One in four workers report worse relationship with employer since Covid
A recent poll has revealed that half of employees say their relationships have deteriorated but have also seen their productivity fall.
The majority of workers believe their relationship with their employer has changed since the start of the pandemic, with one in four saying it has got worse.
The survey of 900 employees, conducted by MetLife, found almost three-quarters (72 per cent) felt their relationship with their employer had changed because of their response to the coronavirus crisis.
Nearly half (47 per cent) said their relationship with their employer had improved, with 16 per saying it had done so significantly and around a third (31 per cent) saying it had somewhat improved.
In comparison, a quarter (25 per cent) said it had worsened, while a slightly higher proportion (28 per cent) of respondents said there had been no change to their relationship with their employer.
However, the research, which also polled 300 businesses, found that employers were less optimistic about how their relationship with their employees had changed. Fewer than a third (30 per cent) said they felt their relationship with their workforce had improved as a result of their response to the pandemic, while a similar number (31 per cent) said it had worsened. Another 38 per cent said there had been no change.
The research also found there was a strong correlation between the strength of the employee-employer relationship and productivity: of those employees who felt their employer relationship had weakened, half (49 per cent) said they had also seen their productivity decrease.
A quarter of employees whose relationship had worsened (25 per cent) also admitted that their employer’s response to the crisis had affected their level of trust – a sentiment shared by 32 per cent of employers who reported a poorer relationship.
Monitoring of remote working hours – is it needed?
UK employees are happier working from home, but the hours they work need to be better monitored by senior leaders, according to new research from the CIPD.
The report found that though 65% of employees agreed that their organisation has provided them with everything they need to work effectively from home, nearly one in three (30%) said that they had increased their working hours since working from home.
More than half (53%) added that they now feel that they have to be available at all times, and in order to demonstrate their value in the remote environment, nearly half (48%) said they felt the need to communicate more than they did when working onsite.
Driving up longer hours for 36% of respondents was the feeling that when at home it is harder for them to make a valuable impact at work.
Workers can warm to pay freeze if handled sensitively
Staff understand that things aren’t easy right now and many will have already written off a mid-pandemic pay rise, but if you can show you’re grateful for their hard graft, they will appreciate it.
A recent report found that 19.3% of pay awards in 2020 resulted in pay freezes for employees. Many other organisations deferred pay award decisions or rolled back on those that had been made but not implemented.
But things are likely to be tighter still in the opening months of this year, even for those organisations continuing to give increases. It is forecasted rises of around 2% on average at the 1 January and 1 April pay reviews – compared with 2.5% for the same reviews last year.
A tanking inflation rate should help reduce the gap, and the fact that the 2008/9 financial crisis has conditioned many to realise that annual pay rises are not always a given should also help. But balancing employee trust with a company’s efforts to remain financially stable is still a huge challenge, and the key is to be as transparent as possible.
Organisations that have not built habits around regular, open conversations with employees will see a negative impact over time. Now it is all-the-more critical to keep in touch with how your team are doing and to ensure they are kept updated about the businesses overall financial health, so they have a clear understanding of the business rational for decisions.
It is thought that the private sector will divide into three roughly equal proportions: organisations that will just freeze pay without reviewing it, those that will budget to give pay rises as normal and those that will give rises to only some employees.
Nearly two million out of work for at least six months of the pandemic
Resolution Foundation study warns of long-term damage to the labour market and workers’ prospects if support is not extended.
Almost two million workers were unemployed or furloughed in January and had been for at least six months, according to new research revealing the scale of damage to the UK’s labour force caused by the pandemic.
The Resolution Foundation’s Long Covid in the labour market report found that around 700,000 UK workers had been unemployed and a further 500,000 had been fully furloughed for at least six months by January 2021.
When including those who had moved between full furlough and unemployment, the total number of people who had not worked for at least six months to January increased to 1.9 million.
The report was based on independent analysis of YouGov data on more than 6,000 18-65 year olds and an online survey conducted in collaboration with the Health Foundation.
The findings evidence that job insecurity remained high despite the improvement in the UK’s economic prospects – particularly among those who have spent long periods not working or who are currently furloughed.
Workers on long-term furlough still faced the same challenges as those who are unemployed, such as loss of skills and missed earnings growth, despite receiving greater financial support and having an easier route back into work.
Employers will not be fined for accidental IR35 errors in first year
HMRC says it will be lenient on firms making genuine mistakes as experts warn businesses must also be aware of compliance risks in their supply chains.
Employers that accidentally fall foul of the changes to private sector IR35 rules coming into force this year will not face any fines for the first year, the government has confirmed.
The recent Guidance published by HMRC confirmed that the tax authority would be lenient with employers for the first 12 months of the new off-payroll rules – including in cases where the wrong tax determination is made. This is in line with the ‘light-touch approach’ promised by chancellor Rishi Sunak last year.
There will not be a charge penalty if an employer takes reasonable care to apply the off-payroll working rules correctly but still make a mistake, including making mistakes in status determinations, the guidance states, adding that, unless there was evidence of deliberate non-compliance, HMRC would encourage employers to “self-correct” errors before considering whether it needed to intervene further.
Under IR35, if a contractor is deemed to carry out similar or the same work as a permanent staff member, their employer is required to deduct income tax and national insurance contributions as if they were an employee. The legislation was introduced to ensure workers undertaking similar roles paid similar tax regardless of whether they are an employee or a contractor.
The changes to IR35 in the private sector will shift the responsibility of assessing which contractors fall into this category on to employers – as has been the case in the public sector since 2017.
Unfair dismissal award to paint sprayer after Facebook post
A paint sprayer has been awarded £28,000 for unfair dismissal after a judge ruled his employer’s investigation into whether he had breached social media policy was inadequate.
The tribunal found that the managing director “unreasonably confused what was required of an employee by the [company’s] social media policy” after a worker for the firm posted a Facebook status referring to an argument the pair had had.
The claimant, who worked for the company for five years before his dismissal, was involved in what the tribunal heard was an “extremely heated discussion” with managing director about alleged poor work being carried out by the company.
The judge accepted that the managing director had “started shouting at the claimant and replied rather rudely when the claimant pointed this out” during the argument. The way in which he criticised the claimant’s competence during this meeting was also “either new or worse than usual”.
That evening, the claimant wrote on Facebook: “I don’t think I’m a bad person but I don’t think I have ever felt so low in my life after my boss’s comments today.”
A number of his Facebook friends made comments on the post, aimed primarily at trying to reassure the claiman t, “some of which were appropriate and some of which were inappropriate”, the tribunal heard. Some of the comments were homophobic and one commentor suggested the claimant should “punch his boss in the face because it would make him feel better”.
The claimant was asked by the workshop manager to attend a meeting to discuss his use of social media and it was only once the meeting was underway that he became aware it was a disciplinary. The tribunal heard he was “shell shocked” at the way in which he was brought into the disciplinary meeting.
At the meeting he was told that it was in the employee handbook that he must not discuss the company on social media – although the tribunal found this was not the case. Following the meeting he was suspended while a decision was being made regarding the outcome of the disciplinary meeting.
He was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct, appealed but the dismissal was upheld.
The tribunal ruled that there appeared to have been “no effort by the respondent to investigate what happened” and that the managing director was “unreasonably confused [about] what was required of an employee by the social media policy”.The managing director made no effort at all to find out anything about the [Facebook] settings that the claimant had and simply assumed a number of things; for example, how big the group was.” The judge concluded that there was no evidence that would have supported to a reasonable employer the contention that the employee was engaging in a prohibited discussion.
The tribunal also ruled that the claimant was not given any notice of this meeting, nor given an opportunity to prepare for it, nor had any advance knowledge of what was being alleged against him, in order to prepare any kind of defence against it.
He was awarded a total compensation of £28,560.
If an employer is to rely on a breach of a policy, it needs to be clear that the employee is in breach of it. If an employer wishes to dismiss for reputational reasons, the employer needs to be able to show what they are.
Unfair dismissal due to trade union activity
A postal worker who was dismissed from his job at Royal Mail for urinating in a public lay-by during his rounds was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled, finding the main reason for dismissal was a “poor relationship” with his line manager who “did not see eye to eye” with the claimant because of his trade union activities.
The claimant had worked for 17 years with a clean disciplinary record. He was an assistant area health and safety workplace representative and a Communication Workers Union (CWU) branch editor, as well as the deputy area safety representative for his CWU branch. He claimed that his union activities “brought him into conflict with his direct line manager.
A customer complaint was received about a postal worker urinating in a public lay-by, which was caught by a vehicle dashcam. Following the complaint, the claimant was suspended and invited to a fact-finding meeting. The notes for the meeting showed that the claimant admitted it was him in the video; however, the claimant disputed this and sent an amended version of the notes. In these amended notes Rawal “admitted it could have been him” but was unsure because the incident occured six weeks before in a lay-by he drove past “10 times a day”.
Royal Mail confirmed the claimant’s dismissal without notice by letter, citing urinating in a public space as the reason. The claimant appealed against the decision and a hearing was unsuccessful.
Giving evidence to the tribunal, the claimant said he had been driving for about 25 minutes and “urgently felt the need to urinate”. The tribunal heard that “to avoid urinating on himself and/or in the [Royal Mail] van, he had to quickly find somewhere discreet on the dual carriageway to urinate”.
The tribunal also heard evidence from several other postal workers who had been caught urinating in public while on duty and not dismissed. One told the tribunal that “postmen urinate in public all the time”, while another said: “There was not a post person alive, man or woman, who had been doing the job for a length of time who had not been caught short without access to facilities and had to urinate in public.”
The judge concluded there was “more than one reason” for the dismissal, and that, while his conduct “started the disciplinary process”, the beliefs held by the line manager that caused her to dismiss him “related predominately to his poor relationship with the line manager and therefore to the claimant’s trade union activities”.
A remedy judgment awarded Rawal £37,720.98 in respect of his successful unfair dismissal claim, which comprises a basic award of £8,068.50 and a compensatory award of £29,652.48.
This is yet another reminder that a balanced decision needs to be made following a detailed investigation as to whether there is likely to be a detrimental effect to the business’s reputation and that any decision must be consistent with other similar situations.
Modern Slavery – what are you doing?
Recent press reports on working conditions in UK-based garment factories, and allegations of exploitation of Indian factory workers in the supply chain of major UK brands, have highlighted the reputational risks to businesses of perceived ethical failures in respect of their supply chain. This raises questions of modern slavery and this issue is something that UK businesses have to grapple with to ensure that their products are ethical.
Since 2016, section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has required certain large commercial organisations to publish a modern slavery statement on their website. This must be done annually, and detail what steps have been taken to ensure that modern slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their business or supply chain.
But enforcement of this is minimal, and monitoring of compliance with this obligation has been undertaken by the press.
The Government’s long-awaited response to a consultation on changes to the section 54 requirements mean that businesses will face stricter reporting requirements. These cover mandated contents for modern slavery statements, a single reporting date and a central government register of statements. The Government is also considering a new regime of penalties and sanctions for those that fail to comply. These steps are intended to improve the quality and content of statements, and to allow external stakeholders to make decisions on how they view an organisation’s approach to these issues.
As well as the reporting requirements, there will also be amendments to the forthcoming environment bill. These changes require large UK-based businesses to undertake due diligence to ensure supplies of forest-risk commodities have not been produced by illegal deforestation. Companies that fail to comply will be subject to fines and other civil sanctions.
As a result, businesses should undertake the following initial steps to future-proof their supply chains:
- Decide where you stand from a business and cultural perspective on these issues. What are the expectations of your key external and internal stakeholders? What are the critical questions about your business and your supply chain you need answering when tendering for business?
- Map out your supply chain, tracking as many tiers of the chain as possible. The results will enable you to conduct a vital risk assessment of your biggest vulnerabilities.
- Introduce or review existing policies and codes of conduct relating to suppliers to ensure they reflect current and future best practice and provide training to relevant internal personnel.
- Review your key supplier contracts to ensure they are fit for purpose. For example, what requirements do they place on your suppliers relating to issues of modern slavery?
While it is impossible to anticipate all the risks that employers might face in the future, proper contingency planning is one of the key actions a business can take to mitigate potential damage.
IR53 changes come into force in April 2021
After a year-long delay, changes to the IR35 off-payroll working rules will take affect from 6 April 2021. HMRC introduced the off-payroll working rules – also known as IR35 – in 2000 to tackle what was called as “disguised employment”. Contractors have been able to provide services via an intermediary company- Personal Service Company to avoid being classed as an employee for tax purposes. The benefits to this were two-fold, it gave greater tax efficiency to the contractor and meant that the business hiring the contractor did not have to pay employers’ national insurance contributions or give contractors employee benefits.
When IR35 was first implemented it was the contractor’s responsibility to assess their own status for tax purposes. In 2017 this changed in the public sector so that when IR35 applied the business engaging the contractor was responsible for working out the employment status of the contractor – essentially determining whether the contractor is genuinely self-employed or whether they are actually an employee. Up until now the changes to the rules have only applied to payments made by or on behalf of public authorities to contractors. But from 6 April 2021 these changes will also affect the private sector.
Some small private sector companies are exempt – if they meet two of the following criteria:-
- Have an annual turnover of no more than £10.2million;
- Have a balance sheet total of no more than £5.2 million;
- Have no more than 50 employees.
But for those companies who do not have exemption they are required, from 6 April to:
Assess the contractor’s status for tax and then tell the contractor if they believe that they ought to have employee status. If the contractor does have employee status, then the client business is expected to apply income tax and NIC deductions.
What will cause issues is that the legislation surrounding the IR35 is complicated. HMRC have created a tool for checking employment status (CEST) but its accuracy has been criticised. There is no doubt that this will cause problems for businesses already beleaguered with dealing with the Covid pandemic!
April 2021 statutory maternity, paternity and sick pay rates published
The government has published the proposed statutory rates for maternity pay, paternity pay, shared parental pay, adoption pay, parental bereavement pay and sick pay from April 2021.
The current weekly rate of statutory maternity pay is £151.20, or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings if this figure is less than the statutory rate. The rate of statutory maternity pay is expected to rise to £151.97 from April 2021. The increase normally occurs on the first Sunday in April, which in 2021 is 4 April.
Sunday 4 April 2021 also sees the first annual increase for statutory parental bereavement pay. This follows the introduction of the right to parental bereavement leave, available to the parents of a child who died on or after 6 April 2020.
Also on 4 April 2021, the rates of statutory paternity pay and statutory shared parental pay are expected to go up from £151.20 to £151.97 (or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings if this figure is less than the statutory rate).
The rate of statutory adoption pay increases from £151.20 to £151.97.
This would mean that, from 4 April 2021, statutory adoption pay is payable at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, with the remainder of the adoption pay period at the rate of £151.97, or 90% of average weekly earnings if this is less than £151.97.
The rate of statutory sick pay is also expected to increase from £95.85 to £96.35 on 6 April 2021. To be entitled to these statutory payments, the employee’s average earnings must be equal to or more than the lower earnings limit. However, the lower earnings limit from April 2021 has not yet been published – it is listed on the government’s announcement as “TBC”.
The rates normally increase each April in line with the consumer price index (CPI).