of Spain. However, when they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights they won. This was based on breaching their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As stated earlier, this decision has been overturned by the court’s higher authority.
After its ruling, the Grand Chamber shared observations which can be used as guidelines for any business that feels the need to consider covert filming:
• You must have a legitimate purpose to justify the level of intrusion.
• Is a less intrusive alternative available?
• The employee should be notified of monitoring measures.
• The level of intrusiveness should be assessed, including how private the area being filmed is, who has access and how much is filmed in terms of time and space.
• What safeguards are in place?
In Ireland, covert monitoring should only be used to investigate, prevent or detect a crime (as happened in the Spanish case). The final objective should be to involve An Garda Síochána or another prosecuting authority. You’ll need to document it all in a written policy. If you ever need advice in this area, call us.
The 4pm slump
“Yaaaaaawn!” You hear across the office. As certainly as night follows day, it tells you that it’s 4pm and at least one of your team is lagging.
Before you get too shirty with them, consider that it may not be entirely their fault. The circadian rhythm – our body clock (in plain English) – typically makes us sleepy around this time.
They may not realise that their diet’s not helping either. Carbs like bread and pasta make people sleepy. While you can’t dictate food choices, you could informally highlight that protein like chicken or egg at lunch, for example, is better for powering through the afternoon.
What’s more within your control is task allocation. If possible, consider getting people mobile at 4pm. Is there anything more physical, fun or collaborative to get people up from their desks to stimulate a bit of energy before the end of the day?
Your to-do list for your team: Process orders, ship work, go to gym…
While you may risk being told to “do one” if you start ordering staff to get some exercise, one company in Sweden is doing just that. They have a mandatory policy of “sports hour” every Friday, where employees are required to exercise on company time. With this in mind you may not be surprised to learn that the company has also banned all chairs in the office.
Many Swedes believe that if you exercise and take care of your body, you’re a better person. But even though exercise is high up in people’s thinking in January, would this be a step too far in your business?
People Matter December 2019
“I’m not doing it!” Have you heard this when requesting an employee works extra hours? Frustrating for sure and how you will deal with it will come down to how overtime is detailed in your employment contracts. It’s also helpful to understand some elements of the Organisation of Working Time Act.
If you require employees to work overtime, you should include a clause covering this in your employment contracts. This should detail payment terms. Some firms choose to enhance overtime pay to incentivise the extra commitment from your workforce.
The Organisation of Working Time Act may come into play if you require overtime on a Sunday or public holiday, or your employees are already working very long hours.
This legislation says that employees working on a public holiday must be given an extra day’s pay or an extra day off. And for people working on a Sunday that you must agree with them one of the following: a reasonable allowance, reasonable increased pay or reasonable paid time-off. What is considered to be reasonable will depend on the circumstances.
The Act also prohibits people working more than 48 hours per week on average over a four-month period. This is extended to six months for some sectors, and in certain circumstances to 12 months.
And a final point from the Act: Unless there are unforeseen circumstances, like a member of staff calling in sick, you should give at least 24 hours’ notice when you require additional hours to be worked.
So, assuming your contracts and compliance with the Organisation of Working Time Act are in order, you should be able to follow the process of your disciplinary policy in dealing with any employee refusing overtime.
That aside, there are other things to consider. When it comes to voluntary requests for overtime, ensure that your procedure for allocating it is fair and available to everyone who is eligible. In contrast to the person who refuses, other people may depend on overtime to make ends meet.
Don’t forget that regular overtime must now be considered a factor in determining holiday pay. This may be extra expensive for you if you have staff working lots of overtime in the run-up to Christmas before taking their annual leave.
The season of sickies
Wintertime is synonymous with flu and other nasties. But, worryingly, one UK survey found that 40% of adults would fake a sick day, while two-thirds said they’d cover for colleagues pulling a sickie.
With that in mind, you may be wondering if an employee really is poorly on Monday following their behaviour at the Christmas party. That said, there are more complex reasons for feigning a physical illness. For instance, it’s known that some people will do it to mask a mental health issue.
Presenteeism can be just as problematic. We all recognise that colleague who’s sneezing and coughing, and muttering how ill they feel, whilst infecting everyone else! This can prolong or worsen the illness, doesn’t lead to good productivity, and compromises others’ health. If an employee is clearly not well, they should be at home.
So, whether you’re trying to get fit people in or sick people home, how should you manage absence?
Always start with an absence policy, and specify that employees should report their sickness by phone before the start of work. Recording all employee absences in an HR management tool such as the HR Dept Toolkit will help you identify patterns emerging and build a case against serial sickie offenders.
For shorter absences where a GP’s certificate might not be necessary, request that they self-certify. On their return, make them go through this process using a self-certification form and conduct a return-to-work interview. It will act as a deterrent to people trying something on, whilst showing that you care for anyone who has a genuine illness. And when it comes to presenteeism, lead by example. If you are unwell, take the time off you need to recover.
Bogus self-employment still an issue
Despite the increasing attention of the government on employment status, which saw the introduction of the Employment Bill earlier this year, bogus self-employment is still an issue. In a bid to protect vulnerable workers who are missing out on valuable employment rights, huge fines are being issued to companies who flout the rules. Fines in excess of €50,000 are not uncommon.
Now, Regina Doherty, the Employment Affairs and Social Protection Minister, has indicated that the inspection regime is to be made more robust. While there is a legitimate and important place for self-employed contractors, it’s vital that employers understand the distinctions between self-employed and employed status.
If you control someone’s work; pay a fixed hourly, weekly or monthly wage; don’t permit sub-contracting; impose set working hours; and they work exclusively for you, then it’s likely they should be considered an employee and treated as such for tax and employment rights purposes. For a review of your workforce to see if you need to take action to avoid a fine, contact your local HR Dept office.
Whilst Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been and gone, the debt that some will have got into, now exacerbated by Christmas, remains.
Research from a finance app found that 78% of workers feel financial strain before pay day. As an employer, having some understanding of this issue, and that it may affect so many of your team on a monthly basis, could help you manage them, particularly at this time of year.
So, what is financial well-being? People talk about it broadly as: having a clear path to identifiable objectives; control of daily finances; having financial options in life; preparing for financial shocks; and clarity and security for those we leave behind.
Given the number of people that feel the strain each month, providing staff with support for their financial well-being is likely to benefit both the company and your staff. Some companies arrange for a financial adviser to run in-house sessions periodically as a means to achieving this.
An inclusive Christmas
Most companies make at least a passing nod to Christmas. Some will have a tree and office party while others will go all out, defrosting Bublé back in November, organising Secret Santa and, of course, Christmas jumper day!
While a majority of employees will get in the spirit, there are 101 reasons why some may not. There are obvious reasons such as religion and some not so obvious – relationship problems for instance. Therefore, it’s wise to be mindful of this and encourage an inclusive Christmas.
Once you are thinking inclusively, good practices will come naturally. But to get you started, consider these. Don’t force anyone into celebrating, participation in festive fun should be voluntary. And as an extension of this, don’t let those who choose not to participate be ridiculed by others. When it comes to food and drink, factor in dietary requirements and ensure that alcohol consumption is not at the centre of every activity.
I’m an “employee” get me out of here
Whether in the jungle, on the catwalk or in the boardroom, we’ve seen a boom in reality TV. Some “contestants” make careers from it. And in the complicated world of TV contracts, parallels can be drawn to the gig economy where worker status becomes blurred.
Down under, a reality TV contestant has actually won a landmark compensation case after claiming she felt harassed and bullied. Although she’d contractually acknowledged she wasn’t employed, the tribunal found enough evidence to suggest an employer-employee relationship, and awarded compensation.
What next? We can only wait and wonder.
People Matter November 2019
It sits at the top of employment protections in Ireland. Yet not a month seems to pass without a high-profile pregnancy and maternity discrimination case being reported in the news.
Significant compensation awards are common. The following have all been handed out this year: €61,000 after an employee was effectively demoted upon returning from maternity leave; €55,000 when a marketing director was made redundant two weeks after informing her employer she was pregnant; and €20,000 when a pregnant salon worker had her hours reduced, and the placing of a job advert for her role, while she was still employed.
Clearly, the risk of a stiff penalty is very real for businesses which flout the law.
Various legislation is relevant, including the Unfair Dismissals Act, the Maternity Protections Acts 1994-2004 and the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.
If you dismiss someone due to pregnancy, attending antenatal classes, giving birth, breastfeeding, any pregnancy-related matter, or for trying to exercise rights granted by the Maternity Protections Acts, it will be deemed unfair. And if any of these are suspected as the motivation, the burden of proof will be on you to prove it wasn’t the case.
But discrimination can occur for far lesser actions than dismissal. In the period leading up to the birth, and following on from it, employees enjoy a wide range of employment protections. These include paid time off for antenatal and postnatal care, and breastfeeding; workplace or pattern modification for health and safety considerations; and up to 21 paid days of health and safety leave if required.
Then there is maternity leave. New mothers are entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave, followed by 16 weeks of additional unpaid leave. And this autumn, a right to an extra two weeks of paid parental leave for both parents came into law. Similar leave is available to adopting parents.
Importantly, there’s also a right to return to work after maternity leave. This must be to the same role, or something with equivalent or better terms: nothing perceived as a demotion!
Do note that employees also have obligations to you in terms of notice periods for requesting entitlements.
If you are at all unsure when it comes to managing pregnancy and maternity, come to us for advice. It’s not worth the risk of getting it wrong.
It’s not a hangover, it’s an illness
A regional court in Germany recently ruled that hangovers are an illness. No need to face palm in frustration at the thought of your workforce being decimated by “legitimate illnesses” after Christmas parties. The ruling was in relation to a food manufacturer who made medical healing claims over hangover cure products.
Although hangovers may be somewhat disabling, they aren’t considered a disability under Irish equality legislation. Be wary though! Alcoholism has been ruled a disability and cause for discrimination in the past in Ireland.
And alcohol abuse may be the cause or consequence of a related long-term impairment or disability, think liver disease or depression respectively. In such cases, you should sensitively investigate further, utilising occupational health if appropriate, to determine if there is an underlying disability.
This aside, here are some top tips for managing some alcohol related issues in your workplace:
Review existing policies. Introduce a drug and alcohol misuse policy if not already in place. Make sure drinking during working hours is also covered in your driving and disciplinary policies.
Collect appropriate evidence. Any disciplinary offence should be investigated before action is taken. Witness statements will be important. Drug and alcohol testing can play a useful deterrent.
Take action right away. A delay in reacting to suspicions of intoxication could result in health and safety implications that could have been avoided. As an employer, you could be found vicariously liable for the actions of your staff.
Set clear expectations and consider workarounds. Provide guidelines for staff attending work events where alcohol is served. And consider altering working patterns for staff entertaining clients – for example, a later start time the following day to mitigate the risk of driving under the influence.
Keeping employees engaged throughout the festive season
In a survey by an employee engagement firm, 27% of employees admitted that the run up to Christmas was their least productive time of the year. As Christmas approaches you may well find that your employees are less focused on their work, and instead are winding down for the festive break. Or planning for, and recovering from, a flurry of parties.
But festive fun might not be all that’s keeping your employees from being fully effective. The shortened working month can also lead to added pressures for completing projects. And as overspending at Christmas is widespread, financial pressures may also weigh heavily on employees.
How can you help your team? Some things should be in your control. For example, make sure deadlines are achievable and that holiday requests are managed fairly. And why not celebrate a year of hard work by planning a staff party so everyone can let off some steam!
Should non-smokers get extra holiday days?
In September, a Japanese company introduced a policy of rewarding non-smoking employees with an extra six days of holiday a year. The firm’s CEO hopes it will encourage smokers to quit. So far four have.
But could you imagine the can of worms you’d be opening if you introduced something similar? Tit-for-tat productivity claims amongst your smoking and non-smoking employees, comparing the cigarette breaks to anything from the length of toilet trips (shudder) to the amount of coffee being drunk.
If productivity is a concern, we’d advise introducing a programme which measures output more precisely than mere hours spent at a desk. And if, as with this Japanese example, there is also some altruistic motivation from management in encouraging healthy lifestyles, it’s better to do this in a more positive way. For instance allowing some time during the working week for physical activity, or offering free fruit to staff.
What to do in a power cut
Invariably winter brings bad weather and, as we’ve seen recently, sometimes flooding. In extreme cases this may affect your business’s power and heating. If the risk to you is sufficient, it would be wise to have a disaster recovery plan.
Considering our short winter days, it’s worth keeping torches and batteries on site, even if you don’t operate night shifts. If a power cut occurred, we wouldn’t advise candles! Depending on your business’s circumstances, you may find it helpful to explore standby generators.
If the heating’s out, the legal minimum working temperature for indoor work is set at 16°c to 17.5°c depending on the type of work being done.
And if things get really bad, you’ll need to assess whether staff are at risk. Is flexible working an option? If no work is available, could they take annual leave? If not, temporarily laying-off staff may be an option to explore. Where possible we’d suggest trying to find a middle ground, in the interests of long-term worker relations.
Only in France! A company has been found liable for compensation after an employee died on a business trip… whilst having sex with a stranger.
The court ruled that sex is “like taking a shower or eating a meal” and deemed it an industrial accident. And so the company was left partly liable for a bill to the family for 80% of his salary, for every year up until he would have retired.
Luckily, this is French jurisdiction only. So unless you are involved in a more risqué line of work, you shouldn’t have to worry about being liable for “death by sex” for your employees. But do still carry out a relevant risk assessment when sending them on a work trip.
People Matter October 2019
Who’s safeguarding your company data?
A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining and countless other horror classics give us a scare at this time of year. But for many businesses in 2019, it’s GDPR that still sends a shiver down the spine. Viral digital news means that any breach can quickly turn into a PR disaster and go on to hit profits. And then there are the penalties: up to the high of €20 million or 4% of global turnover.
These new regulations have more teeth than Jaws. So how is your data being safeguarded?
While IT and legal considerations may be front of mind, HR will play an important role too.
Training is one such area where HR can take a lead. Almost 18 months after GDPR came into force, are you sure your staff know how to keep data safe? While some individuals will have specific responsibilities, all staff will have general obligations for keeping data safe. Train them up and document it, this means if somebody slips up you can deal with them effectively.
One area in your remit is managing the process of remote working. Whether your company treats it as a flexible working perk, or you have some staff who just feel the need to take work away, it could be exposing you to serious risk if not managed correctly.
Emailing work out to personal devices or email accounts is a no-no. This could bypass much of your IT security procedures, putting you at risk of a virus or hack. Even worse would be emailing company personal data to a home email address. The moment this happens you are no longer in control of that information.
It’s essential your staff know the risks and follow good practice when working remotely. Why not work with your IT people to develop appropriate policies?
We’ve assumed an accidental breach so far. Less common, but still something to be mindful of, is malicious behaviour by an employee, stealing data for example. Here, good vetting during recruitment will help. And don’t hesitate to revoke access to sensitive data if you learn they are leaving and you have concerns.
Don’t forget! By default when you manage staff, you’ll be in charge of personal data too – that of your employees. So ensure you treat it as such. If you don’t use it already, ask us about HR Dept Toolkit – our secure HR software that simplifies the way you manage staff.
Against a backdrop of strong economic performance tempered by the looming threat of Brexit, this year’s budget contained a smattering of measures relevant to employment. Here’s a quick run-down to ensure you are in the know.
Brexit – On top of previously announced Brexit contingency plans, an additional €650 million was made available to help the economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The financial aid would come in a variety of forms and target sectors most at risk, like agriculture and tourism. Of particular note from an HR perspective, there would be a €45 million pot to help people move into new employment opportunities where they are affected by Brexit.
KEEP – That is, the Key Employee Engagement Programme, is given a boost. Designed as a tax-advantaged share scheme to help unquoted SMEs make important hires and keep them, KEEP had run into criticism since its launch at the start of 2018 for being too restrictive. Indeed, this time last year we told you how no-one had used the scheme and last year’s budget had made it even more restrictive. Well, this year it was announced that the scheme rules would be slackened, opening it up to part-time employees, which may make take-up easier.
SARP and FED – SARP or Special Assignee Relief Programme reduces the cost of overseas companies assigning skilled workers to their Irish offices. FED, or Foreign Earnings Deduction, allows employees of Irish companies who spend some time working abroad (but remain tax resident in Ireland) to claim income tax relief from their employment income earned overseas. Originally set to expire next year, both these schemes will continue to 2022.
BIK – And in green news, the special 0% benefit in kind rate of electric vehicles is also being extended until 2022.
New paid parental leave
On 1 November a new paid parental leave entitlement is introduced. The parents of any child born or adopted from then are entitled to two extra weeks of paid leave beyond their paternity, maternity or adoption leave. It’s paid at €245 per week, although employers have discretion to increase this at their own expense. Your employee must give you six weeks’ written notice and take the leave in a two-week block or two one-week blocks within 12 months of the birth or adoption.
In limited circumstances you may be able to postpone a leave request, but the parent enjoys all the protections you’d expect from a government introduced benefit, such as the right to return to work on the same terms and conditions.
You’ll need to keep records for eight years, and update your parental leave policy to reflect the change. If you need advice, call us to find out more.
Protecting your have-a-go heroes
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it’s your employee diving down a manhole to retrieve a customer’s iPhone. Or smashing into an out-of-control airport catering truck with a pushback tractor just before it writes-off a multimillion-pound jet.
Generally it’s great when you have your very own superhero on your team. Someone who goes above and beyond to satisfy a customer or prevent disaster. But it’s essential that your staff understand health and safety rules to take care of themselves and others.
The above examples really happened in America, with the airport worker even receiving a pat-on-the-back Tweet from President Trump. It was a fast-food worker who rescued the phone, and he cut his hand and muddied his clothes doing so, although he was still smiling. High risk jobs should always have the correct safety measures in place. And for those unexpected scenarios, ensure your staff know to consider their own safety before diving in.
A failed cover up for dismissal
Words and processes matter when dealing with an underperforming employee. That is underscored by the €16,000 compensation which a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) awarded to a business development manager who was made redundant by a freight company. The WRC found that they were really being dismissed for poor performance.
A fair redundancy is impersonal to those being made redundant. In other words it is about the company and the role(s), not individuals and their performance. A fair process in which you can show your redundancy rationale must be demonstrably followed and recorded.
You can, of course, fairly dismiss for poor performance. But again, you must follow the appropriate process. This may include giving people a structured chance to turn it around, and explore ways they can be offered support.
If you are considering dismissals for poor performance or redundancies, check with us first. We’ll help you do it properly so you do not end up losing in a WRC case.
Is your office dressing up for Halloween?
Some fancy-dress costumes inspired by real life characters are too offensive to publish here. Yet, a quick Google will tell you that yes, some people will actually go there!
Others may be tempted to show too much flesh, or turn themselves into a trip or fire hazard. And worst of all, some people may not wish to engage in the fun at all!
A bit of dressing up at Halloween can be great for your office culture. But do set boundaries about what’s appropriate. Or you may find yourself getting a Halloween shock you were not expecting. As well as taste, health and safety, and letting people know it is ok to opt out, consider what affect dressing up will have on your company image if you’ll be hosting visitors, and plan in accordance.
People Matter September 2019
A case for reasonable accommodation continues
Under equality law, if you can, you must make reasonable accommodations to allow a person with a disability to do their job. This does not mean you must hire, keep on or promote someone who doesn’t have the capacity to fulfil a role. But you must explore what you could do to give them an equal opportunity.
So what is a reasonable accommodation? At its simplest, it may be as straightforward as providing a modified chair. But it could get much more complicated than that…
A teaching assistant was dismissed after becoming paralysed from the waist down in a car accident. It had been deemed that she could no longer perform 7 out of the 16 tasks of her role. An alternative role was defined, but the school was told there was no funding available for it. And so her employment was terminated.
She took them to court for breaching the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 – 2015 by not making reasonable accommodations.
So far, the case has been to the Equality Tribunal which found in favour of the school; then the Labour Court which awarded the teaching assistant €40,000 in compensation for discrimination; the High Court which also found that discrimination occurred; the Court of Appeal, which overturned the High Court judgement; and the Supreme Court which overturned the Court of Appeal ruling. The Supreme Court has ordered that the Labour Court rehear the case, taking into account their findings.
So we still have no definitive answer.
The issues that have been discussed have ranged from the communication process with the employee, to where the equality protections end – which is before an employer has to create a brand-new job. And many other points of contention in between.
It is an extreme example, but one which shows just how complicated this issue can be. If you are faced with assessing reasonable accommodations, talk to us first. We’ll help you work out what you can do to keep your employee or dismiss them safely. And if you follow our advice from the outset, our retained advice is backed by tribunal indemnity insurance.
The courts have had a say on workers’ rights in the gig economy, and governments are legislating on it – including here in Ireland. And now a company is making a proactive suggestion.
Deliveroo, with a new general manager at the helm in Ireland, have called for a Charter for Secure and Flexible Work. In their submission, which they have filed with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, they want the freedom to offer their self-employed contractors benefits without jeopardising their self-employed status.
They already offer road insurance. The kind of thing they are talking about now is accrued sick pay. And the problem with the status quo is that if they offer it, it could spark legal challenges to say that the individuals are employed. This would bring more costs to the company and less freedom to the people working for them.
They argue that their self-employed contractors value, above all else, the flexibility of working on the Deliveroo platform – 86% of them at any rate, according to a survey they conducted.
The charter idea, borrowed from France, goes some way to address one of the central concerns about the gig economy – that of workers’ rights being eroded, particularly vulnerable workers’. There is, though, still the question of lost tax revenue.
In the meantime, if you use gig economy workers such as freelancers, people on zero-hour contracts or self-employed contractors, we’d advise reviewing your reasons for doing so to ensure they are genuine. If you want to discuss it with an expert, please get in touch.
Get ready for Brexit
(At the time of print) Boris Johnson is assuring the world that the UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October. Halloween, of course, and leaving aside whether you think Brexit will be a trick or treat, there may well be steps you need to take to be prepared.
The government has published an online guide called “Getting your business ready for Brexit”. This covers a whole range of business operations, and naturally, some relate to HR. These include travel visas, professional qualifications and residency requirements. Think also about data and GDPR. The UK will become a third country for data protection purposes. In employment terms, this may be relevant if you use a UK-based payroll provider.
It’s helpful to be pointed in the right direction, but there’s still the hard graft to do. If you need extra support with your Brexit HR, then get in touch.
Claws and effect
There is no statutory bereavement leave for the loss of a close human relative yet, let alone a pet. But typically, employers offer three to five days leave for the loss of a family member, at their discretion. However, bereavement affects everyone differently, and some people may be overwhelmingly affected by the loss of a pet.
You may notice unexpected absence, a drop in performance or even temporarily not being able to perform certain roles.
With no law to steer you, your response to this comes down to your discretion. Showing compassion often pays dividends in the long run. But be careful! You should apply a strong rationale and consistency. For instance you may feel some time off (whether paid or unpaid) for the loss of a cat or dog is appropriate. But draw the line at the goldfish. And there’ll be an expectation that what’s offered to one employee will be provided for another in similar circumstances.
If you want a whole new take on receiving bad news, consider Josh Thompson’s approach. When Josh, a copywriter from New Zealand, received an email from his employer asking him to meet to discuss his role, he guessed the writing was on the wall. In accordance with New Zealand law, he was encouraged to bring a support person to the HR meeting. Instead of a family member or union rep, he hired a clown to ease the tension. His employers saw the funny side but did have to ask him to quieten down several times while he was making balloon animals. In Josh’s words “Boy, oh boy, are clowns noisy”!
Employees at protests
Climate change and political unrest are giving rise to increasing protests, globally and here in Ireland.
So what do you do if employees skip work to join a mass protest? Even those who have a previously unblemished unauthorised absence record? A global day of protest is planned on Friday 20 September, with a well-publicised climate strike taking place here in Ireland. It is unlikely to be the last.
Employees can’t expect to skip off work to protest and not face repercussions. You need to attempt to contact them if they go AWOL and document everything. There may be action you take before it comes to this, though. Could you suggest they protest on an unpaid lunch break? Or if the issue is climate change and your company ethos plays a part in addressing this, actively communicate it to staff so they feel they are already contributing.
If, however, they are protesting against you, or trade unions are involved, that’s a different story and needs immediate attention. You should call us as soon as possible.
People Matter August 2019
The ageing workforce
A pensions timebomb is ticking in Ireland, according to the government’s 2019 National Risk Assessment. And while this mightn’t be of direct concern to you as an employer, there are plenty of knock-on effects that will be relevant.
First, some context. The number of people eligible for the state pension is set to double over the next 36 years. Two-thirds of private sector workers do not have their own pension. And by 2030, the ratio of the population aged over 65 will rise from one in eight to one in six.
So what does this mean for employers? Quite simply, expect more older employees in your workforce. And plan for it.
We hasten to add that this needn’t be a negative. Like every generation, older employees will bring strengths and weaknesses. By being ready, you can optimise your workplace for a changing workforce. Let’s run through some key areas:
Age discrimination – Age is one of nine grounds which are protected by the Employment Equality Act. Mismanaging an ageing workforce could lead you to a Workplace Relations Commission and discrimination pay-out. Indeed, last year discrimination claims on the grounds of age rose by 343% on the previous year.
Flexible working – It’s not just older workers that may favour flexible working patterns. But for people looking for a phased retirement or who, for example, have caring duties as a grandparent, it will be an attractive feature.
Hiring practices – Your hiring programmes like graduate schemes, internships and apprenticeships may currently be designed with people at the start of their career in mind. Going forwards you may benefit from recalibrating these to accommodate older workers.
Workplace adaptation – Think about your workplace environment and see whether it physically caters to an older workforce.
Retirement planning – The default retirement age has been abolished in all but a few professions so you cannot rely on that. Be consistent in how you implement retirement to help avoid discrimination claims. The government has published guidance on best practice for managing people who wish to work longer.
An older workforce is coming! If you want help preparing, talk to your local HR Dept adviser.
The modern working week
All business owners like productive workers. That’s the name of the game, right? But are our workers too busy here in Ireland?
The economy is almost at full employment, but according to a recent survey, two-thirds of employees say they work overtime. And the same number (although not necessarily the same respondents) say they feel obligated or very obligated to do so.
Unfortunately for most of them, three-quarters say they are not compensated for their overtime. While this may seem like a quick win for a business, it is storing up problems for the future. It’s not fair on workers and will likely lead to a minimum of resentment and staff turnover, and in worse cases stress and even burnout. Better to explore smarter ways of working than rely on hours of unpaid overtime.
Changes to parental leave
Confusion reigns, apparently, among workers who don’t understand their parental leave entitlements as new legislation is introduced. And while larger firms may have a whole HR team who are on it from the employer’s perspective, SME owners and managers may be struggling to make sense of the new rules too. Here is a rundown.
As of 1 September, parents of children up to the age of 12 will be entitled to take up to 22 weeks of unpaid parental leave each. This is an extension from what was available before, which was up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for parents of children up to the age of eight. For parents who had reached their limit previously, they will now have access to the additional four weeks.
The following September, in 2020, a further four weeks will be added, taking the entitlement up to 26 weeks in total. This is made law by the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019.
Scope for further confusion is created by the fact that separately, two weeks of extra paid parental leave are being introduced on 1 November. Both parents can take this within the first 52 weeks of a birth (or placement, if it’s an adoption).
So with lots of dates and entitlements involved, it is easy to understand the confusion. But despite the complexity, it is important that you as an employer understand the rules if a member of staff makes a request. Both so you don’t unfairly deny a legal entitlement, and also that you know when you can say “no”. If in doubt, call us.
The future of NDAs
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), are not getting good press right now. Following the #MeToo movement, it’s been shown just how often companies use them to cover-up wrongdoing like harassment and discrimination.
In Ireland, for now, bad press is all they’re getting. Unlike in other jurisdictions, there’s no legislative programme to rein in the use of NDAs. The USA has already acted. And in the UK change is afoot that will make it illegal for a confidentiality clause to prevent disclosure of a suspected crime to the police and other relevant professionals.
Used correctly, an NDA can be a useful mechanism for privately resolving a dispute to both parties’ satisfaction. Even without new legislation, they require careful drafting and a proper process to be followed to ensure they are enforceable. But now that they’re coming under greater scrutiny, we’d recommend a review of your use of NDAs if applicable, to ensure they are fair to the employee. Contact us, to find out more.
Inside the mind of an introvert
Did you know that up to 50% of the population are introverts? Maybe that’s not so surprising seeing that the main alternative is to be an extrovert. Both behavioural types have strengths and weaknesses. But what is interesting is that most companies are set up to suit extroverts. Think open plan offices, social events and generally the loudest voices being heard first.
This won’t be a deal breaker for most introverts. But it does mean that conditions are not optimised for their performance. And they have a lot to offer. Restoring balance could help drive your business forward.
We’re not talking about difficult actions. Giving introverts a safe platform to speak in meetings, creating quieter working zones, and not putting pressure on people to attend every social event are all achievable. A great place to start is with some personality training to help identify your team’s traits and how they work best.
Sleeping on the job
Can you believe an employment tribunal judge fell asleep twice during a hearing? After we’d finished raising our eyebrows, we found some research and it’s not as uncommon as you might think! We’re not just talking about dozy judges. Apparently 12% of office workers have confessed to falling asleep in a meeting.
What should you do if you catch someone, well, catching 40 winks? It may be gross misconduct if, say, they were hungover. But don’t jump to conclusions – pay-outs have been awarded in court for sleep-related unfair dismissals! Check there’s not an underlying medical condition or other mitigating factor before deciding on your course of action.
People Matter July 2019
Do you remember when holiday pay used to be simple
A landmark Court of Appeal case north of the border draws attention to an emerging blind spot for employers here in the Republic of Ireland. Following the ruling, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is facing a £40 million back-dated bill for incorrectly calculating holiday pay.
The issue centres around what constitutes normal pay. And while this case doesn’t have a direct legal bearing on affairs here, many of the issues overlap.
A reduction in income when receiving holiday pay compared to normal pay is seen as a disincentive to employees taking holiday. This crosses a red line for the EU for the statutory four weeks’ holiday leave they mandate. And this is precisely what has been happening when employees are paid on commission or work a regular pattern of overtime, if these earnings are not considered in holiday pay.
In case after case at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), judges have ruled in favour of more generous holiday pay interpretation. Phrases like payments which are “intrinsically linked” to the performance of the tasks required under the contract of employment, and when it’s necessary to work overtime “on a broadly regular and predictable basis”, are being used to describe what to include in holiday pay calculations.
One of the complications is that these definitions are not in harmony with our domestic law. This specifically excludes overtime pay from normal pay when calculating holiday pay. However, the weight of case law from Europe suggests that your steer should be taken from the EU rather than domestic law.
We would advise reviewing how you calculate holiday pay and starting to budget for increases if you find that what you include does not reflect the normal take home pay of your employees.
You only need to consider the four weeks of leave covered by the Working Time Directive. But in practice it may not be cost-effective for you to assess this in isolation. While there is a six-month limitation on back claims, there are ways that this could be challenged as has happened in the PSNI case.
For expert help, get in touch.
Top tips for the hospitality sector
Do you manage staff in hospitality or another sector renowned for tipping? What’s your policy on those tips? Some let front of house staff keep 100% of what they’re given. Others ask that it’s put in a pool and distributed amongst front of house and back room staff alike.
Each has their pros and cons. But one practice which is derided is withholding tips and using them within your overall cashflow to pay wages or other costs. Unsurprisingly, this practice is not looked on kindly by diners, who give the tips voluntarily to recognise good service.
When exposed, it can lead to reputational damage. You may have seen some high-profile restaurants in Dublin recently experiencing protests because of perceived unfair tipping policies.
It has also caught the attention of Regina Doherty, the Minister for Employment Affairs. She intends to write to restaurants found to be using tips to fund salaries, to flag their obligations to staff.
So we have said the practice is frowned upon, but what are the obligations? It has been something of a grey area, but it is not technically illegal to retain tips. Yet! After the Tánaiste Simon Coveney wrongly (but in good faith) said it was illegal earlier in the year, there are now strong calls for emergency legislation to outlaw it.
You’ll understand the numbers and the culture of your business better than anyone. But if you want some expert advice and fresh ideas on how best to structure your remuneration packages to recruit, retain and incentivise a winning team, get in touch with your local HR Dept adviser for a review.
Is hotdesking still hot?
As flexible working practices become more popular, it makes sense that hotdesking will follow suit. After all, why pay for vacant space?
Adopting hotdesking means you can gain efficiencies by downsizing your square footage. Or make your workplace more attractive and useful by transforming the redundant desk space. How about a break-out area or new meeting room?
But hotdesking is not a one-way street to success. If only! In one survey of 1,001 office workers by a transformational consultancy, 22% of respondents found hotdesking made bonding with colleagues more difficult. And nearly half said they wasted time setting up equipment. The worry of whether a desk is available will affect the well-being of some, too.
Other potential problems include hygiene concerns and the development of cliquey behaviour. However, with a well-managed approach – including desk scheduling and clear guidance on conduct – these obstacles can largely be overcome.
Five years ago, Ireland was branded the seventh worst European country for workplace bullying. Last year, 40% of people are reported to have suffered from it.
It’s not just the stuff we associate with the school yard, like name-calling. Indirect bullying such as excluding colleagues from projects or social events, and giving them humiliating tasks is harder to spot.
Mental health issues like stress and depression are a likely consequence. Be aware that young Irish women are more prone to depression than any of their European peers, which will have some overlap with this bullying issue.
Bullying is detrimental to business operations too. A toxic environment, absenteeism, retention issues and legal action could all ensue.
Starting with a disciplinary and grievance policy, good HR practice can be more than a match for bullying. Management training and communicating expected standards of behaviour to staff are important. And why not introduce an employee assistance programme? This can support your team with many difficult areas of life, not just work related stuff!. To find out more, give us a call.
How emotionally intelligent is your team?
In olden days people were expected to switch off their emotions when they went to work. Now it’s far more widely recognised that this isn’t possible. And that, actually, harnessing emotional intelligence can help individuals and organisations be more successful.
It has been established that emotional intelligence is a skill which can be nurtured with practice. The psychologist Daniel Goleman identifies five pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. And it’s easy to see why these would be desirable traits in your workforce. In fact, a survey back in 2011 found that almost three-quarters of hiring managers rated emotional intelligence over IQ.
When trying to instil an emotionally intelligent culture, you should lead from the front. Staff who know that you genuinely care about them are far more likely to buy in to your plans. For guidance and advice, speak to The HR Dept.
Outrageous expense claims
What’s the most jaw-dropping item your employees have put through expenses? Can you beat lottery tickets, cosmetic surgery, half a cow? They’ve all actually happened. Admittedly in America! And while we can raise an eyebrow and perhaps smile at the nerve, it is a serious issue.
Expenses are to reimburse staff for travel and other costs incurred in the line of duty. While “half a cow” would be easy to spot, there will inevitably be greyer areas. These can be minimised through good line management drawing clear boundaries, rather than being left to the finance manager to notice.
People Matter June 2019
Neurodiversity in the workplace
About 85% of people are neurotypical, meaning their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say “think different” to quote Apple’s famous advertising slogan. They are neurodivergent.
Neurodivergent people are often diagnosed with a condition, which can come with stigma. The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia. While they can each be associated with specific difficulties which are well documented, they also often give rise to strengths which come from thinking differently.
For instance, people with ADHD may be good at completing urgent tasks, those with autism at developing deep specialist knowledge, people with dyslexia at problem-solving and employees with dyspraxia at strategic thinking.
It all varies from person to person. But recognising neurodiversity and building a supportive working environment could give you a key advantage when trying to get the right blend of skills in your business.
So what kind of accommodations could you make to help neurodivergent people fit in and thrive. Recruitment is a sensible place to start and you could reflect whether there’s any unconscious bias in your recruitment process.
Consider how adaptable your recruiting techniques are. Over-reliance on traditional methods like CV screening and the panel interview may afford virtually no opportunity to people with dyslexia or autism.
We’ve already touched on some of the neurodivergent skills which will be attractive to businesses. But what about the kind of workplace environment that will be attractive to people who are neurodivergent?
Workplaces and business processes are often designed for the neurotypical. So again some flexibility would be welcome. For instance, if someone is uncomfortable with the noise and movement of an open plan office, could they have a seat facing a wall and be allowed to wear headphones?
Whatever you decide, please don’t copy the approach a Dublin-based airline service company took. They dismissed a dyspraxic employee after just googling the symptoms and not assessing his own circumstances at all. A Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officer branded it “quite astonishing” and ordered them to pay €15,000 compensation.
Want to benefit from a more neurodivergent workforce? Speak to your local HR Dept.
Are your employees aware of fraud risk?
Already in 2019, €4.4 million have been stolen in cases of “invoice redirect” or “CEO” fraud. These both exploit our reliance on electronic communication.
In the first approach, criminals send an email that purports to come from a known supplier saying that their bank details have changed, and “could the system be updated?”. They probably got the supplier information from an earlier phishing attack. Then, when the next legitimate invoice is issued, you pay it straight to the fraudsters.
For CEO fraud, criminals use social media posts or out-of-office messages to identify when a boss is away. They’ll then send a convincing email, apparently from the boss, asking a junior employee to make an urgent payment to a contact. You can guess what happens next.
Why not share these examples with your team? And if you haven’t done so recently, review how you keep data and money secure, including your processes for changing bank details and making “urgent” payments.
LGBTQ equality in your workplace
With 2019’s calendar of Pride events just around the corner, it’s timely to consider LGBTQ equality in your workplace.
In the UK, a TUC poll of more than 1,100 LGBT workers found that more than two thirds of respondents had been sexually harassed at work. It’s a shockingly high number suggesting that such discrimination is widespread. In Ireland, sexual orientation and gender (including being transsexual) are protected characteristics under equality law.
Transgender employees may be particularly vulnerable in the workplace. Still in the UK, for the first time in 2018, LGBT equality charity Stonewall featured trans-inclusive employers in its list of top employers for inclusivity. But only 20% of the top 100 employers had a policy which focused on trans employees.
It is proven that diversity pays. Inclusive companies are able to recruit from a wider talent pool and benefit from a positive workplace culture. Workforces which reflect the full gamut of society can also connect better with broad customer bases.
So with the motivation of legal obligation and better productivity, what could you be doing to foster greater LGBTQ inclusion at work?
The first technical check is whether you have an anti-discrimination policy. We’d advise this to be a day one requirement when you start employing people. It will be broader than just covering sexual orientation and gender as there are nine legally protected characteristics. It will let employees know what is and isn’t acceptable and give you the tools to address any policy breach.
Assuming a policy is in place you can look at further proactive steps. Variations of the phrase: “Diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is them wanting to be there” do the rounds on social media. And while they may over-simplify a complex issue, they are of some use. Talk to your team, sensitively, about what an inclusive workplace looks like to them and use that as a steer.
A recent case in the WRC involved a gay man being awarded €20,000 for the discriminatory slagging he got from his bosses over a long period of time.
If you find yourself without an anti-discrimination policy, or you want professional support in developing your inclusivity, talk to your local HR Dept.
According to research, two thirds of workers want clear guidelines on what form of physical contact is acceptable in the workplace. While to some this may seem a bit “nanny state”, we should not forget the impact of the #metoo movement, and the wrongdoing it has highlighted.
The survey revealed just how frequently embarrassing greeting misunderstandings occur. One in eight workers have been accidentally kissed on the mouth and a quarter have been trapped in an unwanted hug. In total, 42% of workers would like at least one form of greeting prohibited.
Shaking hands is still the preferred form of greeting. However while nearly half of workers in their 40s and 50s prefer it, a hand shake is only first choice for 35% of workers in their 20s.
It’ll be a cultural decision as to whether you want to introduce guidelines for your business. But the survey suggests there is some demand for boundaries to be set.
Breaking the ice
It’s a perennial issue – How do you get those creative juices flowing at the start of a meeting or training session? Love them or loathe them, ice breakers are often turned to.
If you’re currently burying your face in your hands, we understand. There are some terrible examples of ice breaking out there. From being asked to bark like a dog and find peers with the same barking style, to removing a shoe and have a stranger pair it back up to you, they can make people feel uncomfortable and invade personal boundaries.
But despite the litany of bad examples, there is merit in an ice breaker done well. The more contextualised to the gathering the better. By this we mean consider the time and space you have available and the expectations of your participants. Good ice breakers often have some link to the topic to be addressed.
The courts have been scrutinising working time. A European ruling suggests that companies may soon have to document precise working hours to prove legal weekly limits aren’t exceeded. And in a Workplace Relations Commission hearing, Paddy Power has been accused of denying staff rest breaks. Mandate, the trade union, has lodged 78 separate cases, winning 11 so far. It could cost Paddy Power as much as €70,000 in compensation.
Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, workers are entitled to a 15-minute unpaid break after four and a half hours. After six hours, there’s a right to 30-minutes’ break time (including that first 15-minute break). In some circumstances shop workers have further rights.
People Matter May 2019
New paid parental leave this November
In November a new paid parental leave benefit is being introduced. It is in addition to current entitlements and comes courtesy of the government’s Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 which is being finalised.
Simply put, both parents will be entitled to an extra two weeks of paid parental leave, receiving at least €245 per week (at prevailing maternity/paternity benefit rates). As an employer, you’ll have the option to enhance this state-paid-for minimum at your discretion. Parents must take the leave within 52 weeks of the birth (or placement, if it’s an adoption).
The leave is not transferrable and is available on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. One of the intentions behind the legislation is to get fathers to play a greater role in parenting in that crucial first year, and to change gender attitudes in the workplace. So if dads want their entitlement, they’ll have to take it themselves.
The Bill does not stop here. In it, the government commits to extending this new paid parental leave from two weeks to seven weeks by 2021.
As an aside, the bill will also tweak wording in existing laws to bring parity and make same-sex male couples eligible for adoptive leave and benefit.
So how will this affect you? Up to 60,000 parents are expected to benefit from this new scheme each year. So the impact will be felt far and wide. While SMEs may struggle with the arrangements more than larger firms, it is the law, so must be followed. Failure to do so, or acting discriminatingly to try to side step it, could easily land you in a costly Workplace Relations Commission tribunal.
The qualifying periods and application processes are the same as for current benefits, but you will need to update your parental leave policy to reflect the law changes. You will be expected to keep application records for eight years.
Our advice line clients automatically get new wording for their policies when the law changes, perfect for instances like this. If you wish to sign up for this service, get in touch.
Traditionally, only hourly paid staff clock in and out to ensure they are at work for their required hours and paid correctly. Some firms who charge on site engineers out to the customer have also completed time sheets. Going forwards, you may be forced to log absolutely everybody’s working hours to ensure employees don’t work too many hours.
It is already a requirement in Ireland under the organisation of working time act, but we expect it to lead to more claims “when things go wrong” even with office based staff. You should ensure all employees have completed time sheets, recording start, finish and break times with clear policies about working from home and answering emails or calls in the evenings. You have been warned.
This comes after a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A Spanish trade union had taken Deutsche Bank to court. They argued that the Working Time Directive meant Deutsche Bank should be recording working hours to demonstrate that staff did not work more time than the weekly limits prescribed in the directive.
The ECJ agreed and said that in the absence of such records it was too difficult, if not impossible, for workers to ensure their rights were respected. This interpretation puts an obligation on member states to enact a requirement to record all actual hours worked in national law. We’ll keep you updated on any law changes that ensue.
High profile cases like VW’s Dieselgate and the Cambridge Analytica scandal have convinced the EU to bring in robust whistleblowing protection across its member states. They reckon it will yield cost-savings of €9.6 billion in EU public procurement alone.
For most EU states this will be a shock to the system. But not so much Ireland, which is among a small band which already has protection. But the proposed EU rules will go further, so let’s look through the key changes.
The existing Irish legislation is called the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. It covers issues like the commission of an offence; misuse of public money; environmental damage; and health and safety.
The EU rules add to these. They include: corporate tax laws (which Ireland is reported to have unsuccessfully petitioned to have excluded); nuclear safety; food; public procurement; consumer protection; public health; data protection; and product and transport safety.
So the remit is much wider, and so are the organisations it targets. Our current rules are only mandatory for public bodies. The EU’s rules will cover the private sector, too, for companies with more than 50 employees. In addition, anonymity provisions are likely to be stricter.
Areas which are unlikely to change are the tiered disclosure we have, where internal reporting is regarded a first step and public revelation a final resort. And retaliation protection which the EU will leave to member states. There are already tough penalties in place. One amendment here though is that burden of proof will shift. Currently the employee needs to demonstrate they were treated unfairly. The EU will require the employer to show that they did not act unfairly.
It is easy to mismanage a whistleblowing situation, so if one arises give us a call immediately.
Do you know what your employees
say about you online?
Not necessarily! An Australian company has offered this policy for three years and it’s been a roaring success. Observing that her staff were frazzled from demanding workloads, the CEO introduced unlimited paid holiday under the guise of rebalancing leave.
She correctly judged that the business culture was strong enough that the policy wouldn’t be abused. Staff self-managed whether their leave should be paid as they were rebalancing their lives, or if it was for another purpose and should go unpaid.
She was also aware, from reading about American cases, that some staff take less holiday – trying to please management. So she led by example, settling on taking five and a half weeks’ leave. This encouraged her team to do likewise.
While extra holiday costs were incurred, she considers she’s saved money overall through better retention and fewer sick days.
It won’t work for every business, but it’s food for thought.
Sorry, I’m out of the office
They’re a staple of modern business, but how do you like your out-of-office email messages? Strictly functional? Preaching about switching off? Or with lashings of humour?
One thing we can all agree on is that they should be accurate. This means ensuring the dates are correct, and that a colleague’s contact details actually work.
Sacha Romanovic, CEO of Grant Thornton, recently left an unusually detailed out-of-office message describing her holiday plans. The intention was to signal to staff that it’s ok to switch off. Meanwhile, one financial services industry worker is in competition with a colleague to write the most humorous messages, including one to the lyrics of Rick Astley’s 80s classic Never gonna give you up.
Whatever your team’s out-of-office messages say, they will leave an impression with recipients – it’s worth checking it’s the right impression. Ensuring they distinguish their message between internal and external senders may help strike the right balance.
Moving forward by giving back
It’s no secret that a bit of charitable activity can be good for business: the chance for some positive PR, and a teambuilding opportunity as your staff rally behind a good cause. There are pitfalls too, but none which you can’t sidestep with good people management.
Strong internal comms are key: in person, digitally or even a notice board. Make them two-way and get buy-in from your staff by letting them help pick the charity and methods of fundraising. Clarify that all donations are voluntary (you never know who may be struggling financially), and keep tabs on the choice of fundraising activity to ensure it doesn’t impair operations or cause offence.
People Matter April 2019
Surviving a skills shortage
While headlines containing the words “full employment” may leave politicians beaming, it is not necessarily such good news for people running SMEs, like you. Where are you going to find your next hire to take your business forward?
Yet that’s the situation we find ourselves in, as the Irish economy has created 385,000 jobs since 2013. And it is not just new jobs, but changing jobs: with 40% fewer people working in construction, 10% fewer retail workers and 25% more people working in education.
If full employment is causing you a skills shortage and you’ve hit a dead end with your recruitment, here are our tips to get the right people in your business.
Looking close to home. The people already in your business might not yet have the skills to fill a new role. But with more investment in training and development you can transform them into the people you are looking for.
As well as not having to spend as much on recruitment, there are other benefits to adopting this approach. You’ll know that the people you upskill already fit into the culture of your business, understand your processes, and will likely have a greater sense of loyalty to you as you have helped them develop. We run a range of training and development workshops on topics such as Leadership and People Management; and Supervisory Skills. Ask us for more details.
Targeted recruitment process. If it’s something very specific you are looking for, make sure your recruitment efforts are targeted to attracting that skillset. This may mean looking abroad for the right talent or paying a premium for skills in demand.
Updating your perks package. When was the last time you reviewed your employee benefits package? Social and technological changes have transformed many people’s motivations and expectations, and also what it’s possible for you to provide cost effectively. For example, flexible working is a big draw for many people and is far easier to offer and manage effectively with the advent of cloud computing. It may be the deciding factor in someone choosing to work for you rather than a competitor. Or vice versa!
Managing an employee with a disability
A workplace relations commission (WRC) has awarded €31,000 to a farmer living with multiple sclerosis who was unfairly dismissed. The case highlights the consequences of an employer not meeting their obligations in relation to managing an employee with a disability.
Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, disability is one of nine grounds on which it’s illegal to discriminate. So what should, and shouldn’t, you be doing?
First of all, recognise when disability is a factor. Sometimes it may be quite obvious –like someone with an obvious physical impairment. But there are many hidden disabilities such as hearing loss or mental health. If in doubt, get expert advice.
You can’t arbitrarily treat someone less favourably because of their disability. The correct approach is to make reasonable accommodations to help them fulfil their role, or an equivalent one. Things like supplying specialist equipment, offering retraining, or altering working hours.
The caveat to this is it must be reasonable in terms of costs and the impact on the workforce. But this shouldn’t be invoked lightly. You’ll need to document your reasoning, having considered financial costs, your resources and the availability of public funding or other support. If you are declining a reasonable accommodation on these grounds, we’d advise speaking to us first.
In the case of the farmer, he was effectively dismissed after being told there was an insurance issue regarding his need to drive for the job. Despite providing a letter from his neurologist saying he was fit to drive, and having worked with the condition for about 15 years, he never worked for the company again. The WRC found that the employer met none of the key requirements for dismissing a worker due to incapacity.
Figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute suggest that workplace stress is on the rise in Ireland, in fact that it doubled between 2010 and 2015 to 17%.
Long working hours, bullying, time pressure and having to deal with angry customers are major causes of stress. If present, these should be warning signs to you that employees might be struggling. Techno-stress has emerged as a problem too, with devices like smartphones making it harder than ever to switch-off.
As a minimum, it would be good practice for you to be informed of the issues and receptive to employees who need a safe place to discuss concerns. And employee well-being should be considered when designing workflows and procedures.
If you would like to go further, you can consider cost-effective frameworks for support, like an employee assistance programme or training up mental health first aiders in your business. Talk to us to find out more.
Is unlimited paid holiday leave
as crazy as it sounds?
Not necessarily! An Australian company has offered this policy for three years and it’s been a roaring success. Observing that her staff were frazzled from demanding workloads, the CEO introduced unlimited paid holiday under the guise of rebalancing leave.
She correctly judged that the business culture was strong enough that the policy wouldn’t be abused. Staff self-managed whether their leave should be paid as they were rebalancing their lives, or if it was for another purpose and should go unpaid.
She was also aware, from reading about American cases, that some staff take less holiday – trying to please management. So she led by example, settling on taking five and a half weeks’ leave. This encouraged her team to do likewise.
While extra holiday costs were incurred, she considers she’s saved money overall through better retention and fewer sick days.
It won’t work for every business, but it’s food for thought.
Pranks at work
Were there any shenanigans amongst your team this April Fool’s Day? Pranking may start out as harmless but can quickly become more serious than anybody wants.
On the Richter Scale of pranks a level one or two may contribute to a fun workplace. We heard of one employee who left a random penny on her colleague’s desk every day to make him question himself.
But, higher-stakes pranks which show poor taste or judgement could have grave consequences for staff or your business.
There have been incidents in America of false claims that schools and shops are under armed assault which led to police being called and arrests made. And vicarious liability may be a factor too, meaning a company can be held accountable for the actions of its employees. In the UK, Carphone Warehouse was found liable in court for the prank of two employees falsely outing their manager. If you need help setting the right expectations of behaviour in your business, call us.
Money talks. But not as much as a pizza and pat on the back, according to a study into employee motivation at an Intel manufacturing plant in Israel.
Given the choice of a $30 cash bonus, free pizza or a complimentary text message, after a week of the experiment new employees preferred being told they’d done a good job to the more tangible rewards.
The thinking is that praise connects with staff on an emotional level, which is a more powerful motivator for engendering long-term commitment.
Would some out-of-the-box (or box-of-pizza) thinking help you recruit, retain and motivate a winning team? Talk to us for creative employee benefit ideas or management training courses.
People Matter March 2019
Employment Bill goes live
It’s been the talk of the town in business circles for months. But now it’s time for a little less conversation and more action. The Employment Bill, which puts extra obligations on employers to protect employees in precarious working arrangements, went live on 4 March.
There are five headline changes.
Employment terms – the five in five: You must issue five core employment terms within five days of employment starting. These are: full name of employer and employee, employer address, the expected standard working day and week, the expected length of contract and the rate of pay. This does not replace the need to provide full employment terms within two months of employment commencing.
Banded-hours contracts – an employee’s right to request: If, over 12 months, an employee regularly works different hours from those for which they’re contracted; they have the right on written request to be given a banded-hours contract which reflects their weekly working pattern. You must action it within four weeks, looking at the average number of hours per week worked over the previous 12 months. Your employee is entitled to work weekly hours which fall within their band for the next 12 months. In some circumstances you may be able to refuse the request.
Minimum payments – your liability for 25%: Now, when employees are not given work (either not called in, or show up and are sent home), or are forced to work less than 25% of their contracted weekly hours; you must pay them for a minimum of 25% of their weekly contracted hours.
Zero-hour contracts – no more: Zero-hour contracts are now all but prohibited. Genuine casual working relationships (where there is no mutuality of obligation and the employee can refuse work with no consequence) can continue. Temporary measures and emergencies are other exceptions.
Anti-penalisation measures – guaranteeing the above rights: These measures will protect employees from detrimental treatment if they invoke any rights under the Employment Bill.
If you haven’t done so already, we’d advise reviewing contracts for zero-hours relationships, checking that contracted working hours reflect reality and revising your hiring procedures to comply with providing the five core terms. Need help getting to grips with the Employment Bill? Contact your local HR Dept adviser.
Employed or self-employed?
What a difference a word makes. In legal speak, an employment contract is referred to as a “contract of services”, while a “contract for services” describes duties performed on a self-employed basis.
Right now, with so much focus on false self-employment, getting those small words “of” and “for” right has never been so important. It’s normally easy to determine whether someone is employed or self-employed based on the terms and conditions of the job. But there will be some occasions when it’s more difficult.
The key question to ask is: “Do they work as a person in business on their own account?”. If the answer’s “yes”, that suggests self-employment. Strong indications that they are employed are that you control how, when and where the work is performed; that they cannot sub-contract their duties; and that they are not exposed to personal financial risk in doing the job. If it’s a grey area for your business, get in touch for a review.
Spring clean your documents
March marks the start of spring. The first quarter of the year is nearly done and it’s the season when many get their house in order with a spring clean. What better time to review your employment contracts and handbooks, making sure they’re up to date? Especially in light of the requirements of the new Employment Bill.
These documents underpin your whole employment relationship with your staff. They describe what rights they have, what rules they must follow and what happens if they breach them.
Law changes will normally mean some updates are required each year. For our advice line + clients, we’ll automatically update yours as part of our service. But your business and its culture will evolve too, maybe your dress code for instance. When was the last time you considered how your culture is reflected in your contracts and handbook? Get in touch if you want to discuss.
Does your dress code discriminate?
You arrive at work and find your receptionist wearing running trainers instead of his usual smart shoes. With two clients already in the waiting area you don’t want to make a scene, but you’re not happy.
It’s good you didn’t blow your top though, as it’s always wise to check for a simple explanation. And here, your receptionist sprained his ankle earlier. It was either wear the trainers or go home incapacitated, leaving you in the lurch.
But if it was just standards slipping, then it’s a dress code policy that gives you the framework to deal with it appropriately.
A dress code helps you maintain a certain image for your business. It can include personal grooming and there may well be health and safety considerations as well. But if not devised and implemented well, a dress code can give rise to discrimination and then tribunal cases or mockery in the national press.
The general rule is that you’re free to set your own dress code as long as it’s justifiable for a business or health and safety reason. But you should be careful of anything that imposes a requirement on an employee which encroaches a protected characteristic under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 – for example sex (man, woman or transgender person) or religion.
That’s not to say there cannot be any divergence of dress code for, say, men and women. A ban on beards may be justifiable for men if, for example, facial hair interferes with a safety mask. And in customer facing roles, you may be able to justify a degree of gender-defined requirements based on cultural expectations.
But be warned, the more subjective your policy, the more at risk you are to a discrimination claim and/or bad publicity. Blunders abound. For example, makeup and high heels are two areas to be particularly wary of – it’s hard to justify either for any reason. Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic have just removed their makeup requirements for female flight attendants, and PwC was caught up in a high-heels media storm in the UK a year or two ago.
There are rarer issues to contend with too. Like how to manage a transgender employee’s appearance. Or where a policy discriminates indirectly, say on religious grounds.
With #InternationalWomensDay having recently passed, sexism in the workplace is a trending topic. Whether it’s because of sexism, a sex change or something else, don’t get caught with your trousers down! Ask us for a review to ensure it does not discriminate.
Passwords on post-it notes
We’re all familiar with difficulties in staying secure online: a seemingly endless list of passwords to create, and security questions asking you to recall your first pet’s favourite brand of food or whatnot.
This probably blights your personal life, but is it a problem in your business too? A survey by Datapac, a tech solutions provider, found that about 20% of workers kept their work password on a Post-it note. And nearly half use no more than three passwords across all their accounts. Remember, under GDPR, if you experience a data breach now the disclosure rules are far more stringent than they used to be, as are the penalties.
Nearly a year after the GDPR regulations came into force, more than four out of ten workers claimed not to have undergone any GDPR training. Is it time to make sure your team are cyber aware?
Clocks spring forward
At long last, the clocks go forward on 31 March! So we can all start to enjoy longer evenings, brighter mornings and an extra spring in our steps as we approach summer. The downside of the spring clock change is that we lose an hour of sleep over the weekend. But hey: short-term pain, long-term gain!
To reduce the likelihood of employees rolling in an hour late on the next working day, be sure to remind your team of the switch to Irish Standard Time – particularly if you have staff working on Sunday mornings.
People Matter February 2019
Is mental health deteriorating
in your workplace?
A survey by The Mental Health Foundation has revealed some unpalatable truths about the state of our collective mental health in relation to the workplace.
Too numerous to list in their entirety, highlights, or rather lowlights, include that one in three respondents feels unhappy about the amount of time they devote to work. About two thirds of employees’ personal lives are adversely affected by work. And that as someone’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness.
Ireland is nearing full-employment. Great for the economy, but against the backdrop of these findings, that is a lot of pressure being put on the population’s mental health. It certainly suggests that the ability to manage mental health in the workplace is both an opportunity and a threat.
There are actions that individuals can take to aid their own good mental health, but it’s recognised that organisations have an important role to play as well. And, as an employer, it is in your interests to do so too. Long before a crisis point is reached in someone’s mental health, productivity is likely to have taken a hit.
How can you begin to address mental ill health in the workplace? There is not necessarily an easy answer to this, and you’ll need to have some cultural buy-in. Few people in managerial or leadership positions have had significant training in mental health and so find dealing with the subject uncomfortable. If this is the case in your organisation, then some training among management could be a good first step.
It may seem a side-issue when you are trying to deal with “business as usual”. But if, equipped with new skills, you or your managers start responding to employees in more flexible and compassionate ways, tangible benefits will likely follow. Things like staff turnover, burnout and absenteeism decreasing while productivity, physical and mental well-being and job satisfaction rise.
Managerial training is just one place to start, and in practice you’ll find there are many different approaches you can take. Talk to your local HR Dept to get started.
The Employment Bill
The Employment Bill comes into effect at the start of March, designed to shore up employment rights. It’s essential to get up to speed with it, as the new rules are enforced with stiff penalties.
Key measures include mandatory provision of employment terms within five days of starting work; minimum payments for employees called in to work but sent home without work; the near outlawing of zero-hours contracts; provisions which grant employees the right to be placed in a “band of hours” which reflect actual hours worked not contracted hours. And anti-penalisation measures to help employees claim all these rights.
The spy who hired me?
From time-cards to internet monitoring, the idea of companies keeping some sort of tabs on employee activity is nothing new.
But with technology affording ever more opportunity to collect, store and analyse data, how much monitoring is too much?
Sky News staff were reportedly shocked to hear that cameras and microphones were being installed in their newsroom to livestream and broadcast activity for a day. Separately, it was reported that Amazon has patented goggles with direction and movement sensors which raised concerns about surveillance.
The key principles underpinning employee monitoring are that it must be justifiable and that you have a written policy. You should inform employees beforehand of what you record and why, and how long it will be kept. It is not acceptable to collect information for one reason and then use it for another. As with all data it must be stored securely.
Beware age discrimination dismissals
We don’t have a single retirement age in Ireland. It’s normally something detailed in employment contracts.
But beware! Equality legislation protects people from age discrimination. You can set a mandatory retirement age, as long as it’s objectively justified.
A law firm has just discovered the consequences of committing age discrimination. They were taken to a workplace relations commission after dismissing a legal secretary with 40 years’ service after she turned 67.
The law firm argued that recently she’d under-performed, but that out of respect they’d not raised this. And no mention of poor performance was made in the dismissal letter.
On the evidence presented, the adjudication officer ruled age was the main reason for dismissal. The woman was awarded nearly €26,000.
Of course, people cannot go on for ever, so the key words here are “objectively justifiable” when dismissing older workers. If performance has dropped, you’ll need to have those difficult conversations and document them before initiating a dismissal. If in any doubt, call us, as getting it wrong is expensive.
Who owns your culture?
We think that nurturing a positive company culture is a great approach to building a successful organisation. A way in which HR can be used to drive your business forward.
But wait a minute, who owns the culture? And who is responsible for it? In most cases, it will be led from the top. But thriving company cultures are embraced by everyone in an organisation. Cultures become self-sustaining when people feel they own it. Employees who cherish your culture will want to stand up for it and share it with others. From there your culture grows and often your business with it.
When a positive culture is clearly defined, it can power your business in so many ways. From improved recruitment and retention to reduced absenteeism and ultimately better productivity. If you’d like a review of your culture, get in touch with your local HR Dept.
One in five women
sexually harassed at work
A new survey has re-emphasised the scale of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 21% of women have suffered sexual harassment, while 50% said they had experienced some form of discrimination such as pay inequality. The survey, carried out by a recruitment firm, questioned more than 1,000 Irish workers.
It’s a problem that’s impossible to ignore. All employers have a duty of care to stamp it out or ensure it does not occur within their organisations. Failure to do so not only lets down the victims, but it can also damage your business – through contributing to a toxic culture and possibly landing you in the dock at a workplace relations commission tribunal. From there you could be liable for heavy financial penalties and reputational damage.
Sexual harassment can describe a wide range of unwanted conduct, be that physical, verbal or non-verbal. It is designed to, or has the effect of, violating someone’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading or offensive environment for them. Even a one-off occurrence should be taken seriously.
A robust response to any complaint is important, following your disciplinary and grievance procedures. But as with so many things, prevention is better than cure. So consider your company culture. Make it crystal clear that sexual harassment is unacceptable in your organisation, and that any instances of it will be subject to your disciplinary policy. Where appropriate, you could draft a specific anti-harassment policy or implement some staff training.
For support in dealing with a case of sexual harassment or help with your culture, get in touch.
People Matter January 2019
Five New Year’s resolutions
from The HR Dept
When you’re planning 2019 for your business, be sure to include some proactive HR measures to help you get more from your team. We share HR tips and advice every week in our blog. Here are some recent ideas that would make top HR New Year’s resolutions.
One. Address that underperforming employee. It’s easy to put off, but underperformance is a major drag, impacting any or all of service delivery, morale, profits and opportunity-cost.
When doing this, spend a bit of time observing your team to ensure you’ve identified the real under-performers – it’s not necessarily obvious. Always-late Aisling might have a stretched home life but be super productive at work, while Helpful Henry often volunteers a tea round but isn’t doing much else!
Two. Look into new learning and development opportunities. Continuous learning is a key to success and helps engage staff. It doesn’t have to be formal training. How about some monthly in-house knowledge-sharing sessions, led by different team members?
Or if you do want something more formal, ask us about our range of training courses designed to take your team to the next level – from leadership and people management to interviewing and recruitment.
Three. Check your contracts and employment statuses. The rise of the gig economy has led to many people being wrongly classified as self-employed. They’re taking their companies to court to claim the employment rights they’ve been denied. It’s something we advise on regularly and in time will be addressed in legislation.
Four. Carry out a risk assessment. Every business is legally required to have done this and keep a written record, but risks change over time. So why not ensure you’re still on top of health and safety in 2019? If you need help identifying hazards, determining the level of risk or putting controls in place to manage them, talk to our experts.
Five. Plan an enjoyable activity or team-building day. It’s important to have some fun along the way, and now’s a great time to give your team something to look forward to, lifting spirits in deepest, darkest January.
SMEs cautious in 2019
Several headwinds have created a cautious mood among small businesses this year. That’s according to the Small Firms Association (SFA), which publishes an annual survey examining the sentiment of businesses with less than 50 employees in Ireland. Last year the mood was cautiously optimistic.
Brexit, difficulties in attracting staff and the rising cost of doing business are cited as causing this drag on sentiment. Even so, two in every three companies are planning to recruit and invest in their business this year.
Staff often represent both the biggest cost and the main strength of a company. So it’s natural that managing them will also be one of the biggest causes of worry. Increasing your HR support can provide peace of mind. And, at a time when caution reigns, help you get recruitment, people management, payroll and everything else that goes with running a successful team spot on.
Making a good first impression
“Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail” is a maxim that’s often given to interviewees. But it can equally apply to the interviewer if you are to make a good impression yourself. To do this, your questions should be considered in advance. There’s an obvious need to avoid subjects that could breach equality law, such as pregnancy. And it’s also wise to steer clear of contentious topics like politics, or pressing for answers too vehemently.
Think about the time and place of the interview, making sure they are reasonable and set the right tone for your company. Some people like to stage interviews in the informal setting of a café or restaurant. If you opt for this, ensure it’s not a place where you or your interviewee could be interrupted by acquaintances. For help upping your interview game, talk to your local HR Dept.
Budget changes go live
On 1 January some of the changes announced in October’s budget came into effect. Here’s a rundown of those which affect employers.
One of the changes with the widest impact concerns employers’ PRSI rates. The weekly threshold for the higher rate is now €386 (previously €376). And Classes A and H of PRSI rates have risen by 0.1%. This is to fund increases in the National Training Fund Levy. Bear in mind too that there will be a further increase of 0.1% to these rates next January.
Also significant, if you employ low-earning staff, is the increase to the National Minimum Wage. This has gone up from €9.55 to €9.80 per hour.
And perhaps the biggest change of all this month is the implementation of PAYE Modernisation. From 1 January, you should be reporting your payroll data in real-time to the Revenue. Previously this was done on an annual basis via the P35. It’s a major change and the indications over the last few months were that many SMEs would not be ready for it. If you are behind on this, it’s our understanding that it could put you more at risk for a full Revenue audit, so catch up quick.
If you need help adjusting to these budget changes get in touch with your local HR Dept. Our payroll solutions will help you get up to speed. Further budget changes, like new parental leave entitlements, will come into effect later in the year. Rest assured that we will keep you up to date so that you stay compliant.
Sacked too soon
When disciplining an employee, it’s vital you follow the right steps. Even if you feel you’re on firm ground, a procedural error could cost you dearly in a labour court.
Last October, a man was awarded €29,000 after being sacked (for theft) as an airline security worker. He’d taken a €5 magazine from a bin. The court found that other sanctions should have been considered and his dismissal was disproportionate when length of service, track record and the value of the magazine were considered.
This January, a woman was awarded €4,000 after she’d been dismissed from a supermarket chain for leaving work with a bottle of wine which hadn’t been paid for. Regardless of what happened with the wine, the court found the dismissal tainted with procedural unfairness. This was because, during the investigation and disciplinary process, the woman hadn’t been supplied with the honesty or staff purchase policies she was accused of breaching.
Don’t make the same mistakes. If in doubt, talk to us.
The weather’s generally rubbish, the days are short, and many people are broke and on diets after Christmas. It’s not surprising January supposedly features the most depressing day of the year. How does all this affect your team each January?
If productivity takes a dive or the atmosphere sours, showing a little awareness and taking a couple of proactive steps could work wonders. Think what will work for your team, of course. But for many people, encouraging achievable exercise goals – like a daily step challenge, for example – and simply getting some fresh air and daylight at lunchtime could be a great start.
People Matter December 2018
Ok, so you’re navigating the seasonal rush (or lull!), you’ve survived the Christmas party, and then Tom asks if he can carry over two weeks of holiday. You’ve got big plans for 2019 – do you really want to be losing a team-member for that extra time if you can help it?
First, if your holiday year ends in December, why has no one made sure Tom and the others have taken their holiday entitlement?
Managing holiday requests so that the business runs smoothly is important, and you might want to look at HR Dept Toolkit for next year. HR Dept Toolkit is software for managing holiday requests and other HR admin simply and effectively.
By law, full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 20 days of holiday annually. On top of this, there are nine public holidays. And then you as an employer may choose to offer a more generous holiday allowance.
Dealing with the statutory 20 days first, the intention behind these is that everyone requires this for their health and well-being – so it would be sensible for them to be used within the holiday year. However, with an employee’s consent they can be carried over to be used within six months of the end of the leave year.
Sickness absence could affect holiday rights. Entitlement still accrues when people are off on sick leave – apparently they need more time away from work! If sickness absence prevents them from taking holiday during the leave year or the six-month extension, employees are entitled to an extended carry-over period of 15 months beyond the leave year. We know what you are thinking!
Thankfully, after that, holiday entitlement rules above the 20 days get simpler, and you make them. So you’re in control. Public holidays are on prescribed dates within the year so are what they are. And if you offer more generous holiday allowance, the rules should be detailed in your employment contracts.
With holiday bookings at their peak in January, contact us for a demo of HR Dept Toolkit to make managing next year’s requests simple.
The benefits of embracing flexible working
A survey by an Irish recruitment firm throws light on the hidden costs of staff lateness. Beyond the lost time and potential customer service gaps, it often damages team morale. Nearly half of workers (46%) said they felt resentful towards a colleague who is consistently late for work.
Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey also found that those who work a standard nine to five were the least punctual. About half (47%) said they had been late in the previous year.
With 59% of tardiness attributed to bad traffic, could this be another reason to adopt flexible working, if it fits with your business? Non-standard hours or home working could eliminate the stress of rush hour traffic and therefore help to harmonise a divided workforce.
Despite it being a desirable perk to many workers, only 10% of Irish SMEs currently offer flexible working (according to a survey by Vodaphone). So it’s an interesting way to differentiate your business – and attract and retain top talent.
A modest seasonal bonus could be worth its weight in gold to your employees as they look to have a merry Christmas. But it could be worth many more times its weight in gold to you as the employer.
January is a prime time when people look for new job opportunities. But, in the UK, a survey from an employee benefits company found that nearly half of employees who received a Christmas bonus or gift recently would not look for a new job. And about the same amount would not accept a job offer if they received one.
With the cost of recruitment stretching to as much as a year’s salary for some roles, and a third of Irish businesses reporting that staff turnover increased in 2018, it’s clear that a little Christmas bonus really could go a long way.
The gig’s up
Another month, another court case about worker status. This one was in the UK but the underlying issues of the gig economy are the same across borders.
The case concerns transport services firm Addison Lee. They have lost an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) initiated by three of their 4,000 private hire drivers. The drivers wished to be classified as workers rather than independent contractors. This would grant them rights such as National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.
The contracts between the firm and the drivers described them as independent contractors with no obligation to offer or accept work. However, taking a strong steer from a Supreme Court case, the EAT said it was right to look beyond the contract and consider actual working practices with a “realistic and worldly-wise” view.
They found that drivers typically worked up to 60-hour weeks and had to work at least 25-30 hours just to cover their fixed costs. They drove vehicles with Addison Lee livery and were told that they were representing the company at all times when in the vehicles. And that they might face sanctions if, without good reason, they turned down work offered to them.
The EAT concluded that it did all add up to worker status, rather than that of independent contractor as stated in the contracts.
There is a place for all types of contract and some individuals will seek flexibility just as much as companies. However, what’s not right is for companies to impose false self-employment as a device to cut costs. This erodes workers’ rights, undercuts competitors who behave properly and short-changes the Revenue, which, of course, ultimately costs everyone.
If you would like your contracts and working relationships reviewed, contact us.
Employment Bill progresses
It’s not just the courts that are cracking down on the gig economy (see The gig’s up). Here in Ireland, The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 has completed the Seanad Éireann fifth Stage and will come into law the first week of March 2019.
This is the government’s legislative attempt at reining in the excesses of the gig economy. Regarded as a landmark piece of legislation by ministers, some industry bodies think it will damage business.
The Bill does a few things including the following. It virtually bans zero-hour contracts. It forces minimum payments to be paid to staff who are called into work and then sent home. And it creates banded-hour provisions. These entitle employees whose contracts do not match the time they work to be put in a band of hours which better reflects their working time over the previous 12 months.
It comes with harsh enforcement measures, so if you’ll be affected start planning now.
Deck the halls
Many organisations like to get into the Christmas groove and spruce up the workplace with tinsel and a tree in December. But spare a thought for a Texan lady who, having vehemently declared she didn’t want to see any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, was pranked by her sister with a barrage of decorations worthy of Lapland itself. It was so over-the-top that she could do nothing but surrender to it. That aside, don’t let decorations get in the way of people doing their jobs. And remember that some items could pose a health and safety trip or fire risk.
People Matter November 2018
Avoid the seven deadly sins of the work Christmas party
We’re sure you and your team are looking forward to your workplace Christmas party. They’re great fun and a good opportunity to bond. But as well as mistletoe there is plenty of scope for mishaps and misdeeds. And you as an employer may well have vicarious liability. Check out this list of seven deadly sins and how to avoid them.
Gluttony – Particularly the excessive consumption of alcohol, is a frequent cause of problems. Many bosses like to thank their teams for their hard work by providing a free bar. Think carefully about this, and if you do offer one be prepared to close it or tell an individual they’ve had enough.
Sloth – Ok, so you didn’t listen to tip one, and now the next day half your team haven’t shown up because they’re hung over. Definitely remind your staff of your absence policy (and other expected behavioural standards for that matter) before the party and encourage the use of holiday where possible.
Lust – With inhibitions lowered, there’s a heightened risk of sexual harassment, perhaps from unexpected quarters. Thankfully the #metoo movement is raising awareness but there is still a lot to do. Be sure to let staff know that disciplinary and grievance procedures apply at the party.
Greed and envy – Some employees approach their boss at a party to request a pay rise or mouth-off about a perceived unjust promotion given to a colleague. Steer well clear of such conversations – you don’t want any opportunity for your words to be misinterpreted during this informal setting.
Pride – As adults, everyone at the party will feel they can take care of themselves. But you still have a duty of care towards your employees. So give thought to their general wellbeing and how they’ll get home safely afterwards.
Wrath – If tensions have been running high between two colleagues, the latter stages of your party is where it could come to a head. If fighting breaks out, avoid summarily dismissing the protagonists. Send them home and deal with it formally on the next working day.
Bringing in seasonal workers
With historically low unemployment, many businesses – particularly in retail – are facing staff shortages. And as the Christmas rush approaches you may feel this more than ever. One recent survey found that Christmas job adverts posted on Indeed.com are up more than 10% annually.
Our first piece of advice when hiring Christmas staff is to get in early. This will give you your pick of the best candidates. If it’s too late for this year, consider it for next.
The next thing to get right is the paperwork. Don’t assume that because workers are not around for long that you can cut corners. Give them an appropriate contract that clearly defines their employment status.
And the same goes for induction and training. You may be rushed but you’ll get the most from seasonal staff if you integrate them as best you can. Call upon permanent staff to be supportive and set the right example of how to get things done.
How to Hygge at work
Cold winds, short days and rain… lots of rain. If our abrupt transition into Autumn has got you or your team feeling glum, you need a bit of Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) in your workplace. Fresh from Denmark, it’s the latest Scandinavian craze to sweep our shores. While there is no exact translation, it broadly means feeling cosy through your experiences.
So rather than merely turning the radiators up to 11, it is about creating warming interactions with your colleagues. It could be bringing cupcakes into the office to share impromptu, taking an extra coffee break and chatting about something other than work, or structuring tasks so that they are teamwork-based.
It’s certainly more charming than Kalsarikänni, anglicised to Päntsdrunk – a Finnish lifestyle trend to cope with the harsh weather which involves drinking at home alone in your underwear!
Unlike! Can you fire for a Facebook post?
Social media means any employee can publish an ill-considered or malicious message to a potentially global audience at the touch of a button.
Scary stuff for a business owner with a hard-earned reputation to protect. Your number one defence is to have a social media policy. This should outline rules for your staff regarding their conduct on social media and the consequences for breaking them.
A good social media policy is not a silver bullet for stopping a Facebook faux pas. But it does set expectations and give you the framework to deal with one properly – including with dismissal if the situation warrants it. But is having such a policy sufficient? The answer is a resounding NO! It’s also vital to clearly communicate it to all your staff and be able to prove you have done so.
A case from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) this Autumn illustrates this point.
A bus driver had been fired after posting a picture of a dangerously faulty vehicle he’d been driving. Despite not naming the company or intending to bring it into disrepute, he had been sacked in line with their social media policy.
In court the driver admitted that his actions were wrong, but stated that he was unaware of the policy. The court found there was no evidence that he had received this document and did not understand the consequences of his Facebook post. They ruled that he was unfairly dismissed and awarded him €990.
The message to employers is clear. Get a social media policy and, for it to be an effective tool, ensure you communicate it to staff.
Can you give a bad reference?
What happens when you receive that dreaded reference request for the employee who was lousy at their job or had a poor attitude?
The good news is that, with a few exceptions (like financial services), you can dodge this bullet. There’s no legal obligation to respond.
If you are inclined to provide a reference, it can include information detrimental to their cause – as long as it’s accurate and fair. This means it should not include subjective opinion and should be backed up with facts.
Your former employee can ask to see a copy of the reference. If they felt it was inappropriate, they could claim damages if they could prove it was inaccurate and that they suffered loss.
It’s helpful to have a policy for responding to references, especially if more than one manager may be providing them. This ensures they’re all handled consistently and efficiently.
One way you can grow your business is to grow the people who work for you. “Easier said than done” you may be thinking, “I’ll add that to the end of my to-do list after marketing, quoting, service delivery and networking!”
We feel your pain – SME business owners have to wear a lot of hats. But we can offer a helping hand. We’ve crafted a range of people development courses that can take your team to the next level: from leadership to time management, interviewing and recruitment to appraisal training. For more information on this cost-effective way to spark growth, call us.
People Matter October 2018
The 2019 Budget
The 2019 Budget was the hot topic in early October. It’s a key opportunity for the government to announce policy, and often this will affect employers. This month, it was no different. So let’s take a look at what’s changing.
One of the most important topics covered was the imminent changes to PAYE compliance. The Budget reminded us that in January 2019, real-time reporting of PAYE activity known as PAYE Modernisation will become mandatory.
It’s essential to be preparing for this now. Please refer to our separate article in this newsletter. Bear in mind also that there are some income tax and USC rates changes that may affect your employees, which roughly translate into minor tax cuts.
Employers’ PRSI rates are another payroll change happening on 1 January 2019. Classes A and H rates will increase by 0.1%, and then again by a further 0.1% in 2020. And the weekly income threshold for the higher rate of employer’s PRSI is going up to €386 (from €376).
November 2019 will see the launch of Ireland’s new paid parental leave scheme. It will give an extra two weeks of leave to every parent in a child’s first year. While we’re on the subject of statutory pay, it was reconfirmed that the National Minimum Wage was rising in January 2019 to €9.80.
Finally, there was some fanfare around certain employee benefit tax provisions. The first – concerning the Key Employee Engagement Programme – turned out to be horribly disappointing.
This scheme, known as KEEP for short, had been brought in on 1 January 2018 to help unquoted SMEs attract and keep key staff. This tax-advantaged share option scheme was previously thought to be too restrictive and had had a zero percent take-up. This budget was an opportunity to address this. It has actually become even more restrictive, so we will see where that leaves it in due course.
To end on some good news, the special 0% BIK rate for electric vehicles under €50K will be extended for another three years. Great for the environment and green-minded employers.
Tales from the HR Crypt
‘tis the month of Halloween so to send a shiver down your spine we thought we’d serve up horror stories about nightmare colleagues.
Beware the next time an employee goes on a long-haul holiday. One person described on social media how their co-worker took a month’s leave, and while they were gone a spider infestation broke out in their desk drawers.
If that’s too creepy crawly for you, how about the person who accidentally pepper sprayed their entire office. Described as “weird in an office where 50% of staff were weirdos”, this individual took an electric slow cooker into his work cubicle to make a stew for lunch. As you do. When he removed the lid it decimated the workforce with coughing fits and watering eyes as he’d been cooking a piece of chicken in a confection of hot chilli sauces.
Stay safe this Halloween, and if you find yourself in your own HR horror story, let us know!
Protecting against Brexit
As Brexit looms, the government announced measures in the Budget to protect the economy from the fallout. Most interesting of these to SME businesses concerns the Brexit Loan Scheme. This sets aside €300 million worth of lending for qualifying businesses, in particular those in the food and agriculture sector and SMEs.
There is an application process to go through to get a loan on favourable terms. The money must be used to provide future working capital for the funding of innovation, or altering business operations to protect against the impact of Brexit.
Other measures relating to Brexit include extra money for the PEACE programme; €110 million to bolster government departments, for instance for new customs requirements; and a €300 million investment in higher education between 2020 and 2024.
Further crackdowns on the gig economy
The issue of false self-employment is something that we have advised upon regularly in 2018. This is the practice of classifying someone as self-employed when they are to all intents and purposes employed. The government is legislating on this and the risks to business owners continue to evolve.
Over the summer, it was reported that social welfare inspectors in Dublin carried out more than 1,000 inspections in a single week in order to root out cases of bogus self-employment. Where they identify wrong-doing, they can prosecute.
It is often referred to as the gig economy, and it is not just an Irish problem. In London in September, for example, another risk transpired. UberEATS couriers went on strike bringing traffic in central London to a halt. They are deeply unhappy with their pay structure.
The major concerns with false self-employment follow two lines of argument. First, they erode workers’ rights and their entitlements to state benefits. Holiday pay, rest breaks and protection against unfair dismissal are just some of the rights that may be forfeited. And second, they allow companies who should be paying employers’ PRSI payments of 10.85% to dodge this levy.
In 21st century Ireland, there is certainly a place for flexible working arrangements where they are genuine. But even if you stumble into it, the risks of false self-employment are just as real.
So we would advise you to review your contracts for any workers who cannot be clearly defined as either an employee or a contractor. Talk to us and we can help you get the right classifications for your business needs, whilst staying legally compliant.
So the Budget shone some more light on the new parental leave being introduced in November 2019. The following is helpful for employers to know.
Beyond learning of the two paid weeks that both parents will be entitled to, be aware that this leave is in addition to current parental leave entitlements – various statutory leaves that are unpaid but may qualify for maternity/paternity benefit.
The statutory pay rate from the State for this new leave is expected to be in line with maternity benefit which is €240 per week. It is non-transferrable, so each parent must use it or lose it.
The current intention is for this new leave to be extended from two to seven weeks over time. Complying with equality law and being family-friendly are major areas of risk and opportunity for SMEs, so for advice and guidance in these areas get in touch.
As we’ve highlighted in our leading Budget article, 1 January 2019 will see the introduction of PAYE Modernisation – the real-time reporting of payroll data to the Revenue. This is a huge change from the current system, where such data is reported annually in your P35.
Worryingly, one survey conducted by a payroll provider found that 40% of small businesses are not at all prepared for this change. With the Revenue feeding the new data it receives into its risk analysis system, it’s thought this will lead to more audits for companies that struggle with compliance. Speak to us if you need to catch up.
People Matter September 2018
What to do when your staff go AWOL
You breathe a sigh of relief; it’s September and the holiday season stress is over. Time now to crack on with all those projects. And then you discover a key member of staff has not returned from their “trip of a lifetime”.
It may not be possible to accurately record your initial reaction here. But safe to say words like “murder” probably spring from your lips.
However, as we always advise: look for the simple explanation first. Were the flights delayed by strikes or weather? Have they been taken seriously ill? Or maybe simply overslept?
Only after making every effort to make contact by telephone, text and email is it reasonable to assume they are not coming back. If they live nearby, you could even try calling at their house or contacting next of kin before reaching this conclusion. But once all avenues have been exhausted, you can start to resolve this problem of unauthorised absence.
When there is less than one year’s service and no known disability, then it should be relatively straightforward because there is less risk of a claim for unfair dismissal. But for longer serving employees, do make sure you follow the correct process.
As we always stress, keep a record of everything you’ve done to prove you have taken all reasonable steps to make contact. This means sending a registered or tracked letter, so you know who received it. The letter should state that you would like them to contact you so that you can establish if they have resigned. It should also explain that if they continue to be absent without contacting you, then you’ll have no option but to take steps to terminate their employment.
Unauthorised absence is a fair reason for dismissal but does not negate the responsibility to follow fair procedures. And as dismissal only becomes effective when it is received, it’s worth trying to contact them in as many ways as possible.
Do remember that whilst they remain an employee they continue to accrue continuous service and holiday rights. So to make sure you have help managing these situations, do call us.
The value of supporting mental health
We all have mental health. And, like physical health, it fluctuates. Now summer and its holidays are finished, some of your team may be adversely affected. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) may come into play too.
A recent Mental Health Foundation survey found that a third of people are dissatisfied with the amount of time they spend at work. Moreover, a quarter of people working long hours feel depressed, a third feel anxious and more than half get grumpy. But who says the workplace has to be associated with bad mental health?
There’s real value in incorporating good mental health into your company culture – in terms of productivity as well as wellbeing. So how do you achieve such a culture? It will vary, but it could mean reviewing operations to ensure they consider mental health and protect or improve it where possible, why not put in place an Employee Assistance Programme? You would be surprised how little it costs! Talk to us if you want to get started.
What’s in a name?
What do your job titles say about your business? Traditionally, they might describe what someone does and their seniority. But has this become too restrictive or unappealing today?
Microsoft recruited a “chief storyteller” – responsible for changing the perception of Microsoft through stories. Google has an “in-house philosopher” who solves engineering problems through a humanistic perspective. And many techies seem to prefer being called “networking ninja” or “C# Sherpa” rather than good old fashioned “developer”.
This may be useful if it’s giving employees a feel-good factor, or conveys your company culture. And sometimes customer-facing roles may require more nuanced names – sales staff may be better presented as “customer services” for example.
Can inventive naming go too far though? Of course it can! We’ve seen people professionally described as a “shredded cheese authority”, an “executive sensei” and even a “teen exorcist”.
Is auto-enrolment on it’s way?
We are going to say the dreaded P word: Pensions!
Earlier in the year, the government announced an intention to introduce auto-enrolment pensions from the year 2022. It would sit alongside the current state pension and address the low numbers of private sector workers without pension provision.
Last month, they provided some detail which is now up for consultation until November.
So what are they initially proposing? Employed people earning in excess of €20,000 and aged between 23 and 60 would be enrolled into a defined contribution pension scheme automatically. Staff that don’t qualify for auto-enrolment could still opt in.
Employees and employers would both start by contributing 1% of salary. This would rise by 1% annually for six years, eventually leading to 12% contributions. Contributions would only relate to the first €75,000 of salary.
As an extra boost for the employee, the government would add €1 for every €3 contributed. Their pension pot will move around with them by default when they change employers.
So what would it mean for employers? If you don’t currently provide a pension scheme it’ll mean big changes. There will obviously be the cost of making the employer contributions. But there will also be a new regulatory burden. When an auto-enrolment scheme was launched in the UK several years ago, a framework was established for launching schemes based on company size. Financial penalties were levied for non-compliance.
Even if you already offer a company pension scheme, you may still have to make some changes to ensure compliance.
Nothing is set in stone yet though. We’ll keep you posted.
Record employment, but do they all have contracts?
Unemployment is at a record low. New figures for the second quarter of 2018 show that 2,255,000 are employed. This breaks the previous 2007 record of 2,237,000.
That’s terrific, but do all these new jobs come with proper employment contracts? The rise of the gig economy has seen the lines of employment status blurred. Legislation is coming that will crack down on this, so it has never been more important to have properly worded contracts in place. These will protect both you as a business owner and the people who work for you.
An employment contract clearly defines the role, employment status, salary and contractual benefits. This underpins all HR management that follows. We can professionally review or write employment contracts that are fit for purpose. So if you need help in this area, get in touch. Be aware also of the “bogus self employed”, if you have contractors who only work for you, they could be classed as employees and entitled to back holiday and public holiday pay for example.
A sure-fire way to lose your case at the Workplace Relations Commission is to fail to follow fair procedures when dismissing someone. The legal position is that the dismissal will be unfair if you’ve been procedurally unfair. It may seem a burden, particularly if you’ve had the stress of dealing with someone who’s not working out at your business. But these are the kind of things you need to be doing (and recording) to demonstrate that a fair procedure was followed: Disciplinary meetings, investigations made, disciplinary hearings held, appeals made. For advice and support when you think a disciplinary is required, call us.
People Matter August 2018
Is flexible working the way forward?
When you consider the common gripes of the workplace, it’s surprising how many could be solved with one measure: flexible working.
Nightmare commutes, coping with school runs, disagreement about ambient office temperature, eradicating some of life’s inconveniences like waiting in for the gas man or a parcel. They all disappear with flexible working.
You may be thinking: “That’s all well and good for my employees, but what about the business’s needs?”. Turns out it can be good for the business too. A survey carried out by one specialist recruitment agency found that two-thirds of respondents cited flexible work as the key criterion of their perfect job.
There is definitely demand. So that means offering flexible working is a way to differentiate your business in the labour market to attract the brightest talent. And once you have them in the door – or working for you behind their own doors – a happy, satisfied workforce is a more productive and loyal workforce.
Modern technology and equipment has made flexible working much more practical. But of course flexible working won’t be possible for every business. That said, there is not an absolute definition, so each business can tailor a flexible working policy to their own requirements. Working from home or altered working hours are just two examples.
Overseas, employees are entitled to request flexible working after 26 weeks of continuous employment. The employer does not have to grant it, but they do have to treat the request reasonably and give legitimate business reasons if they refuse it. Some are calling for a similar entitlement to be introduced here.
Alternatively, Irish businesses’ hands may be forced by the EU. In September, they will begin negotiations to enforce more flexible working patterns on all member states. This would include allowing working parents with children under 10 to choose remote working as part of their employment schedule.
In the current landscape however, it’s still up to individual businesses. We’d say it’s worth investigating to see what benefits it could bring to you and your staff.
Further increases to the National Minimum Wage in 2019
The government has accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation to raise the National Minimum Wage (NMW) by 25 cents in January 2019.
The new rate will be €9.80 per hour.
It’s estimated that 120,000 workers will benefit, but it is bound to put pressure on some small businesses where margins are tight. It’s not the first time the NMW has risen recently. The Small Firms Association reckons that for a business employing ten people on the NMW, the annual wage bill will have increased by €25,000 since 2015.
But the change is set in stone, so start factoring it into your budgets for next year to reduce the chance of shortfalls. Increasing productivity is one way to offset the extra pressures that mandatory wage increases put on you. To explore how you could achieve this through HR, speak to your local HR Dept adviser.
A costly case of mistaken identity
A Dublin barbers was ordered to pay €5,000 in compensation to a transgender male after an employee refused give him a short back and sides. The complainant testified that he was dressed as a male and trying his best to appear male. He was told that the barbers had a contract with a nearby hairdresser which prohibited them from cutting ladies’ hair.
The company insisted that the employee thought he was simply performing his role correctly, it was a one-off mistake and he did not mean to cause offence. Nevertheless it was deemed discrimination on grounds of gender under the Equal Status Act. It’s a reminder that employers can be liable for the actions of their employees. The remedy is to ensure that both you and your staff are well-informed on equality law.
The right to disconnect
In the information age we live in, we’re always connected. Professionally, this can mean that employees (and business owners for that matter), may feel they never escape their email or phone calls.
So just because people are contactable 24/7, should we expect engagement or a response from them?
A debate about our reliance on phones and tablets is raging. There is growing recognition that serious mental health problems can be caused by overusing mobile devices. Phone companies are even building usage monitoring and over-use warning functionality into their software. And when work pressures are a factor too, it only exacerbates the problem: stress, anxiety, mental and physical fatigue, even burn-out could follow.
So the challenge has been created by technology, and business owners should be aware that there is already a legislative framework to protect employees.
A labour court recently awarded €7,500 to a business development executive after finding her employer in breach of the Organisation of Working Time Act. She had complained of sometimes having to work a 60-hour week (instead of her contracted 40-hours), and having to deal with work emails up to and beyond midnight.
The company argued that her equivalent colleagues managed their workload within a 40-hour week and that she couldn’t have been following procedures. However, the judge sided with the employee finding her credible and observing that the company must have been aware of her working patterns yet made no attempt to assist her.
Remember, the onus is on the employer to track and monitor working time regulations for each employee. If an employee is struggling in their role and working 60 hour a week, and doesn’t tell their employer, it is still the employer’s fault according to the courts and WRC. You should therefore be proactive by having clear policies, reporting structures and requirements, and someone should be in charge of monitoring this.
There’s a lot at stake: the health and safety of your workforce and possible fines from the labour court. So if you need help getting the balance right, speak to us.
How to manage low staff levels over the holiday season
Being short-staffed can happen for many reasons – an influx of new business, redundancies and, perhaps most predictably, employees taking their annual leave entitlement.
So what can you do to ensure it is “business as usual” over the summer when staff are on holiday?
Cross-train your staff – Ensure your staff have training in advance to handle their additional tasks. Reinforce this with proper handovers so everything is crystal clear.
Bring in temporary staff – Temping agencies and intern programmes are established options, but be creative. Are any former employees available that you’d have back temporarily, a retiree for example?
Supportive management – Providing strong but supportive leadership will really help a stressed-out team: prioritise tasks, encourage teamwork, make sure breaks are taken so they can recharge, and keep your lines of communication open.
Data breaches are on the rise
You may feel you’re all GDPR-ed out, after the crescendo of the last 12 months. But remember that 25 May was the start of GDPR, not the end. The Data Protection Commission say there were 1,184 data breaches reported in the weeks following 25 May. Last year there was an average of 230 breaches a month. This increase is probably down to the stricter reporting requirements. Don’t forget there’s an HR angle in how you store personnel records in compliance with GDPR. We can help with this, so if you have concerns, get in touch.
People Matter July 2018
New bill would have big impact on little companies
Have you heard of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 which is working its way through government? Some are referring to it as the ‘Banded Hours Bill’ and it’s a good idea to have it on your radar.
This is because, if it becomes law in its present form, it is going to have a pretty big impact on SMEs. One part of the bill criminalises (with risk of imprisonment) employers who do not provide key employment terms to staff within one month of their starting a role.
Other highlights include its banded hour provision. This says that if an employee routinely works more hours per week than contracted for, they must be recorded within bands of hours which accurately reflect the reality of the normal working week. The intention behind this is to protect employees from being penalised by loss of work if they displease their managers.
The bill also seeks to ban zero-hour contracts in all but a few circumstances and protect vulnerable, low paid workers who are summoned to work but then not provided with tasks to do.
So these new laws are heavily slanted towards offering protection to casual workers. At face value they may be considered a good thing, as they aim to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts.
However, there has been a backlash, particularly from the SME community. There is a strong feeling that it oversteps the mark in telling employers how to run their businesses. And, of course, some casual employees will not consider themselves to be vulnerable. So some of the practices that will be abolished in the name of protection under this bill may actually be freedoms that suit them. Recognising the unpopularity, amendments to the initial draft are currently under review.
If the changes come in their current form then there’s no doubt that it will be tough for some SMEs. For help to ensure you follow best practice in hiring casual workers, speak to us about our retained HR advice line.
New laws to tackle the gender pay gap
The gender pay gap is a stubborn problem across developed economies. In Ireland it’s reported to stand at 13.9%. Many have called upon government to act, and so the cogs are now turning. The cabinet has given the go-ahead for the General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill. This will require organisations to publish gender pay gap data. At first the obligation will just fall on larger employers. But after an initial period it will apply to organisations which employ 50 people or more. So this will affect the SME sector.
In the UK, similar legislation is now in force. The shocking pay disparities it has revealed in some organisations have been all over the national news media. So be aware that this is coming. If you want help addressing your own gender pay gap before the risk of national exposure becomes real, then give us a call.
Shared parental leave
We’ve witnessed shared parental leave elsewhere already. It’s underpinned by principles of workplace and family equality – allowing the second parent to play a greater role in raising a new-born.
An Irish bill has now been put forward and will be debated this autumn. In it the 26 weeks of paid maternity leave available to mothers could be split between parents, even if they work for different employers. It would give more opportunity to mothers to return to work sooner and, for the other parent, more chance for baby bonding. It could have particular appeal, for example, where the mother is the higher earner.
A word of caution: the scheme in the UK has seen low take-up and is considered complicated for employers and parents alike. It has also spawned a number of discrimination test cases – usually defended successfully by employers.
How old is too old to work?
This is a question that crops up time and again. Historically, there has been something of a black and white answer of 65. But two law changes, coupled with demographic shifts that see people live, and stay fit, for longer, have reduced this clarity.
The first law change relates to the rise in state pension age to 66 (and it will rise to 68 by 2028). This breaks some of the logic of mandatory retirement at 65 if the state pension does not kick in until they are older.
The second and more recent law change involves an amendment to the Equality Act which means that you must provide an objective justification for your company’s retirement age.
So, in other words, you can still set a retirement age, but you must have a good reason behind the age you choose. Often there’ll be a perfectly straightforward justification: perhaps on health and safety grounds for drivers at a haulage firm. And other reasons which may be justified include succession planning, establishing a diverse age balance within an organisation, and a desire to treat people with dignity should their capability decline in old age.
The Workplace Relations Committee has recently published a code of practice for longer working which has relevance here. It includes notifying someone 6-12 months before a contractual retirement date so that proper planning can take place. And how employers and employees should approach a request to work beyond a retirement date.
It can be a tricky and emotive area, so if you ever need help managing retirements, be sure to talk with The HR Dept.
Protecting your interns from harassment
Hiring summer interns can be a rewarding experience for company and intern alike. There are challenges, as well as benefits, though. One such challenge is the potential for harassment of these most junior of staff.
The #metoo movement has put perpetrators of harassment in sharp focus. It has also highlighted all-too-common institutional failings in exercising the employer’s duty of care. So what practical steps should you be taking to ensure your interns are protected?
The key activity is training. Make time for this for both permanent staff (including managers) and interns. You should cover respect and the standards of behaviour expected. Some companies ban managers from dating interns. Training should include clear instruction on what harassment is and how to report it. Work parties may be an area of higher risk, particularly if alcohol fuelled. So give extra consideration to interns when planning summer staff socials.
Sabbaticals in business are still not common. Whether paid or unpaid, they would apparently disrupt company life and that of the individual. But there’s a growing understanding that, aside from the recharging of batteries which a sabbatical offers an individual, they also provide widespread benefits to the organisations which grant them. These include stress-testing the organisational hierarchy and creating development opportunities for the next level of staff covering the interim roles. Indeed, a study of sabbaticals in the non-profit sector suggested a further benefit: that people who filled interim positions were more responsible and effective once the sabbatical-taker returned.
People Matter June 2018
Whether we’d care to admit to it or not, we all hold some biases. In the workplace, at their worst, these will lead to overt discrimination, which is, of course, against the law.
But there are many occasions when biases are more insidious. These subtler biases still hold individuals back, but organisations suffer also. Yes, research continues to show that businesses with a diverse workforce and leadership team outperform more closed groups.
For example, a study of Fortune 500 companies in America by Catalyst showed that the companies with the most gender diverse senior management financially outperformed those with the least by 35%.
Some of the more obvious biases may be focused on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. But think about more subtle forms too. For example, the school or university that someone has (or hasn’t) gone to, a postcode, whether someone has an introverted or extraverted personality type, and even individual popularity. The old school tie or rugby club all foster images of favouritism and ‘jobs for the boys’!
Countering bias really needs to come from the top. So make this part of your culture. Key areas to look at include your recruitment, task allocation, appraisals, social events and simple day-to-day interactions.
Blind CVs are one way of ensuring bias is removed from the initial screening of job candidates. This sees all identifiable personal information removed from the CV before it reaches decision makers. So candidates can be judged solely on their professional experience and skills.
During appraisals, look at the tools with which you review people. Could they facilitate unfair prejudices? And more generally, reflect on the way colleagues interact. Not necessarily an easy task!
And what about the benefits? How does improved financial performance result?
For starters, eliminating unconscious bias from your recruitment strategy could significantly widen your talent pool from which you hire. And that should lead to having better people in your business. That’s about capability, but you’ll also mitigate the risk of group-think where likeminded people make poor decisions which go unchallenged. Remember the banking crash? Group think in action! Sometimes its good to have a questioning colleague.
A further benefit is that if your workforce reflects wider society, you’ll probably appeal to a wider market.
Well worth some attention, we’re sure you’ll agree.
How weird are your workplace rules?
Do you prohibit popcorn, ban beards or forbid a favourite cup of tea? These are just some of the strange workplace rules that have been enforced in businesses in Ireland and further afield. Others include requiring underwear to be worn but not to be visible, and a blanket ban on conversation unless in the break room.
According to a survey by a recruitment firm, one third of Irish employees considered that they’d been subjected to strange rules.
While we can spare a chuckle for some of these mandates, poorly conceived rules can be damaging to a business. At best they may encourage employee churn, and at worst they could lead to a discrimination or constructive dismissal claim. Of course, there are many justifiable rules which are essential to running a productive business. If you don’t think you have the balance right, speak to us for a policy review.
Holidays… they’re meant to be fun, relaxing, a time of the year to look forward to. So why do they have to be so stressful to organise?
Your staff may be wrestling with school-holiday price jumps, inconvenient (but cheaper) mid-week flights or last-minute deals. And their pressures may transfer to you in the guise of a short-notice holiday request, conflicting bookings and the need to handle frequent questions about holiday entitlement.
Having a clear written holiday policy and communicating it to staff gives you the framework to manage these issues and should be considered a bare minimum.
Looking at advanced solutions for SMEs, our HR Dept Toolkit software is the smart choice. It allows employees to self-manage holiday entitlement, taking much of the headache away from you. For a free demonstration, get in touch.
Bullying in the workplace
When it occurs, workplace bullying is a terrible blight on an organisation, and especially, of course, on the victims. It is a health and safety risk because it can degrade mental and physical health. Bullying can lead to employees dreading work, drops in performance and long-term absence.
For a business, it can cause poor morale, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, higher staff turnover and reputational damage.
If bullying occurs and you do not manage the fall out effectively, it can also lead to a large legal and compensation bill as a recent case at the High Court demonstrates.
The company, An Post, was ordered to pay out a substantial award after failing to address prolonged bullying.
Following an innocuous request to a colleague, an employee was responded to aggressively and felt physically threatened. Extremely shaken, she reported what happened to her manager and was subsequently absent from work for three weeks. The perpetrator was suspended and eventually dismissed.
On her return to work, the employee was ostracised by other colleagues and subjected to daily, petty bullying. Management responded weakly, advising her to ride the trouble out. She suffered physical and mental health problems and, in the end, lost her job.
For their weak response, the company was found to have failed in their duty of care for an employee. They were ordered to pay damages, loss of earnings, interest and special damages totalling €161,000.
This case shows, on every level, why you should have robust anti-bullying policies in place and take any accusations seriously. If you need help drafting policies or handling a case, contact us as soon as possible. Training your management team and supervisors is the first step you should take and we at the HR Dept, run these courses on a regular basis for our clients.
Could you win during the world cup?
The bookies have Brazil, Germany and Spain as the favourites for this summer’s world cup. But could your business be a winner too, indirectly?
Many people will be looking forward to watching their favourite team in action. And with games coming thick and fast on weekdays and weekends, most businesses will have staff who would appreciate flexibility so they can catch a match.
Your options for facilitating this will depend on your circumstances. But ideas to consider include showing the game onsite; allowing employees to follow matches on personal devices; and permitting flexible working. Facilitating a big match and watching it together on-site can be a team boost for your employees.
Research suggests that the distraction of major sporting events can become a management problem for about one in four businesses, with issues like reduced productivity and unauthorised absence. But by taking a proactive approach you can prevent this own goal and actually boost employee engagement, goodwill and therefore productivity.
Dogs at work
A cute canine will bring a smile to most people’s faces. So if you haven’t considered letting your employees bring their furry friends to work, perhaps now’s the time.
No, we haven’t gone barking mad! It’s ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’ on 23 June – so why not give it a go? Research shows that enrolling a four-legged friend can reduce stress, strengthen relationships and make the office a happier place. It might even help you attract top talent.
Do bear in mind that some may have a phobia or allergies, so check your whole team are wagging their tails at the idea.
People Matter May 2018
It’s almost here. Not the fabled Irish summer, but the equally fabled GDPR. As you probably know, that’s the new General Data Protection Regulation. It comes into force on 25 May.
It’s something to take seriously as has been demonstrated by the flurry of opt-in emails that we have all been receiving in our inboxes. They relate to marketing, but GDPR is far broader. It includes the employee data you handle.
Think about it from recruitment to termination of employment; you’ll have contact details, bank info, PPS numbers, possibly medical information, performance records and if applicable a disciplinary and grievance history. That is all highly sensitive stuff.
You’ll need to inform individuals how you intend to use and store this information. And for some things this will require explicit consent. You’ll also need to train all employees in GDPR compliance – as they say, any system is only as strong as its weakest link. The penalties for non-compliance are ferocious.
Retained HR Dept clients needn’t worry about gaining GDPR-compliant consent from employees. We’ll make the necessary changes to your HR documentation. So you’ll have what you need to implement that.
There’ll be further actions you need to take as part of your wider GDPR compliance though.
You should audit all the data that you currently hold. Be thorough and honest with yourself… that box of old files in the warehouse still counts! GDPR covers all electronic and paper records where an individual can be identified.
Now you can create an audit trail of personal data and identify more sensitive information. If you do not use it already, My HR Toolkit is a fantastic software solution for handling employee data.
Once your data is audited and you have new systems in place, don’t forget to train up your staff. We can help with staff training too. To find out more about this, or My HR Toolkit, give us a call.
So now you’re well on your way to compliance, you can sit back and watch out for the next instalment of GDPR… which will probably be “Who’s the first test case?”. You know it won’t be you!
How SMEs can compete in the fight for talent
Do you ever wonder how you can possibly compete with the salaries and perks that giant companies like Facebook offer.
Don’t despair! SMEs have their own attractions. A 2017 survey showed that career progression and development tended to be more important to employees than working for a big brand.
So how can you make the most of this? Look at your organisational structure – it’s probably far flatter than large corporates. If you are growing, this offers a clear career path.
And giving new recruits exposure to senior leadership is a big selling point – ambitious candidates will see the mentoring as a professional development win. Meanwhile, you benefit from efficiently integrating employees. Getting experienced staff involved in training can be cost-effective, and also look at tailoring training to cover key skills gaps.
Just make sure your managers are up to scratch – they may be the biggest factor in your employee retention.
Hay fever and asthma in the workplace
While for many the smell of freshly cut grass and flowers in full blossom are a delight, for about one million Irish people they can cause misery. The extra spring/summer pollens encourage allergic reactions leading to sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. Sufferers are sure to appreciate a boss who’s sympathetic. Actions like permitting them to sit away from open windows and ensuring premises are regularly cleaned will help.
Asthma has some overlap with hay fever, although it’s generally much more severe. An employee doesn’t have to inform you that they’re asthmatic. But it would be hoped they’d want to, and that you could collaborate to ensure a healthy environment. This may include identifying triggers and mitigating them, ensuring first aiders are aware and handling sickness absence correctly.
There’s a rich heritage of family businesses in Ireland. In fact, figures from the Central Statistics Office show that seven out of ten Irish-owned services businesses are family firms.
Typically, family businesses may enjoy a number of benefits. Many people consider a family business as more authentic and trustworthy, giving it a competitive advantage.
Family businesses may also benefit from having a long-term outlook, as one generation acts as custodian for the next. And there is even a concept known as “survivability capital” which describes such firms’ heightened resilience during difficult times.
But family businesses face extra challenges too. And many of these have an HR slant.
For instance, recruiting and retaining talent from outside the family. Will candidates be put off by the dynamics within the business? Maybe they cannot see a satisfactory career path because key roles appear reserved for family members.
Longer term, succession planning could be more complicated. Will there be a family dispute over who gets to be the next head honcho? What if the best candidate was an outsider?
There might be remuneration challenges. With share ownership often tied up within the family, the business may have to pay above the market rate on salaries and bonuses to compensate talented employees for having no prospects of share ownership.
If the culture is wrong, accusations of nepotism or favouritism may occur. Also, serious family disputes unrelated to the business could have big consequences. What effect could a messy divorce have, for example?
All these challenges can be helped with robust HR. So if you recognise any of these problems, give us a call.
Sacked after a miscarriage
A labour court has ordered a chicken processing firm to pay €17,000 after it unfairly dismissed an employee for prolonged sickness absence. The woman had recently suffered a miscarriage. The court rejected claims that the firm was unaware of this. Apologies and the offer for the woman to reapply for her job certainly did not justify the actions taken.
Protection from pregnancy-related discrimination is provided in Ireland by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, maternity protection and unfair dismissals legislation. Therefore this outcome is not surprising.
Women who suffer a miscarriage are likely to need time off to recover both physically and emotionally. Partners may require compassionate leave too, either for themselves or so they can provide care during this difficult time.
For help and advice on staying the right side of equality legislation, contact The HR Dept.
Gender discrimination: A man’s case
Most gender discrimination affects female victims. But an Austrian case highlighted that men can suffer too. A male employee at the transport ministry sued after being passed over for promotion in favour of a woman. The court agreed that there was a discernible pattern of preferential treatment towards the woman, and awarded more than €300,000. The transport ministry had argued they’d followed all legal processes and the final decision reflected the huge under-representation of women. Of course, such judgments mustn’t cause employers to question the promotion of women. But equal opportunity must be extended to all.
People Matter April 2018
The big boys like Uber might steal the headlines when it comes to issues surrounding false self-employment. But it’s something that every employer should pay attention to in Ireland. Because new legislation may soon be passed that clamps down on this practice.
False self-employment has spread far and wide. It is not just an Irish problem. Technology has made it easier than ever to blur the lines of employment in all developed economies. But what’s dressed up as flexibility for both workers and businesses, can all too easily become a stripping down of workers’ rights and a loss in tax revenue for the nation’s coffers.
Government has had enough. There are actually two private member’s bills going the Seanad at present. The latest one – called the Prohibition of Bogus Self-Employment Bill 2018 – follows hot on the tail of the Protection of Employment (Measures to Counter False Self-Employment) Bill 2018. The parliamentary intention is clear whichever form the legislation is passed in.
The current drafting of the latter bill would rewrite the definition of an employee to include people who work under the guise of a bogus contract of services. It would also allow for redress to the worker that could include financial compensation and proper classification as an employee. Moreover, it provides for the government to claim lost payments such as tax revenue. If you are deemed to be in violation, it could get costly.
We understand that some businesses and individuals will seek flexible working practices, and there should be a place for genuine arrangements. However, when such contracts are bogus and exist just to erode workers’ rights or circumvent tax payments, this is wrong. Particularly when the workers are vulnerable for one reason or another.
We would advise all businesses to review their contracts for workers who cannot be clearly defined as an employee or a contractor. The HR Dept can provide advice on how best to classify your staff. We’ll help you gain as much flexibility as possible whilst not falling foul of the new legislation that’s on the horizon.
Tackling the gender pay gap
The gender pay gap in Ireland stands at 13.9%. While this compares favourably to the average across the EU of 16.7%, it’s still a blight on the economy and needs to be tackled. At a macro level, it has a huge impact. In the UK, a CIPD study found that the gender pay gap there costs the economy up to 2% of GDP. Irish figures aren’t available.
Companies which close the gender pay gap gain numerous advantages.
These can include, higher earnings, improved recruitment and retention, and better decision-making from a gender-diverse leadership. And it’s a PR story truly worth shouting about.
There are calls for the government to do more about closing the gender pay gap. But it is also something that any business can address. And by doing it early, you can gain a competitive advantage. We can help you take action, so give us a call.
The danger of wearing high heels at work
Having high standards is one thing, expecting your employees to totter around in high heels is something entirely different. It’s an issue that hit the headlines last year when a receptionist was sent home from work for not wearing heels.
After challenging the decision, an inquiry threw the spotlight on the unfair demands placed on some women at work. Although there is protection against sex discrimination, no men we know have been asked to wear heels, many still feel pressure to look a certain way – with 76% unsure what’s appropriate.
But it’s not just about looks. Asking your employees to wear heels may have serious health implications. It alters the centre of gravity, putting pressure on the spine, heart and lungs – probably not something you want to be responsible for! For advice on dress codes, talk to The HR Dept.
Paternity leave 18 months on
More than 23,000 people have taken up their right to paternity leave since it was introduced in September 2016.
With this, the father receives two weeks of statutory paternity leave, to be taken within six months of a birth or adoption placement. The provision also extends to a spouse, civil partner, cohabitant of the child’s mother or a parent of a donor-conceived child. They may also receive two week’s statutory paternity benefit if their PRSI contributions meet the qualifying criteria.
That is what’s statutory, but companies are also free to top up this payment, and many do. In fact, according to a CIPD survey, 42% of companies said they top up the statutory payment. Of course, it’s dependent on the finances of your business. But it can be a creative way to differentiate yourself as an employer to make you stand out – both to existing and potential staff.
However you decide to approach paternity leave it’s wise to have a written policy. This should include your own internal application procedures, how they comply with the legislation, who can apply and what the timescales are.
If you do top up the statutory paternity benefit, align any conditions with your maternity leave policy. This will help you to avoid accusations of discrimination in how paternity leave is taken.
Maternity and paternity provision will affect most businesses at some point and raise a number of issues. We can advise you in this area to help you stay compliant, manage your staff effectively and, if you want, to craft proactive policies. Call us for more information.
Covert surveillance at work was illegal
GDPR isn’t the only personal privacy story for SMEs in 2018, as a recent case in Spain has shown. A supermarket suspected that employees were stealing. They used visible and covert CCTV cameras to tackle the theft. The covert evidence collected led to dismissals.
The employees took them to a Spanish court claiming their privacy had been breached, but lost. However, the case progressed to the European Court of Human Rights which reversed the decision, saying a fair balance had not been struck.
In Ireland, the Irish Office of the Data Protection Commissioner provides strict guidelines for CCTV usage. These don’t leave much room for covert operations by an employer. If you consider it necessary to covertly film employees, speak to The HR Dept first. We can advise you on the legality of such a move or, if appropriate, find another solution.
Union pay expectations unrealistic
Are you planning on giving employees a cost of living pay rise this year? If so, you may be thinking around 2% – that’s the median forecasted pay rise for the three-quarters of firms who said they’re planning one in 2018.
Be warned though, that employee expectations may be higher. This is, in part, because the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is recommending increases of 3.1%. With productivity among Irish exporters already lagging wage growth, other rising costs to business, and uncertainty over Brexit, such a rise has been branded as wildly unrealistic by the Irish Businesses and Employers Confederation.
People Matter March 2018
Managing pregnancy in the workplace
So one of your employees tells you she’s pregnant. Without your realising, she may have been struggling with morning sickness, extreme tiredness or dizziness – to name just a few of the symptoms of early pregnancy. She will be anticipating much more to come later on.
It’s fair to say that most women will be worried about how their manager might react to this news. The only major study of pregnancy in the workplace in Ireland took place in 2011. It was conducted by the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme and the former Equality Authority. It found that 30% of pregnant women reported unfair treatment, 8% were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments and 5% said they were dismissed on account of their pregnancy.
In Irish law, pregnancy and maternity leave are designated as a specially protected period. However tempted a manager may be to respond based on their own experiences and views, or by putting the perceived needs of the business first, there’s only one way to proceed legally. And that is to comply with both the Employment Equality and Maternity Protection Acts, along with other relevant pieces of legislation.
This means granting time off for antenatal care, providing maternity leave, and allowing the woman to return to her job (or an equivalent role) with terms and conditions at least as good as she had prior to pregnancy. Furthermore, a new health and safety risk assessment should be carried out which takes her pregnancy into account.
Assuming your legal compliance, one useful tip is not to make assumptions. Some well-intentioned employers may look to remove complex projects or difficult clients from a pregnant employee’s workload. It’s a good idea to check this first with her, as this may be perceived as side-lining or even as discrimination.
Beyond the legal requirements, think of the added benefits of offering a family-friendly workplace culture. One survey conducted in 2015 found that 80% of employers of the pregnant women surveyed didn’t offer opportunities to work remotely. This highlights a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd in the recruitment market with a family-friendly culture.
Common pitfalls in workplace investigations
Very few business owners found their companies in order to conduct workplace investigations – but they are a by-product of employing people. And it is essential to conduct them correctly. Failure to do so could leave you on the wrong side of a Workplace Relations Committee or Labour Court judgement.
One company was recently penalised for not allowing an employee legal representation and preventing them from cross-examining evidence – judged to be a breach of constitutional rights and fair procedures. Conversely, two subsequent High Court decisions stated that fair procedures do not apply during the preliminary investigation stage as long as a final outcome was not being sought. What a minefield! Let’s look at the basics.
Investigations may typically be conducted for poor performance, behavioural issues or following an incident. Their purpose is to establish what happened and to back it up with evidence. From here you can decide whether a formal disciplinary process should begin.
Common pitfalls include delays in starting an investigation; not following a clear policy; showing bias, for instance by asking leading questions; and imposing sanctions during the investigation.
So what should you do? For starters, begin the investigation promptly and ensure a suitable investigation officer is chosen. Questions should be open-ended and do ensure you keep records of everything. Don’t forget to interview any potential witnesses. Only when the investigation is concluded can you recommend disciplinary procedures, if appropriate. But even then it is important to grant the employee the opportunity to comment on your report.
If in doubt, seek professional advice to ensure you don’t come unstuck.
Prepare for the next storm
As Storm Emma demonstrated, extreme weather causes real disruption – often with little warning. Snow, wind, torrential rain… whatever is thrown at you, having a bad weather policy in place is your umbrella against confusion and chaos.
Unless there’s a specific contractual clause, you are not obliged to pay people who can’t work due to bad weather. A policy is your chance to communicate this, so it doesn’t come as a nasty surprise. Writing a policy also allows you to plan so much better for the worst of weather.
Can employees work remotely so service levels aren’t interrupted? Do you offer people the choice of making the time up later, or taking annual leave, so their pay packet doesn’t suffer? If your customers are hit, do you include a provision for short term lay-offs if there’s no work to be done?
For when it’s no storm in a tea cup, it pays to get a bad weather policy in place.
Tax breaks offered to companies which promote exercise
Earlier this year the government announced tax breaks for companies which install showers and fitness equipment at their premises. But potential tax benefits are only one reason why you should consider encouraging staff to exercise – in the morning in particular.
A healthy workforce is a productive workforce, and research shows that the benefits are magnified when exercise is carried out before work. First up, people are far more likely to stick with their exercise regime in the morning, before the stresses and strains of the day take their toll. In fact, with some exercise under their belts they will show up to work fresh faced and ready for the day’s work ahead. Studies show that exercise improves mental health, focus, awareness and even time management. Why not also encourage staff to get fit together – it can help build a sense of camaraderie.
Can you protect your business from departing employees?
It’s a common fear among business owners: what happens if my senior manager leaves and takes my clients or intellectual property?
It could be very damaging. A restrictive covenant is a contractual clause that may go some way to control this risk. However, care must be taken. They are only enforceable if they meet certain tests.
First, they must be protecting a legitimate interest – misuse of confidential information is one example. They must also be reasonable (for instance the timespan they’re applicable for), judged as at the time they were entered into. And they must be no wider than necessary: a blanket ban is likely to be unenforceable.
Contractual wording of restrictive covenants must be carefully crafted. We can help you draft your contracts and handbooks so they stand up to scrutiny.
Preparing for the summer holidays
It may not feel like it with the weather we’ve had in recent weeks, but the summer holidays are not far around the corner. Are you ready? We’re not talking about sun screen and snorkels. No, we mean ensuring you have a robust holiday management system. Mismanagement of staff holiday time can cause service gaps, employee disputes and poor morale. Not to mention the time drain for you. If you’re fed up with holiday slips and spreadsheets, then check out our HR Toolkit. It’s an all-in-one software package that handles tasks like holiday management very cleverly.
People Matter February 2018
Women driving business forward, but more needs to be done
International Women’s Day will be taking place on 8th March 2018. The theme is #PressForProgress which aims to motivate and unite colleagues and communities into thinking and acting in a gender inclusive way.
There has been some progression in gender equality in Ireland over recent years – in 2007 the gender pay gap was 17.3% and in 2014 it decreased to 13.9%. This contrasts with the EU’s gender pay gap, which in 2014 was an overall of 16.7%. Clearly, there is still much to do, both in Ireland and beyond.
The current Programme for Government includes commitments to introduce a range of policies and initiatives to promote gender equality and women in the workplace.
These include implementing measures to reduce the gender pay gap, increase investment in childcare and review the lower wages of women. Wage transparency is to be promoted by requiring businesses of more than 50 employees to complete a wage survey. This in turn will aim to put pressure on businesses into closing any pay gaps that exist within their company.
2018 is the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Ireland. But there are more FTSE 100 CEOs called Steve or Stephen than there are FTSE 100 female CEOs. And more Davids too! Between 2011 and 2015, the most gender diverse companies were 20% more likely to have above average financial performance compared to those with a less diverse workforce. These results speak for themselves.
And what about smaller businesses? There is a significant gender pay gap at this level, too. How gender diverse is your business? Many businesses will benefit from seeking advice on how to implement processes that avoid unconscious bias. For example, one positive step would be to create wage bands that are applied equally across the genders.
For advice on building a gender pay policy, boosting gender diversity and the benefits that these actions will bring to your business, contact The HR Dept.
Why staff shouldn’t bring their own computer to work
A bring your own device (BYOD) IT policy is often seen as the trendy way to work. But whilst you may think it will slash your IT spend and let employees revel in the latest gadgets, there’s increasing push-back against this practice.
According to a survey, many IT directors feel that BYOD is not cost-effective. The company can end up forking out extra for individual costs such as data plans, and employees tend to use the IT department as a first line of support even if they’re not meant to.
There could be cultural issues too, with disparity between the kit that employees can afford.
Perhaps most importantly, it presents data security risks, with it being harder to provide standardised security measures and to enforce robust IT policies.
Maybe providing your employees with IT equipment is the most appropriate solution after all? For a fit-for-purpose IT policy, contact us.
Finance manager who faked cancer convicted of fraud
A UK court recently heard the case of a finance manager who faked a terminal illness and stole €20,000 from her employer. The employee made nine fraudulent transactions including stealing €1,200 within the first three days of starting her new role.
Her fraudulent behaviour was uncovered whilst she was off work to deal with her alleged cancer. It transpired that this finance manager had two previous fraud convictions, in 2012 and 2015.
For her latest crime, she was sentenced to 20 months in jail.
As is typical in such cases, her employer needed to dedicate a great deal of time and money investigating what had happened, and in getting their accounts back in order.
A useful tool for understanding and managing the risk of employee fraud is The Fraud Triangle. It is a framework designed to explain the factors at play when an employee commits fraud. The triangle is made up of, first, motivation: greed is the most common motivation, followed by debts and gambling. Opportunity is the second point of the triangle and examples may include weak internal controls, no training and no checking of references. Rationalisation is the third point – for instance the employee feels that the company is too big to notice, or deserves to be punished, or that the employee has “earned it”.
Understanding this model highlights the importance of due diligence and stringent recruitment processes as well as the need for robust internal controls.
Jobbledygook – Some of recruiters’ weird titles
Wily job recruiters are forever thinking of ways to stand out and make their job listings more appealing. A current fashion is to come up with the weirdest titles possible for job roles. A practice known as ‘jobbledygook’.
A few of our favourite job listings include, Five-a-Day Collection Operative (Fruit Picker) and Transparency Enhancement Facilitator (Window Cleaner).
Whilst these may provide some passing amusement, job seekers can find it difficult to understand what the role actually entails. This means that businesses which use such recruitment techniques are running the risk of losing potentially high quality candidates.
The HR Dept’s recruitment service is jargon-free, ensuring that applicants fully understand the job position you are listing. For a clear and concise recruitment service, contact The HR Dept.
Smart employers are investing in staff commutes
While it isn’t news that long commutes have a big impact on health and productivity, one survey has quantified the productivity hit.
A study found that those who commuted to work in less than half an hour gained an additional seven days’ worth of productivity each year, compared to those with a commute of an hour or more.
Some smart employers are recognising the benefits of mitigating the commutes of their staff. These include reducing lateness and absenteeism, cutting error rates and lowering staff turnover.
Initiatives that might ease the commute for everyone’s benefit could be to offer the option of commuting outside of rush hour, a cycle to work scheme, or even flexible working.
The worst excuses employees use when calling in sick
It’s amazing what excuses some employees use when calling in sick. Some real examples that are unlikely to have been heard with a sympathetic ear include a fish being sick and the dog eating the employee’s shoes (the adult equivalent of the dog eating your homework).
One employee even called in saying his dog had had a fright and he didn’t want to leave him.
The first rule of managing absence is having clear policies.
People Matter January 2018
When Cupid’s arrow strikes the workplace
February is just around the corner and this means that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. Whilst this is generally considered to be a day of love and happiness, it can have a negative effect on your business. Only 12% of company managers have been provided with training on managing workplace romances, so let’s look at some of the issues.
Employees falling for each other isn’t rare – a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 43% of HR staff have encountered workplace romances. SHRM also found that 99% of employers with policies on workplace romances state that romantic relationships between supervisors and their staff are not allowed. After all, the superior’s impartiality and authority will be compromised, and this can affect a team’s morale. You certainly don’t want employees accusing a manager of weakness or favouritism – and this is if the relationship doesn’t turn sour with the problems that it could bring!
As written about in so many classic novels, unrequited love is difficult to handle. If an employee ‘has the hots’ for a co-worker who does not feel the same, any pestering must be dealt with the moment the issue is raised. The last thing you want is a sexual harassment case at the WRC brought against your business.
Some of us enjoy a gossip from time to time, but unfortunately the relationships between co-workers can be prime subject matter. Ensure this doesn’t go too far and reduce productivity. Malicious gossip is very corrosive to team morale. It can also start cliques and bring other problematic issues. Therefore it is worth making sure this doesn’t get out of control.
Even if you don’t have an official policy in place and are seeing an office romance blossom, it may become necessary to remind the happy couple to remain professional whilst they are in work. And if you think it’s required and fits the culture of your business, you could draw up an office policy on romances. For help writing a romance policy, contact The HR Dept.
Managing staff throughout the Six Nations
The Six Nations is one of the most highly anticipated tournaments in the rugby world. And whilst many rugby fans will want to support their country this February and March, it’s important to ensure your business isn’t impacted by the matches.
If you think it will be an issue, remind employees in advance what standards are expected. Most matches will be played on weekends, so if you employ weekend staff, remind them not to come into work under the influence or hungover.
Some businesses choose to show matches in the workplace. This stops employees surreptitiously checking the score on their phone every few minutes. Another option would be to encourage flexible working – perhaps even a day’s holiday would be appropriate for avid fans.
If you want to make sure your absence planning and staff policies are up to scratch, or you want to sin bin someone for bad behaviour, contact The HR Dept.
The importance of a sexual harassment policy
With the latter part of 2017 being taken over by claims of sexual harassment and the #MeToo social media campaign, it’s essential to handle any employee claims of harassment correctly. Dealing with them in the wrong way can result in you finding yourself in court – the cost of which can end up bankrupting a small business!
The Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2015, deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. They define harassment as unwanted acts, requests, words, gestures, or the production of material that violates a person’s dignity.
All businesses should have a Code of Practice on sexual harassment. This should be an accessible and effective policy which covers harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace. It must also include a complaints procedure that’s available to any employee who feels they have been a victim of workplace sexual harassment.
Clients, customers and business contacts who interact with the employees of a company should also be aware of sexual harassment policies. These policies could be prominently displayed in business contracts and state that the agreement can be terminated if the client subjects an employee to sexual harassment.
For the sake of people inside and outside of your business, it’s important to have these policies in place. They help to ensure your employees feel safe and secure in the workplace and enables them to work productively without fear of harassment.
But having and communicating a policy is only the start. If any claims arise you must follow it to the letter.
For advice on writing and implementing a sexual harassment policy, contact The HR Dept.
Ryanair looks to avoid strikes in Ireland
For small businesses, strikes often seem a remote possibility. However, trouble can arise when you least expect it, causing major disruption for businesses and their customers.
Ryanair are now engaging with trade unions in a bid to avoid strike action through collective bargaining.
It’s helpful for everyone involved to know where you stand on strikes, trade unions and collective bargaining. You can do this by writing it clearly in your employment contract so there is no confusion.
If you are having problems with trade union members, or their representatives, please contact us for a no-obligation discussion about the strategies for dealing with industrial relations in your business.
The battle against bogus self-employment
Technology is increasingly impacting the workplace and, as in many other countries, is blurring the employment status of many Irish workers.
There is a feeling that some companies are wrongly classifying workers as self-employed – allowing them to avoid paying certain taxes as well as not offering the benefits a full-time employee would receive.
The Protection of Employment (Measures to Counter Self-Employment) Bill has been drafted to address this issue. Will it go too far in limiting employment options though?
The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) stresses that the use of self-employed workers in good faith is one of the few employment options that offer flexibility to both the employer and employee.
It’s an issue under the spotlight. If you want advice regarding whether your independent contractors truly are self-employed, contact The HR Dept.
Lost in translation
An Irish employer lost a tribunal case after they refused to allow a Latvian employee an interpreter during a disciplinary process, maintaining it was not necessary.
However, in a move the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) described as contradictory, they had asked her to take a literacy test over concerns about her ability to speak English. They reserved the right to terminate her contract if she scored poorly.
Whilst the WRC did not find the employer guilty of separate charges of victimisation or harassment, they were found guilty of discrimination, and the employee was awarded €8,000.
People Matter December 2017
The importance of a work-life balance at Christmas
Christmas is one of the few times of year that many of us can really switch off from work. After all, there’s nothing more festive than shutting up shop, putting on a Christmas movie and being overly-optimistic about the number of mince pies you can eat. However, a recent study of 3,000 workers found that 54% of employees check their emails during holidays – and 69% are expected to work outside of office hours.
Mobile phone and laptop use has risen dramatically over the last couple of decades – and whilst they enable flexible working, many cite these as being the main reasons why we find it hard to switch off when we’re not in the workplace.
Another study found that the average worker failed to use six days of paid leave each year – so it is important to ensure your staff take the opportunity to unplug from work and use their annual leave throughout the year. After all, a well-rested workforce is a productive one. Global accounting firm Ernst & Young even found that for every ten hours an employee takes off from work, their annual performance rating goes up by eight percent.
So, instead of rushing around the office and turning up the pressure this Christmas, it might be more beneficial to encourage your staff to focus on their ‘must do’ list rather than their ‘nice to do’ list. This way they can achieve their important objectives, then switch off and have a relaxing break.
When done correctly, flexible working practices can bring benefits to both the business and employees. In the new year you could consider flexible working arrangements that work for both them and you – such as working from home, or an earlier start and finish time for those with young children.
If you would like advice about flexible working arrangements and how these could work for your business, contact The HR Dept for more information.
How Blue Monday can affect your workforce
The term ‘Blue Monday’ might immediately make you think of the New Order song, but it’s also a date in the calendar. Often referred to as the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday generally falls on the third Monday of January, placing 2018’s on 15 January.
Staff will be back from the Christmas break and the post-festive blues may well have set in. Throw cold evenings, short days and empty bank accounts into the mix, and you could find yourself with a rather demotivated workforce.
A distracted workforce is bad for any business. But whilst it’s not an employer’s responsibility to manage the mood or finances of employees, there are some practical things you can consider to ensure productivity doesn’t suffer.
More than 85% of workers in Ireland feel financial stress, with one million Irish employees struggling to make ends meet according to a survey commissioned by www.my-money.ie. For people in these circumstances, the extra cost pressures of Christmas will exacerbate this. Some employers are known to offer employees loans in this period to help them get by.
Other employers provide an EAP (employee assistance programme) to their staff throughout the year, which typically consists of a confidential helpline and counselling services. It provides support and advice on a range of issues which might include money and mental health problems. They are a cost-effective way of helping your workforce and consequently your business.
If your team has the January blues, we can help. We can advise on how to manage a productive, happy workforce – including setting up an EAP.
Workers rate money and time as their biggest motivators
A survey conducted by Purely Digital found that increases in money and annual leave are the biggest motivators amongst employees.
The results revealed that 39.1% of workers were driven most by a financial reward, whilst 36.9% preferred more annual leave, 16% favoured activity days and 15% were incentivised by free products.
Although it’s not a big surprise that money is a major motivator amongst employees, it often ends up only being a short-term incentive after the feel-good factor fades.
There is good value for business owners in considering longer term initiatives such as a flexi-time policy that suits employees’ ongoing lifestyles. Thinking creatively about how you can reward staff can generate real value for you and them, and also differentiate you as an employer.
The HR Dept can advise you on a suitable and desirable employee benefits package that will really engage your workforce. Contact us for more information.
Breastfeeding mother claims gender discrimination
A court has heard that an employer turned down a Spanish nurse’s request to adjust her working pattern as she was breastfeeding. She was concerned about the shift rotation system and exposure to radiation, infections and stress.
After a risk assessment was undertaken by her employer, her request was denied. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union declared that the employer had failed to undertake a risk assessment of the employee’s specific circumstances, as required by law, and had simply assessed her job role. It was therefore found that the employer’s actions constituted as gender discrimination.
Maternity laws can be complex, and it is essential you comply fully. The courts take a dim view to breaches, deeming them discriminatory which can lead to large fines. For guidance, call The HR Dept.
Financially-strained staff in the workplace
After the spend-fest that is Christmas, it’s not surprising that some people can become worried and anxious about their personal financial situation.
According to a survey, Irish workers lose an average of 37 minutes each day worrying about money, and four in ten of those who are financially strained are having trouble sleeping. Furthermore, 78% of employers have noticed an impact on their staff’s ability to work effectively due to money worries.
Some companies offer their staff flexibility around their December and January pay dates to help offset the financial burden that Christmas brings. You might also find it beneficial to have conversations with staff at risk of financial stress about how you can help them focus on work and not be distracted by their financial concerns.
If you need advice on how to offer financial flexibility, contact The HR Dept.
Start planning now for next year’s recruitment
Many businesses will start the recruiting process in January – but one of the tricks to ensure this runs smoothly is to start planning your hiring strategy before Christmas.
Planning early will ensure your recruitment strategy is in line with your business plan, for instance having the right team to meet your goals and the budgets to make the process run smoothly.
If you want to take on employees and kick off the new year in the best way possible, your local HR Dept adviser can help with recruiting and onboarding staff.
People Matter November 2017
Managing staff in times of emergency
In October this year Hurricane Ophelia battered Ireland, causing three deaths, mass power outages, and transport chaos.
Met Éireaan advised people to stay at home and this raised an important question regarding employee rights. Should staff be paid for time they are forced to take off due to national emergency?
There is no law that provides complete clarity, and consequently no simple answer. If a dispute were to arise – let’s assume because the time off is not paid – the standard test in court will be to see whether the employer acted reasonably.
As an employer, your first point of reference should be to see if there is a clause in your employee policies that would cover this. And if there is, the answer is simple – follow it.
However, if this is not covered in your policies, then there are a range of options that you could consider.
The first is to pay your staff regardless. This will largely depend on the economics of your business. If you were to do this, you will still need to consider certain nuances. For instance, how should you handle staff who would have been on unpaid absence anyway, such as unpaid sickness or parental leave? You should not feel that you must pay these too. They were not scheduled to work so are not missing out because of the national emergency. There’s no reason why they should profit from it.
If you decide to impose unpaid leave, there are various ways you could soften the blow of lost wages. Giving staff the chance to take the time off as part of their holiday allowance is one option. Or offering paid overtime to make up the lost hours is another. Either of these options could help demonstrate reasonableness.
Such drastic events do not happen frequently, but when they do, having well written policies may give you the framework to manage them effectively and fairly. For help reviewing or writing your contracts and handbooks, contact the HR Dept.
Do we really need mandatory retirement ages?
Who says you have to slow down when you get older? After all, Michael D. Higgins is 76 and President Trump is 71 years old. Some jobs require experience to be done effectively.
In Ireland there is no default national retirement age, but the most common mandatory retirement age in contracts is 65.
Some countries ban mandatory retirement. So are companies in Ireland missing out on talent? What are the pros and cons of arbitrary retirement?
Older workers have much to contribute to the workplace. They can bring skillsets and experience that are hard to find elsewhere. Recent studies show that being active and working later in life brings many benefits, such as remaining healthier for longer.
But the downsides of letting people work on include limiting the promotion opportunities for the next generation and making succession planning more difficult (without set timeframes).
Need to review your retirement policy? Call us.
Are your employees workaholics?
Having dependable, hard-working employees is a good thing, right? Staff with a strong work ethic contribute to your organisation with their reliability and willingness to take on new challenges.
But there is such a thing as working too hard. Starting early and finishing late each day will take its toll eventually. Being a workaholic can have significant health consequences and a direct effect on a person’s happiness and wellbeing.
So how do you spot a workaholic?
Some of the signs are obvious, whereas some are more subtle. First in, last out and no lunchbreak should be easy to spot. As is someone’s outward behaviour if they are showing signs of stress, bad moods or fatigue. But what about symptoms that are masked? These could include a lack of hobbies and interests and constantly checking emails.
If you have a workaholic employee, management intervention may be required to prevent them burning out. So, what can you do?
Effective time management is a skill and can really help employees to think clearly and work smartly. Prioritising important tasks over less-important ones (even if they appear urgent!) is one technique, as well as concentrating on one task at time. Delegation is another, sometimes difficult, but valuable skill.
It might be necessary to review a job role to see if it is too much for one person. And at the same time ensure they have the discipline to be only working on projects that are directly related to their allocated tasks.
For guidance on managing workaholic employees or ensuring your employees are not burning out, contact The HR Dept.
Is presenteeism the bug in your office?
With winter drawing in, you might worry that the number of sick days taken by your employees will soar. Only four days or so were lost to sickness per worker last year, which is the lowest since their records began. Are workforces getting healthier? Or is ‘presenteeism’ endemic in the workplace?
Presenteeism is when employees come into work despite being sick enough to justify staying at home.
It can be counterproductive to have people working when they are unwell – through being ineffective and spreading illness. A third of workers believe they’ve caught a cold from a ‘mucus trooper’ colleague.
Balancing absenteeism and presenteeism is a fine art – but worth getting right. For help with sickness policies, contact us.
Irish businesses boosting pay
A survey from Ibec, the business representation organisation, found that three quarters of Irish companies are planning to increase basic pay in 2018.
Alongside this, 43% of companies are intending to increase staff numbers next year. This is great news for the Irish economy.
Recruitment and pay increases should be planned carefully to align with objectives and budgets.
If you’re considering pay rises or new recruitment, this is a great time to have your contracts professionally reviewed to ensure they’re delivering for you as well as your staff.
Advice line supporting employers
A study for Shannon Chamber found that more than a quarter of Irish employers experienced a workplace dispute in 2016, and one in five experienced personal injury claims.
35% of employers who experienced a dispute were referred to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Labour Court.
Such disputes can be a drag on HR resources and upsetting for business owners and managers.
The best way of handling disputes is to stop them happening in the first place. Well written polcies are a good place to start.
And with our retained employer advice line, you get unlimited insured advice to help prevent disputes starting.
If you follow our advice from the outset, you’re even covered for any tribunal costs or awards.
Contact us for more information about our retained advice line.
People Matter October 2017
Too sick to take leave?
A European Court ruling recently found that Francisco Pereda, a Madrid council worker, was entitled to rearrange a holiday because he suffered an injury just before leaving for it.
Francisco took legal action against his employer after being refused permission to alter his holiday arrangements on account of his injury. The European Court of Justice ruled in his favour, stating he should have been allowed to change his holiday arrangements and given the option to postpone his leave.
The ruling is being interpreted to mean that employees who fall ill, or are injured, just before their holiday should be entitled to swap their current holiday with sick leave. They should be permitted to take their holiday at a later date.
Some employer representatives are warning this could be open to abuse and have far-reaching consequences – particularly for SMEs with limited resources. This, of course, comes hot on the heels of other judgements concerning holiday rights, such as commissions and overtime being reflected in holiday pay.
The fundamental principle behind such cases is that all workers are entitled to sufficient holiday breaks from work, and should not be put off from taking them in any way. In this most recent example it’s deemed unreasonable that ill health or injury should prevent much-needed recreational breaks.
Our advice is that if an employee is sick before, or whilst on, their annual leave, to let them reschedule it. As an employer, you are unable to force an employee to take annual leave when they are eligible for sick leave – and most reasonable employers probably wouldn’t want to. Any statutory holiday entitlement that isn’t used because of illness should be carried over to the following year.
Don’t forget to ensure you take a fair and consistent approach to claims of being sick whilst on annual leave to avoid accusations of unfairness or discrimination.
If you need help with managing annual leave, give us a call.
The cost of employee fraud
Earlier this year a Bank of Ireland employee was jailed for 12 months for stealing nearly €150,000 from her employer.
Employee fraud is a costly and upsetting crime. Be aware that the most damaging cases tend to be perpetrated by senior staff of long-standing.
Mitigating the risk of fraud is a complex task encompassing many areas of your business. These include robust financial control; culture (where colleagues can raise concerns in confidence) and strong HR policies.
If you discover employee fraud you should report it as a crime. It’s then a good disciplinary policy that will give you the proper framework to handle it from an HR perspective. Outside, expert help is strongly advised.
It’s complicated. For a longer consultation, or a review of your disciplinary procedures to ensure they allow you to deal with employee fraud correctly, contact us.
How far can you go when monitoring employee emails?
A recent ruling from the European Court of Human Rights declared that a business was wrong to fire an employee for using a Yahoo Messenger work account for personal use.
The Romanian engineer used the account to message his brother and fiancée, despite company policy saying that professional accounts may not be used for personal reasons.
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees respect for private and family life and correspondence.
The court ruled in the employee’s favour because the employer had breached this right to privacy.
This suggests that employers must give explicit warnings to staff if they want to monitor their internet use. This is potentially troublesome for employers in an age when boundaries between private and professional life are becoming ever more blurred due to social media and other digital innovation.
If you do feel it necessary to check the communications of your staff, ensure you strike a balance between prohibiting your employees from taking advantage of company assets, whilst not excessively monitoring private messages.
You must also make sure your employment contracts explicitly state that you are permitted to monitor their online activity in the workplace. If you don’t have this in writing, you could find your options restricted if you suspect improper behaviour.
We can help you get the balance right and ensure that your contracts and handbooks are written correctly to give you the powers your business needs, whilst staying on the right side of the courts. Get in touch with your local HR Dept to see how we can help you.
The impact of poor holiday planning
Ryanair has recently encountered staff scheduling problems, resulting in cancelled and delayed flights and as this has left the airline nearly £22m out of pocket it has been an all-round PR disaster. Ryanair claimed this was due to poor management of pilots’ holidays and if that were the case their HR team want to be taken to task.
With Christmas on the horizon, this is a timely reminder to make sure that the spacing of staff holidays is aligned with the needs of the business.
It will ensure you do not experience staff shortages during busy periods and avoid subsequent gaps in your service.
If you need help managing annual leave, contact The HR Dept. Our web-based HR Toolkit is a digital platform that makes holiday bookings easy for you and your staff.
It’s specifically designed for small businesses and removes the hassle of managing employee holiday bookings.
The menopause is something that affects all women to some degree and even though Jenni Murray became famous for saying on radio ”Is it me or is it hot in here?” it is still a taboo subject.
We would suggest a sensible pragmatic approach and making reasonable adjustments for staff going through this potentially difficult time such as providing fans to even reviewing uniforms to ensure they are comfortable.
Employee wellbeing should be a high priority for any business – from stand-out life events like the menopause to more day-to-day happenings.
Mediation in the workplace
As they say, “it’s nice to be nice”. But in stressful situations sometimes people just don’t see eye to eye and arguments ensue, resulting sometimes in a poisonous atmosphere and even drops in productivity. If this occurs and a quick handshake won’t do the trick, mediation may be the best way forward.
Mediation can be a cost-effective and emotionally intelligent solution: bringing people back from the brink before you have to consider replacing staff who can’t work together. We all know what an expensive and time-consuming process recruitment can be.
As you’re probably aware, mediation involves a trained independent third party that helps the antagonists to come to an agreement.
In small organisations it is unlikely you have qualified mediators within the company who can find impartial resolution to disputes and for a long term solution this is what is required.
If you need to explore mediation, contact your local HR Dept. We can provide advice and even act as an independent mediator if required.
People Matter September 2017
The gender pension gap is worse than the pay gap
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that women are 80% more likely to experience poverty by age 65 than men. A big reason for this is the gender pension gap. Reported in the Irish Times to be 37%, it is two-and-a-half times greater than the gender pay gap, which stands at 14.1%.
Like the gender pay gap there are some identifiable reasons for it, although they should not be seen as justification: Things like career breaks to care for children, staying at home full-stop to run a household, and a greater propensity to take part-time work.
Other factors elaborate the traditional narrative of the gender pay gap. For example, women tend to be more risk averse. Research suggests this plays out in smaller pension contributions by those women who choose to save, and also more conservative investment choices which don’t offer the same potential for growth.
Sectors in which women fare particularly badly include hospitality, retail and wholesale where between approximately 60-80% of women (aged 45-54) do not have a pension. The education sector presents a more positive picture with three out of four women in the 45-54 age cohort having pensions.
So where do employers fit into this? First off, you should ensure you comply with equality legislation. Pensions should be available to people equally, regardless of gender or other protected characteristics. Employers who are proactively addressing the gender pay gap, would do well to factor pensions into their initiatives.
Going beyond this, good employers may wish to invest in better financial education to ensure women understand the importance of pensions. This includes the different options available to them, and the trade-off between risk and reward in an investment context.
A good company pension scheme can be a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining talent. If you offer such a scheme, ensure the benefits are communicated to your whole workforce to ensure you get maximum advantage from it.
How to attract out-of-town talent
Finding the right person for the job can be far from easy. Sometimes casting a wider geographical net may be the answer. But persuading someone to relocate isn’t exactly simple. So here are a few tips and considerations.
When advertising the job, think what someone far away would really like to know. There’ll want an idea of more than just the job description and remuneration. If someone’s going to up sticks for you, among other things they’re going to want to get a real insight into your company culture.
So make sure this is communicated and shown off from the beginning. Technology can be your friend here – you could consider employee video testimonials and behind-the-scenes footage of your organisation.
They’ll need to be assured that the change of scene is worthwhile. So highlight the benefits of your location. If your office is based in an urban centre, describe the hive of activity.
Or if you’re a countryside business, make a point of the tranquillity and beautiful surroundings. Always include the local schooling and culture. Wherever you are based, utilise current staff – they can share their favourite eateries or walks and help you paint an attractive picture.
Digital media makes it easier than ever to promote positions far and wide so ensure you use its leverage to the full. But also, especially for key hires, don’t forget traditional methods of recruitment.
Even face-to-face networking at key industry events can be a great opportunity for finding the right talent. What better way to show your commitment than by actually going out there to meet the right person.
Internships: A millennial could be your social media star
You may have seen that beleaguered UK train company Southern Rail made headlines in July by delegating their Twitter account to a 15-year-old work experience student. Although the thought might have some senior managers palpitating, the student’s witty responses and endearing charm worked wonders for Southern Rail’s reputation.
Many companies rely on a strong social media presence to stay relevant. This task can lend itself to social media-savvy millennials who’ve grown up as digital natives. However, it’s important to define strategies to make sure social media activity is aligned to your business, and offer training. A social media policy is also essential to set out what is and isn’t acceptable when representing the company and offer guidelines on tone of voice and messaging.
For a social media policy or advice on managing interns, contact The HR Dept.
How good is your onboarding?
According to some sources, a total of €30 billion is lost annually in the UK and US on unproductive employees who don’t understand their job. We’re certain it’s no different in Ireland either. Our online search found plenty of bad examples.
We came across one lady describing how, when she arrived at her desk on her first day, she was immediately told to visit HR to sort out paperwork… in a different building. When she got there, they didn’t even have her name on file!
One employee stated how they were escorted to their desk without being introduced to anyone or shown around. Another described an onboarding session consisting of the owner talking non-stop about themselves – for eight hours.
For a meaningful employer-employee relationship, it’s important to take time to settle new starters. And don’t forget to tell them what their job is!
The best tech firms to work for in Ireland
Careers website Glassdoor has declared social media giant Facebook to be the best tech firm to work for in Ireland.
96% of reviewers would recommend working at Facebook – HubSpot was a close second with 94%. Facebook is well known for being at the forefront of progressive HR policies, which include generous benefits like four months of paid paternity leave –not to mention free food!
Word of mouth is a valuable part of your company’s reputation as an employer. Having your employees vouch for your company can be a powerful recruitment tool. And offering generous perks and benefits can certainly attract top talent to your business – and keep them.
Preparing for seasonal workers
Christmas may be some way off, but it’s important to plan ahead – no, we’re not talking about ordering your turkey or planning the Secret Santa!
If your sector experiences a Christmas surge of business, it’s wise to consider your seasonal staffing requirements now.
Alongside getting ahead of the game by sourcing staff early, it will give you the chance to do it properly.
This includes a robust recruitment process, employment contracts and understanding and communicating the rights and benefits they have – these are generally the same as for permanent staff.
Safety Matters: Summer 2017
Farmers account for the most work-related deaths in Ireland
Almost half of work related deaths in Ireland have been caused by the agricultural industry – making it the sector with the highest fatality rate.
The figures showed that those who were self-employed had the highest rate of fatal accidents.
This highlights again the importance of assessing all risk faced by employees and how to work safely in that environment.
Although the decline was 20% less than the year before the HSA has urged businesses small and large to ensure that Health and Safety is a priority for businesses.
The HSA has been implementing and monitoring specific industries that are high risk such as farming, fishing and construction sectors and implementing awareness campaigns to raise awareness of the lack of health and safety in those industries. On the positive side, businesses have been taking part in educational training courses which is instrumental in reducing the fatality rate of these risky industries.
Health & Safety Myth
Health and Safety Regulations now ban the use of ladders.
This is a story that appears frequently. There is no ban on ladders if they are used safely. There are regulations to ensure that people do use ladders safely to reduce the numbers of workers seriously injured or killed falling off ladders every year.
There is no ban on ladders as long as they are secured and used appropriately.
Construction Safety Week
The Construction Safety Partnership Advisory Committee has proposed Construction Safety Week on the 23rd – 27th October. The vision is to highlight the importance of being committed to following health and safety procedures every day, reduce the number of accidents on construction sites in Ireland and inspiring all to share best practices to strengthen the culture of health and safety within businesses. The aim of this week is to promote work safety together and celebrate the progression of health and safety in the workplace to date.
Safety Alert for Hot Drums
Following a serious incident that involved the explosion of an empty metal drum, the HSA have issued a safety alert in regards to employees carrying out ‘Hot Work’ in the workplace. An employee was fatally injured whilst carrying out ‘Hot Work’ on an empty metal drum which exploded due to the waste residue contained within it. ‘Hot Work’ is a process where there can be an ignition source or hazard of flammable material.
A risk assessment should be carried out before ‘Hot Work’ is carried out and alternative options should be considered or risks avoided by using specialist companies or methods. For all your Health and Safety queries contact your local HR Dept today.
People Matter August 2017
The gender pay gap under the spotlight
Gender pay gap issues have blighted industrialised nations for decades. Over in the UK, the BBC’s publication of its on-screen talent’s pay showed the lack of progress that appears to have been made.
RTE recently revealed that their top earners list was also dominated by men, with only three women appearing in the top ten. The state broadcaster’s report showed that Late Late host Ryan Tubridy came in at the top of the list, earning €495,000. The highest paid woman was Miriam O’Callaghan, who earned €299,000 for her summer chat show, Prime Time.
As a response to this, RTE has now initiated a review of role and gender equality across the whole organisation, as well as looking into greater representational equality.
Gender discrimination such as a pay gap is against the law. But the damage a pay gap can cause goes beyond legal liabilities such as fines and penalties. Such unfairness is bad for staff morale and can result in heated disputes or industrial action. In a free market, top talent will ultimately go elsewhere in return for a fair wage.
There is a suggestion that sentiment is building for meaningful change – so organisations that have a pay gap issue would be wise to ensure they’re not behind the curve.
Women’s equality groups, trade unions and opposition politicians are now hoping to fast-track legislation and force companies with more than 50 employees to report on any pay differences between male and female staff.
Organisations which pay employees unequally based upon gender or any other protected characteristics are at risk of being penalised by a tribunal. Alongside this, no organisation wants a reputation for not paying people on merit. That is bad for business in the long run as it diminishes the chances of recruiting and retaining the best staff.
Do you have a gender pay gap problem? To ensure you are adhering to the Employment Equality Act 1998, contact The HR Dept. Our expert advisers will offer you all the guidance and support you need.
How autumn can affect employee productivity
The varying seasons affect the way many of us function. As the days get shorter and nights get longer, you might find that the upcoming autumn months have an impact on the workplace too.
Some employees become more efficient as there is no glorious sunshine to distract them from their daily tasks. But on the other hand, it’ll come as no surprise that cold weather often leads to increased rates of illness and sick days.
Rainy days may affect the mood of your staff – particularly those who commute in cold, wet weather. And when the daylight really starts to diminish, some find SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) kicks in.
If you need any advice on keeping your employees happy and productive throughout the next few months, contact The HR Dept.
Employers recount the worst interview candidates
A recent Reddit post asked employers to reveal some of their most painful experiences with interviewees. And the results might astound the most seasoned of hiring managers. We selected some of our favourites to highlight just how interesting the world of HR can get!
One manager asked a candidate, “What would you do if you had a conflict with another co-worker?”. The applicant responded with an anecdote about how a previous co-worker had had an affair with his then-girlfriend and he’d had to encounter him every day at work and “resist beating his ass”. The candidate then felt the need to follow this statement with, “I mean, I got him outside of work, but I never touched him at work!”.
Another hiring manager reported the downright brashness of one candidate who said, “You guys would be lucky to have me. Google is trying to recruit me too!”. The manager promptly wished him the best of luck at his job at Google.
During an interview for a restaurant position, one candidate was asked to give an example of his leadership abilities. The candidate replied by telling the interviewer how, in his previous job, he disliked the head chef so much that he organised the kitchen staff to walk out during the Friday night rush. There’s no denying this shows leadership qualities – but maybe not the right kind!
The hiring process can be just as frustrating for those on either side of the table. If you need advice on how to avoid car crash interviews, contact The HR Dept.
It’s a busy time for holiday requests
Managing conflicting holiday requests, ensuring your business is adequately staffed during busy periods… It’s enough to make you want to take a holiday yourself!
Next up it will be the Christmas period, so check out our HR Dept Toolkit quick!
It’s a cloud-based, simple platform that can be used by you and your employees. The Toolkit manages a variety of HR tasks such as staff holidays, employment contracts, inductions, appraisals and sickness.
A key feature of the Toolkit is that it has three tiers of access – owner, manager and employee.
This means that everyone in your organisation can control and view information at their appropriate level.
So, if you would like to find out more about this stress-free, low-cost way of managing your HR, contact us and we’ll be happy to arrange a demo for you.
Gender pay gap update
The BBC (public broadcaster in the UK) gender pay gap has been well publicised.
At the time of writing, the latest news was that female stars were calling on the BBC to take action.
Of course, the BBC isn’t alone in having a gender pay gap. In the case of the screen stars, the BBC may not be breaking the law.
But generally, not only is it illegal to pay employees differently based on gender, it can result in low morale and employer/employee trust issues, as the BBC is discovering.
More work needs to happen on abolishing the gender pay gap.
At the current rate of progress it’ll take 62 years to close it fully.
For help getting this right, give us a call.
Latest update on tribunals
News from across the sea: The UK Supreme Court has ruled fees for employment tribunals are unlawful because they restrict access to justice a basic principle in UK law.
The introduction of fees of up to £1,200 saw a 79% drop in tribunal claims in 2013. The government immediately stopped charging the fees and are looking at refunding the £32m charged in recent years.
The big question now is will they allow people who did not make a claim because of the fees to make one now even if technically out of time.
Undoubtedly, more employees will now take their bosses to a tribunal even though it is thought a lower fee will be introduced.
Many of our UK clients have expressed concern about the increased risk posed by increased tribunals. Sound, practical and pragmatic professional advice is the answer.
Our Advice Line service – which covers unlimited telephone and email support – is backed by our market-leading tribunal insurance. So, if you follow our HR professional’s advice, you’re completely covered from any award at a tribunal.
T H E I N D I C A T O R
Employment and litigation issues
Maternity pay – Paid for 26 weeks by Dept Social Welfare. Addtional Maternity pay – Further 16 weeks unpaid Additional Maternity Leave. Adoptive leave – 24 weeks unpaid, unless contractual, and may rules to qualify for adoptive benefit. AAL – 16 weeks unpaid.
2 Week’s pay per year of service plus 1 week, from age 16. Capped at €600 per week gross. SRP is tax exempt.
NATIONAL MINIMUM/LIVING WAGE
Hourly pay rate – €9.25 experienced adult workers, €8.33 over 18 and in second year of employment, €6.48 for workers under 18 and €7.40 from first year from date of first employment aged over 18.
Hourly pay rate – €6.94 for employee over 18 in structured training during working hours 1st one third period, €7.40 2nd period, €8.33 3rd third period.
People Matter July 2017
How family friendly are you?
Most parents will tell you that it can be a struggle when it comes to balancing work and family life. The school run, unexpected sickness, sleepless nights and costs…lots and lots of costs. Many companies are now beginning to realise the importance of supporting employees who have children.
Tech giant Google is well-known for its pioneering work culture, and its Mountain View campus in California boasts four childcare centres. Facebook offer free meals and a free laundry service, alongside $4,000 ‘baby cash’ given to employees with new-borns. The company also subsidises the cost of childcare and provides help with adoption costs.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of bad practice too – both through ignorance and deliberate acts. Such actions are very likely to see employers fall on the wrong side of a tribunal judgement. For example, you should never assume that pregnant women want to immediately be taken off big accounts or that they will no longer want to travel for work. Even if your intentions are positive, this is a form of discrimination. And that’s before we even talk about more overt discrimination like bullying or forced redundancy.
It’s not always easy for SMEs, but providing parenthood perks can be beneficial to you as an employer too. If you want to recruit and retain talented staff, they can be can be a major attraction, as well as enhancing your reputation. Whatever you do, it’s important to ensure that you give benefits equally – extending them to adoptive parents and same-sex couples too for instance.
Contact The HR Dept for expert advice on family benefits.
Time off for dependant leave
All male and female staff have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with dependant emergencies. But this is not time to stay at home waiting for deliveries or service engineers. It is unpaid time to deal with emergency situations.
For example, when childcare arrangements break down, a dependant is taken to hospital, or putting care in place for elderly relatives. The key phrase here is ‘reasonable time’. This should usually be one or two days to enable other arrangements to be made. Not time off – a whole two weeks of chicken pox and the like.
You must ensure your policy clarifies this and that it states staff must ring you as early as possible, explaining what the problem is, and how long they plan to be away. This should not be a regular occurrence. If it is, particularly during school holidays, ask The HR Dept for help managing it.
It’s raining babies
Count back nine months from September and October, and you may not be surprised to find that those autumn months are when most babies arrive. The cold, dark nights of the previous winter, the Christmas parties and all that!
We’re only a couple of months out from that period now, so are you managing any expectant mothers correctly? It’s essential to maintain communication with employees on maternity leave, be aware of contractual benefits, and know the appropriate pay rates.Are any of your staff pregnant right now? If so, The HR Dept are here to advise.
How does adoption leave and pay differ from maternity leave and pay?
A survey by Slater Gordon showed that 40% of managers try to avoid recruiting women of childbearing age because of fear of them having children.Well, we hate to break it to them, but not only is that illegal, but nowadays any member of staff could opt to become an adoptive parent. They would thereby have the equivalent rights that are given to employees through pregnancy and maternity. Under the Adoption Act of 2010, same-sex adoption was approved and this enabled same sex couples to jointly adopt children and stepchildren.
For adoptive couples, as it stands only the mother is entitled to adoptive leave from employment, except where the male is the adopter. Prospective adopters must go through a rigorous assessment and training process before they are approved to be capable of parenting a child. Don’t you wish, when watching hopeless parents trying to manage unruly kids, everyone had to do the same? To accommodate these training and approval panel days, primary adopters are entitled to paid time off work for this period before the child arrives.
This period is likely to be an emotional rollercoaster, particularly once approved parents start searching for the right child – therefore, your support will be essential.
Although you get longer to know about the plans with adoption, there is uncertainty about the actual time when it will happen. This can make it difficult to plan for. Once approved, it can take a year or even longer to be matched. The key here is to keep communication lines open so that you’re aware of the stage they’re at.
After the employee has been matched with a child, they have four weeks to inform you that they intend to take leave. They are entitled to 24 weeks’ adoption leave. So, as with maternity leave, there are several technical things to get right as an employer, as well as a benefit in being able to manage such situations with emotional intelligence.
For help and advice, call The HR Dept.
Shared parental leave
There has been talk of introducing shared parental leave in Ireland for some time. Now, it seems that the talking is about to stop. There are two schemes expected to be introduced in September that will give new parents up to four additional weeks of parental leave.
The first is two weeks’ paid parental leave for fathers. This is likely to be complemented with an extra two weeks of parental leave available to either parent. This falls short of the full year that has been suggested, and the 50 weeks’ shared parental leave that was introduced in the UK in 2015. But is that a bad thing? Take up of the UK scheme has been low. It’s complicated, tends to be less financially beneficial to parents and probably suffers from cultural headwinds. Maybe a smaller scale scheme in Ireland will be more workable.
Dismissal for Pregnancy
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) recently awarded €5,179 to a beauty therapist who was dismissed after informing her employer she was pregnant.€4,000 of the payment was attributed to the discrimination the woman experienced, whilst the remainder was for factors like holiday pay. Unpleasant detail emerged during the case, including an allegation that the manager’s daughter told the employee that her pregnancy was “her own problem”.
Under Irish employment law, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of pregnancy. This case illustrates that perpetrators will be punished by the WRC. Whilst the pay-out was relatively small, it should be noted that the company went out of business shortly afterwards, showing that such penalties hit employers where it hurts.
For advice on managing employees through pregnancy correctly, call The HR Dept.
People Matter April 2017
Terror attack guidance
Across the Irish Sea, the UK government recently announced new guidelines that include how employers should prepare for, recognise and respond to a terrorist attack. They were published two days before the shocking events of the Westminster terror attack, which serves as a stark reminder of why we must all be prepared for the worst. Let’s take a look at what is included.
The new guidelines are comprehensive, covering a range of threats through 14 different sections. These include:
Weapons and firearms attacks where details of the “Run, hide and tell” tactics are provided.How to deal with suspicious items, the threat of attack through incoming mail and bomb threats. For suspicious items, the four C’s are recommended – Confirm (it’s suspicious), Clear (the immediate area), Communicate (call 999) and Control (access to the cordoned area).The danger of suicide bombers, vehicle bombs and other vehicle-based attacks. Notably, the National Police Chief Council has approved wider use of roof markings on HGVs to assist airborne police units when tracking stolen lorries.Chemical, biological and radioactive threats.How to protect against insider threats and cyber-attacks.The guide, available on the UK government website, is intended for use by the public as well as organisations. For employers, considering and acting upon the advice could form an essential part of their duty of care towards employees.
Often an HR department will be one of the key parts of an organisation responsible for delivering recommendations. If you would like help implementing anti-terrorism measures, particularly if you are in a sensitive industry, for instance a haulier, then get in touch with your local HR Dept.
Science in seating plans
How much thought do you put into where employees sit? If the answer is not much, then you could be missing a trick. Mixing things up can have a dramatic effect on productivity. Flexi-desks, also known as hot desks, are one way to ensure that people do not get too cosy in established spots.
However, if you want to get more scientific, research from Cornerstone On Demand – a US-based consultancy – will be of interest. They categorised workers into three camps:
High productivity, low quality Average productivity, average quality Low productivity, high quality
They found that if you sit 1’s and 3’s together it helps them bring out the best in each other – improving quality in 1’s and productivity in 3’s. The same benefit was not seen in 2’s, so they are best seated together. They found that adopting this method could lead to a significant 15% boost in organisational performance. Worth investigating!
What’s causing the absence?
It’s essential for a well-run organisation to manage absence effectively, and often helpful for employees’ well-being too. However, the cause of absence may not always be down to the employee. When examining absence data, it’s helpful to look for patterns beyond the behaviour of individuals. For example, do people from one team display more absence than average? That could point to a bad line manager, causing absence through poor management technique. Where this, or other factors, might be the underlying cause, the quicker it’s identified the better. We run training courses on manging absence. Get in touch for more information.
Making HR a walk in the park
We all know what a challenge HR can be at times, especially dealing with a disciplinary or managing performance. So here is a top tip to help with the lighter side of HR.
May is National Walking Month, when charities, employers and other organisations will be encouraging people to get out for anything from a light stroll to making some serious strides.
With many roles in the modern workplace leading to workers being sedentary for most of the day, getting people to walk more is a sure-fire way to increase productivity and job satisfaction.
There are numerous health benefits to walking, which can boost the mind as well as body. These include:
Releasing endorphins to boost your mood and act as a natural energiser.Helping you lose weight and tone up muscles in your lower body. A half-hour walk can burn between 75-150 calories, which soon adds up if you make it habitual.It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions. For instance, the risk of stroke can be reduced by 27% with a daily half-hour walk, whilst the chances of getting type 2 diabetes are said to be cut by 60%.It’s even said that dementia can be warded off by walking at least six miles a week.That’s a big thumbs up for walking and clearly will benefit employers as well as individuals. So what could you bring in to promote it?
Some companies implement challenges to get staff walking: taking the stairs instead of the lift or setting competitions to see which teams can walk the furthest (technology can help here, with the rise of Fitbits and other pedometer devices).
Why not team up with a charity as well, you may as well raise some money for a good cause whilst you’re at it!
Encouraging walking is a great proactive HR policy that contributes to employee well-being, team spirit, and even a bit of positive PR through association with a charity. For help with your first steps contact The HR Dept.
Sickness absence falling, but not for everyone
Sickness absence has fallen considerably since records began. Especially in the public sector. In just one year the rate of sick leave across the service fell by 0.4% to 3.9%. That means on average each employee is taking around 8.5 days of as sick leave each year. It’s continuing to fall steadily following a marked decrease after the 2008 financial crisis. The over 65 age bracket tends to buck the trend, being higher than any other demongraphic. With an ageing population, Irish businesses will have an older workforce on its books, so making sure you’re prepared to deal with sickness absence issues is important.
So this data presents an opportunity for businesses to support them with targeted occupational health support which will also help control absence levels.
These could include devising return to work programmes, making reasonable adjustments and identifying workplace issues that may contribute to absence. The statistics suggest this will be a growing issue, so if you need support call The HR Dept.
Ties out, slippers in?
Relaxed dress codes are now common in some sectors. Will the latest fad from Sweden catch on? That is, taking your shoes off at the workplace door and donning slippers. The idea being that comfortable staff equals productive staff.
Your dress code will be influenced by many factors, including the industry you’re in, the day-to-day activities of staff and the image you want to portray.
Perhaps a financial services firm may want to retain a strict code to demonstrate professionalism, trust and accountability, while a digital agency may go relaxed to show creativity.
Even if your dress code is smart, bear in mind the seasons. With summer coming, many companies relax dress codes so things don’t get too uncomfortable in hot weather.
Whatever you do, get it down in a proper policy and apply the rules consistently.
People Matter August 2016
Employee or not employee?
That is the question being discussed at an employment tribunal this summer, as we shall see later.
There are several legitimate ways of hiring people to work for you. The classic way is taking someone on as an employee – full or part time. This comes with statutory obligations like holiday and sick pay, and the employee is entitled to other rights like the National Living/Minimum Wage. The employer is also responsible for administering PAYE tax and paying Employer National Insurance.
Then there’s the freelancer or contractor route. Here the worker is self-employed and does not have the same rights. Subject to the terms of their contract they must make their own provision for things like holiday and sick pay through their fees. They are also responsible for taxes.
So far so good, but what about when the lines become blurred? Uber, the taxi app, has found itself on a rocky road this summer as thousands of its drivers in the US and the UK continue to fight for certain rights.
Uber insists they are self-employed: drivers are their own boss – free to accept or turn-down work. The drivers claim they are ‘workers’, a legal term that grants similar rights to employees.
Such disputes could be costly for small businesses. The best defence is to have really clear contracts and policies for people that work for you. For advice and professionally drafted documents speak to The HR Dept.
Pokéjobs: When apps invade the workplace
Love it or loathe it, Pokémon Go is a phenomenon – enchanting children and adults alike. Most grown-ups have jobs, so what happens when such apps start encroaching on the workplace? In one extreme case, New Zealander Steve Currie quit his job to hunt down all 151 Pokémon full time! Assuming your staff don’t walk out forever, a well-worded IT policy should prevent productivity from dipping.
If you don’t mind employees occasionally trying to snaffle a Jynx or Dragonair behind a plant pot, be aware of Health and Safety. Staff walking around with their head in a smartphone could bump into something more than virtual! And what about positives? Apps like Pokémon Go encourage staff to move about whilst playing, perhaps getting exercise at lunchtime: something that is often all too lacking in the modern workplace.
Dads days off
Not long to go now until the new Paternity leave rules are in place, they’re due to be introduced on September 1st. From this date onwards the ‘relevant’ parents of a child will be entitled to two week of paid Paternity leave. Their pay during this period will come from the Department of Social Protection. If you have any questions, or if you need a hand amending your employment contracts and handbooks to reflect this, please do get in touch.
Three strikes and you’re out
Taken from the rules of baseball, the term ‘three strikes and you’re out’ is often applied in other contexts. In California, it can mean a mandatory life sentence for any felony after two serious or violent crimes, and in employment it is an approach to disciplining and dismissing staff. But is it a useful or fair tool for managers?
At face value, it seems a simple, easily understood process. But in practice it can be riddled with complexity – especially if policy wording is unclear. What if an employee has two ‘strikes’ in quick succession followed by a year’s exemplary service (or longer) before a third misdemeanour? Does automatic sacking follow?
Then there’s the impact on culture. In small teams where individuals grow into their roles to add value to your business, it may become divisive among the team members if they take sides when a colleague falls foul of the rule. And it could be counterproductive if you corner yourself into dismissing an experienced employee who has notched up a third strike over the length of their long service. There are pitfalls with large workforces too.
Could it create a climate of fear? Is it counter-productive to make staff worry about trivial things such as taking too long on a toilet break? It also may be detrimental to working conditions as people feel more inclined to show up to work when sick (known as presenteesim), and embedding an ‘us v them’ attitude amongst the team.
Amazon, has been criticised before for processes like these. Practices included electronically monitoring staff efficiency while they worked ten-hour plus shifts and walked 11 miles within the warehouse. Disciplinary action was threatened if efficiency slipped out of tightly defined parameters.
Lots of downside then from disciplinary processes expressed as a soundbite. Smaller businesses may find simple good people management a better option. For advice on your disciplinary policies, get in touch with The HR Dept.
We have looked at absenteeism in this newsletter, so what about its opposite: presenteeism. This is the phenomenon of employees working longer hours than they’re contracted for. And it appears to be prevalent among younger workers keen to make a good impression with the boss.
A recent study by tech company Ricoh UK revealed that 67% of employees in the 18-26 age bracket tried to impress managers by exaggerating their workload. 41% thought bosses would favour those who worked more than they were required to.
We all hope it never happens, but being prepared is key. What’s good practice for an employer with employees stranded overseas after a terrorist attack?
Being sympathetic should be a top priority. Even if an employee was not directly caught up in an incident, they may be scared, stressed and alone. Stranded employees may not have a right to be paid, but where it’s affordable a good employer would show leniency – a lighter pay packet may seem like insult after injury!
If hours turn into days or even weeks, our connected world may enable remote working. Tread carefully if emotions are still raw, but it is an option. Of course, any work costs should be reimbursed. As with normal leave, manage the workload carefully, and explain the situation to the rest of your team. We advise all employers to have policies in place recognising transport disruption and to have disaster contingency plans. For advice and drafting call us today.
People Matter December 2016
Are you a good manager?
We hope it goes without saying that you’re not a Mr. Burns character with a complete disdain for employees (and humans in general). Or like David Brent and his cringing yearning to be popular rather than take management responsibility. Or Sacha Baron Cohen’s Dictator: General Aladeen, whose HR process boiled down to ‘disappearing’ anyone who displeased him.
There are of course notorious examples of bad management styles in the real world too.
There’s many a story about J. Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI. One that tickled us concerned his penchant for scribbling unintelligible notes on the sides of memos. One such memo had very thin margins – his scribbled rebuke: “Watch the borders!” was misunderstood by baffled staff, who were too afraid to ask for clarification.
At, no doubt, vast expense they set up extra border patrol checks with Canada and Mexico. It was later revealed that he was demanding bigger margins so he could scribble his darned notes! There’s probably more than one lesson in there.
Good management technique is a fine balance, and best practice changes over time. At one level, big set-piece events like a conference with a free bar and keynote speech have a place, but in doing things on that scale there’s a danger of being too generic to truly engage employees.
Simple things like taking a new joiner for lunch and asking how they have found the induction process. New joiners often spot things that can be improved but we take for granted because we have always done it like that. Getting staff involved by letting them know how the business is doing and the plans for the future. If decisions can involve their feedback and ideas so much the better particularly when solving the age old problems of parking and keeping the kitchen tidy!
Work – life balance at Christmas
This Christmas advert features a cartoon man, struggling to juggle work and family at Christmas. It has struck a nerve as it trumped the heavy-weight John Lewis marketing machine by racking up the most YouTube views.
Work related stress costs millions in lost days annually, not to mention the toll of individual suffering of stressed workers. The advert’s solution isn’t practical (creating toy versions of oneself to handle the ‘work’ bit, in case you haven’t seen it). So how can a proactive employer help staff (and themselves) with Yuletide work-life balance? Some businesses send staff home early on Christmas Eve, and whatever else you do it’s a good idea to have a fair system to manage holiday requests. More generally, an employee assistance programme (EAP) is an excellent employee benefit to offer.
After all the mince pies and Christmas cheer it is a good time to reflect on your business’s progress during 2016 and decide where you want to take it in 2017.
If you have been working too hard making a few New Year Resolutions to change will be good. Plan to build the skills of the team, setting realistic goals not pipe dreams and then monitor their performance along the way.
Make time for you and you’ll not only feel better but have more energy to put into your business and make it the success you deserve!
Is your pay freezing this winter?
Aer Lingus hit the headlines in December, with unions representing 3,000 workers demanding a significant pay increase.
First off, it’s not unusual to be considering pay rises now. Many companies traditionally award cost of living increases at this time of year. But for a while, pay in many sectors has been frozen or seen little growth. The impact of the 2008 financial crisis started that, and there have been numerous geo-political headwinds since that have damaged business sentiment.
For companies that have been feeling the pinch during these difficult times, there are some creative ways that you can show employees you care. Think of the other employee benefits you may be offering. Could these be promoted more to staff to help them understand what you are already offering? Or could you add a little something more that would be appreciated? An extra day’s holiday or a health cash plan are possible ideas here that could be cost effective.
If there is nothing that can be done, honesty is the best policy. Face to face meetings with individuals will let them know they are valued and respected enough to be kept apprised of things. A truthful assessment of when you foresee future pay rises kicking in, is bound to help too.
Such conversations are of course not at all appropriate if the company is in rude health. In the case of Aer Lingus, the Union’s demands are based upon a backdrop of long term suppressed pay contrasted with current executive bonuses and profitability.
Without getting drawn into the finer detail of this case, a disparity in remuneration growth between those at the top and bottom of organisations can cause all kinds of cultural problems for a business. These can include the full range of low morale, poor recruitment and retention, ill will and industrial action, and reputational damage. And when remuneration practices go really wrong, legislation such as that covering minimum wages or discrimination can be breached. This could lead to a whole other level of trouble.
For expert advice on remuneration, call The HR Dept.
Actor “ghost-busted” for fluffing lines
An Actor in Dublin who was fired for fluffing his lines on the Dublin Ghost Bus Tour has won an unfair dismissal case against the Tour Company. The Actor was hired to deliver a ‘journey of hair-raising frights’ which did not meet the expectations of the customers. The Founder of the organisation went to review the actor’s performance, concluding afterwards that improvements had to be made. However, the performance didn’t change, the actor was subsequently dismissed.
The decision came back to haunt them. No clear dismissal process was followed The Labour Court found that the Dublin Bus Tour followed no clear process when dismissing the actor. The Labour Court awarded the actor €7,500 in compensation. This is a nightmare that would help put any SME owner into an early grave! Top tip then for small businesses, always follow a clear process, contact The HR Dept for advice and support, we deal with employment issues from Actors to Zombies.
Bah Humbug HR
At the HR Dept we do get increasingly frustrated by all those miserable so called politically correct practitioners and Councils who proclaim that you cannot say Merry Christmas, have a Christmas tree or a Secret Santa for fear of offending someone.
Apart from the fact that the last time I checked a tree is not a religious icon and Santa is just a fat old man with lots of toys, hum maybe he is worrying!
Of course at parties you do need to provide food and drink appropriate for all staff taking into account their religious views and Secret Santa presents must not be offensive so no jokes that could end up with a discrimination claim.
Parties are working time so a reminder that good behaviour is expected won’t go amiss but at the end of the night wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Then during the year wish people a Happy Hanukkah, Blessed `Eid and a happy Diwali!
People Matter February 2017
Twit on Twitter
An interesting Tribunal case in January brought social media misconduct back into sharp focus.
The case, Creighton v Together Housing Association Ltd, centred on tweets sent up to three years previously.
The longstanding employee, a heating engineer, was being investigated for bullying. During the investigation, the employer uncovered historic derogatory tweets posted about the company by the employee. We can’t print them here but, rest assured, they were full of profanity!
After carrying out a disciplinary process, the employer threw out the bullying charges but dismissed the employee due to the tweets. They judged that they constituted gross misconduct.
The case ended up in a tribunal, which ultimately found in favour of the employer. The judge dismissed the employee’s arguments that the tweets were posted two to three years ago, were assumed to be private and that he deserved to be treated sympathetically for 30 years’ service.
The case highlights several points for businesses to recognise. First, that private social media use should be on organisations’ radar. We strongly recommend having a social media policy. It not only educates employees about what is and isn’t acceptable, but also gives employers a clear framework to take disciplinary action. Second, it highlights the importance of following due process. The judge noted that the organisation had given the employee the chance to explain his tweets, and he had not come up with a satisfactory explanation. Third, the age of the tweets was not material to the dismissal.
Hunting for jobs isn’t easy. Setbacks are to be expected, but rejections rarely come via text as they did for this applicant. Moments after leaving her interview, she received a text message telling her that she’d been unsuccessful in her interview, sounds OK? It was also followed up with a highly insensitive laughing face emoji and a comment that they found the applicants interview answers ‘basic’.
After a very unprofessional encounter with the recruitment team the restaurant eventually apologised. The restaurant has ensured that this incident won’t happen again and that the recruitment team do act with the upmost professionalism and strive to give constructive feedback to all who apply.
If you want to avoid a situation like this, with The HR Dept we offer a comprehensive recruitment service which can provide your business with interview questions, job descriptions and much more to help you through the recruitment process. For more information, please get in touch!
Shared Parental Leave: Is it coming
With the introduction of Paternity Leave last June and with a further two weeks being added to it in September, could Shared parental leave may be on its way for Ireland? The Taoiseach has only yet suggested that companies should adopt a Shared Parental Policy. Doing so would help both parents share the responsibility of child-rearing, promoting gender equality in the workplace. Is this something you want to implement? The HR Dept is there to help you put together the policies you’ll need.
Prominent players in the restaurant industry have come under fire recently. The reason? Various perceived underhand, or even illegal, practices when it comes to paying staff. Let’s take a look at some of these cases with our HR hats on.
How tips are allocated is one issue. Prominent chains such as Las Iguanas and Turtle Bay require waiting staff to pay 3% of sales each evening to their managers – regardless of how much they are actually tipped. Employees have equated this to having to pay to work a shift.
There are several issues here that we would be looking at as HR advisers. Considering the law first, there is a chance that taking money from staff could result in their overall pay dropping below the National Living or Minimum Wages. This could lead to fines, naming and shaming and the awarding of back pay. Even if contracts were worded to cover this eventuality, it’s essential to ensure that what happens on the ground reflects the contract.
Then there is the question of employee morale and motivation. If you get your remuneration package wrong or inflict perceived injustices, you may find it difficult to hang on to good staff, or to get decent productivity – not good for the long-term prospects of a business.
The restaurants in question explain that the funds collected go back into incentive schemes for non-waiting staff. This may be fair enough but, as with all policies, it is important to communicate these effectively to employees to ensure they are understood.
It is not just tipping that has landed restaurant owners in a pot of hot water! Celebrity chef Michele Roux Jr got into trouble for paying staff below the minimum wage at his acclaimed La Gavroche in Mayfair. How did this come about? Because of the long hours that staff worked beyond their normal shifts. It highlights the importance of keeping on top of payroll as well as staff time and attendance.
For help complying with the law and putting effective remuneration packages in place, call The HR Dept.
A coffee a day means productivity is here to stay
Want a 7% increase in productivity? Get a coffee machine! That’s according to Survey Partner ONE. And there are plenty of other indications that coffee can be the lifeblood of the workplace:
It fights off sluggishness – It’s well-known that caffeine is a stimulant that enables employees to remain focused for extensive periods of time.
It can lower the risk of depression – Of course it is a serious condition, but a Harvard study found that women who drink four or more cups of coffee per day have a 20% lower risk of developing depression.
It improves employee relations – A chat over a coffee is the perfect way for employees to develop good relationships – and that’s according to MIT.
It could even maintain integrity – Fortune reports that employees are less likely to adopt unethical practices if they are awake and alert.
…Or in Japanese: KunKun! It is also the name of a new gadget that you can plug into a smartphone to create a body odour smelling device.
It was invented in Japan to by-pass awkward conversations with ‘whiffy’ colleagues, by allowing them to monitor themselves using technology. Ultra-polite manners in Japan make such conversations difficult. But let’s be honest – they are not the most fun ‘chats’ to have here either.
So could KunKun spare blushes in the UK? Body odour can certainly be a workplace issue: unpleasant for colleagues, but also a cause of tension and bullying. Of course, managers should be proactive. But if not handled correctly, conversations addressing the issue can cause offence and damage professional relationships.
It’s a big leap to imagine KunKun catching on over here. So, for now, a professional approach to the awkward conversation is what’s required.
People Matter January 2017
Modern slavery under the microscope
Operation Magnify was introduced in 2015 to crack down on the employment of illegal immigrants. It puts into sharp focus the need for all businesses to carry out proper background checks at the start of the employment relationship – whether it seems necessary or not.
Specific industries are being directly targeted, including construction, care homes, food and hospitality, and agriculture. Among the stated intentions of the operation are to protect legitimate employers, and provide more job opportunities and better prospects for UK citizens and legal migrants.
Just last month, 100 people were found to be working illegally in UK nail bars and were arrested.
This crackdown is also intended to tackle the ‘barbaric crime’ of modern slavery and victims of human trafficking. Many traffickers lure their victims to the UK via the Internet, promising a good job and a better quality of life. But instead these victims arrive illegally and become exploited and forced to work.
As part of the activity last month, warning notices were delivered to 68 businesses stating that they will be fined £20,000 per illegal worker if they have not performed the appropriate background checks.
In a high profile case last summer, burger chain Byron Burger was caught up in a furore for employing illegal immigrants – a result of not performing the necessary background checks.
It is of paramount importance to check the right to work of each prospective employee before you take them on. Employing illegal immigrants or failing to carry-out the vetting process and keeping a solid paper-trail could ultimately result in £20k fine per employee and even up to five years in prison.
Six Nations sweepstake
The Six Nations is back! The fortunes of the teams are bound to be a popular topic of conversation in many offices. Fortunately, this is one sporting event that is largely confined to weekends,so most employees won’t face distraction during working hours.
That said, some businesses do employ weekend staff. If you are one of them you may want to plan ahead and think about shift patterns, or set out rules of how people can or can’t follow the games whilst on duty. While they can cause productivity issues, popular sporting events can be a great way to bring teams together, too. Staff may get together informally to watch a game at the pub. Or you could set up a sweepstake to inject a bit of topical fun into your workplace – if you do make sure you’re not in breach of the Gambling Act!
A Tesco security manager who was dismissed for removing a toy from one of the stores without paying has appealed against the decision and has received damages of €18000. He bought the toy home to see if it was suitable for his child to play with and did state that he had every intention of purchasing the toy. He tried to get hold of Tesco on numerous occasions after his dismissal but they refused to engage with his solicitors which led to his ill health and he ended up having a heart attack. Make sure that you have policies in place to ensure a Tesco disaster doesn’t happen to you, if in doubt give The HR Dept a call!
Tinder-the new workplace matchmaker
Despite only establishing itself in 2012, Tinder has become one of the fastest growing digital apps of all time. On average it records one billion ‘swipes’ per day, and has paved the way for other instant-match dating apps like Bumble and Happn.
Having permanently changed the landscape of online dating, Tinder has also transformed the daunting prospect of finding ‘the one’ into a fun game to play whilst waiting for the bus or for your tea to brew in the office kitchen.
For the uninitiated, the app works by taking note of your location, and then allowing you to upload photos of yourself and a short bio. Then Tinder does the rest, finding suitable matches in your area.
The distinguishing feature of this app is that you judge your potential suitors on a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ basis once you have viewed their images. You swipe left or right depending on whether or not you think they’re a suitable match.
Although this platform makes the formal dating process far less pressured, potential issues can arise when two people match with each other at work.
If this does happen, what’s the next step? If they don’t talk to each other, this could become a source of awkwardness in the workplace. Yet if they do talk, this could lead to a relationship in the office.
Although workplace relationships are not necessarily a bad thing, they can cause many a problem while they last and after a break-up – both for the couple, and their colleagues. Some companies go as far as having policies that cover such relationships.
And what if it never gets as far as a match? One swipes left and the other right, but unwanted attention is still given! In a healthy workplace culture, you will make it clear to staff that they can raise any issues with you if a co-worker has become inappropriate.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, love will likely be in the air with or without the help of Tinder. Make sure you’re prepared to manage romance in your workplace.
Exit in style
Barack Obama’s departure from The White House got us thinking about business exit strategies.
We all know we can’t run our companies forever. For many, the dream will be to step back and leave a profitable business that someone else can manage. So how do you ensure you leave your company in safe hands? Here’re a few thoughts from us:
Train up your managers – give people the skills they need to run your company.
Don’t disappear – The best way to maintain morale is to steadily reduce your hours, rather than leaving suddenly.
Become a consultant – Be available to pass on your experience.
Incentivise the next generation – make them motivated to grow your business.It’s also important to communicate with staff to let them know what’s likely to change and what will stay the same. And, if you can pull it off like Obama, don’t forget to mic drop!
Clocking on to dishonest employees
Trust between yourself and your workforce is essential. It’s difficult to run a profitable and productive organisation if you can’t rely on the people who help you operate it. Having robust policies and systems helps big time – discouraging bad behaviour in the first place but also in catching and dealing with any misdemeanours that do happen.
Clocking-in systems are one area that employees can exploit. This was highlighted when one fast-growing company discovered an employee was also clocking in for a mate, thereby exaggerating the hours they were working.
While this is a clear case of dishonesty, it was facilitated by the company’s clocking-in system. Sadly, if you invest in a poor system, it could end up costing you much more in the long run if it is ineffectual.
Clocking-in is an age old problem, but we have a cutting-edge solution which allows employees to clock in via smartphone or even fingerprints.
People Matter July 2016
HR Dept customer satisfaction survey nears all time high
HR Dept customer satisfaction survey nears all time high We are delighted to report that our customer satisfaction level for 2016 is 9.3 out of 10. This is up from last year, and just short of our 2014 peak. Thank you to everyone who responded. It’s such a pleasure to work with so many great SMEs. Surveys are also about seeing where improvements can be made, and we appreciate your comments, which will help us to get even better.
As well as measuring our own performance, we use the survey as a barometer for SME sentiment. The results here were a mixed bag.
Positive was that a majority of businesses felt confident enough to give employees a pay rise over the next six months. More than one third said they would do so by up to 2%, a quarter were planning 2-5% increases, while lucky employees at 5% of businesses could look forward to a pay rise of more than 5%.
Not so good was recruitment, where redundancy is on the rise. In 2015, just 2.7% of businesses were planning to lose staff. This year that figure has risen to 5%. Although these figures paint a picture before Brexit, it’ll be interesting to see how they compare to next year’s!
Back to good news and we saw significant increases in proactive businesses using our added value services like Health and Safety training, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) and psychometric testing. These are terrific ways for your HR function to add value to your overall business, so we would recommend all SMEs explore the benefits of such services.
Suffer from poor attendance?
If yes, look on the bright side as it’s unlikely your case is as extreme as this! A (now retired) civil servant in Spain is in hot water after he was exposed for not turning up for work for six years, whilst still pocketing his €37,000 salary. It gets worse…
The misdemeanour was only discovered after he was lined up for a length of service award! And worse…
He then tried to sue his boss for not noticing the absence!!
Despite the sheer cheek of the counter-lawsuit, there was clearly some shocking institutional incompetence happening. For the record, it occurred because the employee was posted from the council to a water company. Each assumed that he was carrying out his duties on the other’s premises. Unauthorised absences can hit SMEs hard, so make sure you’re managing them appropiately.
Banter in the workplace
Workplace banter happens everywhere. But it is sometimes difficult to judge when it crosses the line. The difficulty is that there is often a grey area surrounding what is deemed as ‘respectful’ or ‘responsible’ when banter is involved. What may be said in jest by one party could be hurtful or even considered discriminatory to others. Legislation is in place protecting characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender, and race under the Employment Equality Act 1998.
Managing difficult conversations
The majority of managers dread having certain difficult conversations with their employees. Difficult conversations are sometimes necessary, though, in order for the business to function and to maintain an open-minded culture within the workplace.
So what could count as a difficult conversation?
Addressing substandard performanceRaising issues about inappropriate dress
A body odour or bad breath situation
Talking too loudly (and other irritating, atmosphere-damaging habits)
Fallout from an office romance
Sexual harassment complaints
Workplace conflict between two staff members
Refusing annual leave or flexible working requests
Redundancy or dismissal.
Cringing at the thought of these yet? Do not bury your head in the sand. You are not alone and we are here to help. Here are our tips for dealing with difficult conversations.
Identify the problem and face up to it!
Prepare. Establish the facts, check your policies and procedures and read your employee’s file.Do some more preparation.Be clear about exactly what the problem is and the impact it is having on the business and their colleagues. Identify your ideal outcome, and think about what it is that you are most worried about happening, so that you can try to avoid that scenario.
Be in control. You need to control the meeting and how it progresses. It’s not about winning or losing so negotiate if appropriate. But you set the terms and remain in control of your emotions (and temper) too! Stick to a clear agenda.
First, the introduction – set the tone you want for the meeting. Second, explain the issues and evidence. Third, ask for an explanation or their contribution. And fourth, agree a way forward. Document and communicate the outcomes and monitor the progress.
Looking forward to Rio
With our summer of sport in full swing, next in the sporting calendar is the much anticipated Rio Olympics. Here are some tips that can ensure that you and your team have a swimmingly good experience throughout the event.
Fair play – It’s championed by the International Association of Athletics Federation and it’s crucial when you are managing holiday requests. Be as accommodating as you can and when tough decisions need to be made, stick to your policies. Most of all, be fair.
Be wary of cheats – Just as there have been issues with doping and performance enhancing drugs in sport, some employees may be tempted to cheat and pull a sickie to watch their favourite event.
The extraordinary event –Run a sweepstake or host a social event based around one of the games; these are easy and popular ways to engage with staff and, most importantly, have fun!
Managed properly, national sporting celebrations are something to be… celebrated!
So do just that, and take advantage of the atmosphere and excitement whilst you’re at it! With the policies and procedures in place, and The HR Dept at the other end of the phone, you’ll have a great time!
What to wear?!
During the recent heatwave that reached our shores, there was uproar as organisationsattempted to enforce dress codes. One company even sent home an employer for wearing shorts because it broke ‘health and safety’ regulations. Is this health & safety gone mad?! Dress codes aren’t just a problem in summer – they can be an issue all year round.
Earlier in the year, an agency worker was instructed to wear heels by her boss. When she refused to comply, stating that it was discriminatory, she was sent home without pay. If you have a strict dress code it may be wise to review it to ensure it’s justified, and not discriminatory.
The ‘high heels’ case resulted in significant negative publicity for the agency concerned.
People Matter June 2017
Seasonal employment- Your employer’s checklist
With the arrival of the summer, many businesses need additional staff to cover increased demand or to cover existing staff holiday or sickness but it is important to get the right contractual relationship in place.
Firstly be clear about what additional hours and commitment you need. If it is for set hours and time then a Fixed term employment contract is ideal. These staff have the same benefits as your other employees but with a fixed end date. Having notice periods and the right to extend makes this contract more flexible.
To cover fluctuating demand the much maligned casual zero hour contract is best. The people on these contracts are workers and have fewer employment rights but the flexibility of casual work suits many people and is an ideal way to manage seasonal work.
On a more regular basis for drivers or warehouse staff in particular agency workers can be the answer. This is a highly regulated area and can be expensive but in high turnover roles provide the solution.
If you think you can manage using your current staff remember the dreaded Working Time Regulations limit on weekly hours and that overtime could have to be included in future holiday pay.
Whether worker or employee the National Minimum or Living Wage applies and holiday accrues from day one, but to be clear about what is best for you and the rules that apply ring The HR Dept.
Don’t be blind to talent
There are many challenges a visually impaired person may encounter – but employment discrimination should not be one of them.
Only 16% of the visually impaired in Ireland are employed – compared to 41% in the UK, 36% in Australia and 33% in Canada.
This suggests that Irish employers are missing out on a considerable talent pool. There are complexities, with issues like additional costs, workplace adaptations and ensuring other employees are suitably trained. But these are not insurmountable barriers and are no excuse for declining employment.
For instance, there’re grants available that can help with cost. Adaptations can be small – like adjusting lighting. And technology has come on in leaps and bounds: did you know that Braille now comes in a digital format?
We must underline that it’s illegal to discriminate due to disability. If you want guidance on staying legal and finding great employees, including those with visual impairment or other disability, get in touch.
A healthy commute works wonders
A study of workers by OnePoll unveiled that if you want to boost your employees’ morale, then an active commute could be the answer!
Rather than rewarding employees with one off-perks like socials and lunches, the survey suggests it is more valuable to offer benefits that promote long-term happiness, like a cycle-to-work scheme.
And in this day and age, it’s more important than ever to keep your staff happy and motivated. Long-term solutions focused on health and work/life balance may be the answer you are looking for.
Hack attack from own employee
To get hacked by an employee once is unfortunate. To be hacked twice by the same employee looks like carelessness. But that’s what happened to a Californian security firm.
The first time, the employee hacked into the payroll system and falsified records to show that he was working vast amounts of overtime. When this was uncovered in 2014, he was dismissed.
The “ex” employee then hacked into the firm’s system again. This time he went on a spree of causing malicious damage. It included, stealing client information to lure them to his own new venture, deleting or corrupting back-up files and sabotaging the company’s website. In what must be a business owner’s worst nightmare, this included posting unflattering pictures of them on the site with the words “Are you ready?”.
The damage this caused was described as debilitating, and the ex-employee was ordered to pay the equivalent of €248,000 in damages.
Not a pretty picture. So what can you do to mitigate the risk of an employee going rogue? Clearly, much of the defence you can put up will come from your IT department or consultant rather than HR. That said, HR can play an important role too.
First, let’s consider the execution of a cyber-security policy. Unfortunately, 90% of all successful cyber-attacks are down to human error. So, you can use HR to ensure that all staff understand the cyber policies and their responsibilities under them.
For instance, who’s in charge of granting access to sensitive data stored online? Do they fully understand the consequences of inadvertently dishing out a username and password? Does everyone know how to identify a suspicious email and what they should do? And the old chestnut of not leaving a laptop without password protection (or any laptop) in the pub!
But you can go further than this with HR. Good recruitment in the first place to minimise the risk of a bad egg. And putting restrictive covenants in employment contracts to stop staff taking clients with them if they leave. For further advice, give us a call.
The decline of the CV
In the digital age, we can legitimately ask if CVs are on their way out. When employers are looking for great talent, more and more are using creative and online ways to find the right candidates.
With the recruitment world constantly changing, big hitters such as Ernst and Young have decided to remove their ‘2:1 degree only’ policy, because it excludes a large pool of otherwise eligible, high quality candidates.
An increasing number of employers feel that CVs are no longer relevant and that they do not accurately represent the individual. In their place, they are using online personality tests and online talent databases. If you know what you are looking for, online platforms could now be the default recruitment tool for you.
If you need assistance in finding the perfect candidate, The HR Dept is here to help.
Live-in worker pay issues
How much to pay live-in workers has become something of a thorny issue. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) recently declared that a family paying a Spanish au pair €100pw had been breaching the minimum wage (€9.25ph). This will affect many au pair/employer relationships.
The issue is particularly clouded.
First, because au pairs are often live-in workers, where a charge for accommodation and food is made. The WRC will send a memo to government soon to clarify how much this will be.
Second, many experience blurred lines in their working hours, being asked to undertake additional tasks like household chores or babysitting.
If you pay the minimum wage, these complexities highlight the pitfalls that can drag the effective rate below the legal minimum. Call The HR Dept if you need help with this.
People Matter March 2017
New ECJ ruling
The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” need not constitute direct discrimination.
At this time of heightened religious awareness, it is important that employers do not take the ECJ ruling at face value it is far more complex than that.
The ruling was clear that the court will only support a ban in limited circumstances. The ruling, which is more nuanced than a straightforward ban, could sow confusion about which religious symbols can be worn at work and could breed discrimination from colleagues and customers if not handled properly.
The ban must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally” and the ban must encompass ALL signs of a religion like wearing a cross and not just a headscarf. This ruling applied to a customer facing role where the neutrality of the company was demonstrated.
The courts ruled that if it is an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards its customers then banning religious insignia is legitimate.
Therefore employers must make sure that this policy bans other religious insignia such as crucifixes, skullcaps and turbans.
But employers should be extremely careful when considering applying bans on religious dress. You will still have a duty to show that you have not enabled indirect discrimination against your employees. There must be clear legitimacy of the policy and necessity for the business, applied appropriately.
Campaign and religious groups have voiced concerns that this ruling could allow employers to discriminate against employees and potential employees on the grounds of religious belief.
Gender pay gap
International Women’s Day, in March, was an opportunity to celebrate the progress made by women in the past year. And also a time to reflect on the challenges yet to be overcome. One of these is the gender pay gap: it is still there and it is substantial.
In the UK the recent introduction of legislation forcing companies to publish the gender pay-gap is coming into force, and in Iceland, recent legislation has resulted in companies being forced to prove they are paying men and women equally.
Equal pay is a legal requirement and it is best practice for companies of all sizes to ensure they have an equality policy and to actually live by it. Half the population are women, do you really want to discriminate against them and earn a bad reputation for the business you have built up?
That’s the amount that the Workplace Relations Commission awarded a woman, dismissed from her place of work post revealing that she was pregnant. According to her, the atmosphere at work changed immediately from the point she notified management of her pregnancy.
She hadn’t been the subject of any disciplinary procedures prior to the dismissal, the employer simply failed to follow the proper process. Employers can take two things from this, don’t discriminate and always follow a consistent process.
To get your disciplinary procedures in place please contact The HR Dept.
The office move
Using April to do more than the usual Spring Clean? Whether by choice or necessity you may be in a position this year to move office. Needless to say amidst the excitement comes a Pandora’s Box of operational, administrative and HR issues. You’ll need to prepare for these. Here are 5 jobs for your list.
1. The ones that don’t want to move
For those with longer and potentially more expensive journeys, the move may not be popular. Having the right mobility clause in your contracts should protect you, allowing you to move with your staff without issue, as long as the move is within the limits outlined, and isn’t deemed totally unreasonable.
The key to preventing a dispute is to keep staff in the loop of your plans well in advance, and ensure they have time available to make adjustments.
2. Getting the little things right
Seating plans, losing a rest room, having a smaller desk, being too close to the kitchen, not having a window… Just a few things there that can change your staff’s attitude about the move. Talk to your team and make sure you’ve got their needs covered within reason, as things will go a whole lot smoother.
A small drop is to be expected, as staff clear their desks and sort through their stuff. Bite the bullet and get this done by Friday for a weekend move, so everyone’s ready for business come Monday.
4. Smooth transition
If the internet isn’t working and the phone lines are down for too long, you’ll leave customers in the dark and your team will be stuck twiddling their thumbs. To the best of your ability get everything ready for that Monday for a truly seamless move.
5. Health and safety!
Your staff need to know where the fire exits are, where extinguishers are, the assembly point for a fire alarm, where the first aid kit is, have a new computer assessment and know who their Health and Safety contact is.
This list isn’t exhaustive but it does give you five key considerations to focus your planning on.
Working from home is a great perk. Although sometimes we can get distracted – perhaps the TV or the cat wanting to be fed.
For viral sensation (20 million YouTube views in a week!) Professor Robert Kelly, the distraction came from his two young children. And, comically, they did their thing during a live Skype interview on BBC News.
Moments into the interview Professor Kelly’s two young children burst into the room, strutting about like they owned the place!
Hilarious for millions around the world, but it highlights the challenges of flexible working.
That said, 38% of millennials believe they do their best work outside the office. And as for employers, flexible working enables them to demonstrate compassion for employee needs – particularly for those with families or a difficult commute.
But to be effective, flexible working must be managed properly. We can help. Contact The HR Dept for advice
Don’t shoot the messenger
It has been revealed that Parcelforce charge self-employed drivers significant amounts per sick day they take without finding a replacement driver.
Approximately 25% of Parcelforce’s couriers are self-employed and, as you can imagine, this has not gone down well.
This is only the latest in a long line of “gig economy” stories where the balance of the relationship between the company and person doing the work seems to have tipped too much in favour of the company.
There are two issues here. First is legal compliance. Here the waters are muddied by confusing variances in different worker statuses and the rights that go with them. At what point is someone considered self-employed, a worker or employed? Second is treating people decently, which is one of the hallmarks of a good employer and one that we believe will add value to a business in the long run.
Preventing People Problems
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