When banter means bullying…
The issue of office banter has been raised following a company boss describing a warning he gave to staff that “Labour voters will be made redundant first” as simply being banter leading up to the General Election. For many employers, finding a balance between banter and bullying at work is a difficult task.
Banter and jokes can very easily cross the line to become harassment which occurs when a person carries out “unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic which violates another person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person”. Major areas of harassment that crop up in the work environment include harassment on the grounds of a person’s gender or sex or their sexual orientation.
The danger of harassment is that it can be more extensive than employers may realise. The conduct which causes harassment does not have to be verbal or spoken communication. It can take any form of communication, from emails to posters, so long as it has a detrimental effect on a person.
The conduct has to be related to a protected characteristic. However, the person on the receiving end of the harassment does not have to possess that characteristic. For example, making jokes about a person being homosexual when they are actually heterosexual can still result in a claim for harassment. In addition, the conduct does not have to be aimed at the person who is raising a concern. Where another colleague has overheard someone making a sexist joke solely to another person, they can still claim harassment even though they were not the intended recipient. This occurs commonly with emails or office notices that are aimed at a certain person.
Even without banter becoming harassment, employers may wish to consider whether they are creating the correct culture in their company, especially if this is having an impact on the workplace culture. It is possible to set in place rules about what is appropriate behaviour at work and this can include highlighting what language isn’t acceptable to use. Failure to take any steps to prevent or reduce banter at work could lead to the employer being deemed vicariously liable for acts of harassment carried out by staff.
Internships and Work Placements
Legally, ‘work shadowing’ does not need to be paid. However, interns must be paid at least the national minimum wage (NMW) – or the national living wage if they are over 25 – if they meet the legal test of being a ‘worker’.
In broad terms, the only time an intern is not entitled to NMW is if they are:
• doing a student internship as part of a UK-based further or higher education course;
• a work experience student of compulsory school age (under 16);
• volunteering for a charity; or
• ‘work shadowing’.
Offering the chance to experience a work environment first hand can be a very effective way of evaluating resources in advance of recruitment, but the experience must be positive. Employers should use the chance to provide information about training and the career opportunities to the placement students. Employers should target a wide range of potential candidates, to leave the business better protected from challenges around equality and diversity; working in partnership with schools and local colleges could be a good way of achieving this.
Employers should also be thinking about increasing recruitment initiatives, working with school leavers and partnering with other local agencies. Social media is a great way to reach out to young people and a wide range of potential new recruits.
Paternity and Parental Leave – Dads are missing out.
The UK lags behind 28 other countries when it comes to the provision of paternity leave, with new fathers reluctant to take up shared parental leave, new research has revealed.
New fathers in Sweden are entitled to 80 days more paternal leave than those in the UK, a total of 18 weeks. Those in Iceland and Slovenia are eligible for 12 weeks’ total paternity leave, while Portugal, India and Lithuania also offer more time off at 100% pay.
Lobbying groups feel that, for paternity leave, two weeks at 80% paid is not enough. A small increase to four weeks at 100% paid would help new dads not only support mothers but also give them the time they need to build a lasting bond with their child. According to the research, many Dads feel forced to return to work as most families simply can’t afford the main breadwinner in the family to bring home such a reduced rate of pay.
The research has also suggested that fewer than one in 1,000 employees have taken up shared parental leave since its introduction in 2015. The reason take-up is low appears to link to the fact that many people do not understand how to make shared parental leave work for them.
This research is published following a tribunal ruling that found a male employee was discriminated against when his employer refused his request to take additional paternity leave at full pay, after his wife was diagnosed with postnatal depression.
Making adjustments for employees with mental health issues. Employers must do more
Just one in four people who have had a mental health problem for more than a year are in work, new analysis has found. In contrast, four out of five non-disabled people are working, as are half of all disabled people as defined by the Equality Act, according to the study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The research also discovered that those with depression or anxiety were adversely affected, with just 45% of those suffering with either of these conditions for more than a year being in work.
The TUC is calling on employers to take action to support staff with mental health problems, including making reasonable accommodations to help them carry out their job, and to consult with affected employees to find out what changes would most benefit them. Often it’s relatively small adjustments, such as flexible working or counselling, that are needed to make a difference to people managing mental health issues at work.
Fail to investigate; fail to win!
An “over-promoted” medical practice manager has won a constructive dismissal case against her former employer after claiming she was bullied by a “brusque and blunt” doctor.
Having worked in the practice for 30 years as a receptionist she was promoted to practice manager. She was considered to be “over-promoted” by the doctors and was described as not being a proactive or enthusiastic manager. In particular, one of the doctors at the practice, Dr Smits, was described as “direct, brusque and blunt” and would “question, challenge and shout at” the employee. She raised a grievance against him, and subsequently resigned her post.
An employment tribunal determined that the investigation into her grievances was not conducted thoroughly, as those appointed to do so had been unduly influenced by the practice partners. Two days after receiving the outcome letter from the grievance procedure, the employee resigned, stating her trust and confidence had “completely broken down”.
The tribunal found that she was constructively unfairly dismissed and the doctors had failed to manage her performance for some time before she resigned, saying “the claimant’s performance could have been better but the respondent’s mismanaged and bullied her; despite this there were signs of improvement.” “She was not given a fair chance to improve free from oppression and uncorroborated suspicion of misconduct.”
If the practice had gone down a proper performance management route, leading to a fair dismissal, they would not have lost this case.
What’s Causing the Pay Freeze?
Rising inflation, the impending Brexit negotiations and the fallout from the general election are contributing to an unprecedented squeeze on UK pay according to recent statistics.
The pay squeeze looks set to be longer and deeper than many originally expected, as there is no sign of pay matching the pace of inflation any time soon. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has announced that the consumer price index has increased to 2.9% for the year to May, up from 2.7 per cent for the year to April and the highest level it has been in nearly four years.
Meanwhile, nominal pay has grown just 2 per cent on average over the last three years, while real pay growth fell by 0.5 per cent in the three months to April.
There have been calls for greater fairness – both for pay and how workers are treated. Flexibility has been a catalyst for business investment and innovation and offering greater flexibility in the way that employees are engaged may help improve productivity and as a result, earnings.
Failing to Follow the ACAS Code Cost the Employer!
Former employees of a bakery business that ceased trading last year have been awarded £40,000 after the company misled them about their job security. Five former staff made claims because they were not informed about the upcoming closure and were surprised to find they were no longer employed. The Birmingham Employment Tribunal heard the case and was told that one claimant turned up to work to find the premises closed because of non-payment of rent.
The judge concluded that the business failed to comply with “any of the standards of good industrial practise” and as well as awarding the employees a basic and compensatory award, made a 25% uplift of the sums they were awarded because the employer failed to follow the ACAS Code of Practice.
The employer knew the business was in difficulty and failed to speak to the employees and warn them of the likely redundancy, claiming ignorance of the law as their defence.
Brexit and Immigration – what next?
No one has any clear idea of exactly when and how Brexit negotiations might begin and business concerns continue to grow.
With many industry sectors across the UK facing a possible post-Brexit staffing crisis, employers are set for an uncertain future as they wait to learn how the immigration system will accommodate companies that rely on European workers.
Immigration minister Robert Goodwill has acknowledged that the UK will need a “bespoke immigration system” and has suggested that there will be different rules for individuals depending on what sector they work in. He also confirmed that the Government will consult individual businesses and other stakeholders this summer as part of the preparation for the new immigration policy.
Those businesses with a high number of EU nationals must assess and consider how best to address any potential skills gap they would face if a solution is not found to the issue of having these employees post-Brexit.
However, employers are advised not to change their recruitment strategy at this stage, as targeting only UK-based workers could suggest discrimination. The advice seems to be to sit tight and wait for things to evolve in this arena.
Attracting talent is about more than salary…
Salary isn’t the primary concern of today’s employees, according to a new survey. Instead, respondents overwhelmingly put the condition of their working environment (70%) and career progression (60%) ahead of salary.
The results of this survey show that candidates are interested not just in a job, but also where that opportunity will take their career. There is an increased expectation from those seeking new employment the next step in their career. When considering job adverts it is important to outline the full “package” – including benefits, culture, career and training opportunities and progression routes.
Company culture is crucial in recruiting and retaining the right employees; almost of half of the people surveyed had rejected a job offer based on a company’s culture and the makeup of their potential new team. Increasingly, employees want practical benefits, alongside a clear chance for progression, to supplement their salary – or as part of an employment offer.
Family feel culture? Not always positive…
While many businesses are proud of having a “family-feel” culture, this can have negative consequences. When relationships are too informal the employer may avoid having difficult conversations fearing that they might rock the boat. This may result in avoiding an issue which can eventually stifle honest conversations relating to poor behaviour or performance. This can lead to disengagement, resentment and potentially long-term conflict bubbling away under the surface. This can be not only damaging to the harmonious culture in the long run, but the performance of the organisation overall.
However, it is possible to achieve a harmonious culture that also encourages open and honest dialogue:
• Focus on the motive – what outcome do you want? Think about the outcome on the business, the employee and the manager or owner.
• Before you start the conversation, be honest. What behaviour is causing the issue?
• State what you have observed and then share your perceptions and allow them to challenge them.
• Agree on the action – Once you have raised your concerns, agree what is going to change. Who will do what and by when?