Remote working ‘must not be enforced’, as employers plan hybrid future
Employers need to support line managers in setting up new working arrangements, with BBC poll revealing millions will not return to the office full time.
Employees must not be forced to work from home if they don’t want to, experts have warned, as research has shown almost all of the UK’s top employers have said they do not plan to bring their staff back to the office full time.
A BBC poll of 50 of the UK’s largest employers, collectively employing 1.1 million people, found that 43 firms said they planned to use a mixture of home and remote working going forward, with employees encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.
A further four companies said they were keeping this so-called hybrid approach under review.
It is no surprise to see businesses move towards a hybrid model. The world has changed, and therefore working policies need to evolve with it. Employers are now required to do more to engage their workforce if they wanted to remain competitive.
From offering flexible working to benefits such as an employee assistance programme, there are plenty that employers can and should be doing to support their people.
Employers are being urged not to rush to remove access to workplaces. While it was positive that businesses were exploring ways to maintain this form of flexible working as lockdown restrictions eased, some employees’ experiences of remote working made them keener than others to return to the office.
If some remote working becomes enforced, rather than chosen by employees, it is likely that the many positive benefits available to employers from offering flexible working will not materialise.
While many employees have experienced working exclusively remotely during lockdown, fewer would have experienced a mixed model of both remote and office-based working. New advantages and disadvantages [of hybrid working] may arise which may shape their views over time, warning of a real danger that a two-tiered workforce could emerge between those in the office and those working from home.
In particular, it is important that line managers are given support to help them in setting up new working arrangements with their teams and that they think carefully about how communication and coordination in the team will work when some people are in the workplace while others are working remotely.
One in five employees experienced depression this year, official figures show
Experts urge businesses to better train line managers in supporting wellbeing, as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also finds lowest earners have worst mental health.
Nearly one in five adults in employment experienced depression at the start of this year, official figures show, as experts urge employers to ensure line managers are trained to support wellbeing.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 19 per cent of employed adults experienced some form of depression between January and March this year, with rates of depression in adults more than double pre-pandemic levels.
The data also showed low earners were most likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Of those adults who said they would be unable to afford an unexpected but necessary expense of £850, 35 per cent said they experienced some form of depression in the first three months of the year.
This compares to just 13 per cent of those who reported being able to afford this expense.
Workers with incomes of less than £10,000 a year had the highest rates of depressive symptoms (37 per cent) when compared with all higher-income groups.
In addition, adults educated below degree level had higher rates of depressive symptoms (23 per cent) compared to those with no qualifications (19 per cent), a degree or equivalent (18 per cent), or other qualifications (16 per cent).
Research found that while most employers have stepped up support for employees over the past year, only half of HR professionals believe their organisation has been effective at identifying and managing the mental health risks arising from Covid.
Employers need to focus their efforts where it will make the most difference. They need to ensure line managers are confident in having empathetic conversations with people, spotting early signs of distress or mental ill-health and referring to more qualified sources of help where needed. To do this effectively they need to build positive and trusting relationships with individuals in their team.
This should include creating an open and supportive culture about mental health at work, giving people more control about how and when they return to ‘normal’ locations and practices, training managers in mental health literacy, and adapting policies around our changed circumstances.
Vacancies increased at fastest rate in 23 years
Vacancies in April increased at the fastest rate in 23 years, research has found, with businesses gaining confidence as coronavirus restrictions start to ease.
The latest Report on Jobs by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG found that hiring activity for permanent staff rose last month at the fastest rate since the survey began in 1997, while hiring for temporary roles was also “historically strong”.
However, the report – which sent questionnaires to around 400 UK recruitment and employment consultancies – also found a marked drop in candidate availability, with many reluctant to change jobs over concerns around job security.
Some of the experts surveyed also attributed the fall in candidate availability to Brexit and the changes to private sector IR35 rules.
As a result, salary inflation hit a 14-month high, while the growth in temp pay also rose to its highest rate for over a year.
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said the jobs market was improving at “one of the fastest rates ever seen”. “We are bouncing back from a record low – and many people are still struggling – but the data shows that job creation is firing up again,” he said.
Carberry added that the figures suggested the long-term challenge was less likely to be high unemployment and more likely to be around attracting and training enough staff.
“Companies need to be thinking about their workforce planning and employee offer, which professional recruitment firms are best placed to support them with,” he said, adding that the government also needed to “urgently tackle shortfalls in the skills system”.
Businesses have a fundamental role to play in bridging the increased skills gap that’s emerged from the pandemic.
Flexible working requests decline as homeworking soars
Tesco Delivery Driver Awarded £17,000 After Being Fired For Using Loo At Home
A supermarket delivery driver has received a £17,000 pay out after being sacked by Tesco for popping home to use the toilet during shifts.
Billy Fitzsimmons, from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, was told he couldn’t use the staff toilet at stores where he didn’t work.
However, he suffers from a number of medical conditions, including a urinary tract infection diagnosed in 2018 and an enlarged prostate, meaning he often requires a bathroom at short notice.
Fitzsimmons decided to simply pop into his house to use his own loo if he was out on deliveries nearby, but as Tesco bans employees from taking company vehicles home his actions were found to be a ‘complete disregard and abuse of’ the company policy.
A tribunal heard how all Tesco delivery vans are fitted with tracking systems, and that these record the speed and location of the vehicles every five minutes.
Although Fitzsimmons always managed to make his deliveries on time, and no complaints had been made about his service, his bosses found that he had stopped at home 34 times, for a total of 795 minutes.
This prompted a formal investigation where Fitzsimmons explained his health issues, of which Tesco had been unaware of previously.
But he was eventually dismissed for gross misconduct, with the letter from his manager outlining the reasoning behind his dismissal, saying: “It is my belief that there has been a complete disregard and abuse of Tesco policies at a level I have not seen in my career.”
Employment Judge Melanie Sangster has since ordered Tesco to pay Fitzsimmons £15,613 in compensation and a further £2,020 for injury to feeling, saying he clearly had ‘genuine health concerns’.
Sangster said that by the time Fitzsimmons had been dismissed, his employer was fully aware of his urinary and bowel problems, which sometimes meant he also needed to change his clothes.
She said: “It was accordingly clear that [Mr Fitzsimmons] had genuine health issues which required ease of access to toilet facilities.
That ease of access could be guaranteed at [his] home, but not elsewhere and was accordingly, latterly, the reason for returning home to use his own bathroom facilities, in periods when he would otherwise have been parked up in the local area.
“No reasonable employer would have dismissed the claimant for returning home to use his own facilities in these circumstances.”
Fitzsimmons also made a separate claim of discrimination arising from disability and claims of failure to make a reasonable adjustments and wrongful dismissal.
However, these claims were dismissed. A Tesco spokesperson said that they were disappointed by the outcome of this case and will consider what we can learn from it.
Therefore, it is important that as an employer during any investigation or disciplinary situation that any mitigating factors are taken into account and to see if a reasonable adjustment could have been put in place to assist the employee.
Unfair dismissal following “sham” redundancy
A Muslim bank worker made redundant after his relationship with his bosses became “severely strained” following an incident in which he called them on Christmas Day was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.
The Judge Joffe said that the employer (a bank) reached the view that they no longer required the claimant who was head of real estate, “because they had come to dislike him”, and “so far as the claimant was concerned the redundancy consultation was a ‘cosmetic exercise’”.
During his tenure as head of real estate, the claimant’s relationship with his line manager, grew strained and an email exchange between the two continued into Christmas Day. The line manager responded with an email stating “Do you realise that for many today is a festive period and your emails could have waited until after tomorrow. Please think about this” and copied in the executive committee team.
On 4 June, following a downturn in a particular project of which the claimant was a part, it was felt that a team restructure was necessary, which would include letting the claimant go.
Email exchanges which were part of the evidence at the employment tribunal demonstrated that the claimant had been singled out and referred to the email on Christmas Day.
When ruling, the Judge said that the emails showed that the process had been engineered to remove the claimant and that the redundancy was a sham.
The claimant was awarded £20,134.25 for unfair dismissal. This demonstrates the need for careful and discreet communication between managers at all times, but in particular when restructuring exercises are planned.
Social Distancing not always in place at work
A quarter of businesses are still not implementing social distancing in the workplace, a survey has found, as experts urge employers to take all reasonable steps to protect those returning.
In a poll of 2,100 workplace safety representatives, conducted by the TUC, 25% said their workplace did not always implement physical distancing between colleagues, either through social distancing or with physical barriers.
Similarly, a fifth said their workplace did not always implement appropriate physical distancing between employees and customers, patients or clients, while more than a third said adequate personal protective equipment wasn’t always provided.
The research also found that no risk assessment had been undertaken in the workplace. Of those who said their employers had carried out a risk assessment, almost a quarter reported they felt it was inadequate.
The pandemic has changed the way employers needed to approach health and safety at work. Managers, employees and occupational health and safety representatives need to work together in managing risk at work.
Businesses must carry out their legal obligation and conduct risk assessments and take all reasonable steps to protect those returning to the workplace. These include social distancing measures, staggering shift time where appropriate and providing additional handwashing facilities.
Lecturer found to have been unfairly dismissed
A lecturer accused of sending “aggressive” messages to colleagues has been awarded £15,000 for unfair dismissal after an employment tribunal ruled there had not been a proper investigation into the allegations made against him.
The claimant was lecturer at Loughborough University and was also a warden of a students’ halls of residence. It was in this role that two colleagues raised complaints against him for his style of communication, complaining that an “inappropriate and humiliating tone was used in email messages, including multiple question marks and exclamation marks.
The university’s head of legal services carried out a formal investigation in response to the complaint, but in her report said she had “not been able to identify sufficient evidence to support an allegation of bullying and harassment”.
Following another complaint that his communication was “aggressive and confrontational”. Believing the allegations to be similar to the previous complaints, it was felt that the University no longer had any trust and confidence in the lecturer and he was given a term’s notice. The letter of dismissal made no reference to a right of appeal.
The judge found that the university had decided to dismiss the lecturer because they no longer trusted him and was not open to the possibility that the decision might be an overreaction, describing the decision as “a knee-jerk, gut reaction”.
The leccturer won a basic award of £4,129.38 and a compensatory award of £10,299.84.
Employees want job security following the pandemic
Job security is the most important factor for employees when considering remaining with their employer according to a recent poll. In a survey of 1,004 employees, more half of employees cited job security as an important consideration for them in staying with their employer.
In contrast, less than a third of employees cited pay as an important factor, which suggests that things may have changed following the pandemic. Employers may therefore expect focus on job security to remain a priority for employees for some time.
Businesses may also expect that their staff will wish to continue with flexible working following what for many has been a year of remote working.
The survey also found that three-quarters of employees felt their businesses had handled the Covid crisis well.
Vexatious claimant allowed to proceed
Despite having made more than 30 “vexatious” claims at the Employment Tribunal previously, a dyspraxic jobseeker has been allowed to raise a further claim. The applicant has argued that his dyspraxia – also referred to as developmental coordination disorder – meant he was unable to complete an online application, and that the company he was applying to join failed to make reasonable adjustments for him. The issue related to his inability to interact with online forms, password characters and drop-down menus and so he requested that the company allow him to submit an oral application.
The company responded to the applicant, asking him to confirm which elements of the application form he required assistance with and he failed to confirm this, instead insisting on making an oral application.
A review of the case noted that this same claimant has lost multiple tribunal claims against various employers between 2017 and 2019 – including one in which he was ordered to pay the employer costs of nearly £4,000. However the Judge ruled that the claim should not be struck out and has allowed it to proceed.
Despite the number of previous claims made by the claimant, it was not possible without further investigation to determine on a summary basis that his claim that he was put at a substantial disadvantage by being asked to complete an online application – was false..
A previous claim which was thrown out against the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) related to the applicant not being shortlisted or interviewed for a position. He had argued that he couldn’t complete the online application and had difficulty clicking on the activation button to begin his online application in an email. The tribunal did not accept that the applicant “was not familiar with the concept of clicking a blue link on his screen” and found his evidence to be “at best confused, and at worst misleading”.
The tribunal heard that, following this, the applicant withdrew 17 separate claims because of his “lack of knowledge of the requirements to advance a claim”.