Tackle the issue early on to prevent an employment tribunal

We have been discussing this week how watertight policies and procedures are fundamental in helping to steer clear of employment tribunal. Obviously no business is guaranteed never to be taken to tribunal, even the most careful of employers can still be subjected to legal action but preventive measures will certainly help your case.  

One thing that does concern me is the number of employers who ignore the concerns of employees. This week an employer has been talking to me about how they are being subject to a tribunal because of harassment and I asked whether the employee had actually raised any concerns, as you can imagine the answer was yes but the employer failed to acknowledge the complaint, brushing it aside. This is where the tribunal could have been prevented, if the employer had taken the complaint seriously and acted on the concern then the tribunal may well have been prevented. This is why it is very important that you investigate any complaint or concern an employee raises, appoint someone within your business to take action to ensure the employee knows that you are looking into the issues raised. I also believe it is good practice to communicate to your workforce who to speak to should they have any issues, whether it is harassment, bullying or whatever, simple guidelines that communicate who to raise concerns can be helpful and will allow you to identify and action such issues.

The importance of having watertight policies and procedures

As you can imagine I receive a number of calls from business owners asking for advice on HR issues and it seems the conversation always reverts back to policies and procedures. 

It is very important that as an employer your policies and procedures are watertight, from the very start you need to get into the habit of ensuring that you have policies backed up with documentation, this will help safeguard you and your business. Importantly you need to look at it from the employee perspective and ensure your workers are treated fairly, you also need to make sure that such policies and procedures are communicated effectively to your staff and that they understand what to do should they have an issue, or appeal action undertaken by management. That is why it is very important that you have grievance procedures in place. 

What is equally as important is that you follow set policies and procedures, it is no use implementing them if you are not going to abide by them, you need to ensure that you follow what you have implemented and that your management are aware, trained and know how to put the measures in place. 

You would be surprised at the number of small businesses that I encounter who have insufficient HR policies in place, or those companies that have not updated them in a while. Personally I believe in reviewing your HR documentation and policies twice a year, April and October are ideal times when new HR laws and measures are introduced; it provides you with the opportunity to ensure that everything is watertight and adheres to employment law. Finally do give myself or my team a call if you need advice on ensuring that your policies and procedures are watertight.

Manage long term absenteeism and prevent it from becoming a problem

We know from our clients that absenteeism is an important issue, we have also come to understand that it can be frustrating especially when it can be difficult to coach the employee back to work. So what can employers do? 

Ultimately you must combat the issue from the start, your employees need to know that you take a firm yet fair stance on the issue, in other words you are serious about tackling absenteeism. Firstly communicate to all your employees that you are implementing absenteeism policies into your procedures, discuss this with them. Ensure they realise what they need to do should they have to phone in sick. Implement a regime, they have to call into their line manager prior to starting work. Do not allow them to leave a message or speak with a colleague, communication with management is essential. Ask them to estimate when they will be returning back to work, if sickness exceeds five days then ask for a sick note. Inform the employee that they should call you on a weekly basis to update you on the situation. Once the employee returns to work undertake a return to work interview, this will ensure the employee is fit enough to resume their duties. There is also another reason for carrying out an interview, it will help deter future sickness, we have found through our own internal research that 82% of Peninsula clients who implement return to work interviews have reported a significant reduction in absenteeism.  The deterrence method obviously works, plus it gives a strong message to the rest of your employees that you take absenteeism very importantly. You must stick to this policy and ensure that everyone, no matter the absenteeism length is interviewed upon return to work.

Prevention is better than a cure and this is certainly a good way to prevent absenteeism. 

The importance of giving our clients the best advice to deal with HR issues

It’s essential to get the right people for the job, now I know that sounds obvious but take the Peninsula Advice Service as an example, we employ people who have been personal managers, consultants, trade union representatives, these are individuals who know what it is like to manage people, they have been on the front line. How are we expected to provide advice if we do not know what it is like to employ and manage employees? That is why we are very selective when it comes to recruiting, we want the best consultants. The Peninsula Advice Service posses years of experience, many of my consultants have worked at Peninsula for over 15 years, they build great relationships with our clients, and we know that many of you prefer to speak with the same consultant, they have come to recognise how your business works. 

We also understand that sometimes the advice we provide may not be what you wish to hear and I understand that it can be frustrating however you need to remember that we are here to help you and ensure that a HR issue does not turn into a situation that could easily escalate into an employment tribunal. However it is reassuring to know that if you are sadly taken to tribunal and you have followed the advice that we have provided then you will be indemnified, meaning that we will pay the awards and penalties imposed, providing you with peace of mind. 

So the next time you call Peninsula seeking advice from our HR advisers remember that the person you are speaking to will have likely experienced the same scenario and is perfectly qualified to give you the best in advice. 

Employers dilemma: Hypochondriacs in the workplace

I have an employee who is what we would class as a hypochondriac, they complain about ailments and their absenteeism is concerning me. What action can I take? 

I am sure that you will all agree, we have all experienced an employee who we believe to be exaggerating their illness. We ask ourselves, are they really telling the truth or have they talked themselves into thinking they have an ailment? However you need to be cautious and you will need to follow HR policies and procedures when dealing. Let us look at the practicality of the issue.  An employee who complains a lot about ailments isn’t really someone who warrants action being taken against them until their consequent absences hit a level you consider to be unacceptable. In this case, you would deal with them according to the same procedure as anyone else who hits the same trigger point. 

Whether the absences are in relation to minor ailments, for example, coughs and colds, headaches or stomach upsets, or they are due to more significant complaints, for example, arthritis or diabetes, you should address the issue and speak to the employee involved. Never ignore the situation, always listen to their concern and remember that you have a duty of care and if it is proved that you failed to do this then you could end up at employment tribunal. 

Minor ailments resulting in several absences which are one or two days long each are likely to instigate a disciplinary procedure based on the impact that the absences are having on the wider workplace. You are entitled to expect a level of attendance from an employee which enables them to perform their role at an acceptable level, regardless of the reason for the absence.

Long term absences, depending on the reason for the absence, are likely to trigger a capability procedure which will involve different stage and input from you as the employer, but both procedures are intended to monitor the situation and bring it to resolution. This resolution can be either maintenance of an acceptable level of attendance, or dismissal as the ultimate sanction. 

Investigation into the employee’s health status may be required in some circumstances, and determination of whether the employee’s ailments constitute a disability may also be required. If disability is a factor, consideration must be given to making reasonable adjustments to the employee’s role to try and overcome the barriers that the disability creates. Only reasonable adjustments are required, but this may include financial input from you.

Overall, it is important not to take the employee’s complaints on face value. They may be hiding a serious condition that they are reluctant to divulge and are masking as other less serious ailments, which you perceive as hypochondria.

Communication is key, and you should start by informally speaking with the employee, which may be the start of discussions to discover their real health status.

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1/ The secrets to a great place to work: Communication

Peninsula are proud to have achieved third-place in “The Sunday Times, Best Companies to Work For”, and in the first of a new series we will outline many of the working practices that we have implemented within the company of which helped us make Peninsula Business Services a great place to work, and we are pleased to share these with you. 

Something that works really well for us here at Peninsula is regular communication meetings with our staff. We hold these on a quarterly basis with the aim of explaining and communicating to our workforce just how well the business is performing, this is normally communicated by both myself and our financial director. Naturally we set our staff KPI’s, [Key Performance Indicators] many of these are tied in to providing a quality service to our clients, this is a great opportunity to review not just how well we are doing but what else needs to be achieved. Staff are normally curious as to how the business is performing and we are happy to share this information. It is also an important platform to communicate new policies, ideas and incentives, naturally we do not get the opportunity to speak to all of our staff on a regular basis, so it is very important we make the most out of our quarterly meetings. We also video record them so that staff who are not office-based are not forgotten, it helps enforce communication.

In your meetings you need to be honest and transparent, you should share the good news whilst informing of issues that need improving. We have found feedback from our employees to be highly favourable when it comes to how we communicate, however it’s very important that the communication message is integrated throughout the business; management need to ensure that they regularly discuss productivity and department issues with their own staff on a regular basis and we call this micro communication. It is perfectly fine for your financial director to communicate just how well the business is performing however all members of management must also be proactive in effective communication. 

Finally we believe regular communication to be an essential fundamental working practice, staff who are left out of the loop, ignorant to what is happening will easily become become disgruntled, that is why we believe staff communication is essential and in a large part helps create a content and happy workplace. 

Client is king

On Friday at a conference held to celebrate the successes of Peninsula I was given the opportunity to reward members of my advice department, those that have excelled and go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure client satisfaction. It made me think how proud I was of my fellow colleagues and why it is important to reward staff who excel. I am both fortunate and privileged to work with a team of people who put so much effort into ensuring that our clients are satisfied.

At Peninsula we realise that client is king and that they have the power to dismiss anyone from the Chairman downwards. We also understand that our clients rely on us whether they have a trivial issue or indeed a problem that is more significant, my team of skilled consultants are available around the clock, seven days a week and it is that dependency which our clients have come to appreciate. No job is too big when it comes to our clients, indeed client satisfaction helps shape the business. We listen to client feedback, this helps to shape and determine the services that we offer at Peninsula. So although the term may seem outdated I strongly believe that the client is king. 

I am published Business Week today. I will upload the link so you can read the editorial in due course. 

I am published Business Week today. I will upload the link so you can read the editorial in due course. 

Employment Law developments being introduced on the 6th April.

6th April is a busy day for employment law so let us run through some of the main developments and how they affect you as a business.  

Financial penalties will be introduced for employers who are found to have breached employment legislation where there are aggravating features present. The penalty will be payable to the Exchequer, in addition to the award and the fee reimbursement to the claimant. A minimum of £100 and a maximum of £5000 will be payable, and these will be applied to tribunal decisions for claims that are brought on or after 6th April 2014.

The rate for Statutory Sick Pay will increase to £87.55; Statutory Maternity Pay/Adoption Pay/Paternity Pay will increase to £138.18.

The maximum unfair dismissal compensatory award increases to £76,574 (subject to cap of 52 weeks’ pay).

Statutory guarantee pay increases to £25 per day.

The maximum week’s pay for statutory redundancy pay purposes will increase to £464.

The Early Conciliation system will be implemented, meaning that prospective claimants must inform Acas of their intention to claim so that Acas can attempt to conciliate. Claims will no longer be sent directly to the tribunal service.

The statutory discrimination questionnaire will be repealed and replaced with a more informal approach for employees who would like to pose questions to their employer about alleged discrimination.

If in doubt give my advice service a call and they can run through some of the important changes with you - 0844 892 2772

In the press: Greater Manchester Business Week

My comments in the press last week about how to interview properly which appeared in Greater Manchester Business Week.