People Matter – November 2022
Happy employees, happy SMEs
Happy employees can only mean good things for your business. However, a recent study has shown that only 25% of employees feel confident in their career at their current company. Why are so many employees having doubts?
One reason may be that fewer than one in three employees surveyed knew how to progress in their current career over the next five years. The survey revealed that only 50% said their manager gave them specific feedback on career progression.
It appears developing skills outside of roles is a priority to employees. The majority said it was more, or equally, important now than before the pandemic to do so.
Providing your employees with the opportunity to grow is key to retaining them. As part of your performance appraisal procedures, introducing a training and development plan can boost your employees’ satisfaction.
The study also found that 41% of employees did not feel comfortable sharing concerns at work with their managers. So, it goes without saying that creating an open and honest culture is invaluable.
If your employees have the confidence to come to you with any issues, it is much easier for you to address them. This will help boost morale and will potentially avoid them becoming dissatisfied and looking for a new role elsewhere.
The results revealed that 75% of those surveyed also wanted to dedicate more time to their personal lives, whilst two-thirds wanted to find a purpose beyond work. Work/life balance is important to your employees, so being able to work in an environment where this is considered will contribute to their job satisfaction and overall happiness whilst working for you.
For many businesses, hybrid and flexible working has become far easier to implement since the pandemic. So, if it works for your business, it is worth considering.
In turn, your employees are more likely to repay you with dedication and loyalty.
Supporting employees with baby loss
Baby loss is an unimaginable tragedy for anyone to go through and obviously having support from those around is important as the parents grieve.
Unfortunately, according to CIPD research, one in five employees who have suffered baby loss did not receive any support from their employer.
Employers do need to acknowledge pregnancy loss and baby loss as an important workplace issue.
However, the CIPD found that only just over half of employers provide support to employees who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks.
This goes hand in hand with how employees felt regarding support from their organisations, with 24% of employees considering leaving their job and 24% thought about reducing their hours.
It is common for one in four pregnancies in Ireland to end in loss during pregnancy or birth. With the amount of people who are of working age and looking to start or grow a family, it is almost certain to assume that these losses will happen to those who are employed.
Employers should be taking this issue seriously and considering what you can do to help your employees.
Individuals’ response to grief is varied and by talking to them an employer could explore areas such as if a phased return to work would help and how they want the information to be shared with colleagues.
Having access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is very beneficial.
To snoop or not to snoop?
An employee at an American software company was fired when he refused to keep his webcam on throughout an eight-hour training session while he was working remotely in the Netherlands. The employee said it made him uncomfortable and felt like it was an invasion of privacy. He received €50,000 at a tribunal.
Even though this specific case occurred overseas, such surveillance is still an issue closer to home.
One in five companies has admitted to installing technology to snoop on staff, or is thinking of doing so. This includes things like how long employees take to read and respond to messages, checking attendance or to secretly film them from their screen.
But is this legal? Technically yes. Monitoring employees who are working remotely or at the office isn’t illegal if it complies with certain regulations.
However, if this is something you are considering you need to show there is a legitimate interest and how the data will be used and stored.
Remember to gain your employees’ consent and circulate a policy to inform them what is going on. All staff should be treated equally to avoid discrimination claims and you should be mindful of well-being, health and the hours people are working.
Discrimination can cost you
An employment tribunal can be costly and damaging to any employer’s reputation, particularly if it involves a discrimination claim. Just look at this recent example from a Vodafone franchise.
An LGBT+ employee was awarded £30,000 from a UK tribunal after she suffered harassment in the workplace.
Ms C was subjected to multiple inappropriate questions and statements during the three-month period. This included being told she looked like a “normal lassie” despite being gay, one worker telling her that they didn’t think LGBT+ should be taught in schools and being told that she “wasn’t financially driven” because she didn’t have children.
This case serves as a reminder about how important it is to avoid discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Do you have the culture and policies to protect your business and staff from such a scenario? Ensuring everyone is treated with respect and that sexist, racist or ageist comments are never acceptable (whether passed off as banter or not) will create a better working environment for all.
If you need help strengthening your disciplinary and grievance procedures, please get in touch.
It’s not all about location
Dublin-based companies are struggling to fill entry-level and graduate positions due to the lack of housing and the cost of living crisis. These factors are causing candidates to emigrate to places like Australia, the UK and Canada.
Those companies who operate fully onsite working models are facing big challenges, as flexible working remains a priority with most candidates preferring a hybrid model.
To attract and retain the best talent, it is important for businesses to take note of what is going on and perhaps change their way of working, if this is possible.
Offering candidates benefits such as flexible working or hybrid working can improve your potential talent pool, as your requirements won’t be location specific.
Who let the dogs out?
As the most popular pet in Ireland, dogs are a topic of conversation in offices up and down the country – but have those furry friends made their way into your office yet?
With more and more businesses letting dogs into the workplace, there are some benefits of having pets around. Including:
- Improved morale
- Reduced stress
- Increased productivity
- Increased retention
Before welcoming pooches into your office, make sure you implement a policy considering the rules the owners should follow, like setting up a rota of who can bring their dogs in on what day, making sure they’re friendly and well-behaved and most importantly – where they can go to the loo!
It is also important to check whether all your employees are on board and if there are any allergies.
People Matter – October 2022
Supporting employee mental well-being during the cost of living crisis
Everyone is feeling the bite of the cost of living crisis now. Bills and prices are soaring left, right and centre. Many people are facing a difficult winter and becoming more mindful of when and where they spend their money.
After conducting research, Laya Healthcare has revealed that 71% of employees say the cost of living crisis is their main cause of stress and anxiety. Furthermore, their findings suggest 35% of employees are feeling concerned or anxious more frequently than not – this figure has increased by 11% in six months as things become more expensive.
The cost of living crisis could bring retention problems for employers as well. Over half of employees surveyed said they would look for a new job which would pay a higher salary. In a difficult financial climate though, offering pay rises may not be an option for SMEs.
If this is the case for you, you could consider re-evaluating your benefits packages. There might be something you can do cost effectively to help out and boost team morale. Offering an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), providing debt support or a salary sacrifice scheme could be welcomed by your employees.
Broader mental well-being is also being affected by the cost of living crisis, with 29% of employees reporting that their mental health is poor. This is obviously bad news for them and bad news for business, so it should be addressed where possible. This could be offering hybrid working, as those who split time between home and the office tend to have a higher level of job satisfaction.
Working from home comes with its benefits which, for some, may include a better work/life balance, fewer distractions and a saving in time and money on commuting. It also makes being in the office more valuable, with employees having face-to-face time for meetings, building team relationships, and elevating the company culture – employees may feel better about only having to come in a few times a week, as opposed to every day.
Stay on the right side of redundancy law
In this economic climate, you may be looking to reduce expenditure. Like many businesses you might recognise your people being a major cost and consider a restructure resulting in redundancies.
But is making an employee redundant a legally justified reason for saving your business money?
To qualify legally, you would need to have ceased operating where the person or persons were employed, have closed completely, or be reducing the head count because you no longer need as many staff as you used to. You may also be organising the work to be done in a different manner, or by people who can also do other work.
The cost of living crisis is likely to provide legal justification for employers to consider making redundancies. The first step is to check your redundancy policy or any contractual considerations before setting out the business case clearly. This will include all the options you have considered before commencing a consultation process, as this will protect you from any possible tribunal claim.
Don’t fear the gap!
You may look at a potential employee’s CV with horror when you see a gap in employment, but don’t fear!
It can be hard to know whether someone has the skills for a role if they take a break from employment. You want to make sure you are hiring the best talent for the job but are worried their skills have faded during their time off.
People step away from work for a variety of reasons including childcare, mental or physical health, redundancy or caring for a relative. Sometimes they’ve taken a career break to fulfil personal goals such as continuing education or going travelling.
The #DontMindTheGap campaign group is asking organisations to stop requesting dates on CVs and instead ask for number of years’ experience. That way, those with employment gaps aren’t unfairly excluded from the recruitment process.
Time off for religious holidays
October 24th marked the start of the Hindu festival Diwali, and the Christmas period is creeping up on us too. With times of celebration approaching for many different cultures, are employees entitled to time to observe religious holidays?
In short, there is no automatic right to time off to observe religious holidays. However, if you’d like to avoid claims covered by religious discrimination legislation, it is a good idea to be supportive of those employees who wish to take time off during these events, if your business allows.
SMEs can implement their own policy and could consider things like allowing employees to use their holiday entitlement or taking unpaid leave.
It is also important to be aware that it may not be just one or two employees who would like the same holiday off. So, ensure you keep your policy on procedural matters in mind when dealing with requests.
Are you considering employee health issues?
In a tribunal case from the UK, Ms Raja was a lawyer who worked as a deputy company secretary at Starling Bank. In March 2020 she was dismissed after she told her manager that she needed to talk about her working arrangements. The pandemic was worsening, and she suffered from asthma. Starling said she was dismissed due to performance concerns. However, Ms Raja claimed she had not been made aware of these before she lost her job.
In late 2019, Ms Raja had to take sick leave due to her asthma and in March 2020, after receiving an email from HR about the company’s monitoring of COVID, she asked to speak to her boss about her medical condition. He told her she would be dismissed because of her performance.
The tribunal agreed Ms Raja has been treated unfavourably because of something arising from disability in respect of her dismissal. It also found Ms Raja was subject to detriment as a meeting was not held to discuss her health and safety concerns.
This case serves as warning to employers to take any employee health issues seriously and consider what you can do to accommodate them reasonably.
Auto-enrolment pensions approved
The new pension auto-enrolment scheme details have been approved by the government ahead of its introduction in 2024.
Employees will be automatically signed up to the pension plan, which is to be co-funded by their employer and the State. However, they can opt out if they choose.
Pension savings will be matched by employers and the State will provide a top-up of €1 for every €3 saved by the worker.
This new pension scheme will allow people who may not currently have one, to begin saving for their retirement.
People Matter – September 2022
A case of unfair dismissal
When it comes to disciplining an employee for what may amount to gross misconduct, it is not just what you do or why you have done it. “How” you do it may be the most pertinent point.
A recent unfair dismissal case from the Labour Court shows just how careful employers must be when dismissing staff, even if they feel they have them bang to rights for gross misconduct.
A gym manager was dismissed suddenly one morning after failing to open up the gym. As context, during the trial her employer stated that throughout her employment there had been persistent attendance issues as well as issues relating to providing personal physiotherapy services on company premises and invoicing using company letterhead.
She was given two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice and asked to return her keys and uniform, whilst being told there was no right of appeal.
Later on, after the employer had received HR advice, another letter was sent which confirmed that a string of offences amounted to gross misconduct but that, in fact, there was a right of appeal. There had been no previous disciplinary proceedings and so this proved to be too little, too late.
The lack of a disciplinary process led to a judgement of unfair dismissal. This was exasperated by the fact that gyms were not hiring at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the complainant suffered a prolonged loss of earnings. The headline award was for €21,736, but this was reduced to €13,800 based on the employee’s actions which contributed to the dismissal.
The case shows that it is essential to have a robust disciplinary policy in place and stick to its framework when managing cases of misconduct or gross misconduct. This includes thoroughly documenting meetings and keeping records of relevant communications, as well as providing a right of appeal.
If you would like a review of your company policies, including your disciplinary policy, please get in touch with us. We can also help you independently manage a disciplinary procedure should you be faced with a complex case.
The Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Act 2022
If you run a hospitality business, the Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Act 2022 may well change the way you remunerate staff. It was signed into law on 20th July 2022. Some businesses may already be in compliance, but for others there are a few things to act upon.
The headlines are: first, that you cannot make up your staff’s basic pay with tips, or deduct wages from them in lieu of tips; second, you are not permitted to refer to a service charge or similar phraseology unless the money received is paid directly to staff; and third, that you must clearly publish your tips policy, stating how they are distributed – both when received as cash and electronically.
Under the new legislation, a service charge is clearly defined as a payment “voluntarily made to, or left for, an employee.” This is distinct from mandatory payments which a customer must pay in order to receive certain goods or services.
As an employer, you are entitled to keep a fair and reasonable proportion of the tips given electronically if you can prove you perform the same services as your team. However you must disclose (within 10 days of the tips being distributed) how much you have retained and how much is paid to employees.
We can help you review your remuneration policies and practices. Failure to comply can lead to a summary conviction and class C fine of up to €2,500.
Better work life-balance for carers
The Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Bill is due to be enacted in October, introducing new workplace rights designed to assist parents and carers and get more women into work. It will help Ireland to comply with the EU Work-Life Balance Directive which enforces a wide range of employment rights across the EU.
Ireland already meets or exceeds many of these minimum employment rights, including those relating to paternity leave and pay and carers’ leave. Key additions to workplace rights from this new legislation, though, include a right of parents with children under the age of 12 to request flexible working; an extension to the period of time paid breastfeeding breaks are permitted from 26 weeks to 104 weeks; and up to five days leave a year for medical care purposes.
If you need help understanding how these changes will affect your business and developing policies to comply with them, please get in touch.
Employee share plans
In this tough recruitment market, employee share plans are an interesting and sometimes very rewarding way to remunerate staff. In addition to the attractions to employees, they can help foster loyalty by giving your team a vested interest in the business.
Broadly, they involve giving employees the right to acquire shares in the business (often at a favourable price) at a future date. If you set one up using an official Revenue scheme, they will come with tax advantages too, although there will be extra rules to comply with.
There are several different schemes including Save As You Earn (SAYE), Revenue Approved Profit Sharing Schemes, Share Subscription Arrangements, Share Retention Plans, Long Term Incentive Plans and various executive plans.
The choice and complexity means it is important to seek advice on which one to choose, and then on set-up and ongoing management.
You do also need to satisfy yourself on how much control of the company and profits to give up, that it will meet your reward objectives and how you will manage and review it going forwards. You might prefer to run a more simple performance-related bonus scheme instead.
Time off for the death of a pet
How would you respond if one of your team asked for time off to grieve following the death of a pet? To many, a much-loved pet is considered part of the family.
There are various statutory (and sometimes contractual) provisions for employees to take time off to mourn a death or care for dependants: typically, a young child, partner or aging parent. However, the definition does not automatically extend to Pickles the cat.
Often, in the short term, you may just follow your instinct and give people the space they need. The answer to the hypothetical question regarding a pet is worth thinking over in more depth. Where would you draw the line? Cats and dogs may be an easy yes, but ferrets and fish…?
Compassion is a welcome trait, but so too is fairness. So think how any pet bereavement leave would work equitably across your company, should an employee ask for it.
A crying shame
Men are encouraged to show their emotions in the 21st century more than ever, and rightly so; but when one CEO shared a tearful picture of himself on LinkedIn, having just made two staff redundant, the response was not so encouraging.
He was called out – brutally – for narcissism and managing his own personal reputation rather than supporting his former employees.
A more helpful tactic would have been to invest in an outplacement service (like the one we offer) which sets up redundant staff with skills and resources for finding new roles.
As it happens, this story did have a happy ending of sorts, when all the negative publicity created by the CEO led to a slew of job offers for the redundant staff.
People Matter August 2022
The Sick Leave Bill 2022
When enacted this autumn, the Sick Leave Bill will bring Ireland in line with most other advanced European economies in offering statutory sick pay.
That is not to say that some Irish employees do not already benefit from sick pay; just that until now, it has been entirely down to whether an employer offers it in their employment contract.
When it becomes an Act, sick pay will be available at the lower of 70% of an employee’s pay or €110 per day. Initially there will only be an entitlement to three paid sick days a year, but this will rise incrementally to five days in 2023, seven days in 2024 and ten days in 2025. The rate paid is not expected to change though.
You’ll need to review your employment contracts and relevant sickness and absence policies to ensure compliance with the Act and, of course, your processes may change too.
To be eligible for sick pay, your employee must have completed 13 weeks of continuous service and provide you with a medical certificate stating that they are unable to work.
The Bill states that any contractual provision which is greater than the statutory one can remain, but will be as a substitution not in addition to statutory pay. It also allows for any contractual provision which is less generous than the statutory amount to be deemed modified in line with the new legal minimum.
In a tough economic climate, this new burden may be too great for some employers. There is some limited provision to be temporarily excluded from the rules by the Labour Court. If, though, you are not excluded and an employee successfully claims that you have not complied, a Workplace Relations Commission may award up to four weeks’ remuneration as compensation.
Note also that there is a requirement to keep records of the sick leave taken for at least four years, and if convicted of not doing so a €2,500 fine may be imposed.
We are here to help if you need any support in getting ready for this change.
A change to probationary periods
A new EU directive – the EU Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions – has come into force which limits probationary periods to six months.
You may well be affected by this because standard probationary periods of 11 months are common. This is due to the fact that unfair dismissal claims cannot be brought until 12 months of service are completed.
To comply effectively with this change, it is important to review your contracts of employment and handbooks. If probationary periods are in excess of six months, they will need to be brought down in length to comply. This is especially important if you are currently hiring.
Don’t forget to also address any recent joiners who are already in their probationary period, ensuring they do not exceed six months, as you could be at legal risk here too.
The directive touches on a number of other areas, including banning exclusivity of service clauses; strengthening protections around unpredictable work patterns; ensuring changes to terms are better and earlier communicated to employees; and introducing more rules about how workplace training is delivered.
Ireland already has robust timeframes by which employers have to notify employees in writing of certain employment particulars, with some required after five days and others after two months. This directive introduces two extra timeframes of seven days and separately one month for other particulars, which will complicate communication schedules.
If you want help reviewing your documentation and procedures to ensure you will comply with the EU directive, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Helping your team to minimise distractions
Workplaces are buzzing once again with many people now regularly attending their place of work. It’s good for several reasons; improving social connection and communication for starters.
Another positive of being back in the office is that it removes the distractions that can come with working from home. That is, only if they are not directly replaced with office-based interruptions instead.
From chatty co-workers excited to reunite, to impromptu meetings, or even just the general buzz that comes with an open plan workplace, employees may not be as focused on their work as you had hoped.
What can you do then to help your team minimise these distractions?
Time management training can help. By introducing your team to time blocking, where they block out time in their calendar to focus on specific tasks, you can help them to keep track of how they are spending their day. This practice also lets co-workers know when they are available to collaborate or if they are in the zone and need to focus.
If, after this, an employee continues to struggle with distractions, a 121 is a good opportunity to address this. You may find that you need performance management to get them back on track.
New ERO for the security industry
The security industry will be subject to new increased rates of pay thanks to a recommendation by a joint labour committee (JLC). This is done via an employment regulation order (ERO).
JLCs are comprised of an even number of trade union and employer representatives with an independent chair appointed by the Labour Court. The EROs they deliver are legally binding so any businesses in the security sector will have to take note.
The new minimum rate of pay for an adult worker in the sector is €12.50 (up from €11.65) and in February 2023 it will rise again to €12.90. Workers under the age of 18 entering the profession must be paid a minimum of 70% of the adult rate, rising to 80% in the year after they turn 18, and 90% in the next year.
There are further changes relating to overtime, annual leave, working hours and rest breaks. If you want more advice, get in touch.
What makes a winning team?
When the Irish Rugby team made history by winning the 3 match series in New Zealand against the All Blacks, celebrations could be felt far and wide in support of Irelands rugby team, currently ranked 1st in the world. It’s the first time Ireland has won the series since its origins over 100 years ago.
Irelands head coach Andy Farrell and his team have been praised for thier calm, clear and direct leadership style. It’s an approach that can be applied both on and off the pitch, and one that anyone looking to develop a winning team can take inspiration from.
Strong leadership is crucial for a team to reach its full potential, but for a winning formula there are other key elements that should also be in play.
- A shared vision – provides direction and a bigger picture perspective for all members of the team. It keeps everyone on track to achieve one main objective.
- Clear communication – helps team members to keep in touch and provide updates or ask for help if needed.
- Conflict resolution – removes barriers that could otherwise derail the project or interrupt important timelines.
- Collaboration – is necessary for team members to problem solve and innovate.
- Responsibility – allows individuals to learn and improve, benefiting the team.
People management has an important role in developing and managing a successful team. If you want to know more, get in touch today.
Perks of the job
Now we’ve lurched from attending workplaces, to remote working, to back in the office or an uneasy hybrid, it has become apparent that some businesses are still really struggling to get people back on site.
When bring-your-dog-to-work days, free pizza or an ice cream truck do not work, you may be scratching your head wondering what the silver bullet is.
Facebook has a new Dublin campus and in it is a “Horizon Workroom”. This is a virtual reality (VR) meeting space created to better integrate remote workers into the company. After VR goggles are donned, employees enter a digital space where avatars of colleagues fully interact with each other.
It may be a touch sci-fi for most businesses, but perhaps offers a glimpse of the future. For now though, if you are having trouble getting people back at work, you may have to continue exploring those perks until you find something that people can’t resist.
People Matter July 2022
Is an employee secretly working from abroad?
Managing remote workers became a necessity for most businesses during the pandemic. For some employees, like graduates, they never even stepped foot inside an office. Remote work was their introduction to the working world.
At the time there were restrictions on travel, so there would be no reason to think that your employees wouldn’t be working from home as agreed. Now however, overseas travel is booming, and with holiday season in full swing, an employee could be tempted to try their luck at secretly working abroad, especially if they are running low on holiday days.
It is a belief for some that, with a good Internet connection, you can work from anywhere in the world. This can be true and many online businesses do operate in this way. However, this is an important business decision and one that you would need to make after considering all the pros and cons. It’s not for an employee to decide.
Not knowing where an employee is working from is risky. Think data protection, security and health and safety, and that’s just for starters!
For businesses that are operating fully remotely, or even on a hybrid model, employers must clarify permitted locations for working. You can do this by updating employment contracts or introducing a remote work policy.
What should you do, then, if you suspect that an employee is secretly working from overseas?
You would need to do some detective work to confirm your suspicions. They could have genuine reasons for not attending a work social so you may need to try something else.
For example, a simple call to their mobile can be very revealing – we all know that familiar change in ring tone which is a dead giveaway that someone is not in the country. Or perhaps you could ask them to return some company hardware at a designated time and place for a routine health check?
If they’ve picked a picturesque location, they might be tempted to boast about it on social media, and yes you can use that as evidence in your investigation.
Time stamps on emails or other online activity are also a good indicator of someone’s whereabouts. Failing that, a conversation with their co-workers can help you piece information together.
If you feel you’ve got good evidence to back you up, broach the subject with the employee and inform them that they are not authorised to be working from an undisclosed location and must return asap. If you are concerned about a security breach you may need to be prepared to revoke their access to certain systems right away.
When they arrive back you should initiate disciplinary action and see the safe return of any company property. It’s a pain to have to take time out to deal with situations like this. Remember that we are here to help.
About 85% of people are neurotypical. This means that their brains process information as society expects. This leaves 15% who you could say think differently. They are neurodivergent.
The main examples are ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. Due to a lack of awareness, people with these conditions can encounter stigma. Each can be associated with specific difficulties, which are well documented, but they can also often give rise to unique strengths.
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. Seeing the strengths in neurodiversity though, which is often recognised as a disability, and building a supportive working environment with reasonable adjustments where necessary, could give you a key advantage when trying to get the right blend of skills in your business.
Neurodivergent people can encounter barriers to employment, so to make sure your business is attracting all types of candidates, it’s a good idea to review your application and interview process for more inclusive recruitment.
State pension age
The state pension age has been a contentious issue for some time. Currently 66, it was due to rise to 67 in 2021 and then 68 in 2028; but the 2021 Budget froze it at 66.
Now the Taoiseach has declared that he does not believe it should rise above 66 whilst, in contrast, the Pensions Commission recommends it should go up and so do some other ministers in the coalition government.
For now we’ll have to wait and see, but what does the law say about mandatory retirement ages imposed by employers?
In Ireland, we do not have a single retirement age. People tend to retire at 65 although some professions and public servants must retire earlier. Aside from these specialist professions, equality law permits you to set your own mandatory retirement age as long as you can justify it on objective grounds.
If you would like a review of issues around retirement age in your business, please get in touch.
Which sectors are winning at productivity?
We all know that the coronavirus pandemic shook everything up, and in some spheres we are still finding out the true impact. Productivity is one area for which new statistics have just been released by the Central Statistics Office.
Surprisingly, Irish productivity grew significantly in 2020 when the pandemic first struck – by 14.1%. Dig a little deeper, however, and we see that this rise was distorted by extraordinary performance in the ICT and manufacturing sectors which are dominated by multi-national giants.
Unsurprisingly, other sectors – particularly transport, accommodation and food – fared far worse.
So what can you do to stimulate productivity if you are in a struggling sector? Here are three ideas to explore:
- Introduce more staff training – Not only does this help keep staff engaged with your industry and motivated, but it can also unlock their potential to perform to a higher standard.
- Explore automation – While the word “automation” may fill many with dread as they associate it with replacing human roles, it is, in fact, best suited to doing mundane tasks efficiently while freeing employees to perform higher-value and more interesting work.
- Hire and fire better – By introducing more stringent processes during recruitment and in assessing staff performance you can drive better team productivity or say good bye to persistent underperformers.
Mediation can save time and money
When different types of people work together, disputes are inevitable – especially with such a large proportion of our time spent at work. It doesn’t just absorb time, but money too.
Not all disputes escalate to a Workplace Relations Commission Tribunal though. Arbitration through third-party mediation can settle conflicts before they start exhausting both time and money. The key to resolution and keeping claims low is to keep communication open.
Employment tribunal insurance is a safety net when faced with paying staggering court costs and awards, but as with any insurance, there is a premium. If smaller disputes can be settled out of court, tribunal insurance remains an affordable and reliable back up when tackling bigger issues.
If you’re seeking to resolve or settle a dispute with an employee and need an impartial party to step in, our team is well trained and here to help.
Hey, howdy or hi – select your preference
Would it offend you if an employee responded to your message with “Hey”? One employer made their dislike of the greeting clear to an employee who then shared the interaction on Reddit.
The employee responded stating it was via WhatsApp and they felt a casual response was therefore justified. The employer disagreed expressing their desire to keep things professional – although they did sign off with an emoji 🤔
Where do you stand on greetings with employees? Whether it’s a “hello” or a “what’s up!”– just make sure it’s you that sets the tone for your business.
People Matter June 2022
Can CCTV footage be used to instigate a disciplinary?
If you feel you have a problem with productivity, discipline or even a criminal matter like theft, surveillance may come to mind as a solution.
Especially since remote working has become more prevalent, you might feel that it’s harder to keep tabs on what’s really going on.
Surveillance can work. However it’s fraught with difficulty. Often our advice is to find another way – like management upskilling, but let’s explore some of the issues.
Surveillance can take many forms. Previously it may have simply been direct management observation via a walkaround – nothing particularly controversial. For a long time, punched time cards were used to make sure people were punctual.
Now the tools are predominantly digital: software that can take periodical snapshots of employees’ screens, for instance. Zoom has introduced a premium attention tracking service which alerts hosts when participants navigate away for more than 30 seconds.
Of course, there is CCTV too – perhaps the most controversial as it has the potential to be most intrusive.
The first hurdle to overcome with surveillance is trust. What does it say about your relationship with staff if you effectively have to spy on them? Barclays tried introducing surveillance software and quickly removed it because of the backlash.
That’s not to say this will be the case for your company. A good comms plan around the implementation is an important step.
The second hurdle is legal compliance with data protection law. This is the crux of the matter when it comes to answering the question of whether CCTV can be used to instigate a disciplinary.
Unless you are investigating, preventing or detecting a crime, covert surveillance is not permitted. Therefore, as standard you must declare what surveillance activity is taking place (e.g. CCTV), what the purpose of it is and how the data will be used.
Ensure people have access to your data protection policy and, if relevant, use clear signage. Additionally, you should ensure that your data protection and disciplinary policies are consistent with each other.
Two court cases show the importance of getting this right.
In one, an Irish business ultimately lost a High Court case on appeal after it instigated disciplinary proceedings against an employee. He had been caught on camera taking lengthy unauthorised breaks. They lost because the CCTV was in place for security purposes rather than disciplinary ones, so they breached data protection law by processing his data in this way.
In the other, a Spanish supermarket successfully defended a European Court of Human Rights case where they had used covert CCTV evidence to dismiss staff for theft. The CCTV was only installed after money had started going missing and employees were notified that enhanced security measures were being implemented.
CCTV can be used in disciplinary proceedings, but it must be known to the employees that this is possible.
If you would like help introducing surveillance successfully or finding an alternative way, please contact us.
Fired by AI! The rise of the robots
Would you trust a robot to do the firing in your business? Some employers are increasing their use of AI in HR processes, but what, if any, are the risks of removing the “people” aspect of people management?
It’s easy to see how and why more large businesses are adopting new technologies and automating more processes. There are many benefits after all: a major one being to save time with streamlined operations.
Some areas that can be easily automated for all businesses include holiday management or time and attendance software, helping to reduce that looming pile of admin paperwork for starters.
Other functions, though, come with a higher risk; such as finding and choosing the right people for your business, or deciding how and when to end someone’s employment. The robots don’t always get this right and when the “computer says no” it can damage relations and even lead to an employment tribunal.
Cosmetics company Estee Lauder has encountered claims from three employees over exactly that.
The employees felt that the redundancy process was unfair, suggesting that when reapplying for their positions their video assessments were judged only by an algorithm. During the process they had received a confusing communication referring to AI and a “tiering bucket of data points”.
Settling out of court, a spokesperson for the company denied that facial recognition technology played a decisive role in this situation.
This isn’t the first time the robots have caused a commotion for employers though. An employee was once effectively terminated and escorted from his place of work all because a faulty key card triggered the process! Hasta la vista, baby!
We’re all for improving efficiencies and adopting new technology, but there’s no denying that having a human sense-check those risky HR processes is sensible for people management.
At the HR Dept Ireland, we offer a range of psychometric assessments, but we always have human to human interaction, these assessments are a great tool you can use to assess people’s soft skills and behaviour profiles, but they need to be used as a tool by an expert and not a decision maker.
Enhanced protection for whistle-blowers
The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 was debated in Seanad Éireann last month, bringing it a step closer to implementation after significant delays.
The new bill builds on legislation enacted in 2014. Now private-sector employers with more than 50 staff will have to create and maintain internal reporting channels and procedures for whistle-blowers to make protected disclosures. The Workplace Relations Commission has the power to inspect these channels.
Furthermore, the definition of a worker will be expanded to include just about anyone associated with an employer. This means job candidates, shareholders and volunteers, for example, will all be able to make protected disclosures.
The protections are extended too: should an employer be accused of penalising a whistle-blower, the burden of proof will now be on them to demonstrate that they did not. There may be criminal responsibility for some infractions, including breaching confidentiality around the identity of a whistle-blower.
There will also be a strict timeline to follow when responding to a protected disclosure, including an initial acknowledgement within seven days and feedback of action taken within three months.
Remote first working
A partial right to request flexible working is expected to come into law in Ireland by 22nd Aug to comply with the EU Work-Life Balance Directive. You will need to update your family leave and flexible working policies before this date.
The Irish legislation will, in places, go beyond EU minimum requirements but does still not offer a universal right. It will be available for employees who have a child up to the age of 12 (16 if the child has a long-term illness or disability). Six-months’ continuous service is required.
Their request must be in writing giving six weeks’ notice, stating how they would like it to work and how long it will last. You must consider it, weighing up the employee’s needs against the business’s. You can then grant, postpone or refuse it, giving the reasons for your decision. You must do this within four weeks. Postponement requires consultation with the employee.
The person you are trying to reach is on holiday
An out of office message provides a quick and simple way to inform others of employee absences.
Typically, a functional message with either an expected date of return or alternative contact make the cut, but for some people, it’s a chance to get creative:
“Sorry I missed you. I’ll be out of the office and slow to respond until after the break. While I have you though, help settle an argument amongst my colleagues and me: What was the Best Die Hard Movie?”
Whilst another person decided to keep it simple with “Not here”.
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 as we enter the summer holiday season.
People Matter May 2022
Should you, or shouldn’t you, rehire an ex-employee?
When a person leaves your employment, it’s usually the final chapter of your working relationship.
Typically, you would be making arrangements to fill the vacancy and wouldn’t expect to see your leaver show up for work again. It would be a bit strange after the card, speeches and send off, after all.
On rare occasions, however, you may be faced with a situation that leaves you wondering if you should rehire an ex-employee. Perhaps this has become more commonplace since the pandemic and Great Resignation.
Don’t ask them to return that parting gift just yet (or at all). There are a few things to consider before you seal the deal.
Think back to the reasons why they left and whether this was on good terms. How long has it been since they left? Has the business changed? Can they fit in with new team dynamics and meet your current requirements? These are all important questions to ask yourself when deciding.
A positive of rehiring an ex-employee can include their familiarity with your business and vision. If they worked well with existing employees, their return may be a morale booster for the wider team.
What about the negatives? If the business has significantly changed, they may find it hard to slot back into things. It would be wise to prepare them if this is the case to avoid them comparing, or suggesting that the old way was better.
You may also have concerns over loyalty. They left once before, will they do so again?
Talk to them to understand their reasons for wanting to return. Ask about long-term goals to see if these match your business plan. This is equally as important if it is you who has approached them about returning. For example, do you need them for the long or short term? Have their circumstances changed? These factors matter and should be discussed early on.
When it comes to HR admin, legally you can rehire an ex-employee, but there are risks, especially if you made them redundant to begin with. If it ever went to court, scrutiny may be put on the motivations for both the redundancy and reasons for rehiring, meaning you would probably need to show a justification – such as a significant up turn in business.
Beware of rehiring on worse contractual terms – say a fixed-term contract with no entitlement to holiday or sick pay as opposed to a permanent contract. If they are performing the same tasks as permanent employees then this practice is illegal.
Overall, rehiring an ex-employee can be a mutually beneficial arrangement if requirements can be met on both sides. If you have questions on how to manage this in your business, get in touch.
The Sick Leave Bill 2022
Later on this year, probably in September, Ireland will join many other advanced European countries by offering statutory sick pay (SSP). It will start with a modest three day per annum quota per employee, rising to five days in 2024, seven in 2025 and finally settling with ten days in 2026.
About half of companies do already offer some sick pay provision, but all companies would be advised to review their policies to ensure they are compliant with the new legislation.
The government has estimated that SSP would be the equivalent of a 2.6% pay rise for an employee who currently receives no sick pay. Some companies may struggle with this new obligation. If you think this may be a problem for you, there is a provision to apply for an exemption for three to twelve months from the labour court. They will look for agreement on this between employers and employees.
Statutory sick pay is available to staff with at least 13 weeks of continuous employment. They need a GPs certificate stating they are unfit to work and an expected return date to qualify. Then they are entitled to 70% of their wage whilst on sick leave, but capped at €110 per day.
It is important to plan for this now and update employer contracts, handbooks and policies. Failure to comply could result in a workplace commission claim. If successful, compensation may be awarded. This could be up to 20 weeks’ remuneration. If you need help getting up to speed with this new requirement please get in touch.
Managing an effective hybrid team
For many teams, hybrid working has become the norm. It reflects where we’re at in the pandemic. Workplaces are open but not everyone is attending, and when they do, it’s not always at the same time.
Managers of newly hybrid teams will likely be learning as they go, navigating a return to the office along with a continuation of remote working; whilst also fielding questions on COVID – which hasn’t completely gone away.
For hybrid working to be successful, managers and team leaders will need support to navigate the unique challenges that could arise. They may benefit from training.
Good communication and time management are key and will help maximise time spent in the office. For example, planning a day where everyone comes in would be useful for important announcements, ensuring that these don’t get twisted if heard through the grapevine instead.
It can also help to revise any temporary processes that were implemented during the pandemic. If hybrid is the way forward for your business, you’ll need policies and processes that support this.
How not to announce redundancy
In the UK, there has been a scandal about large-scale redundances at P&O Ferries. You may have read about employees, and pretty much everyone else, being left stunned due to a lack of communication from company execs on what was about to happen.
Now, we have a new example of redundancy gone wrong. Except this time, it was the way in which it was communicated that has caused a stir.
Two of China’s biggest tech companies, JD.com and Bilibili, tried to put a positive spin on their redundancies by congratulating workers being laid off on “graduating the company”.
We’re all for being positive, but this one misses the mark. Unsurprisingly, some of the employees concerned took to social media to voice their displeasure.
Redundancy is a sensitive topic and should be handled as such. You can’t sugar coat the bad news, but you can opt to provide outplacement support which can be invaluable to those departing.
The right to request flexible working
A partial right to request flexible working is expected to come into law in Ireland by 22nd Aug to comply with the EU Work-Life Balance Directive. You will need to update your family leave and flexible working policies before this date.
The Irish legislation will, in places, go beyond EU minimum requirements but does still not offer a universal right. It will be available for employees who have a child up to the age of 12 (16 if the child has a long-term illness or disability). Six-months’ continuous service is required.
Their request must be in writing giving six weeks’ notice, stating how they would like it to work and how long it will last. You must consider it, weighing up the employee’s needs against the business’s. You can then grant, postpone or refuse it, giving the reasons for your decision. You must do this within four weeks. Postponement requires consultation with the employee.
A rude awakening
We often hear about the risk of vicarious liability around the staff Christmas party, but a recent case has highlighted that this is a risk not just for Christmas.
When two employees were contractually obliged to share a room assigned to them in staff accommodation, one’s midnight drunken antics, which involved him relieving himself over his sleeping colleague, left the Court of Appeal finding the employer vicariously liable and awarding the defendant more than $400,000!
If you need to organise staff accommodation, make sure your behavioural policy is watertight first.
People Matter April 2022
Stress awareness during staff shortages
April is Stress Awareness Month, and although stress can occur at any time throughout the year, it’s a good opportunity to pause and check-in on your own stress levels as well as your employees.
How might you go about this? You wouldn’t want to ask every employee if they are stressed, it wouldn’t be practical, nor would it give you real insight; some people may hide that they are struggling through fear of seeming incapable.
A much more effective method would be to identify and reduce the risk of negative work-related stress in your business.
Believe it or not, some stress can be positive. It can allow people to thrive and reach their potential. It’s important, though, that limits are observed and respected, as pushing a person over the limit is a one-way street to burnout. Every employee will have their own limit, so how do you know when someone is close to theirs?
Regular reviews or 121s with employees are essential to keep communication flowing and for receiving progress updates on work. For example, if a deadline was missed, this is an opportunity to find out why, and if there is a need for clearer communication, training or support.
Work-related stress can be the result of different causes. An HR review can help to identify these, but a major one to be aware of at present is that of an increasing workload. Following the Great Resignation, and at a time when COVID related absences are still impacting teams, low staffing is a problem for many employers, their employees, and subsequently clients.
Those who are in work and covering for others may have an increasing workload. Without the right support, they are at risk of stress, which can impact health, well-being and lead to more absences.
If you’re one of many employers currently dealing with staffing issues, show appreciation for those working hard to keep the business operational. Remind them of the importance of taking a break and if you have any other health benefits in place, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, make sure that staff are aware of the support available to them. Beyond this, remember that we are here to help.
The importance of equal pay for like work
As you would expect, there is a legal requirement to pay staff equally for “like work”. In fact, this has been in force since 1975.
Like work has a detailed definition in the Employment Equality Act.
Put simply it says that if two people perform the same work under the same conditions, or the roles are interchangeable then it is like work. There is scope for small or irregular differences; but the value of the work in terms of responsibilities, skills and physical or mental requirements should be equal.
A research statistician at Teagasc – the Agriculture and Food Development Authority – just won a major equal pay claim through the Workplace Relations Commission based on this law.
She was being paid €20,000 per annum less than a male colleague for what was determined to be like work by the commission’s adjudication officer.
There was, of course, legal argument from both sides. Among other things, the employer cited a PhD held by her male colleague and more management responsibility. The claimant’s legal team argued that “she was, in substance and in essence, doing the same work as him.”
The adjudication officer identified that the claimant had met two thresholds for her discrimination claim – that it was both like work, and that she could name a comparator who was paid more for doing the like work.
€40,000 was awarded as compensation, and pay in arrears dating back to 2017 was ordered to be paid. This is thought to equate to another €100,000. The head of HR was also instructed to apologise for their inept handling of the matter.
The case shows the consequences of ignoring equality legislation. If you want a review of your business to identify any risk, please get in touch.
How to approach poor hygiene
in the workplace
As the weather gets warmer and the number of days we spend in the office increases in line with shifting attitudes to COVID-19, a new season of HR dilemmas await.
Something you certainly wouldn’t have had to deal with during lockdown is now in the office and causing a stink, one that you simply cannot ignore.
Broaching the subject of body odour or poor hygiene with an employee is no doubt up there on your list of conversations you never wanted to have. Think twice about passing this off on someone else though, a female French tutor won a sex discrimination claim for exactly that. An assumption that women are better at handling such conversations ended up with a £5,000 award at tribunal.
Don’t ignore the issue either. For one, it won’t resolve itself, and the person in question could start to feel victimised if people act differently towards them.
A private, and considerate word to suggest that their current hygiene ritual isn’t working too well is a good opener. If a medical condition is revealed, ask how they plan to manage this.
Adding a requirement for hygiene to your dress code is also a good idea, as you can refer to this if a problem persists and further action is needed. Of course, if the idea alone of having this chat is turning your stomach, remember that our experienced HR advisers can help to prepare you.
Why employees not using their holiday
can be a problem
Whether a result of increased homeworking, an increasing cost of living, or staff shortages, employees not using their annual holiday allowance can be a problem for employers. The phenomenon is widespread in Ireland, with the Central Statistics Office declaring that over 20% of workers took no annual leave in 2021.
It may seem like a good thing to not be balancing leave requests, especially if you are short-staffed and need all hands on deck. However, other issues can arise if holiday is not taken, or if it is not spread evenly throughout the year.
Encouraging an even distribution of leave, for example by alerting those with a lot of holiday left two thirds into the year, can avoid situations where everybody wants to be off at the same time.
Committed workers are in demand but should also be reminded to use their leave for some respite, even if it means a staycation. Holiday entitlement is a health and safety requirement, and employees must take their statutory allowance. They cannot be paid in lieu except when they leave.
Having time off makes people more productive. The alternative, wherein employees feel the need to be seen working, can result in burnout and absences due to ill health, which could happen when you need them the most.
Preventing bullying in the workplace
While the typical image of a bully for many will date back to their school days, we all know that you can encounter one at any stage of life.
Actually, one news outlet reported that about one in ten people have experienced bullying in the workplace recently; and that it costs the Irish economy nearly quarter of a billion Euros in lost productivity annually. That’s before you factor in the physical and mental toll borne by the victims.
It is important to lead from the top on this issue. Bullying goes far beyond direct aggression, and can take more subtle forms. Your whole organisation will do better if managers are trained to spot and respond to issues earlier, and feel empowered to do so.
If you would like help with training or in dealing with an ongoing case of bullying, please contact us.
Surprise! How did a birthday party
at work cost $450k?
You know how some people say they hate surprises, but then secretly love it when you remember their birthday? Well, that’s not what happened here.
Kevin Berling may not hate surprises, but he absolutely didn’t want a birthday celebration at work, which is something of a tradition for employees of Gravity Diagnostics in Kentucky. In fact he had even asked for them not to celebrate his birthday, and had a good reason too. Mr Berling feared it may trigger a panic attack, which it did. Not only at the party, but at subsequent conversations where he was confronted for “stealing his co-workers’ joy”.
A lawsuit ensued, following his dismissal, which awarded him $450,000. The lesson here? Appreciation of birthday parties is subjective and there are other, less-expensive ways to show you care.
People Matter February 2022
How to manage the new public holiday
Holiday management for employees can seem simple at first. For example, many employers may take the “use it or lose it approach” leaving the leave, as it were, up to employees. Statutory holiday cannot be carried over and can only be paid in lieu on termination. However, it would be best practice to encourage employees to use their holiday.
From this year onwards, workers can look forward to one extra public holiday each year.
For 2022 only, this will fall on Friday 18th March (the day following St Patrick’s Day). It is being given in recognition of the sacrifices made, and those we lost, during the coronavirus pandemic.
From 2023, we keep the extra public holiday but it will mark St Brigid’s Day. So it shifts to the first Monday of February, or where St Brigid’s day is on a Friday, that Friday.
With change can come confusion and that may certainly be the case when handling the admin of an extra day’s holiday. While the majority of staff are entitled to the extra day, part-time staff are one group where it is not as clear cut.
If part-timers have worked at least 40 hours in the previous five weeks, then they are fully entitled to the day off if they would normally be in on that day. If they are not working on that day, then they are entitled to receive one-fifth of their weekly pay.
Of course many businesses, in the hospitality sector for instance, thrive on public holidays and need to stay open. If your business is in this situation, you can insist that people work but you will need to either give them an extra paid day within a month of the public holiday, or an extra day of annual leave or an extra day’s pay. You still need to do one of those options even if you pay them extra to come in on the public holiday itself.
The way that you respond to changes to holiday allowances can sometimes be informed by what your contracts say. Therefore this extra bank holiday may be your cue to review relevant clauses of your contract or annual leave policies.
As with all holiday management, it is important to be fair in how you process holiday requests and keep compliant with the rules. Our HR toolkit software is a great way to take away some of the hassle of this, and if you need specific advice, we are only a phone call or email away.
Will the four-day work week, work?
Just when work appears to be returning to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy, UK trials of a four-day work week have hit the headlines. It’s been trialled elsewhere around the world, but this is rather more close to home. Understandably, it may not be the news you wanted to hear.
A four-day work week won’t be suitable for every type of business, and for any four-day work week trial to be reliable, it needs to consider all types of work, and not just the office based 9-5.
New Zealand, Iceland, and Spain have all previously tested the four-day working week. Belgium has gone one step further and become the first European country to allow requests from employees for a four-day week.
At home here in Ireland, a number of companies have already moved to a 4 day week and a study has been launched to see how it pans out; you can read about that here. There is an ongoing campaign to advocate for a gradual, steady, managed transition to a shorter working week for all workers, in the private and public sectors.
Can the four-day work week work for your business?
We should not assume that a four-day work week automatically equals a three-day weekend. It is likely that some businesses would need to introduce a rota so that operational hours remain the same.
Logistically, there are a few options as to how it might work. It could mean that employees work fewer days with reduced pay, work four days with the same pay, or work longer hours over fewer days. Good time management would be the key for output to remain the same.
Alternatively, there are other approaches to flexible working you may be able to implement. Indeed, the government is already moving in this direction with the forthcoming introduction of the Remote Working Bill.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance and benefits of flexible working, so adopting more flexibility can be a positive move to future-proof your business. If you’d like assistance with reviewing the working week in your company, give us a call.
Women in work: Break the bias
Tuesday 8th March is International Women’s Day and the theme this year is #BreakTheBias.
Why is this year’s theme so important and how can employers get involved to break the bias at work?
Gender bias comes in many forms, but common examples include women experiencing barriers to work or promotion due to pregnancy, maternity and childcare. In fact, some managers will actively avoid hiring women of a certain age to avoid dealing with maternity leave.
Not only is this illegal and discriminatory, potentially leading to much bigger problems, but it reduces the talent pool by half.
A business that encourages women to apply can benefit from new ideas and perspectives as well as a diverse culture.
From improving recruitment to be more gender-neutral to implementing inclusive behaviours in your business, there are many ways in which SMEs can help to break the bias. For next steps, visit the International Women’s Day website for 50 ways to fight bias or contact your local HR Dept.
Ding! You have been invited to another meeting
As a busy employer you won’t need us to remind you that time is precious. From morning meetings to lunchtime Zooms, PM pow-wows and end-of-day reviews, some days it can feel like you have barely made a dent in your to-do list. Wait, is that another meeting request in your inbox?
If your days are filling up with meetings, your team may also be adopting similar habits, especially if they are the ones demanding your time to provide updates on projects or seek sign-off.
Meetings can be hugely beneficial to improve communication but can sometimes become a “go-to” reflex rather than a necessity. Ever had the feeling that a meeting could have been an email?
Then there are reoccurring meetings. Are they still fulfilling the same need six months on? Reviews of reoccurring meetings are recommended to make sure that time, and subsequently money, is put to best use.
To save time so that meaningful work can get done, why not trial a week or two with reduced meetings? Encourage other forms of communication in the meantime, such as emails or shared planners for project updates. When your next meeting does come around, kick off with a brief reason as to why it was scheduled and share an aim for the outcome. This will help make the meetings that you do have be meaningful and productive.
Will you be asked for a pay rise this year?
It’s no secret that the cost of living is rising significantly. It has been a generation since inflation was this high. As such, employees concerned about this news may be prompted to ask for a pay rise.
If your pay reviews happen annually, this might come as a surprise and something that you had not prepared for, especially if you feel that your salaries are fair and reflect work undertaken.
It is, however, a good idea to have a plan of action as to how you will deal with such requests, to avoid being caught off guard.
Give yourself time to formulate a response by acknowledging and considering the request. During the pause, a job evaluation can help you to clarify if your pay scales are appropriate and fair in the current market.
If your evaluation shows that a raise would be appropriate but your financial situation means it is not currently possible, be open and honest with the employee and explain your business goals, e.g. hitting a target, to make a percentage raise possible.
Whilst it may be a difficult conversation, transparency helps to build trust in the long run and can be a motivator for the team to see the business succeed.
If it’s something you are currently facing and need help with next steps, call us.
Dog in the office
From dog in the playground to dog in the office, four legged furry friends are causing a stir as employees head back to the workplace.
The pandemic pup craze, which saw many people welcome a new dog to the family whilst saying at home, has left some employees seeking doggy day care or flexible working to continue caring for their beloved pet post lockdown.
If you’re considering allowing dogs in the office, which when managed well can increase morale, keep in mind any team members with allergies first; whilst perhaps circulating a friendly reminder that a dog is for life, not just a pandemic.
People Matter January 2022
What’s new in employment law this year?
2022 is set to be a busy 12 months for employment law, with legislative change touching many areas of the employer/employee relationship. Here is a quick checklist for you to scan, to make sure the key points are front of mind for you:
New national minimum wage rates – The national minimum wage went up from 1st January so if this is relevant to you, you need to be in compliance now. The new rates are €7.14 for under-18s, €8.16 for 18-year-olds; €9.18 for 19-year-olds; and €10.20 for anyone 20 or older.
Employer’s PRSI thresholds – These are also rising so that the system is not distorted by minimum wage increases. The new weekly threshold income for the higher rate of employer’s PRSI has gone up €12 to €410.
Universal social charge (USC) – Similarly, the band for second rate USC (2%) is rising from €20,687 to €21,295.
Statutory sick pay – For employees who have 13 weeks’ continuous service, statutory sick pay is being introduced (later this year). It is a phased introduction, with three days permitted in 2022. In the next few years, it will rise incrementally to 10 days in 2025. The rate is 70% capped at €110 per day. It is important to note that you must keep sick pay records for four years.
Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) still available – The EWSS is still running until 30 April as long as you are already registered. In March the rate payable drops to a flat rate of €100 and the reduced rate of employer’s PRSI is withdrawn.
Parent’s leave extended – Different from paternity/maternity/adoptive and parental leave, Parent’s leave is a paid benefit open to each parent or adoptive parent in the first two years of a child’s life. In July, it is being extended from five to seven weeks.
Enhanced protection for whistle-blowers – The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021 recently came into law. If you are in the private sector and employ more than 50 people you will now need to update your policies and procedures in this area.
Transparent and predictable working conditions – By 1 August, implementation of the EU’s directive on transparent and predictable working conditions will come into Irish law. This will considerably extend the rights of workers at the start of their employment relationship.
Tax relief for home workers – To help people working from home, the government will offer a 30% reduction in income tax against utility expenses whilst working from home.
Our advice line clients have their policies automatically updated to reflect changes to employment law. If you would like to find out more or need any other help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Brain fog and how to manage it
Brain fog has been listed as a potential side effect from long COVID, but what exactly is it and why is awareness important for employers?
Although widely used, “brain fog” is not a medical term. It does, however, do a good job of explaining the condition, being that the brain can become muddled, and unclear.
According to the UK’s NHS, symptoms associated with brain fog caused by long COVID can include poor concentration, forgetfulness, mental fatigue, thinking more slowly than usual, confusion and fuzzy thoughts.
Employees returning to work after having COVID-19 could be dealing with brain fog, which can impact their ability to concentrate and remain focused. This can result in seemingly poor performance or changes in behaviour, which without a careful approach, could trigger a performance review and lead to a potentially unfair dismissal.
Awareness of brain fog is important for employers, because it allows them to spot the signs and offer the necessary support to get an employee back on track and feeling well again. It’s not just long COVID that can cause brain fog either. It can be a symptom of other conditions such as depression, hypothyroidism, menopause, or autoimmune diseases.
If an employee is not their usual self, sit down with them to find out more. If it transpires that they may be experiencing brain fog, there are some steps that you can take to help.
The NHS advises that people usually recover from brain fog and that the following healthy lifestyle habits can help to manage symptoms: stay hydrated, take regular exercise, eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, get enough sleep, and take regular breaks.
However, if symptoms persist, it’s best to refer employees to their GP, and if work is severely affected, let us know.
A new €2,000 annual grant has been announced, available to all employers for each apprentice they take on (provided they are not in receipt of other apprenticeship financial support). The government wishes to incentivise apprenticeships as a gateway to good quality employment.
There are dozens of recognised apprenticeships in Ireland across many different sectors, so you should find the support is available to you. The grants are planned to be paid in two instalments
Employing apprentices can be great for business, welcoming enthusiastic workers to the team with a framework to learn. If they have come from another job, they may bring valuable skills with them – for instance former waiting staff who are great at multi-tasking.
Interestingly, introducing apprentices can also provide a heightened sense of purpose to experienced staff, glad to pass on the knowledge they have accumulated over the years.
How to make your New Year business goals a success
New Year goals can help to set your intentions for the year ahead. The goals you choose should reflect what you want to achieve whilst a plan of action and accountability is key for making them stick.
To see your New Year business goals succeed, you need your team onboard, and for that, you’ll need a supportive framework in place. Check out our top tips to see your goals come true in 2022.
1.Communication – Your team are instrumental in making your business goals a success, meaning that transparency and good communication are vital. Working on improving these areas of management can also increase employee happiness, productivity, and loyalty.
2.Training – Goals need actions and actions need skills. Is your team prepped and equipped to achieve this year’s targets? Now is a good time to review areas of professional development and align training programmes with your business goals.
3.Processes – Many businesses are still temporarily facilitating working from home. Will this be the year that you make it permanent? Or perhaps you’re leaning towards hybrid working? Whichever you decide, it’s important to have the right processes in place to assist your team efficiently and effectively. It saves time in the long run.
4.Well-being – Workplace absences related to poor mental health have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. A commitment to well-being can keep your team healthy and on the road to success.
Gender pay gap reporting
Gender pay gap reporting is expected to be introduced in 2022, having been passed into law in summer 2021 as an amendment to the Equality Act 1998.
At first the obligations will only apply to larger organisations: with those employing more than 250 staff needing to comply in year one, followed by those employing more than 150 staff in year two, and those employing more than 50 staff in year three.
They will be required to report the difference in remuneration of male and female employees alongside variance between mean and median hourly remuneration for part-time and full-time employees, mean and median bonus payments and the percentage of all staff who have received benefits in kind or a bonus.
Whether you are affected this year or not due to your size, it is a timely reminder to ensure that remuneration is fair throughout your organisation.
Diving for a change
As demand for delivery drivers increased during the pandemic, many people, from start-up business owners to those newly redundant gave it a try. Meanwhile, delivery divers have also been busy. That’s right, underwater pizza delivery is a thing, and being a delivery diver is a job.
A fifty-nine-year-old Hawaiian man took up the unique role after losing his job as a high school sports reporter during the pandemic. It’s certainly a different kind of pressure, but as for many others, the tide of employment has changed and unusual job progression is becoming the norm.
People Matter December
Undercover boss and employee surveillance
Undercover Boss, the reality TV series that follows CEOs as they go undercover with a secret identity in their own business, made a brief comeback this summer with a new name: Undercover Big Boss. Filmed at a time when businesses like car showrooms were re-opening post lockdown, high flying execs were given a new identity to see first-hand how their business was doing day-to-day.
Whilst there are some prime-time cringe moments, such as a loose lipped employee unknowingly telling their CEO how they really feel, a light is also shone on the unsung heroes of the workforce, the ones who go above and beyond in their role.
When the working day is done, the undercover boss has a wealth of information to help them make improvements, provide training, or show appreciation to the company’s hardest workers.
Small business owners might be less likely to get away with a secret identity without some really good prosthetic makeup. Like the undercover CEOs, though, they might be keen to get some unfiltered feedback, or a view on what their employees are really up to; especially now that home working is firmly back on the agenda.
In fact, as many as one in five employers admitted to Metro that they’re either already spying on staff or planning on installing software to do so. From timing replies and keyboard strokes, to monitoring inactivity or even secretly spying through a camera, employee surveillance is on the rise.
Surveillance will certainly bridge the gap on worker visibility, but it also has the potential to cause problems if not introduced in the right way. That is, processes must comply with data protection and employees should be consulted and informed of surveillance in advance, unless there is a legitimate reason otherwise.
It’s also worth noting that whilst surveillance is often sought to catch out the slackers, it can inadvertently put undue pressure on those that are working, especially if more extreme measures are taken such as tracking bathroom breaks and cups of tea. This can result in increased stress and presenteeism – the feeling of needing to be seen working all the time.
The good news is that there are less intrusive ways to successfully manage remote teams. We feel that surveillance is rarely a good substitution for good people management.
If there is one takeaway from Undercover Boss, it shouldn’t be that spying is the only way to learn more about a company and its operations, but that there is no real replacement for a good, open and honest conversation. Deadlines and targets are helpful to identify those in need of training and support, but once the data comes back, it’s time to talk. Only then can you find out what’s really going on with your workforce.
The giving season
As the trees go up and lights twinkle, it’s not just presents that are given at Christmas time. People often give their time or donations to support charitable causes. Many companies know that as well as the much-needed support which goes to charities, team fundraising is indirectly good for business too.
They are glad to bear the cost of some time and energy diverted away from operations, and cash as well – often to match funds raised by the staff. It not only feels right but can enhance team spirit, foster good will, generate networking opportunities and create positive PR.
From an HR perspective, it is helpful to build some structure around fundraising, to get maximum benefit and avoid one or two pitfalls.
For example, on picking the charity. There are many ways to do this, but in order to get buy-in from your team, why not let them have some input. This could be drawing a nominated charity out of a hat or holding a vote. By letting it come from staff fairly, it’s an opportunity to really connect with employees, who see you supporting something close to their heart.
Remember to be inclusive. If you were to hold a cake sale, are their gluten free or vegan options? If you hold a pub-style quiz, ensure there are soft drinks for anyone who’s not drinking alcohol. Make sure everyone is invited to participate but that no-one is compelled to – they may have a good reason not to get involved.
Don’t let your fundraising adversely impact operations. You’d expect some time lost to the fundraising efforts, but make sure day-to-day business is not harmed. For instance, if an important client is visiting, do you want them to see you dressed up as a reindeer? If you’ll be receiving in-bound calls will someone always be able to answer them? And so on.
Make sure you don’t lose the fun from your fundraising, especially at Christmas! But a little bit of planning will ensure everyone gets the most out of the activity.
Let there be light
While Christmas lights may warm the cockles of our hearts, it’s worth considering the more mundane lighting that illuminates your workplace or, if you have staff working from home, their workstations there.
That’s because the quality of such lighting has a significant impact on productivity, well-being and mood – especially during winter when there is less natural light around. In fact, it is known that some people suffer from a condition termed seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), in the main due to the reduced daylight hours.
How does the lighting in your workplace seem? If you have lots of natural light, supplemented by modern LED lighting which uses natural light wavelengths, then great. If not, it might be time for a review.
If changing access to natural light is not practicable, better use of artificial light should be achievable. The latest lighting technology uses far less energy than older lighting so the exercise may slash your utility bills whilst you do right by your team.
Sick Leave Bill 2021
In a major development, statutory sick pay is being introduced this January. It is a phased introduction with three days mandated in 2022, rising annually and eventually reaching ten days in 2025. It’s thought the rate will be set at 70% of wages with a cap of €110 per day.
Employees must have 13 weeks’ continuous employment and get their sickness certified by a doctor. You may already offer sickness pay as a contractual benefit, and if this is at least as generous as the statutory terms, it can stay in place.
If you can demonstrate to a labour court that your business will suffer serious financial detriment by paying sick pay, then you may be able to gain an exemption, but the bar will be high for this. The Workplace Relations Commission, can order what they judge to be fair compensation where rules are broken, capped at 20 weeks’ remuneration.
Another key point to understand is that you must keep statutory sick leave records for four years. If you need help adjusting to this new regime, please contact your local HR Dept Office.
Working well through winter
With so much attention spent on managing COVID-19, it is easy to underestimate other seasonal challenges. Earlier in December, Storm Barra left 56,000 homes and businesses without power as it struck Irish shores. It is unlikely to be the last extreme weather of the winter.
If your operations are disrupted by something like a storm or flooding, you have quite a bit of flexibility in how you manage it – whether it is staff not being able to make it in, or your premises closing.
By this we mean that you’re not required to pay staff who cannot make it in to work. If you need to shut down operations for a few weeks, you have an option to temporarily lay them off without pay while you recover. They may be eligible for job seeker support from the government.
That said, it’s normally in your best interests to treat staff with understanding and flexibility. Can you find a way forward which does not see them completely out of pocket? Perhaps you could suggest they take annual leave or pay them on the understanding they will make up the time later in the year.
Has the season of giving got you thinking about how you can introduce new employee benefits to reward employees for their hard work?
Many employers opt for perks such as gym discounts or shopping vouchers, but one firm’s choice is a real cracker. A cheese cracker that is, with an enhanced benefits package that includes free cheese!
Granted (or should that be grated?) they are the UK’s largest independent producer of cheese, we are certain that this unique offering is a big hit with new recruits and bound to help with retention.
If you’re thinking of revamping your employee benefits package, we may have a few ideas to help.
Oh, and we were going to sign off with a cheesy joke, but never mind, it’s no gouda.
People Matter November 2021
Are you dealing with a digital grievance?
Social media channels, from Facebook to TikTok, have become the go-to platforms for venting frustrations. Whether that’s confiding in a friend via a private Facebook message, starting a twitter trend with likeminded strangers or filming tell-all videos that go viral.
It has become second nature for some people to share their experiences online, with little left to the imagination. So much so that even the inner sanctum of the workplace can become public knowledge in a matter of seconds via a disgruntled employee with a penchant for posting.
If you’re less inclined to go public with your problems, it can be horrifying to find out that someone else has; especially if your business has been tagged, named, and shamed for all to see.
Even if you don’t use social media, other people do, and will. Rather than live in fear, however, of what an employee might be saying about your company online, your focus and attention is best spent on building and maintaining a safe and compliant workplace, reducing the risk of grievances altogether.
Good communication is crucial in your business. An employee with a grievance will typically try to raise issues internally first, and there is a procedure that needs to be followed. Usually, it is only if the proper reporting lines are lacking, or they feel ignored, that they will seek to vent their frustrations publicly.
Having a reliable process in place (that is known to all staff) for reporting any issues or concerns during the working day, helps to manage the process. It gives you the opportunity to understand areas of your business that might need improving, or could be damaging, whilst letting employees know that their input matters.
What if it’s a small issue and they won’t let it go? Your process is just as important for the seemingly smaller issues so that you can document and reiterate your response on the matter. Additionally, smaller issues can turn into bigger issues, and having an audit trail will provide your defence.
There are times when you follow all the rules and still an employee will be dissatisfied and complain to their online audience. A social media conduct policy will help to protect your business, and your actions in relation to any breach of your policy.
Dealing with a digital grievance can be stressful and time consuming for a small business. If you have questions about implementing best practice HR or a social media policy, call us today.
Requests to delay retirement
As The Beatles trilled decades ago in When I’m sixty four, many people want to continue feeling needed as they approach retirement. In fact, more than 50% of respondents to a Standard Life survey said they would like to continue working beyond retirement age.
There is no statutory retirement age for most professions, but many contracts do feature a mandatory one of 65. This concept of a set retirement age is reinforced with receipt of a state pension which currently kicks in at 66 (it was formerly 65, and is due to rise in the future).
Employees approaching retirement may bring welcome knowledge and experience, but equally you might have justifiable reasons for wanting to enforce their departures.
So what do you do if an employee requests deferment of a contractual retirement age?
Tread carefully is the answer.
Despite “age” being protected under equality law, you won’t automatically be guilty of an equality breach if you enforce your contract. However, there needs to be a good and proportionate reason for including such a retirement age.
This may be related to health and safety in safety critical roles or promoting intergenerational fairness by allowing younger workers to progress, for instance.
Even with this test on discrimination met, there are other things to be wary of. Consistency in your approach is important. While any request should be judged on its own merits, you need to be able to demonstrate that employees’ requests are treated with equal scrutiny.
There are ways you could be blindsided by permitting a retirement postponement, too. For example, if your contracts specify a retirement age and also offer a death-in-service benefit, delaying the retirement age could expose you to the liability of a pay-out should the small print of your insurance policy only cover up to age 65.
Professional input is advised. We can help.
Who is most at risk of burnout?
Depending on your sector, you may be seeing very high levels of burnout amongst your team due to the pressures of the pandemic. A survey of 1,000 full-time Irish employees found that 52% were experiencing burnout. Younger workers fared worst when the findings were broken down by age. Healthcare, comms, emergency response and social care charities were the specific roles hardest hit.
If you need to manage burnout, the first step is to identify the underlying causes. The survey highlighted “constant pressure”, “unmanageable workload” and “lack of control over work” as the top three reasons. There are not necessarily easy solutions, but finding ways to try to address these within the context of your organisation is going to be important.
Having a sense of purpose in what you do helps feed into a positive mindset. Encouraging people to identify this in themselves is a good tactic. Perhaps they just need reminding of why they chose the role in the first place.
Don’t forget, fostering a culture of open communication is almost always beneficial; as is each of us taking care of ourselves with good diet and exercise. While it’s important to show care yourself as an employer, you could consider complementing this with some independent support through a cost-effective employee assistance programme.
Is full disclosure reducing your recruiter prospects?
Would you hire an ex-offender to work in your business? Perhaps you have never considered this before. In fact, your recruitment process might even be deciding for you by filtering out applicants with a criminal record. As such, you could be minimising your talent pool.
Some roles will understandably require criminal records to be disclosed and checked early on, to assess the nature of an offence in relation to the job that needs to be done. There are also roles where any unspent criminal conviction will be a bar to their employment.
However, if the role would not usually require a deep dive into someone’s background history, you could consider asking for criminal record history to be disclosed later in your recruitment process.
Why is this a good idea? Well, there are benefits to hiring ex-offenders as some businesses have already testified. Halfords has stated that the level of retention amongst its prison academy graduates is higher than that of other employees. Timpson also consider ex-offenders, finding them to be keen for an opportunity and making “great colleagues”. It is good for society too, as it is known that the chance of reoffending is far lower if the offender has steady employment after they are released.
With that in mind, we ask again: Would you hire an ex-offender to work in your business? If it’s something that you would like to explore further, HR can help guide you in the right direction.
Joining forces with your social media star
We have touched on the subject of what can happen when an employee is overly active on social media by mostly looking at the negatives. That is, they are on it when they should be working, or they are revealing company secrets for the world to see. Yikes!
Could there be any positives to an overly social employee? It appears that some businesses have found there are. Uploading her work life to TikTok, including a 9-5 Dolly Parton parody, one Tesco employee has received more than a million streams. Her manager doesn’t seem to mind, and for Tesco, it’s showing prospective recruits that fun can still be had when stacking shelves.
Budding social media stars might consider leaving to work for themselves. It can be a lucrative career! So if it’s an employee and skill that you’d like to keep in your business, why not see if you can join forces by adding a creative new element to their role?
Resignations are nothing new, and there are many reasons why an employee might decide that it’s time to move on.
What is perhaps less expected, is the way in which people are choosing to resign these days; and that often depends on whether they are leaving on good terms.
For example, at one end of the scale we have the employee who took up baking in his spare time and upon deciding to set up his own bakery, baked a sweet resignation letter for his employer.
On the more resentful end? Setting off all the timers in a restaurant with one-minute intervals, and hiding them, is definitely up there.
People Matter October 2021
Is your recruitment process working for you?
Even by this summer, job vacancies had already bounced back to pre-COVID levels. Sectors like hospitality, though, have had a real fight on their hands to fill these positions.
The good news is that businesses are in a position to hire more staff. The bad news, however, is that whilst vacancies remain unfilled, more time and money is spent on advertising, CV sorting and futile interviews.
The impact of the pandemic has left some businesses currently operating on low numbers. A viral sentiment adopted by some captures the moment well – The whole world is short staffed, be kind to those that showed up.
It highlights another problem associated with record levels of job vacancies, an increasing workload and risk of burnout for those that are holding the fort.
Employers with jobs to fill may need to review their current recruitment process. Is it giving them the competitive edge they need to stand out in today’s job market? For some, this has also meant a review of pay scales, resulting in entry level salaries rising at a significant rate.
Not all businesses can afford to bump up the pay package though. So what other options are there?
- When your recruitment process is working for you, it doesn’t all come down to salary. There are other hooks and USPs you can utilise to find and attract talent.
- The pandemic has caused a shift in priorities and working practices. Key employee benefits of 2021 include access to flexible working, job security and training.
- For an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic, a push on training or opportunities to progress within the company may sweeten the deal. Equally, taking on candidates with a good attitude, but lacking some skills and training, can be rewarding.
- Have you been using the same template job ad? Now is the time to analyse it with fresh eyes. Does it really sell the role or your company? Does the language used speak to a diverse pool of candidates? Tweaking a few words here or there can make all the difference.
The next question you’ll want to ask is: “Are the right people seeing my ad?”. The quality and quantity of applications that you receive will help you to determine this. If the answer is no, it could be time to actively seek the candidates that you want to meet. Headhunting has become commonplace in the post-pandemic landscape.
Improving the quality of your applications also saves valuable time later on in the process. It can reduce the risk of being ghosted by only half-interested candidates, or those that leave in their first week for another offer.
When all the attention goes on recruitment, employee retention can sometimes get overlooked, but retaining good employees is a pillar of a successful business. If no one wants to leave, you will have more time to focus on the things you want.
Dealing with narcissism in the workplace
Working with people, you will encounter a range of personalities and their associated traits. It’s the variety of these characteristics that help certain people work well together, and others to butt heads.
One such personality trait demands more attention than others and can be problematic without the right kind of people management in place.
Existing on a spectrum, narcissism ranges from slight narcissistic tendencies to a full personality disorder.
Spotting the signs of narcissism in the workplace is important for damage control and supporting your workforce.
Narcissism refers to an inflated opinion of self-worth, which can lead to behaviours such as:
- Being charming yet insincere
- Taking the credit for others’ work
- Hogging the limelight
- Disregard for the feelings of others
Understandably, these behaviours can cause issues with co-workers or clients.
Narcissistic personalities can end up in positions of power due to high levels of confidence and seemingly top performance. This means that they may not be challenged as often as they should.
This is detrimental to an entire organisation. It can result in increased stress and absences, or accusations of bullying and harassment from other employees.
If you spot narcissistic behaviour in your business, don’t turn away. Approach the person and use questions to better understand where the behaviour is coming from. Has your company culture allowed it to manifest?
Bad behaviour that breaches your company rules on respect should be dealt with as per your usual policy. If problems persist with a particular employee, you may need to pursue disciplinary procedures, for which professional HR help is advised.
85,000 € for being told to retire
When you think of workplace discrimination and equality law, the first thoughts that enter your mind may lean towards gender or race. However, Irish equality law covers nine grounds which are: gender, civil status (marriage etc.), family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community.
Treating anyone unfavourably at work due to these grounds is illegal, and can be met with hefty punishment – as one care home recently found out the hard way.
They had arbitrarily informed a senior nurse that she would be retired on turning 65. When she pushed back they granted her a year’s extension and in due course retired her at the age of 66. This clear case of age discrimination (it was established that there was no shortage of work and that she had an exemplary record) caused her stress and indignity, not to mention 11 months’ loss of earnings, denial of statutory redundancy and an ex gratia payment.
The Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator awarded an €85,000 pay-out, and the business has since gone into liquidation.
While too late for all the parties here, it serves as a reminder to other businesses to understand equality law and keep the right side of it; not just to avoid the punishment, but also the hurt to individuals and the opportunity cost to a business of needlessly losing talented staff.
Budget 2022, announced in October, is set against a backdrop of helping businesses get back up to speed as the economy reopens. Here are some of the highlights for employers.
The biggest announcement was the continuation of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme which, contrary to the approach of many other nations, will remain in place until April 2022. Note that it will wind down in a tiered format, becoming less generous towards the end. If you are not ready to bring back staff and ramp up operations, this will help you retain them.
There is €34 million extra funding for apprentices, with 7,000 off-the-job training places made available for those impacted by COVID-19. The government’s “Pathways to Work” strategy is also being championed as a way of boosting re-employment post COVID-19.
In a sweetener for those who will continue to work from home, a new tax relief is being offered, allowing them to reclaim up to 30% of their broadband, electricity and heating bills.
The minimum wage will be rising too – 30 cents from €10.20 to €10.50.
Things that go bump in the… workplace
Books randomly appearing in the middle of the aisle, hearing footsteps whilst working alone and other suspicious noises: One US library faced a creepy conundrum when employees voiced fears that the place was haunted!
They are not the only ones either. Offices in historical buildings, hotels and even one branch of Toys “R” Us have reported paranormal activities on the premises.
Aside from a speedy Google search for “ghost hunters near me” what can employers do when spooked out staff complain of supernatural goings on during their shift?
If it’s purely suspicion, you’ll probably want to remind them that there are more important things to worry about. However, if they are working alone, The Health & Safety Dept can help you with a lone working policy to manage real risks.
If you want to see it for yourself and get an overall picture of how much this is disturbing work, you could consider surveillance. Just make sure your processes are compliant with the Data Protection Act. Give us a call if you have questions.
If something unbooelievable shows up on your recording though, that’s one for the Ghost Busters.
Send in the clowns
No really, please do send in the clowns. A big top circus owner in Northern Ireland has admitted to experiencing a challenging recruitment drive prior to reopening his business post-COVID.
Due to Northern Ireland relaxing its restrictions after other countries, many skilled entertainers already appear to be working overseas.
No funny business. Well at least not until Mr Duffy can staff his big top for the upcoming season. Key competencies needed include adaptability, creativity, and a willingness to travel.
People Matter September 2021
Is an extra week off the answer to burnout?
Nike has become the latest company to join the likes of LinkedIn and Bumble, announcing plans to give staff a week off to help them combat burnout.
The announcement will no doubt have piqued interest, causing employers to question if this is a short-lived trend, a headline grabbing stunt, or a bona fide solution for workplace well-being.
Adequate time for respite from work is certainly key to achieving a good work-life balance. That’s why we always suggest encouraging an even distribution of holiday to be taken throughout the year wherever possible.
With that said, we can’t help but question why staff are reaching burnout in the first place? For a whole company to require a week off, there could be some underlying problems present with people management.
This may not help those businesses already committed to giving staff a week off, but it might produce relief for SME employers who want to maintain a happy, healthy, and productive workforce, without needing to shut down operations. We imagine that it would likely be good news for clients or customers too.
Good mental health has always been important, but the pandemic has driven more conversations around the subject. As a result, some employers are seeking new and attractive solutions to support and motivate their staff.
A week off or even a planned well-being day away from the office might sound appealing to some, but is there a risk of work piling up when employees return? Will it address the cause of why staff are getting stressed out in the first place? These are questions that need to be considered.
To construct an effective workplace well-being strategy that suits your business and those that work within it, a bit of internal research can go a long way. For example, one-on-one conversations with employees regarding their workload and workflow can reveal how and when stressful situations might be arising.
A “shop-floor” viewpoint can help to highlight simple ways in which the day-to-day might be improved. It could give you the insight to provide essential support to staff, reducing the risk of stress building up and leading to burn out. Additionally, a simple “How are you?” now and again can see employees open up. You may find out that there are other ways you could provide support, such as flexi-hours for working parents and carers or an Employee Assistance Programme for a team member going through a hard time personally.
Good workplace well-being need not cost the earth or require you to close your entire business. It does however require a consistent and considered approach to keep your workforce happy, healthy, and working well for the long term.
Can I reduce pay if staff now work from home?
Upon hearing that Google may reduce pay for staff in the US who choose to permanently work from home, UK business owners hoping to cut costs may well be wondering if they can do the same.
One of the main attractions to remote working is the ability to avoid the daily commute. No more packed trains or traffic jams. Then there’s the potential savings on travel. It’s not surprising that the option of remote working is a desirable employee benefit.
However, although these are attractive, employers seeking to reduce an employee’s pay because they now work from home should be aware of the risks in such action.
Doing so would require a change to employment terms and contracts, which the employee needs to be in agreement with or you face a Tribunal for unlawful deduction from wages.
Unless the employee’s job has had to change, warranting a reduction in salary, or the only other option is redundancy, they are unlikely to be onboard with a pay cut. In fact, they may even argue that you are able to save money on overheads due to them now working from home.
Aside from needing to have what could be a difficult conversation, the suggestion alone could damage your relationship and lead to resentment from your remote workers. This would be a less than ideal situation when communication may already be strained.
There are further risks to consider for those managing a hybrid team. If some staff are still attending the office, reducing pay only for those working from home could lead to claims of indirect discrimination.
Employees work better and are more loyal to a business when they feel valued. So whilst pay cuts may not be the solution to cut costs, you might find other ways to reduce budgets or increase profitability with a bit of teamwork.
What to do when you can’t get the staff
Employers may breathe a sigh of relief that the “pingdemic” is subsiding. Fully vaccinated employees no longer need to self-isolate, unless they test positive for COVID-19.
However that may not be the only staffing issue currently plaguing UK businesses. Vacancies are continuing to go unfilled as bosses admit that they just can’t get the staff.
The recruitment game has changed. A combination of factors, including Brexit and the pandemic, has resulted in a jobseeker’s market. What can employers do to find and retain the right people?
Firstly, make sure your offering is competitive in today’s market. Can you match the key desirable benefits of 2021? Think job security, pandemic-proof, training opportunities, health, well-being and flexible working.
Secondly, actively looking for candidates has become commonplace, in the same way that you might be looking for customers. Research and relationship building have never been more important when seeking skilled staff to work for your business. This can be a time-consuming task, but it pays for itself when you find the right person.
Lastly, remember that we are here to help and can handle the process for you, from advertising your role to inducting your new hire.
Understandably, employers are hardwired to look at technical skills and experience when evaluating candidates. However, a useful range of measures less often considered is psychometrics.
These help you understand whether a person’s character matches the job and your organisational culture. They objectively measure things like motivation, attitude and preferred approaches to tasks. They may delve into how good someone is at learning new skills, rather than just assessing the skills they already have. Unlike many other types of test, there are no right or wrong answers per se; only the truth about someone’s make up. This is why they can complement more standardised screening so well.
Incorporating psychometric testing into your recruitment process can have a positive effect on retention too; as by digging deeper into their fit within the business initially, you will more often pick people who can thrive in your organisation.
If you are interested in seeing the benefit of a psychometric assessment, to use in your company, either at recruitment or during an internal promotion process, why not get in touch for a free demo?
Reframe, recover and reconnect
Due to the success of the vaccine programme and the efforts and patience of a nation, the government has outlined what they state will be the final phase of their response to the pandemic.
Since 20 September, attendance at work for specific requirements has been permitted in a phased and staggered way. To support this the Work Safely Protocol has been updated to advise on ventilation, antigen testing and vaccination.
From 22 October, almost all restrictions will be lifted – from physical distancing to mask wearing in most scenarios. The exceptions will be mandatory self-isolation for those who have symptoms of COVID-19 and mask wearing in healthcare settings, indoor retail and public transport.
Despite the relaxations, two thirds of Irish CEOs say they expect that the majority of employees will continue working remotely at least two days a week, marking a profound culture shift. If you need advice navigating the complexity of getting people back in the workplace, talk to us.
A red card from HR
Posting a job ad is a vital chance to provide a first impression of your business and reach a wide range of people that might be a good fit for your team.
Naturally, you might consider including a couple of unique points to make you stand out from the competition, such as some identifiable traits of your business or company culture.
What you don’t want to do is accidentally alienate prospective applicants, as one football club recently did. The business has been subsequently called out on social media for foul play!
The ad, for a general manager at AFC Fylde has been criticised for stating “delegators and office dwellers please don’t apply” also “don’t apply if you are looking for a work-life balance or have to pick up the kids from school twice a week”. Yikes!
Not only can this give a bad first impression and put people off from applying, but it risks being discriminatory, as employment law still applies at this stage of hiring.
If you’re recruiting and want to avoid an awkward own goal, remember that we are here to help.
People Matter August 2021
Data collection and immunisation
Data collection has been a hot topic for several years with the introduction of GDPR, and COVID-19 has raised a few data protection issues of its own which employers should stay on top of.
The vaccine roll-out has been pretty successful in Ireland with more than three-quarters of adults double-jabbed by the end of July. However, the government still recommends that contact tracing details are collected for track and trace, which will likely include staff as well as customers and visitors.
The Data Protection Commissioner offers advice for collecting such data. So it is important that you and your team are aware of this best practice. This includes minimising the amount of data collected; being transparent as to why it is being collected; storing the information securely; limiting the use of the data to the purpose for which it was collected; and deleting it after the one-month period prescribed for public health requirement. Training your staff is advisable.
Track and trace data is one thing, but collecting vaccine data from your employees is quite another. On this, the Taoiseach has stated that workers will not have to prove they are vaccinated in order to return to the office. The Data Protection Commissioner builds on this, deeming that there is no clear legal basis for employers to gather data about the vaccination of staff.
We would advise treading carefully around this topic and, if at all possible, avoiding it altogether. As well as a data protection risk, there is also a discrimination risk. Some people will not get vaccinated for personal or medical reasons and must not be treated any differently from their vaccinated co-workers. Younger workers may not even have been offered a second jab for many weeks, and so have no choice in the matter.
The workplace exception to this may be in frontline healthcare settings, but even this could be fraught with difficulty.
Given the stance of both the government and the Data Protection Commissioner, the best course of action is to develop workplace safety measures independent of vaccination status and provide good quality information on the jabs so your staff can make their own informed decision.
Reassuring staff during the return to work
Currently, the government seems set to allow people to return to the office in September. Several high-profile companies, however, such as Google and Musgraves, have indicated their office staff will continue home working for longer.
It raises the questions: “Just because you can bring people back, should you do so?” and “How should you manage staff reluctant to make the return?”
To answer the first question: taking the lead of some of those larger companies, it is perfectly sensible to work on a slower timetable if it feels right for your business. It gives you more time to make adequate preparations.
If you are keen to get people back as soon as possible for the sake of business operations though, then this is understandable too. There will be the health and safety piece to get right, of course – informed by government advice or mandates. Following that, it is important to do the people management well. Managing mental health is an important aspect to this.
Anyone can experience poor mental health, although it is only in recent years that this is being properly recognised. The pandemic has given people more reason to struggle, so keep an eye out for early signs. Open conversations about the last year, either one to one or in small groups is a good way to get started.
Clearly signpost support, whether that is something you can offer through your policies, or even relevant charities that they can turn to. If you want to find out more about how a low-cost Employee Assistance Programme can help, ask us.
If an employee is afraid of catching COVID, reshare your risk assessment with them for reassurance. Maybe they will make further suggestions which are possible for you to adopt.
While a legal right to ask to work remotely is not in place yet, it is due to be introduced later in the year. Being open to receiving such requests, even if you can’t fulfil them, will stand you in good stead for when the law changes.
Is your business ready for an inspection?
When it comes to employment law, don’t assume that it could only be you being taken to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC); sometimes the WRC can come to you.
When you employ people there are some statutory records which you must keep to demonstrate that you comply with employment law. These include records which will show you adhere to areas like the national minimum wage, rest breaks, working time and work permits. Typically, you have to keep these readily available for three years.
When an inspector calls, they can do so in person or by telephone. They may wish to interview employees as well as you. If they find matters amiss, they can issue a fixed penalty notice on the spot and they will work with you to achieve compliance. Stubborn non-compliance can result in criminal prosecution.
Talk to us if you want a review of your HR record-keeping.
What to do when personalities clash
Personality clashes are an awkward but inevitable part of life. When different types of people work together at the same company, personality clashes can disrupt the workplace.
Because personality clashes can’t necessarily be avoided, you may think that there’s little that can be done. In fact, you might try and stay out of it altogether and let those butting heads just learn to get along.
The trouble with this approach is that, if you don’t change something, very often nothing will change. Your feuding foes are unlikely to suddenly see eye-to-eye without some level of mediation.
To prevent a personality clash escalating, it’s wise to sit down with each employee individually to find out what’s really going on. If there’s no obvious cause of conflict and you need them to work together, mediation with a trusted third party can be a productive way to move forwards.
Summertime and the weather is, well, Irish.
There’s a high chance your employees are longing to be outside when the sun is shining or daydreaming of an upcoming holiday when it’s not. Summer can be a distraction for all sorts of reasons.
You can’t hide the sun, let’s face it, it does a good job of that on its own. So what can you do to get your team focused and back on track this season?
Aside from reminding them of important work by setting summer goals, relaxing a few rules around this time of year can have a positive effect on productivity. This could be summer working hours or a relaxed dress code for example.
Employees should appreciate the gesture, but if some people try to push the boundaries with extended lunchbreaks, remember that we are here to help.
Managing those newbie mishaps
HBO Max recently held their hands up in a tweet regarding an email sent out to its mailing list in error, admitting that, “as the jokes pile in, yes, it was the intern”.
The Twittersphere responded beautifully, with all manner of people revealing their own mistakes during previous internships.
Mistakes happen and sharing your own mishaps can reduce some of the dread an intern in this position is likely to be feeling. A word of caution though, maybe give their training plan a review before you let them near the send button again.
People Matter July 2021
Staffing your business this summer
Summer staffing can be a conundrum and this summer brings even more obstacles than normal.
Alongside the usual staff absences caused by summer holidays, employers are navigating the pandemic.
The vaccine rollout and reopening of businesses has seen many people return to work and their usual activities. However, warnings that COVID-19 is still in circulation mean that there is still a risk of disruption.
Meanwhile, businesses gearing up for a busy period, some hoping to profit from fewer people travelling abroad, have reported difficulties in filling vacancies. Whether down to receiving too many CVs from inexperienced applicants, or none at all due to economic uncertainty, recruitment is taking up increasing amounts of time and energy.
Check that the working experience you are offering will tick the boxes for new recruits in 2021: safety, inclusivity and flexibility are all becoming increasingly desirable, but non-tangible, job perks. Can you promise these and do your job ads promote them?
After a year and a half of pandemic related issues, customers are beginning to express fatigue with COVID excuses for longer wait times, late deliveries and reduced services. Businesses hoping for a successful post-lockdown summer season will need to make staffing with adequate cover a top priority.
There is always a chance that one person may go off sick when someone else is on holiday, but this is an even higher eventuality now with summer being prime time for vacations, even staycations, and sick leave involving self-isolation or quarantine.
A helpful way to stay on top of absences is through absence management software, like The HR Dept toolkit. Your team can see availability for holiday before sending through a request, whilst you can manage staffing levels to make sure that you have adequate cover.
If need be, you can determine when employees take their holiday, providing you give them the right amount of notice – at least one month. Keep in mind that paid leave is for maintaining good health and well-being, and so an even distribution of holiday throughout the year is best.
This also applies to furloughed employees. Flexible furlough is still available this summer and can be helpful for keeping your business staffed during the busiest times of the week.
Having enough people to staff your business is vital, but remember, good people management is more than just a numbers game. If you’re approaching a busy time and need your team on top form, talk to them to make sure that they have what they need in order to excel. A supportive and approachable leadership team is an important component for successful absence management.
Are you aware of resignation risks?
When an employee resigns you may think that this is the last you will see of them and that there is little left for you to do before closing the chapter on their employment. Naturally, your attention may quickly turn to finding their replacement.
Whilst replacing your leaver may understandably be at the forefront of your mind, some time should be set aside for an exit interview and leavers checklist, because a resignation from an employee can carry risk.
During an exit interview you will want to establish why your employee has decided to end their employment with you.
If it transpires that they feel they have no choice but to leave due to an unresolved issue, you’ll want to find out as much as you can to see if you can resolve this. A disgruntled employee leaving in this way could otherwise seek to bring a constructive dismissal claim against you. We are already starting to see successful COVID-19 related constructive dismissal claims at the Workplace Relations Commission.
If things have turned particularly sour and an employee verbally quits in the heat of the moment, you may want to let them cool off before going any further. When they have calmed down, approach this in a calm and rational way to see if they are committed to resigning. If they are, you should request this in writing.
Not only is it helpful to part ways on good terms for well-being and reputation, but it minimises the risk of a future claim coming back to bite you. That would be the last thing you need when you’ll likely be busy training up a replacement.
To further protect your business, your leavers process should also address points like the return of any loaned company property and final pay for your departing employee.
Resignations can be risky and, at times, fuelled by emotion. If you need advice call us.
From menstrual leave to menopause
Sadly, period problems, resulting from menstruation or menopause, are still seen as taboo topics of discussion in most workplaces. This leaves those who are suffering to do so in silence.
Not every person who menstruates will need to take time off work due to symptoms, but for those that do, the scale of discomfort can reach debilitating levels.
Some countries, including Japan and South Korea, offer paid menstrual leave. At least one trade union has called for a similar policy to be introduced in Ireland.
Employers seeking to better support those suffering due to menstruation or menopause can empower their employees through accommodations which help them to manage their health at work. Flexible working, from flexi-hours to flexi-location, can help; along with adding painful periods or menopausal symptoms as accepted reasons for sick leave.
An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide important emotional support.
Lastly, an inclusive workplace which makes no space for gender stereotypes or discrimination can help to dissolve the taboo surrounding periods and create a happier, healthier workforce for the future.
Making Remote Work
A recent survey found that 95% of Irish workers want to continue working from home in some form after the pandemic. Respondents cited reduced stress, greater flexibility and increased productivity as reasons to keep working remotely.
The government has been quick to recognise these benefits. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently launched the #MakingRemoteWork campaign, designed to raise awareness of government resources for employers implementing remote and blended working. These include a comprehensive checklist for employers with remote staff which can be found on the government website.
As an employer, you may be able to benefit from reduced workplace costs and improved productivity, but you are still responsible for the well-being of remote working employees.
Health and safety, mental health, insurance, taxes and data protection all need to be considered too. You may also need to carry out additional training to ensure a successful transition. There’s a lot to think about, so don’t hesitate to ask us for help.
Apprenticeship Incentivisation Scheme
The government recently published its Action Plan For Apprenticeships, which aims to increase the number of apprentices in Ireland to 10,000 a year by 2025. This includes encouraging employers to take on apprentices by offering financial incentives.
If you employ apprentices, you may have already taken advantage of the Apprentice Incentivisation Scheme – more than 3,000 apprenticeship roles have already been created. If you haven’t, it’s not too late. Last month, the government announced that the scheme will be extended until the end of the year.
By registering an apprentice to the scheme, you can receive a total of €3,000. €2,000 is paid on registration, and a further €1,000 is paid if you employ the apprentice for a year. You should first register the apprentice with SOLAS through your local Education and Training Board. You can then apply for the grant through the SOLAS website.
Smile for entry
Smile, you’re on camera!
You are probably well used to walking in front of security cameras by now – there’s enough of them about.
They do however tend to blend into the background, so having to acknowledge and smile into one may seem strange.
Would it help to improve positivity though? The Beijing branch of Canon is currently trying to find out. Employees can now only enter the offices if they are smiling at AI cameras.
On the upside, smiling can reduce stress and improve the immune system. However, a forced smile is unlikely to produce the same results and could mask someone who needs support.
If you’re seeking ways to improve positivity in your workplace, little things, like showing appreciation, can really work wonders.
People Matter June 2021
The Economic Recovery Plan
The government has announced its Economic Recovery Plan. The stated aims are to achieve rapid job creation and economic growth following the pandemic. It is being framed as a green and digital jobs revolution.
As you would imagine, it includes several employment related initiatives which modify existing schemes and introduce new ones.
Many businesses will be relieved to learn that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is to be extended until the end of the year. The current enhanced payment rates and turnover thresholds will be maintained until the end of September. The period for assessments will be widened from six to twelve months, which opens the scheme to yet more businesses. It is too early for the government to commit to what the rates will be in the final quarter of the year.
The COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) will stay in place until at least the end of the year. There will be an enhanced payment at double the rate for a period of three weeks when restarting your business to reflect the extra expenditure of getting going. This will be capped at €10,000 per week.
The Business Resumption Scheme is a new initiative for September aimed at helping vulnerable but viable businesses to reopen, and works in a similar way to CRSS. It is for businesses whose turnover reduced by 75% between 1 September 2020 and 31 August 2021.
The enhanced COVID-19 illness payment for people diagnosed with the virus or unable to work as they are a close contact of someone who is diagnosed, will also stay in place.
There is a “pathways to work” section of the plan to help the unemployed return to work. As an employer you may be interested to learn that this will include investment into upskilling and reskilling people, with an emphasis on tackling youth unemployment.
It is also worth noting that there is a final extension, until 30 September, of the suspension for employees’ rights to trigger a claim for redundancy after a certain period of lay-off or short time work because of COVID.
Supporting your LGBT+ employees
Pride events may be curtailed by social distancing measures again this year, but that shouldn’t stop the celebrations. Many people have turned to online events to show their support of LGBT+ people.
Support for LGBT+ rights is increasing with the awareness that Pride brings each year. However, there is still some way to go before everyone can feel safe being themselves in public, and bringing their true selves to work.
In a report released earlier this year, the UK’s CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) found that LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience harassment at work than their heterosexual, cisgender co-workers. The survey also revealed that LGBT+ employees reported feeling more psychologically unsafe at work.
Everyone has a right to feel safe and be treated with respect at work. These latest findings are concerning. They show that some workplaces may be falling short on inclusivity and ensuring the protection of all employees.
Even the most inclusive of workplaces will have been challenged during the pandemic. Forced isolation and separation has put great pressure on mental health and well-being. For some LGBT+ people, this involved being cooped up in sometimes hostile home environments, and without their usual support systems to lean on. They may also have been at an increased risk of cyber bullying during lockdown.
The good news is that there are actions which employers can take to make a difference and show their LGBT+ employees that they are valued and supported. This starts with a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment and discrimination.
Clear policies and lines of communication help employees to know that they are protected, and how to report a grievance should they feel threatened. Beyond this, providing an Employee Assistance Programme and signposting LGBT+ charities and networks can make a positive difference all year round, not just for Pride.
Paid domestic violence leave
Citing a finding that more than 30% of women are at some point victims of emotional violence by a partner, NUI Galway is becoming the first higher level academic institution in Ireland to offer paid domestic violence leave. The research by their Centre for Global Women’s Studies also found domestic abuse causes a drop in productivity levels equivalent to between five and ten days a year.
Sadly, it is a problem throughout the world, and at The HR Dept we have teamed up with a domestic abuse survivor and two charities to develop a domestic abuse policy and training for employers. The policy is based on four Rs: RECOGNISE the problem; RESPOND appropriately; RECORD the details; and REFER to appropriate help and support.
With calls to Women’s Aid and Safe Ireland having seen a 43% rise in calls during the pandemic, this issue is more acute than ever. If you would like help introducing a domestic abuse policy, or following in NUI Galway’s footsteps and implementing paid domestic violence leave, please contact us for help.
A re-introduction to the workplace
Due to the continuation of the vaccine rollout, attention for many employers has turned to the further lifting of lockdown restrictions: namely, re-opening the workplace or bringing more employees back to work.
We know that many business owners will be eager to see their work premises occupied again, but wonder how many are ready to go when the time comes?
Aside from making the workplace COVID-Secure, there are other important considerations for bringing employees back to work.
Furloughed workers in particular, that have been away from the workplace for some time, may benefit from a return-to-work induction. This can help them to adjust to any major changes that happened in the business during their absence. It also provides a good opportunity to talk through any new workflows, procedures or safety protocols that you need them to follow.
If you want to implement a return-to-work induction for your staff but aren’t sure where to start, give us a call.
Recruitment in 2021
With light at the end of the tunnel, your thoughts may be turning to recruitment once more. What, though, are candidates looking for in a job post pandemic?
Pandemic-proof roles are certainly in demand, ones that are secure should a new wave of COVID strike. Great if you can offer such security, but this will depend on which sector you operate in.
Being able to offer flexible working will now appeal to an even wider audience, again if you can offer it. The last year has shown it is possible for many businesses to flourish with an element of home-working. For staff, avoiding the rush hour slog and feeling more in control of their day can be both desirable and a productivity booster.
If those are not an option for you, consider something else to sweeten the deal. The labour market is always evolving. If you would like help formulating an attractive new remuneration and benefits package, get in touch.
Keeping it cool
In the UK, BBC viewers were left surprised when a camera panned the studio to reveal a news anchor wearing shorts and deck shoes under the desk (comically paired with a suit jacket, shirt and tie above the desk).
Whilst some people could relate, noting that it was the hottest day of the year so far, others were left wondering if the leg bearing shot was meant for live television.
As temperatures soar in summer, employees might be seeking ways to keep their cool. A relaxed summer dress code is one way to help whilst keeping your team and your business on brand.
People Matter May 2021
Closing the communication gap
We all know that good communication is essential, not just for business success, but also in day-to-day life. Yet it doesn’t always happen. Everyone, at one point or another, will suffer the failings of a miscommunication.
It could be down to poor WiFi, piecemeal information, a language barrier, communication preferences, or countless other reasons. So whilst we can all confidently agree that good communication is critical, we can also acknowledge that life throws in a few curveballs to test even the best communicators.
The pandemic has done just that. The way in which people communicate had to change this past year, with minimal social contact forcing business meetings and processes to become virtual. Company culture has also been challenged, showing a need for new and inventive ways to bring people together.
Employees might just be getting comfortable with the temporary solutions implemented during the pandemic, but is it all about to change again?
Some employers are seeking to learn more about a hybrid-working style, a mix of remote and office-based working.
Hybrid working brings benefits such as increased flexibility and reduced overheads if you downsize. It can however create new barriers for communication within teams.
Employers wanting to make a successful permanent move to a hybrid working model will need to consider this early on. It will help them establish how employees can work together and communicate effectively at all times.
This can look different from one business to the next and will depend on the unique makeup of each workforce. For example, cross-cultural and cross-generational teams may benefit from some team-building exercises or light-hearted activities to help them connect.
Inclusivity is centric to successful hybrid working, and clearly defined processes for meetings and projects will help. This might be making sure that remote workers are dialled into office meetings. Collaboration software, as an alternative, is becoming a popular way for team members to keep each other in the loop on the status of a project, no matter where they are.
There is lots to consider when moving to a hybrid working model, and some difficulties may not become clear until you are already trialling it. To help close the communication gap for your hybrid team, why not consider a training session on effective communication skills? A refresher can do wonders for all involved.
Mental health matters
Earlier this month #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek in the UK helped to fuel online conversations surrounding the importance of good mental health. Whether at home or at work, protecting mental health is vital for happiness and well-being.
Everyone has mental health and needs to take care of it. Not just during initiatives like a Mental Health Awareness Week, but at all times. Employers looking to show their commitment to workplace mental health can achieve this through a holistic well-being strategy for their workforce.
Workplace well-being has been rising on the agenda for senior leaders since the pandemic began, but many don’t quite know where to start.
The first point of call should involve talking to employees. Whether one-on-one or in groups, give them an outlet to discuss the life changing events of the past year. Find out what challenged them the most, what support they found most beneficial, and how they feel about returning to the workplace post-pandemic.
Some people will have experienced loss and may still be battling with grief. By acknowledging this, you can find out if and how they would like the news to be communicated with co-workers. You may uncover that they would benefit from some additional emotional support, such as counselling via an Employee Assistance Programme.
Making mental health part of the conversation can create a positive shift in your company culture, eliminating stigma and encouraging employees to be mindful of their own mental health and that of their co-workers.
When managing the process of bringing employees back into the workplace, keep in mind the potential risks of back-to-work anxiety and work-related stress. Mental health support is often provided when a person is already suffering, but a successful well-being strategy will include preventative measures too.
Are employees thinking of going freelance?
The pandemic and drastic lockdown were always going to spark profound shifts in the way we live our lives. One thing that remote working has done is breakdown a barrier for employees to go freelance. A cultural acceptance of working from home, and the tech which facilitates it, makes it that much easier to take the plunge. In America, freelancing was up 22% between 2019 and 2020.
You may have been in survival mode for much of the last 14-months, or focused on redundancies, but don’t take your eye of employee retention. Keeping your good ones retains valuable institutional knowledge in the business and saves on recruitment costs. It allows you to focus your energies on growth.
Of course, remuneration comes into it, but a good retention strategy will include creating a sense of job satisfaction, providing opportunities for personal and professional growth, promoting well-being and getting work/life balance right.
€1.7m in unpaid wages recovered
It may have been a highly unusual and disruptive year, but this has not prevented the Workforce Relations Commission (WRC) from enforcement relating to unpaid wages. They recently reported that they recovered € 1.7m.
This was achieved from conducting 7,687 inspections, more than 5,000 of which came with no forewarning. There were 1,760 employers who were found to have breached employment law. Some of these inspections were carried out in partnership with regulatory bodies such as An Garda Síochána. There was a 90% success rate in the subsequent 81 prosecutions that were completed.
If you are concerned whether you are complying with employment law, especially in light of so many unannounced checks, please contact us for a review. We can help you get your processes correct so that you can confidently pass a WRC inspection.
This task is a walk in the park
During lockdown many of us turned to nature for our daily exercise and to take a mental health break from the pressures of the pandemic.
Spending time in nature is known to have many positive mental and physical health benefits. So much so that five GP practices in Scotland actually trialled giving prescriptions for nature.
As attention turns to the reopening of workplaces and bringing employees back to work, one thing that employers can do to support employee well-being through this process is to keep nature on the agenda.
This could be as simple as bringing more plants into the office, taking a meeting on a walk or even a team fundraising effort that embraces the great outdoors.
From happier and healthier employees to a boost in creativity, the benefits of nature on mental health and well-being are far reaching and easy to obtain.
15 years late for work
When an employee is fifteen minutes late for work, you might decide to let it slide, but what should you do when they don’t show up for fifteen years?!
Believe it or not this actually happened. An Italian hospital worker continued to receive his monthly salary despite not attending work in over a decade, totalling more than half a million Euros.
Now that the authorities have caught up with him, the employee is facing the full weight of the law.
Hopefully you would notice a missing person before too long and not rack up such a large bill for absenteeism, but just to cover yourself, some attendance tracking software like The HR Dept Toolkit can help.
People Matter April 2021
Helping your managers to thrive post-pandemic
Have your thoughts been turning to getting back to business since the lockdown easing was announced? Or maybe your business has been open this whole time but looking a little different to normal?
It’s now over a year since the pandemic first hit; and companies, workplaces, and the people within them have changed.
Many people openly admit to craving some sort of normality; but is that what’s best, or even possible, post-pandemic?
For many employers, getting back to business may well involve working in new markets, managing new processes, and mitigating new risks. To hit the ground running when the economy fully reopens, you’ll want confident and competent decision makers by your side.
A good management team can make the difference between a company flailing or thriving in the post-pandemic landscape.
However, despite the important role that line managers play in a business, it’s not uncommon for new managers to learn on the job. This can offer hands-on experience but can also leave them open to the risks of ill-informed decisions. Would you give the keys to your car to a non-driver and say here you go, learn to drive?
Firefighters practice many task-based drills before heading into a fire. Likewise, training and development can give your managers the skills they need to address people problems in your business before they escalate.
Managers recruited internally, perhaps even during the pandemic due to their ability to work well under pressure, will know your business well and will have built up valuable institutional knowledge. This is great, but you’ll want to ensure that their ability in key management skills – planning, communication, interpersonal, problem solving, and delegation – is sufficient for the task ahead.
Management teams in 2021 need to add a few new strings to their bow to adapt to the needs of the post-pandemic workplace and its people. Particularly the shift towards hybrid working which brings new management challenges.
At a time when budget cuts are high on the agenda, learning and development can often be one of the first to get the axe. Unless, of course, you look at the long game where upskilling employees and managers now saves time through enhanced productivity, a reduction in high-risk HR issues and better staff retention rates. Training is often reported to be the most popular benefit within a company.
When training is done well, it offers a true return on investment. Especially when inducting new employees. Induction done effectively ensures the new hire gets up to speed and becomes productive from the go, instead of taking months to figure out how the business functions.
The right to disconnect
With the proliferation of smartphones, email, WhatsApp, Slack, video calling and a hundred other channels, it is harder than ever for us to switch off for the day. For many this has a negative impact on mental health and well-being.
In response, the government has granted “the right to disconnect” to all employees. This right is delivered through a Workplace Relations Commission code of practice.
The code recognises three main elements to the right to disconnect. These are that employees should not routinely perform work outside of working hours, that they are not to be penalised for refusing to do so and that everyone has a duty to respect each other’s rights in this matter.
Under the code, you should engage proactively with your employees to develop a right-to-disconnect policy that complies with the guidelines and works for your business.
As you may guess, some nuance will be required to make it work. For instance, your business’s hours of operation may be staggered by shift patterns or work across global time zones; some flexibility to handle emergency situations legitimately will be sensible; and you may include provision for communications to be sent out of hours, but which make clear that they do not have to be responded to until the employee is back on the clock.
Equality law should also be considered, to ensure that your policy doesn’t unfairly disadvantage someone with one of the nine protected grounds.
While it will not be a direct offence to fail to follow the code, its provisions will be admissible as evidence in employment hearings.
If you want to discuss the creation of your right-to-disconnect policy with an expert, please get in touch.
Changes to family-friendly leave
Significant changes to family-friendly leave came into force on 1 April, after the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2021 was signed into law a few days earlier.
The main changes are that the number of weeks of parents’ leave and benefit rise from two to five, and parents now have two years (rather than one) from the birth in which to take them. Additionally, adoptive leave becomes more flexible, with all couples (including same-sex male couples previously excluded) now able to choose which parent receives it. The other parent will qualify for paternity leave and benefit.
While new parents will welcome the extra statutory support, you may find it presents a further administrative burden. Clear and updated policies outlining what’s available, to whom, and when, give you the best foundation on which to manage family-friendly policies correctly and fairly. Call us if you need support.
Are you managing a workaholic?
Have you ever been called a workaholic? When you have a business to run, it can sometimes feel like you’re spending all of your time working.
A hard work ethic is admirable and can set a good example for employees, however downtime is also very much needed. Not just for mental and physical health, but also the success of the business.
If you think an employee could be suffering from work addiction or presenteeism (the need to be seen working), consider how you can help them to channel their productivity in a healthy way.
Working excessive hours is unlikely to be productive all of the time. Mistakes can start to show, leading a workaholic to put even more pressure on themselves to achieve.
Encourage your worker bee to take some time out before they burn out. A team lunch (in line with government advice) could give them and you something to look forward to, and a well-deserved breather.
What exactly is hybrid working?
Like a hybrid car which benefits from using both petrol and electricity, hybrid working blends remote and onsite work to give companies and their staff the best of both worlds.
In theory, employees get a better work/life balance, whilst the business can streamline costs and improve recruitment and retention with attractive hybrid job offerings.
It won’t be an option for every business. However, there are so many ways to offer hybrid working that for many companies it is worth serious consideration.
Assuming it could work for you, it will not be without its complications. For instance, some people may depend upon the professional environment of your workplace to do their best work and be horrified at the thought of permanent remote working. You’ll want to design it so that it does not exclude good staff or candidates.
The government is currently exploring legislation to provide a legal framework for remote working requests and how they are managed. So it’s likely that we’ll be hearing a lot more of the term hybrid working.
They say that money talks. However, it’s not the only thing that matters when hiring great staff.
Psychometrics are a great way to assess if the candidates you are considering will be a good fit for your business. Let’s face it, we are all human and we seek out those who have the same ideas and outlooks as ourselves, while your team might need someone who thinks a bit differently or behaves in a certain way for a particular role.
Increasingly, companies rank highly in top employer ratings for their culture. This is fostered through elements such as their sense of community and fairness within the firm; the trustworthiness of management; and innovation. These are all factors that make people feel proud of where they work.
Another approach is to have a defined social purpose. That is, the very being of the company is to make the world a better place in some way. Some start-ups are created with this in mind. Through careful planning, though, you can give your people a cause to rally behind with a good corporate social responsibility initiative.
People Matter March 2021
The four-day work week
Given everything that is going on, it may have passed you by last November when TD Paul Murphy proposed in the Dail that we adopt a four-day working week in Ireland. That is a four-day working week whilst maintaining full pay.
Many employers’ first reaction will be to scoff, and think it is pie in the sky. But is it as outlandish as it sounds? The line of argument is that technology has facilitated huge productivity gains, but all the benefit has gone to shareholders; workers should enjoy some benefit too. While lines may be drawn depending on political views here, there are some further benefits to consider.
For instance, much more is known about mental health nowadays, and how the effects of a stressful work life cause suffering and financial cost. It would be expected that readjusting the work/life balance in favour of more downtime would improve quality of life while saving money spent on the consequences of stress and burn-out. You would think it would contribute to a better workplace culture too, with happier, less stressed employees.
Then there is the idea that if robots, automation and AI are going to replace many human roles, the jobs that are left to do could be spread more evenly around the working population.
The environment, too, would likely benefit through fewer commutes. This is something that has been very apparent around the world when strict lockdowns have been in place.
Ireland is by no means the only country to have people proposing such ideas. Indeed, variations on the four-day working week idea are being discussed in many countries including Germany and New Zealand. Spain is even gearing up to test the idea. The Spanish government is exploring a pilot whereby they would underwrite a proportion of the costs businesses may bear if they were to choose to opt in.
Don’t forget that our government is already well down the path of introducing remote working legislation. We are all much more au fait with this thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but just a few years ago this would have seemed a pipe dream to many. Maybe a move towards a four-day week could be next…
Back to school, but not back to the office…yet
Back to school isn’t usually the main topic of discussion in March, but this year is already like no other. Schools have re-opened to some pupils with the remainder due to go back on 12 April.
The re-opening of schools provides a return to some normality for families and working parents who have been homeschooling for many of the past 12 months. As such, employers who furloughed working parents for childcare purposes can facilitate a return to work.
Pupils returning to school is among the first tentative steps in the path out of the latest lockdown. The government’s amended plan to tackle coronavirus – Resilience and Recovery 2021: The Path Ahead – outlines the long journey to normality. It certainly makes clear that there is no room for complacency. The main “stay at home” message still applies.
Despite this, Spitu, the country’s largest trade union, has reported that employers in the private and public sectors are asking staff to attend workplaces unnecessarily, thus risking further spread of the virus.
For clarity, the government’s level five restrictions in place until at least 5 April state that people should work from home unless they are performing an essential service which cannot be performed from home.
This means that non-essential shops must remain closed and click and collect services are suspended. Pubs, cafes and restaurants can only offer take away services while hotels and other accommodation can only open for essential purposes. Most construction remains closed as do personal services businesses like hairdressers, barbers and beauticians.
If things go to plan the rules will gradually permit more businesses to start opening up from 5 April.
Spring cleaning the paperwork pile
Lighter evenings coincide with the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions. The new life associated with this change in seasons brings hope to those wanting to move forwards.
This year, spring cleaning the house may also lead to a shakeup of the home office. Where did this lengthy to-do list come from?
The pandemic forced many employers to make quick and essential changes last year, which can result in more admin and HR tasks.
Amid a crisis, HR admin tends to fall a few places on the priority list. But given the protection that it provides a business and its employees, it’s an essential component for success.
If you made changes to your business last year, it could be time to review your employment contracts and company handbook to make sure they are up to date and reflect the current situation. 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. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this.
An unlawful downgrade
If you were to arbitrarily slash the pay of an employee, you’d probably be expecting a backlash. That’s precisely what happened when a care operator unilaterally reduced the wages of an employee from €15 per hour to €11.50 per hour.
It came about because, during an appraisal, the employer felt they uncovered that the employee did not have the necessary qualifications for their role. Under the Payment of Wages Act 1991 they argued that section 4 says “an error or omission in good faith shall be regarded as complying with the Act.”
The employee took them to the Workplace Relations Commission where the adjudicator found the deduction to be unlawful. The employer appealed to the Labour Court where the judges upheld that the deduction was unlawful. The court noted that while they couldn’t judge what level of qualification was appropriate, they could determine that unilaterally cutting wages as a response to believing a contract to be voided was not legal.
If you feel you need to introduce pay cuts for any reason, seek professional advice first. We can help.
Are you ready for the robot revolution?
Through opening their first cashless store outside of the US this month, Amazon have provided Londoners with a sneak preview into the future of retail. Self-serve tills have been operational in supermarkets for some time. In this store, however, it seems there’s even less of a need for onsite personnel.
The pandemic may well have accelerated our need for reliable automation, but the so-called robot revolution was already well on its way.
A World Economic Forum report has suggested that machines will be taking care of as much as half of all work tasks by 2025.
Jobs at risk of automation have high levels of repetition and routine, such as data processing, administration, shelf-filling and waiting in hospitality.
Of course, someone will need to be there to diagnose and resolve situations when “the computer says no”. So upskilling employees is crucial for effective and successful automation.
Going green with your team
One positive to come from the pandemic is that social distancing and restricted travel have reduced the carbon footprint of society.
Will all this good for the environment be undone when normal life resumes?
One way that you can ensure your efforts are not wasted is to keep the green theme going in your business.
Get employees on board by sharing your values (something extolled in the book “Conscious Business”). This might include reducing waste, promotion of green commuting or setting green challenges for the team.
Not only will you be helping to combat climate change, but having a cause in common is a great morale booster.
People Matter February 2021
Social media: When sharing becomes oversharing
Social media has been a popular way of keeping in touch with distant family and friends for years. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that usage of social media skyrocketed in the past year while other more traditional forms of socialising became limited during lockdown.
People are not just turning to social media to stay in touch, but to stay informed on breaking news or follow online fitness classes with gyms being closed. New trends have emerged too, with whole households uploading comical dance routines to the breakout app of 2020, TikTok.
Whilst social media has many pros: keeping people connected, entertained and active to name just a few. Excessive use also comes with cons.
Too much time online, in a heavily filtered environment, can alter a person’s perception of reality. It can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression and even isolation. Most smartphones now come with timers to encourage self-management and keep activity to a minimum. A good idea for anyone who is feeling the effects of spending too much time on social media.
Another con which can arise from too much time on social media is the tendency for people to “overshare”.
During the pandemic, numerous reports have emerged of employees claiming to have been fired over viral videos posted to social media. Bad behaviour has included: revealing company secrets, arrogantly flouting COVID rules and bad-mouthing customers. We are sure you can imagine many other ways of acting up whilst in uniform too. These employees have fallen foul of oversharing and paid the price.
In one case in the USA, an oncology nurse was placed on administrative leave after using social media to make light of her apparent regular disregard of social distancing. She was wearing uniform in the picture she posted. And this side of the Atlantic, a shop-worker in Liverpool was dismissed for posting TikTok videos (again in uniform) which criticised customers and management. She claimed she did not know she was doing anything wrong and was dismissed without warning.
It’s not just work-related gaffs that have led to a dismissal. Employees revealing strong political opinions and emotional outbursts online have also raised concerns for employers.
So, what is the safest course of action for an employer to take when something like this happens?
In 2021, one of the most important ways for a business to protect its reputation and confidentiality is to have a robust social media policy in place. This then needs to be communicated to all employees. Staff are going to use social media, that’s a given. Indeed, keeping connected with others can be helpful at a time like this. However, a policy helps to clarify conduct and the consequences of any social media misconduct whilst in your employment. This kind of policy is an important tool, should you be faced with an awkward case of oversharing.
For advice on what yours should include, give us a call.
Workplace bullying: New code of prevention
On 23 December, a new code of practice for preventing and resolving instances of bullying in the workplace was published. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and Health and Safety Authority (HSA) had been asked to collaborate and replace the previously separate codes of practice with a unified one.
As a code of practice, rather than legislation, failure to follow the code is not a direct offence in itself. However, adherence (or otherwise) to it can be submitted as evidence in cases heard in court, the Labour Court or the WRC.
You should find this code helpful for providing guidance as to how to manage bullying. This includes basic steps all employers should follow: like making it clear that workplace bullying is not acceptable and that complaints will be handled sensitively. It then outlines the procedures which should be put in place for dealing with bullying.
The jointly devised code also defines the scope of workplace bullying as seen in 2020. It covers all workplaces, be they remote or onsite, and recognises that bullying behaviour does not need to be carried out in person, but also by cyber or digital means. There is also recognition that it is not just colleagues who can carry out bullying, but also customers, clients and business contacts.
Separately, legislation is being proposed which would expand equality law to prohibit discrimination based on accent or perceived socio-economic background, which would add to the nine grounds for discrimination already protected in employment law.
It is advisable to review your current procedures in light of this new code of conduct, as well as any forthcoming changes to equality law. If you need a professional opinion, please get in touch.
Celebrating women at work
Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge. In the words of the event organisers, “a challenged world is an alert world”.
After a difficult year which threatens the progress made on gender equality to date, the theme of this year’s event encourages everyone to call out and challenge gender bias and inequality.
Gender discrimination is illegal under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 (EAA), but there is much more that can be done to protect, support and celebrate women, especially in the workplace.
Childcare needs due to school closures have been a particularly demanding issue of late, and this responsibility can often fall on mothers. Employers can help to challenge this through equal pay opportunities and family-friendly policies that acknowledge the flexibility needs of both parents.
Company culture also has a part to play. Why not give the women in your workplace a boost by recognising and celebrating #InternationalWomensDay?
Making remote work
Like many businesses, you may have had no choice but to adopt remote working practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was, though, a trend towards remote working beforehand, and the government thinks this is a good thing. In January, they published the National Remote Work Strategy. It’s a document intended to lead to legislation which grants employees the right to request to work remotely, as well as introduce a “right to disconnect” code of practice.
The legislation would provide a legal framework around which employees could ask to work remotely and also guide employers in how best to handle the requests.
You may have already seen some benefits from adopting remote working, not least the flexibility to keep operations going during a disaster. It can bring other benefits too, including around recruitment and retention where it may open up a wider talent pool for you; and cost savings from downsizing your permanent workspace. Remote working poses challenges too. As ever, we are here if you need us to prevent people problems.
How to handle rejection
Learning to handle rejection is an important skill that helps us get by in life. It goes hand in hand with patience and motivation to improve.
However, when you’re the one doing the rejecting it is considerate to do so professionally, yet with empathy. Because this will often have a bearing on how the rejection is received and may also have an impact on your reputation.
Bear in mind that as well as the element of sensitivity to be considered (especially during times like these), that employment law applies to your process of rejecting candidates.
One employer received criticism recently for a rejection letter which went viral. In an attempt to lift spirits, the letter referenced several successful celebrities who had overcome rejection, including Michael Jordan. While trying to connect on a human level, many online commentators felt it struck the wrong tone, was cringe-worthy even.
Our thoughts? Spending a little time to develop a professional rejection response is the safest way to keep dignity intact for all involved. If you’re currently swimming in applications and need some advice, remember we’re here to help.
Taking a virtual stand
Earlier this month, Jackie Weaver became a national hero in the UK when she stood her ground in a viral parish council meeting gone wrong.
In a calm and collected manner, Ms Weaver simply evicted aggressive attendees from the meeting with the click of a button. Pre-lockdown, one may have decided to remove themselves by walking out of such a meeting. Has the safe distance of remote working turned the tables?
Difficult conversations on Zoom pose a new challenge for many people. If you would like the confidence to know your actions are the right ones in your video meetings, call us.
People Matter January 2021
How to get flexible working right and why it’s important
Previously thought of by many as a job perk, flexible working arrangements are now helping to keep businesses operational amidst restrictive coronavirus regulations.
Many companies that once thought flexible working arrangements could not work for them, are now functioning with remote working and flexible working hours. Some have vowed never to return to the office again.
As we ponder if flexible working is here to stay, you may be wondering what the benefits are beyond the pandemic. Afterall, won’t work be returning to normal at some point?
The pandemic may well have changed the world of work forever. After being thrust into trials of flexible working last year, some employers will have seen that there are mutual benefits in flexible working practices. Perhaps returning to pre-pandemic processes won’t be necessary after all.
From reduced stress to better engagement, employees able to achieve a work-life balance are more likely to be happier and productive at work. Whether it’s simply different working hours or some days working remotely. There are recruitment and retention benefits too.
Opportunities for flexible working are going to spark questions from candidates for years to come. Whilst employees who are offered less flexibility at work may start to seek out an employer who has a policy in place. For some, such as working parents, it could be the difference between attracting or retaining the best person for the job, or at least having them operating at maximum productivity.
Ultimately, deciding “how much” flexibility you can allow in the long term is up to you. However, the “how” is subject to employment law, which is something that can’t be flexed.
Working hours are subject to the Working Time Regulations. A change in location must be preceded by a health and safety risk assessment. Whilst contracts should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are up to date and relevant to your business.
However, there is no process set down in law which must be followed before you respond to a flexible working request, the legislations is being introduced shortly to clarify how this should work.
A foundation of trust is also needed in order for flexible working practices to be effective. For example, remote staff or out-of-hours working can mean less day-to-day visibility. There is staff surveillance software available, but this can lead to high pressure which may undo all the good that flexible working can achieve.
Lastly, it’s important to think about the bigger picture. Changing one aspect of working processes can impact others, from employee workflow to client relations. Changes that you make should improve and not hinder your business in the long run.
Absence management during COVID
Coronavirus has affected people in different ways and employers are currently facing a rise in both long- and short-term absences as a result.
Some people who contracted the virus have reported symptoms for months afterwards in what is being referred to as long-Covid. This can be hugely disruptive to a person’s life and can result in them having to take extended leave from work.
Long lasting symptoms are varied and can range from breathing difficulties to physical pain, fatigue and loss of concentration. Employers need to assess each individual suffering from long-Covid in order to understand how best to support them and manage the situation. This may require making reasonable adjustments as required under the Equality Acts to assist a phased return to work.
Professional advice from HR or occupational health is recommended. This can be a highly sensitive situation that must be well documented and handled with care.
Absences in the time of Covid can be difficult for all involved, putting strain on individuals and the business. An updated absence management policy that documents processes related to coronavirus, such as self-isolation, shielding and even bereavement can help managers confidently respond to situations and take action when needed.
In terms of sick pay, there is no statutory provision in Ireland, although this is under review. Illness benefit may be available for people who have a sufficient PRSI record.
As part of its coronavirus response, the government does offer an Enhanced Illness Benefit payment of €350 per week. This is also available to people asked to self-isolate. However, if they can still work whilst self-isolating, then they should do this and be paid in the normal way. If your contracts offer sick pay you should act in accordance with your contractual obligations.
This mid-winter has been described as the peak of the virus, and with the usual low temperatures and seasonal sickness at this time of year, absences are to be expected. Even if your team seem fit and well, it’s best to plan and prepare for the worst.
Prioritise essential business functions, update your contact list for emergency overtime and don’t forget, we’re here to help if things get complicated.
Finding the time to talk
January has a bit of a reputation for gloominess, but this January will test even the most optimistic of people.
Instinctively you might assume a downbeat employee is feeling lousy due to lockdown combined with the post-Christmas January blues. Perhaps you are feeling it too?
However, when it comes to worker well-being, the only way to know for sure what is going on is by finding the time to talk. There could be much more below the surface and you may be able to offer specific support.
Relationships, families, and finances have all been under increasing strain since the pandemic began. Through talking to employees, including remote workers or those not working and on COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Schemes, you can assess how best to help and provide targeted advice and assistance.
Talking things through is a therapeutic tool for managing mental health. If you’re looking for ways to winter-proof your workplace well-being, an Employee Assistance Programme which gives employees confidential access to qualified counsellors is a good place to start.
When will staff get vaccinated?
Ever since news of a vaccine was announced, questions have been circulating as to how, if, and when people will be vaccinated.
Naturally, you may be wondering what the vaccine means for the future of work and your business. When will staff be vaccinated? And what can you do, if anything, if they refuse?
The government has confirmed that vaccinations are being prioritised for high-risk categories including frontline health and care workers. A plan is in place for everyone over the age of 18 (at least) to be invited for vaccination, although ministers have not committed to a date at present as to when this will be done by.
If you’re considering a “no jab, no job” policy, there are a multitude of legal risks – from discrimination to data protection – to be aware of. Some employees may be unable to have the vaccine for individual health reasons.
Problems are more likely to arise where employees are working with vulnerable colleagues or members of the public, and all alternatives must be considered. Do please take advice first.
Risk assessments are encouraged and should help you to understand the role that vaccines play when it comes to workplace health and safety. If you’re unsure, ask us for advice.
Life in lockdown can be sedentary for many people. Leaving the house to exercise is permitted under lockdown rules, but there have been questions and confusion over what is acceptable. Add to this the plummeting outdoor temperatures and it can be much more appealing to stay put.
The trouble with this is that it can become routine. When this happens, it poses risks for both physical and mental health.
Employees who are lacking in physical activity may consequently feel less motivated and uninspired. Exercise is not only good for the body but has multiple benefits for the brain too.
There are ways you can safely promote good physical well-being during lockdown to help employees through this tough time.
From sharing resources such as NGB (National Governing Bodies of Sport) free Train at Home Programmes, to organising a competition or company fundraiser that safely encourages physical activity. Don’t forget to ask the team for their input too. Dog walkers or parents of toddlers are bound to have some ideas and anecdotes to share.
Minimum wage increase
On 1 January, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) increased from €10.10 to €10.20 so it is important to ensure your payroll is updated to reflect this. This applies to most employees aged 20 and older, although there are exemptions relating to both employees who are close relatives of the employer, and certain craft apprentices.
For employees aged younger than 20 years old, there is a sliding scale as follows: Aged 19 – €9.18 (90% of NMW); aged 18 – €8.16 (80% of NMW); and under 18 – €7.14 (70% of NMW). If you want to take this opportunity to implement a new payroll system, do please speak to us.
People Matter December 2020
’Tis the season of giving back
It may be harder to celebrate Christmas with a party at work this year, but one festive tradition you can still embrace is charitable giving. In fact, in this of all years there is probably more need than ever.
Whether it is as grand as a component of a corporate social responsibility plan, or something more spontaneous, it is such a neat fit for companies to instigate charity work. The benefits go far beyond just what the recipient charity gains.
Done well, it can help staff develop an extra sense of purpose and teamwork. And you as a business get the opportunity to promote your charitable work for positive PR. You could even tie in a festive theme and frame it in such a way that it raises spirits and brings people together like a Christmas party would.
We’d recommend thinking charitable activity through and even drafting a policy so that everyone in your business knows what to expect. A well written policy will ensure that there is focus to people’s effort, that it is conducted in an orderly way, and also that it is inclusive. For instance in more normal times, if a charity pub-style quiz was arranged, that soft drinks were available to those who don’t touch alcohol.
Even if you are not initiating anything yourself, it is sensible to be prepared. This will help you manage any employee requests appropriately. For example, that varying requests from more than one employee are managed in a fair way, even if they cannot all be given a green light; and that ideas are suitably vetted.
The good news is that despite the pandemic still raging, there is plenty of opportunity for online and distance volunteering and fundraising activity: from virtual murder mysteries to Christmas crafternoons. If you do manage to get any physical activities going, cash collections are not advised and don’t forget to ensure they are fully COVID-secure.
For help drafting a fundraising policy, please get in touch with your local HR Dept adviser.
Christmas is a busy time in retail in the best of years. In 2020 though, recognising the pent-up demand following lockdowns, many retailers will be operating with extended opening hours. Some are even planning to open overnight on certain days. Shoppers get more opportunity to buy presents whilst adhering to social distancing. Businesses, meanwhile, have the chance to catch up on sales targets if they wish.
If you manage a retail business which will offer earlier morning, late night or all night opening, note that working hour regulations still apply. This means that staff cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average (normally over four months). The fact this is on average, does grant you a little flexibility on a short-term basis. One solution turned to each year to deal with extra demand is seasonal workers. If you do this, it is essential to have contracts in place for them when they start.
People planning for 2021
The final deadline for BREXIT negotiations is fast approaching. Whatever happens, the result is likely to have a major impact on your people planning for 2021.
As the UK’s closest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland will be affected more than most. It is so important to carry out a workforce risk analysis to flag up any potential problems. Think about the implications for travel and trade, and assess your workforce to see if anyone will be particularly affected. Skills shortages are predicted in many sectors, in particular IT, customer services and financial services.
Driving will be a major area of disruption. It is estimated that 15,000 Irish drivers still hold UK licences, and these will become invalid on 31 December. If you employ drivers, it is vital that they update their licences as soon as possible. Processes and paperwork are likely to take longer than usual, so act now to get ready for next year.
Revised Workplace Protocol
You are probably familiar with the Return to Work Safety Protocol. Published by the government in May, “The Protocol” sets out the minimum safety requirements for businesses reopening after the first lockdown. Now, as we enter the latest phase of the pandemic, the government has updated the document to reflect the current situation.
The bulk of The Protocol remains unchanged. It is still a general document that applies to all sectors. A lot of the safety measures will be second nature to you by now, but the updated version goes into more detail on some of these.
The new document contains additional advice on the management and control of outbreaks. This includes identifying potential sources of exposure such as spaces where colleagues congregate. Employers are advised to consider other health and safety risks that may arise from COVID measures, and there is a new focus on employee conduct away from work. There is also clarification on when an employee should stay off work, e.g. when they are showing symptoms or have been identified as a close contact.
The updated Protocol has reference to a register of mandatory hand sanitiser suppliers, and gives minimum standards for masks in certain situations. There is also detailed advice on keeping workplaces properly ventilated.
The Protocol specifies that a lead worker representative should be appointed in every workplace to ensure that safety measures are implemented. There is an online training course on the HSA website to assist you with this, as well as checklists and templates to keep you on track.
For more advice on reopening safely, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Cold weather, dark nights, and disruption to the usual Christmas festivities could be a recipe for low morale this year. Coming up with a robust well-being strategy for the winter is important for your employees, and also has tangible benefits for you.
It is estimated that up to 11 million work days are lost through absenteeism every year at a cost of €1.5bn to the Irish economy. ESRI research indicates that stress, anxiety, and depression (SAD) and musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD) together account for 68 percent of work-related illnesses. Focusing on well-being improves motivation, leading to greater productivity. It also enhances your company’s reputation, making it easier to recruit and retain staff.
Winter-proofing your workplace can be as easy as starting a conversation about mental health. Provide regular check-ins and make it clear that you are always there to talk. You could also consider appointing a Mental Health First Aider.
Of course there’s physical health to consider too. Offering a health element within your employee benefits package can cover both and there are solutions to fit all budgets. Ask us about what plans are available to you.
Santa Claus is an essential worker
This will be a Christmas like no other, but at least one thing will remain the same. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, has confirmed that Santa Claus is a key worker and therefore not subject to travel restrictions. He added that Santa had requested permission to enter Irish airspace, and that his plans had been approved by the government. Children across the country can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Santa can still visit on Christmas Eve. However, it is vital that they stay in their beds so that Santa can follow social distancing rules!
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.
Preventing People Problems
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